Bookstores give teachers discounts during Educator Appreciation Weekend

Borders Books & Music and Waldenbooks stores nationwide will honor professors, teachers, librarians, principals, home-schoolers, and other educators for their hard work and dedication during Educator Appreciation Weekend. From Oct. 10 to 12, Borders stores will offer educators a 25 percent discount on all regularly priced merchandise and Waldenbooks will offer educators 25 percent off their total purchase. Both offers include items not intended for classroom use. In addition, all educators will receive a 40 percent discount on food and beverage items from Café Borders during the weekend.

Links:

Borders Books & Music
http://www.bordersstores.com

Waldenbooks
http://www.preferredreader.com

NSF award helps create an Internet2-based global music education network
From eSchool News staff and wire service reports
October 07, 2003

The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded the Miami Beach-based New World Symphony (NWS) more than $100,000 to enhance its connectivity to Internet2 and help form a global music education network to train musicians regardless of geographic location. NWS–which provides post-graduate music education and professional development–will create a network among several institutions for music education and collaboration. Internet2 is a consortium of more than 200 universities working with industry and government to support high-performance networking within the U.S. research community.

Links:

New World Symphony
http://www.nws.org

The National Science Foundation
http://www.nsf.gov

A new Chicago-area Digital Schoolhouse opens
From eSchool News staff and wire service reports
October 07, 2003

More than 3,000 Chicago-area children are expected to benefit annually from a new Digital Schoolhouse classroom that just opened. Through this unique program, sponsored by the Computer Associates Digital Schoolhouse Foundation, fifth grade classes participate in a day of learning in a state-of-the-art computer lab. Students use technology as a learning tool by researching topics on the internet and creating web pages and graphic presentations. Classes are taught by certified teachers and Computer Associates employee volunteers. To date, more than 15,000 children have attended classes through the Digital Schoolhouse in Islandia, N.Y. and a traveling version that has visited New Orleans, Orlando, and Las Vegas.

Links:

Computer Associates Digital Schoolhouse http://www.digitalschoolhouse.org

McGraw-Hill expands its online progress monitoring tool to grades 7 and 8
From eSchool News staff and wire service reports
October 07, 2003

McGraw-Hill Digital Learning has extended Yearly ProgressProMath to grades seven and eight and added algebra and geometry to its targeted curriculum. Yearly ProgressPro Math for grades 1-6, which launched last year, is designed to help teachers improve student performance and help them demonstrate adequate yearly progress. The web-based software measures student skill mastery through weekly, 15-minute tests that assess the entire grade level curriculum so that the retention of learned skills is frequently monitored for improved performance on end-of-year tests. It also includes exercises and practice sets that introduce or explain a given skill and provide for automatic instruction.

Links:

McGraw-Hill Digital Learning
http://www.mcgraw-hill.com

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Library tracking system raises privacy concerns

A civil liberties watchdog group is expressing concern over a newly emerging trend in school and public library technology: tracking books by inserting computer chips into each tome.

The San Francisco Public Library became the latest to adopt the practice when library officials approved a plan Oct. 2 to install tiny radio-frequency identification chips, known as RFIDs, into the roughly 2 million books, CDs, and audiovisual materials patrons can borrow. The system still needs funding and wouldn’t be ready until at least 2005.

The microchips send electromagnetic waves to a device that converts the signal to digital information. In libraries, the system is primarily designed to locate books in branches and speed up the checkout process.

Library officials say the “passive” chips would be deactivated as materials are taken from the library, thus preventing any stealth tracking of books–and, by extension, people–off premises.

But Lee Tien, a staff lawyer for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, is concerned that the chips might have information that would remain accessible and trackable, whether by ingenious hackers or law enforcement subpoena. That, he says, would be a threat to privacy rights.

“If there’s a technology for temporary deactivation, then presumably there’s a system for reactivating it,” Tien said. “Does the person have the ability to know if the RFID is on or off?”

Some of the foundation’s concerns are rooted in the provisions of the USA Patriot Act, which critics have assailed as giving government the authority to obtain the records and threatening the privacy and First Amendment rights of library and bookstore patrons.

San Francisco’s city librarian, Susan Hildreth, says the devices will help streamline inventory and prevent loss. Tracking people is not the goal, she insisted.

“It will not allow us to track people to their home or any location,” Hildreth said.

She pointed out that several other major libraries, including the Seattle public library system, are moving to the chips instead of bar codes.

