Fact Controlled
for Special Learners

Busman's Holiday
Access for Macintosh
by Steve Wood
May 11, 1999



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After spending most of the last month working with a Windows-only program that assists in writing Individualized Educational Plans (IEP) for special education students, I really thought I was doing okay. I rationalized that since Win95 was being served up on a Mac through an OrangeMicro PC card, I shouldn't feel like I was going over to the dark side. Then one night last week, I awoke from a nightmare. I was swimming (poorly) in a sea of green fighting my way from point to point. As the fog of sleep receded, my memory of the dream became better and I realized the sea of green was the Win95 desktop and the points were the database entry fields! My wonderful Novell/WinTel techie wife thought it was a riot.

7500/G3Needless to say, I'm glad to be back doing 95% of my computing on a Mac, rather than the reverse. One of the parents who knows I'm a bit of a Mac freak commented on the Win 95 program I was using. It was fun to do a quick command-d and show him the Mac desktop underneath the Evil Empire. Other than one major lockup that occurred when I did something really dumb, the G3-upgraded PowerMac 7500 and the OrangeMicro 530 PC card performed flawlessly, allowing us to focus on the critical tasks at hand, rather than constantly fiddling trying to make the hardware/software work.

A pertinent item about Macintosh computing came to the fore during my months of preparation and week of nonstop conferencing. The fact that the critical software I use for IEP's is Windows-only (Access engine) reminded me that while Office 98 is truly a great tool, it is incomplete without a Mac version of Access. When we first started with the IEP program several years ago, I had the opportunity to talk a bit with John Steele, one of the programmers. While our special education coop director was and is hostile toward the Macintosh platform and repeated the then common refrain of "Apple is dead," John seemed quite positive about Macs. I couldn't help but get the feeling that if Microsoft would take Access to the Mac platform, we'd eventually see a Mac version of our IEP software.

At the Cause98 conference in December, Steve Jobs was asked about the possibility of Access on the Mac platform. He responded that it wasn't necessary, as the Mac already had FileMaker Pro, an outstanding database program. It's hard to argue his point about the quality of FileMaker. It is an incredible product and is my database software of choice. But, the discussion also brings back the old argument about the lack of software for the Mac platform. When software engineers choose a Windows-only app for their program, such as our IEP program, the Mac is left out in the cold.

While I'm able to rather easily deal with the Windows-only IEP program, some of my coworkers in the elementary work only with Macs. Most of our machines are of the 5200-5400 series which lacks PCI slots for an Orange card and are way too slow for Virtual PC. Those that do have newer, PCI slotted Macs often lack the expertise to deal with an Orange card and Windows. Most are folks that want to sit and do their work, not fiddle with semi-exotic hardware/software combinations.

So while Mr. Jobs is definitely correct in his assessment that FileMaker can probably do everything we need to do in a database, he's wrong in cases like ours where a Windows-only application is the only option. If Access were available on the Mac, we'd at least stand a fighting chance at getting the IEP program developer to port a Mac version.

What's an IEP?

That's a whole series of columns! But, the short version follows:

Federal law requires that all special education students have an Individualized Educational Plan formulated at least once a year for them. The various laws covering special education in the United States, and for me in Indiana, specify or are interpreted by state and federal agencies to require a vast array of information concerning each student. The heart of the document is the goals and specific objectives for each area to be addressed in the following school year. The goals and objectives can be a single page or 20 or more pages. Combined with the required mundane information, IEP's now typically weigh in at 20-30 pages! Fortunately, there's a lot of spacing and margins, but for those who must construct these documents by hand, there are sure writer's cramps ahead.

More importantly, I've always believed that anything that can be reasonably done to ease a teacher's tasks has to reflect positively on the quality of instruction in the classroom. If we educators can cut paperwork time, at least some of the saved time is probably going to go into improving our classroom instruction.

Indiana is currently developing a standardized special education database and IEP generator. It's not yet known what applications will be used for the base, but it appears likely that Access will receive serious consideration. I'd hope that some folks in Cupertino, and maybe even in Redmond, would see the opportunity to enhance the Mac platform with the addition of Access to the Macintosh Office suite. But I'm not holding my breath...or ditching my Orange card.

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updated and reposted to the new MATH DITTOS 2 site 6/18/2000
©1999 Steven L. Wood