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Weaving a Secure Web Around Education: A Guide to Technology Standards and Security
  Table of Contents and Introductory Material
Chapter 1
  The Role of the World Wide Web in Schools and Education Agencies
Chapter 2
    Web Publishing Guidelines
Chapter 3
    Web-Related Legal Issues and Policies
Chapter 4
    Internal and External Resources for Web Development
Chapter 5
    Procuring Resources
Chapter 6
    Maintaining a Secure Environment
PDF File (1,119 KB)

Ghedam Bairu

(202) 502-7304

Chapter 1: The Role of the World Wide Web in Schools and Education Agencies

  • Why should an education agency develop a web site?
  • How does an agency identify needs and resources?
  • What content might be on a web site developed for schools and districts?
  • What content might be on a web site developed for state departments of education?


Nearly anyone may have a web site nowadays, from the largest multinational corporation to the family pet. Web site proliferation has influenced public expectations about the role of the Internet in all aspects of life, including all levels of education. Parents and community members today expect to be able to find information on the web about K-12 education in their state, district, and local schools. Many states have even legislated online "report cards" that display a variety of school information such as grades and test scores, discipline referrals, school ratings, and student demographics.

State education agencies, a majority of school districts, and even many schools already have a presence on the web. When parents or other members of the community visit these web sites, they expect to obtain information. They may want to view a school calendar, check on the latest homework assignment, find the phone number for a school board member, or check on school closings. They might go to the state department of education web site for data comparing the performance of a local school or district with others around the state. If the web site is poorly organized or out of date, it reflects poorly on the agency. Today, as technology becomes available to everyone, it is imperative that policymakers pay close attention to their web sites.

Well-designed and maintained web sites can enhance community relations for education agencies and increase their visibility. A more important aspect of the proliferation of this technology is its effect on classrooms and students. A widely held expectation is that every student in the United States will have school-based access to the Internet and, consequently, be able to access the vast amount of information available on the web. Access to the web in schools raises many issues. These include:

  • changes in the delivery of the curriculum;
  • integration of technology into professional development programs;
  • student security; and
  • security of critical data.
This chapter discusses some possibilities for web site content in detail. At the outset, emphasis is placed on a needs assessment process as a prelude to the development of a web site.

The Beginning

With pressure to develop a web site, it is sometimes overwhelming to know where to begin. The agency first needs to know the reason for a web site. How will the web site advance the strategic mission of the agency? How will it support the instructional program? How will it improve operational efficiency?

Before assigning the jobs of web development and maintenance, it is useful for an agency to spend time to determine the intended function and content of the site. This initial commitment invariably reduces time spent recovering from mistakes later on. If a web site already exists, the agency may step back and periodically reexamine all aspects of the site and its operation to assure that it is still contributing to the achievement of the agency's goals and objectives.

It is critical to determine what the agency wants to do.

The Needs Assessment

The needs assessment process should be an outgrowth of the agency's strategic plan that describes the overall goals and objectives of the organization. One of those goals, to establish a web site, is expanded upon as the agency assesses what a web site will do and what content is desired. This process, determining the need, should involve the various stakeholders of the organization.

The first issue to address as the agency assesses the need for a web site is the nature of the audience.

  • Who are the constituents and what do they need or want to know about the organization?
  • Will teachers use the web site for the delivery of the curriculum?
  • Are students going to have access to the web site from school computers?
  • Will students contribute to the content or management of the web site?
  • How will the use of the web enhance interactions and processes?
The agency then can discuss the intended content of the web site. This critical component of site development should not be done in isolation. The quality of the needs assessment will result in a more effective web site development plan.

Web Site Content: Schools, Districts, and State Departments of Education

School and School District Content

Web sites for schools and districts address the general needs of at least five audiences, with considerable overlap among the groups:
  1. instructional content and information for students,
  2. information for parents,
  3. resources for staff,
  4. resources for the board of education, and
  5. information for the community at large, which includes the four previously mentioned constituencies and others.

Instructional content can take many forms. Web sites can be built to contain learning objectives for each grade level, informational databases, and links to other educational web sites or a host of other instructional resources. They can be interactive sites that allow teachers to create lesson plans that address specific objectives or static sites that permit download of worksheets and completed lesson plans. Many school districts link to state professional development programs delivered over the web.

Access for students will allow a broad range of activities. The web is a portal to research and communication. The web can also act as a "front end" to many instructional applications.