“Industry trends show that it’s going to replace the bar code very shortly,” Hildreth said. “We’re trying to prepare for the future.”

Seattle’s 24 libraries are installing RFID tracking systems, with the first to be ready next spring. The city of Santa Clara, Calif., also is installing RFID tracking at its main library, and the county is considering a similar move.

Other adopters of the technology include the University of Connecticut, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and the University of Pennsylvania, according to the American Library Association.

Supporters of the technology say it vastly improves the ability of library staff to keep assets secure and take inventory. Not only are there fewer false alarms than with older technologies, but the interface to the library’s circulation system can identify exactly which items are being removed from the building.

The technology’s greatest advantage is that it can be used to scan books on the shelves without tipping them out or removing them. Using a handheld inventory reader, librarians can quickly scan a shelf of books or CDs, collecting all unique identifying information and wirelessly updating the library’s inventory–or even identifying which items are out of order.

Still, it’s the opportunity for unauthorized tracking that concerns Tien.

“The issue is other people, other institutions. What will they do if the RFID is insecure?” Tien said. “We’re talking about the imbedding of location trafficking devices into the social fabric.”

Hildreth said San Francisco library officials might hold a public forum to discuss the chips further.

Links:

American Library Association
http://www.ala.org

ALA’s paper on RFID technology (Click on Tech Notes)
http://www.pla.org/PLATemplate.cfm?Section=Publications_and_Reports

Electronic Frontier Foundation
http://www.eff.org

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Colleges turn to web for suicide prevention

Faced with a growing number of student suicides, some universities are trying to combat the trend by offering depressed students the anonymity of the internet to seek mental health counseling.

More than 80 universities have signed up so far for Ulifeline.org, which provides students with a link to school mental health centers for information, counseling, or to schedule appointments.

At the same time, the free program gives universities the chance to help ailing students by using a favorite tool: the internet.

“It’s a tragic element of college life that suicide is part of it,” said Peter Likins, president of the University of Arizona. “Often times, people in depression are not able to go to mental health services that are available on campuses. They’re embarrassed.

“Some of these youngsters may be willing to explore on the internet and get some anonymous feedback,” he said.

The suicide rate among 15- to 24-year-olds has tripled since the 1950s, and now stands at 9.9 deaths per 100,000 people.

The web site is one of several programs offered by the Jed Foundation, which was created by Phil and Donna Satow after their 20-year-old son Jed took his own life in 1998 by hanging himself.

Phil Satow said the internet is the perfect medium to teach the current generation of students about the signs of depression. Realizing they missed those signs has been difficult for Jed’s friends to live with, he said.

“That’s what’s been so devastating for them,” Satow said. “That’s one of the reasons they felt this web site was so important.”

Jay Zimmerman, the associate director of Ball State’s counseling center, said the web site can help eliminate the stigma associated with mental health disorders.

“The more students who access our web site, the more information they have, the more likely they are to get help or get help for their friends,” he said. “And, the more likely they are to lead happier, healthier lives.”

Links:

Ulifeline.org
http://www.Ulifeline.org

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Schools grapple with rules on classroom gadgets

Handheld devices and laptop computers are now seen as essential school supplies for students from coast to coast–but many schools have only just begun to take the steps necessary to obtain the educational benefits the devices can provide while blocking their potential for inappropriate text messaging, photo swapping, cheating, and chatting.

In the heart of Silicon Valley, Calif., Palo Alto High School junior Anna Luskin freely uses her cell phone between classes. Senior Sean Slattery taps notes into his personal digital assistant (PDA) as his teachers give lectures.

And like many other students, senior Stav Raz has memorized her cell phone keypad so she doesn’t even have to look at it while quietly sending messages to friends during class.

Nearly a third of American teenagers now carry cell phones. And an estimated 7 percent of school districts, according to the U.S. Department of Education (ED), now provide some students with handheld computers or PDAs, thanks in many cases to corporate grants.

Students who bring their own PDAs to school today mostly use them as organizers and notepads. But many newer models have wireless internet access, making it ever more difficult for teachers to detect students exchanging gossipy notes or test answers.

If schools haven’t addressed the PDA issue yet, “it’s something they’ll have to wrestle with in the next couple of years as students bring more of these kinds of gadgets to schools,” said John Bailey, ED’s director of educational technology.

Handheld devices remain verboten in most classrooms, but that doesn’t mean students aren’t quietly tapping away under their desks.

