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New Web Site Seeks To Help Parents Make the Home-School Connection

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A new venture from a Boston-based publishing company seeks to explore the World Wide Webs potential for giving time-pressed parents information and tools to become more involved in their childrens education.

The Family Education Network, a for-profit membership organization from the Educational Publishing Group, went on-line this month.

It seeks to stand out from scores of other parent-related Web sites by offering families "trusted, credible resources," said its president, Jonathan Carson, at a Washington kickoff event attended by U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley and various educators.

The network has recruited a number of companies and publications, among them Exceptional Parent magazine and the Princeton Review test-preparation company, to supply content.

The Web site will also tap material from Education Today, the Educational Publishing Group newsletter on families and education that is sold to corporations for distribution to employees.

The site is at http://familyeducation.com.

It offers parents and children an array of features, crisply designed and organized by topic and grade level, with articles on such topics as "the hidden meaning of your teenage child's dress code" and how to safeguard children who are left home alone.

Soon, the site will sell discounted products endorsed by Parents' Choice, a nonprofit evaluation service based in Newton, Mass.

A "basic" membership is free for now, but early in 1997, a premium membership with more features and larger discounts will require a small fee, Mr. Carson said in an interview last week.

The invited speakers at the press conference praised the effort. Mr. Riley said the network "offers significant opportunities for parents who are eager to be more involved in their children's lives and schools."

The Web site hosts on-line discussions of topical issues for parents and encourages political advocacy. By typing in a ZIP code, users can obtain the names and addresses of their members of Congress and learn their positions on major issues. The system also will produce a blank form for e-mail messages that can be sent directly to congressional offices.

Crucial to the venture's commercial success is its attempt to serve up local content, which Mr. Carson called the "Holy Grail" of Web publishing. Although some Web services offer local weather, news, and shopping information, Mr. Carson said his company believes local school information gives parents a uniquely powerful motivation to go on-line.

The network aims to build membership by cultivating relationships with local school districts. At no charge, it will provide any district a Web site, linked to the network site, and software templates that simplify the posting of school information and discussion forums.

fen has formed a partnership with the American Association of School Administrators to develop information-sharing among participating districts, Mr. Carlson said.

As of last week, only four school districts had signed up, and only one--the Hingham, Mass., schools--had a site up and running.

Hingham Superintendent Gary G. Baker said the arrangement was an easy way for the 3,300-student district to provide useful information to parents. He estimated that half the families in the affluent Boston suburb have access to the Web, and noted that the district supports an effort to provide Web access in local public libraries.

The Web site may also provide the district with some extra revenue. The Family Education Network site has an advertising "banner" at the base of every page, and Mr. Carson said districts can sell similar advertising on their own Web sites.

The advertising strategy is to allow ads from only one advertiser in each product category that does business with a district, Mr. Carson said. The district and the network will share the revenue from the ads.

The American Telephone & Telegraph Co. currently has a banner ad on the Hingham school site. Mr. Baker said he is seeking a grant from the New York City-based telecommunications giant to support the district's Web project.

Another sharp-looking Web site, aimed at teachers and their students, debuts this month.

The Scholastic Network, from a division of Scholastic Inc., the New York City-based educational publisher, has clambered onto the Web from America Online, where it was offered for the past three years.

The site features extensive sections devoted to language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, and the craft of teaching, and offers links to other Internet sites that are "safe and curriculum-appropriate."

The Scholastic Network is offering schools a 30-day free trial, after which they must subscribe to the service. Individual accounts for an entire school year will begin at $199; licenses for a whole school will start at $1,995 per school.

The site is at http://scholastic.com.

Younger Web-users who aren't joiners can instead be "Yahooligans" by checking out the junior version of the popular Yahoo! search service.

The "searchable, browsable index of the Internet" is designed for children ages 8-14, according to the service.

Visitors will find Web sites that are screened for content and "appropriateness" by typing in search words or selecting categories such as Around the World, School Bell, or Science and Oddities.

The free service from Yahoo! Corp., based in Santa Clara, Calif., also has recommended listings of "cool sites" and a random link that will hurl the user to interesting or fun destinations.

The site is at http://www.yahooligans.com.

--ANDREW TROTTERatrotter@epe.org

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