There is a direct relationship between the bandwidth (i.e., the speed of network connection) and the ability of the Internet node and web site to deliver services to the classroom. A site that receives high-resolution pictures over the network requires more bandwidth than a site dedicated to e-mail exchanges or web research. Video requires a great deal more bandwidth than other Internet traffic.

Student and parent information can advise parents and others in the community on what is happening in the school and classroom and can provide resources to assist with the learning process. These resources may be available to the public or, in the most sophisticated sites, may grant password-protected parent access to individual student records. This content may include the following:

  • homework information and assistance;
  • links to educational databases, online encyclopedias, and other research resources;
  • district, school, and classroom announcements;
  • student products such as writing samples, art samples, presentations, term projects, and audio/video recordings of student performances;
  • school lunch menus;
  • school closings for weather and other reasons;
  • school safety information;
  • school calendar and event lists;
  • official communications and handbooks;
  • course syllabi;
  • school discipline code;
  • adopted curriculum guides;
  • special education rights, procedures, and other legal information; and
  • programs (e.g., gifted) available in the school.

Resources for staff may include the following:

  • staff memos;
  • professional development opportunities;
  • leadership development opportunities;
  • online interactive maintenance of professional development and certification records;
  • curriculum development plans;
  • curriculum maps;
  • internal job postings;
  • online staff development courses (interactive video) and other live events;
  • staff announcements;
  • teacher-sharing resources such as sample lesson plans and instructional units;
  • links to external teacher resources on the web; and
  • e-mail accounts for internal and external communication.
Information for the public is often relevant as well for staff, boards of education, students, and parents. This content may include the following:
  • annual reports to the public;
  • meeting agendas and minutes;
  • policies and procedures;
  • employment vacancy announcements;
  • employment application materials, either downloadable or interactive;
  • athletic schedules, scores, and program information;
  • awards won or bestowed by the school or district;
  • online surveys and survey results;
  • budget information;
  • volunteer program information;
  • downloadable and interactive forms for a variety of purposes;
  • downloadable maps and directions to school/district buildings;
  • downloadable or online registration materials for adult education;
  • electronic publications;
  • staff directories and e-mail links;
  • press releases;
  • newspaper articles;
  • special reports;
  • specifications, requests for proposals, and bid results;
  • alumni association news; and
  • foundation news.

Content for State Education Agencies

State education agency web sites may be more sophisticated than those of schools or districts. As their audience is more general, the content tends to be organized by topic in four categories: (1) information about educational issues in general and the education agency specifically; (2) information about legislation, regulations and standards; (3) information for professional educators about certification, grants, and state reporting requirements; and (4) statistics and information about schools and school districts.

General and agency information may include the following:

  • agency organizational information;
  • awards;
  • budget information;
  • catalog of materials;
  • downloadable forms for a variety of purposes;
  • state education reform efforts;
  • electronic publications;
  • e-mail links;
  • employment vacancy announcements;
  • employment application materials;
  • events calendar;
  • meeting schedules, agendas, and minutes;
  • press releases;
  • newspaper articles;
  • scholarship information;
  • special reports;
  • specifications, requests for proposals, and bid results;
  • staff and program directories; and
  • state curriculum frameworks and academic standards.
Legal and regulatory information may include the following:
  • charter school approval information;
  • notices of agency rulemaking and hearings;
  • state textbook adoption information;
  • state curriculum standards and curriculum frameworks;
  • agency policies and procedures manuals; and
  • testing and graduation standards.
Information for schools, school districts, and professional educators frequently includes the following:
  • downloadable or interactive grant applications and supporting materials;
  • links to other education resources;
  • official communications;
  • online staff development and other streaming video events;
  • reporting cycles and due dates for state reports; and
  • teacher certification requirements, applications, and other information.
Statistical and descriptive information on individual schools and school districts is frequently reported on the state agency's web site. This content may include the following:
  • downloadable maps and directions to school/district buildings;
  • links to school/district web sites within the state;
  • school/district profiles and performance reports;
  • school approval (accreditation) status;
  • school construction information;
  • special education information; and
  • state directories of school/district contacts.


  • The first step in building a web site is to conduct a needs assessment.
  • Stakeholders need to be involved in the needs assessment process.
  • Web content will vary according to the audiences the agency wants to serve.
  • School, district, and state department of education sites will have different content.