Palo Alto High is ahead of the curve. Its school board updated its computer policies in June to include PDAs, basically allowing their use as long as they don’t interfere with class.

“They’re common-sense restrictions,” said Chuck Merritt, Palo Alto High’s assistant vice principal.

When Slattery, the Palo Alto senior, first got his PDA a year ago, teachers told him to put it away whenever they caught him playing games on it. Now, he says he uses it only for taking notes and keeping track of assignments.

He knows he is lucky, because most other schools in the high-tech region and elsewhere aren’t so lenient.

“It’s not that we discourage technology here, but we want the kids to not be distracted either,” said Alice Pearson, an English teacher at East Dubuque High School in Illinois. Pearson herself uses a PDA from PalmOne to stay organized.

About 10 percent of the 600 East Dubuque students carry PDAs, said Joe Ambrosia, the district’s technology coordinator.

Though no formal policy exists, teachers there generally apply the same rules they have for computers: no exchange of information between devices, and no personal eMail or chatting unless it’s part of a class exercise.

When East Dubuque does consider a PDA policy, Ambrosia said he’ll want to ban the combination cell phone-PDA models.

“It shouldn’t be so easy to have all these other functions at their fingertips,” he said. “It’s hard enough to keep a young teenager on task.”

California and Illinois are among only a handful of states that have lifted campus bans of cell phones and pagers, which date back to the 1980s when the devices were considered the tools of drug dealers, not of soccer moms and their kids.

A few states now let school districts set their own cell phone policies. Some have decided to keep bans in place; others restrict usage to before or after school.

Schools are adapting in other ways, too.

Some teachers configure student seats in a U-shape instead of rows, for easier monitoring of computer screens. They set rules on when laptop screens can be up or down (most have as yet to take tablet PCs–which need not be “up”–into account). They listen for keyboard taps, knowing that if a student is typing a mile a minute during a lecture, the youngster is probably sending someone a message rather than transcribing the teacher’s remarks.

And cell phones that ring in class are often confiscated until school’s over.

Schools also have strict rules for when students can use their powerful graphing calculators, which are often required for advanced math classes and achievement tests. Newer graphing calculators have better memory, creating more possibilities for cheating.

In addition, vendors of educational software have responded to the cheating potential–for instance, Scantron Corp. makes a quiz program for PDAs, called Classroom Wizard, that automatically disables the device’s infrared beaming function.

Still, policing the use of these devices “is a new skill in terms of teachers knowing what to do,” said Cari Vaeth, principal of Independence High School in San Jose, Calif., which issued laptops last year to the entire class of 1,000 sophomores.

Social studies classes at Independence High are also switching to eBooks instead of regular textbooks.

Even so, despite some parental protests, cell phones and mobile communicators remain banned from that campus.

“Cell phones are a huge distraction, so we’ve continued to stay with the ban,” Vaeth said. “And in an emergency, we could get the student from the classroom just like we always have.”

Links:

Palo Alto High School
http://www.paly.palo-alto.ca.us

U.S. Department of Education
http://www.ed.gov

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Congress moves to resolve internet tax debate

For years, state and federal lawmakers have wrestled with whether–and how–to impose taxes on internet access fees and online purchases. Now, Congress is considering two measures that could bring these issues closer to a resolution.

House lawmakers on Sept. 17 passed a bill that would keep connections to the internet tax-free on a permanent basis. One week later, Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Okla., introduced a bill to help states collect sales taxes on purchases made online.

The issues cut two ways for schools, which increasingly rely on the internet for their purchases and other day-to-day operations.

Collecting and processing sales taxes from businesses and consumers would result in increased expenses for online merchants. And even though most schools don’t pay sales taxes, these operating increases ultimately would be passed on to schools and other consumers in the form of higher prices.

Opponents of taxes on internet connections also argue that such taxes would curb the growth of home internet access. For schools, this means some parents might be asked to pay too much for home access, possibly reducing the number of households where students can go online after school.

On the other hand, internet sales taxes and taxes on internet access fees would provide some welcome relief for cash-strapped states, many of which are being forced to dip into their education budgets to offset soaring deficits.

Taxes on internet access

H.R. 49., passed with bipartisan support, would make permanent a ban on taxing internet connections. A temporary ban on these taxes, first enacted in 1998, runs out Nov. 1.

New language in the bill clarifies that all types of internet access–ranging from dial-up connections and high-speed DSL to cable modems–cannot be taxed.

