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Like a fine-tuned piece of machinery, districts across the nation are taking advantage of high-tech tools and software programs to collect reams of data on students, make sense of it all, and in the end, transfer that knowledge into successful classroom lessons.

The idea of giving laptops to a large number of public students is officially entering its second phase. It has been almost four years since the big breakthrough, when Virginia's Henrico County Public Schools bought 23,000 iBooks for teachers and students.

Frank Wang knew he was green to the world of textbook publishing. "A few days after I defended my MIT thesis I literally got in my Honda and started driving to Oklahoma," he says. A top seat at Saxon Publishers, where Wang had helped out since high school, awaited him during that spring of 1991.

Lyle Rowland knows the name of each of the 238 students enrolled at Taneyville R-II School District, a K-8 district just east of Branson, Mo. What's more, he knows their parents, where they live and how some families earn their living.

Using private funds is nothing new to most school districts. Bake sales and student car washes have been funding activities for decades. Your district may already have a deal with a sporting goods company to subsidize its sports programs.

Hamilton Central School (New York)