“This bill would broaden access to the internet, expand consumer choice, promote certainty and growth in the IT [information technology] sector of our economy, and encourage the deployment of broadband services at lower prices,” said Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah.

Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Calif., described the original moratorium as “something of an experiment” and declared it a success. Keeping internet access tax-free will give more people access, he said.

“It’s just a little bit too expensive for a lot of people,” Cox said. “A nick here, and a little bit of nickels and dimes here, would add up to a serious amount of taxation for most people.”

Currently, nine states–Hawaii, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, and Washington–are allowed to impose a communications tax on internet connections, because these states had such taxes in place before Congress first approved the moratorium in 1998.

If H.R. 49 becomes law, however, these states stand to lose $80 million to $120 million a year in lost tax revenue, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

Several Texas Democrats opposed the bill, including Rep. Gene Green, who said the bill would cost Texas $45 million a year in lost revenue.

“I don’t need to remind my colleagues of the fiscal crisis that our states are currently finding ourselves in, including the state of Texas,” Green said.

A similar Senate bill would give states that tax internet connections three years to phase them out and find new sources of revenue.

NCSL spokesman Neal Osten said states also worry that a permanent moratorium will lead to confusion when telecommunications companies develop new technologies never contemplated by the law. When the moratorium was first introduced, he noted, cell phones were a novelty and DSL service had no consumer market.

In fact, some state officials say the bill could have the unintentional effect of freeing the telecommunications industry from virtually all taxes.

The Multistate Tax Commission, an organization of state tax officials, say the bill’s language is too broad. They say it eventually could exempt the telecommunications industry from all state and local taxes, as telecommunication companies gradually start using internet technology to deliver all of their services.

The commission says the bill’s language could leave telecommunications businesses free from sales, excise, income, and property taxes, and that states stand to lose between $4 billion and $9 billion a year by 2006.

Lawmakers who wrote the bill said they look at the same words and see a different meaning.

“I think they are discussing a problem that does not exist,” said Rep. Melvin Watt, D-N.C. “It’s hard for me to box with a shadow.”

Watt and other members of the House Judiciary Committee added the language to ensure that consumers who use broadband get the same treatment as those who use slower, dial-up connections. They also wanted to give future technology equal footing with current means of access.

Watt said he shared the language with a number of state and local organizations and remains open to new ideas. But so far, he said, no one has proposed better language.

State tax officials and federal lawmakers do not question each others’ motives. Both sides say internet access must remain tax-free to make the technology available to the most consumers for the best price. They split over how telecommunications industry lawyers and courts will interpret the bill.

If courts decided to interpret the law to mean that services delivered through the internet should be free of state and local taxes, the Multistate Tax Commission said consumers will lose.

“All those consumers are also taxpayers,” said Dan Bucks, the commission’s executive director. He said consumers would see their income taxes, sales taxes, or property taxes rise to make up the lost revenue.

Internet sales taxes

Congress also is being asked to decide whether to let states begin collecting sales taxes via internet retailers or preserve the mostly tax-free world of virtual shopping. Lawmakers backing the effort by state and local governments to collect taxes on internet purchases prepared legislation for introduction Sept. 25 that would give congressional approval for the voluntary system.

The effort, known as the Streamlined Sales Tax Project, imposes no new taxes, it just helps states capture the taxes already due, said Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Okla., who is sponsoring the legislation. “This is not about changing taxes. It’s about simplifying them,” he said.

The internet has remained a mostly tax-free shopping zone since the Supreme Court ruled that states can’t force a business to collect sales taxes unless it has a store or other physical presence in the state.

Although 45 states require buyers to pay taxes on internet purchases, few states enforce those laws.

State and local governments have been working with businesses since 2000 to organize an easier way to collect the taxes. They have simultaneously established a simpler set of tax rules that keep businesses from having to adapt to the different tax customs of every state and local government.

So far, 20 states–Arkansas, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming–have adopted the new rules to align their laws with the tax agreement. Another four states– New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin–have laid plans to pass similar provisions this fall.

The National Governors Association estimates that sales taxes make up one-third of state tax revenue, and state and local governments fear that tax collections will decline as shoppers turn to the internet more often.

“Preserving local authority is critical to the ability of local government to provide fundamental services on which our citizens depend, especially at a time when local governments have been squeezed by so many fiscal pressures,” said Karen J. Anderson, mayor of Minnetonka, Minn.

The federal government has taken note of the budgetary pressure on states. Congress this year approved a $20 billion payment to help states weather a stormy economy. Istook said federal help gradually draws power to Washington, though, and he would rather see the states make their own decisions about how to raise and spend tax money.

He predicted most House lawmakers would agree. “The votes are here in the House,” he said.

Traditional brick-and-mortar retailers also have their eyes on lost money. They say they stand to lose money as shoppers turn to tax-free internet purchases.

In 2001, researchers at the University of Tennessee estimated that states were losing about $13.5 billion in revenue as a result of non-taxable internet commerce–a figure many expect will climb as more and more consumers shop online.

Links:

National Conference of State Legislatures
http://www.ncsl.org

Multistate Tax Commission
http://www.mtc.gov

House Judiciary Committee
http://www.house.gov/judiciary

Streamlined Sales Tax Project
http://www.streamlinedsalestax.org

National Governors Association
http://www.nga.org

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Free high-resolution printers and works of art curriculum from Lexmark

Lexmark’s Print Art Education Program donates art-inspired lesson plans, CD-ROMs, and printers to schools across the country to help children learn history, language arts, math, and science. Through this program, Lexmark donates either a Lexmark Z53 or a Lexmark Z45 color art-quality inkjet printer to each elementary, middle, and high school in the district. The hardware comes with a warranty and the proper cabling. With this technology, Lexmark also donates a “Print Gallery” CD-ROM–the product of an exclusive collaboration between Lexmark and the largest consortium of art museums in Europe. The disc includes software and approximately 100 high-resolution works of art that allow the students to view, explore, and learn about art masterpieces from the great museums of Europe. Each school also receives a teacher’s guide with sample lesson plans. This guide includes academic exercises that put the CD to use in virtually every discipline, from art, to language, to social studies, to math and science. In addition, program participants are eligible to receive one donated inkjet cartridge for every three inkjet cartridges purchased. Every order is shipped free of charge.

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Free tools to create classroom web sites

This program from Docutek Information Systems Inc. is intended to help budget-strapped school districts obtain technology that can save valuable time for teachers and greatly improve their communication with parents and students. Grant recipients will receive a customized version of Docutek’s web-based school information sharing system, Docutek at School, for two years. Remote web hosting of the system is included, as is training, and access to a users group consisting of current and past grant recipients, as well as teachers and technology specialists at all schools using the system. With Docutek at School, teachers easily can create classroom web sites where all relevant information–such as assignments, resources, grades, schedules, and notices–can be posted. Parents and students then can log on to the sites from their home computers to get updated information.

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$10,000 in savings bonds for winning science projects

What will technology look like in another 20 years? That’s the question thousands of students in grades K-12 will answer as they compete in the annual ExploraVision Awards programone of the world’s largest K-12 science and technology competitions. Students work in teams to research a technology, or an aspect of a technology, that is present in the home, school, and/or community, or any other technology relevant to their lives. Students may choose something as simple as a pencil or as complex as a quantum computer. They have to explore what the technology does, how it works, and how, when, and why it was invented. The students must then project what that technology could be like 20 years from now. Finally, they must convey their vision to others through both a written description and five graphics simulating web pages. Finalist team members, their parents, and coaches will be awarded an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C. in June 2004 for a gala celebration. Students from the four first-place teams will each receive a $10,000 U.S. Series EE savings bond. Second-place winners receive $5,000 U.S. Series EE savings bonds. First- and second-place Canadian winners receive Canada savings bonds purchased for the equivalent issue price in Canadian dollars.

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Up to $100 million to improve math and science achievement

The Math and Science Partnership (MSP) program is a major research and development effort that supports innovative partnerships to improve K-12 student achievement in mathematics and science. MSP projects are expected to raise the achievement levels of all students and significantly reduce achievement gaps in the mathematics and science performance of diverse student populations. Successful projects serve as models that can be widely replicated in educational practice to improve the mathematics and science achievement of the nation’s students. Optional letters of intent and registration, which are strongly encouraged, are due Nov. 17. Full proposals are due Dec. 16.

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$500 cash award for exemplary global education

Each year, Global TeachNet recognizes K-12 educators who exhibit a commitment to bringing global education into U.S. classrooms. Teachers can nominate themselves or be nominated by others. Qualified applicants include Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) and non-RPCVs whose global education efforts in the classroom span at least one academic year. Award winners receive $500 and national recognition. Global TeachNet also recognizes exemplary K-12 educators for their efforts in promoting peace and international/intercultural understanding with a $500 award. The deadline for both programs is the same.

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