NOVA follows the latest Mars rovers from start to finish

On Jan. 4, a strange sight unfolded on the planet Mars. Above a vast, dry lake bed south of the Martian equator, a conical vehicle parachuted toward the surface. Just before touching down, it was enveloped by a gigantic protective airbag, allowing the craft to bounce safely to a stop. Inside were Spirit and its twin, Opportunity, the most sophisticated rovers ever launched from Earth. “Mars Dead or Alive,” from the PBS television series NOVA, covers this mission in depth, providing a behind-the-scenes look at the rovers’ construction and culminating with the latest news and images from the red planet. The original broadcast aired last month, but the entire program is available for viewing online. Visitors to the site will be able to watch an animation of Spirit’s journey from Earth to Mars; examine the robotic geologists and their scientific instruments; create a parachute both strong and light enough to safely slow the rovers in their descent toward Mars; and see some of the finest images ever taken of the Martian surface.

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Bush budget would boost spending, cut tech programs

Federal education spending would receive a near-$2 billion boost next year, according to the $2.4 trillion budget proposed by President Bush Feb.2. Like Bill Murray’s character in the movie Groundhog Day, though, supporters of educational technology must feel like they’ve seen this all before: For the fourth straight year, the president’s budget would eliminate a number of technology-specific education programs.

In all, U.S. Department of Education (ED) spending is recommended at $57 billion in fiscal year 2005. Bush’s proposed increases included an additional $1 billion apiece for both disabled students and poor school districts.

Despite a three-percent increase in overall ED funding, however, some 38 education initiatives are slated for termination, including at least four technology-specific programs totaling more than $54 million.

Supporters of Bush’s budget proposal say the spike in overall funding reaffirms the administration’s commitment to educating disadvantaged students and helping schools meet the provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), bolstering funding for Title 1 grants and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for a second straight year. But critics contend the proposal falls short of Bush’s promise to prepare the nation’s students for success in a technology-driven, 21st-century workforce.

“In our view, this budget represents a major step back from the federal government’s interest in and commitment to ensuring that our nation’s educators and students gain access to the tremendous learning resources available online and the tools and skills needed to compete successfully in the 21st century’s job market,” said a joint statement issued by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN)–two organizations dedicated to promoting better use of technology in America’s schools.

“ISTE and CoSN, who collectively represent tens of thousands of educators nationwide, are extremely disappointed by the administration’s proposals to eliminate a number of critical and long-standing federal programs that support preservice teacher technology training, distance learning, and community technology access,” the groups said

Among the initiatives on the chopping block for next year is the Star Schools program, a nationwide project to aid in the deployment of advanced telecommunications services and audiovisual equipment in underserved schools. In 2004, the program received $20.5 million, nearly $7 million short of what it was allotted in 2003. Bush has proposed cutting this program for the last four years.

Also slated for elimination in 2005 is the Community Technology Centers program, which provides federally subsidized computer centers for students in low-income areas. The program received $10 million in 2004–just half of what the Senate recommended, and more than two-thirds less than the $32.3 million it received in 2003.

Under Bush’s proposal, Ready to Teach–a federal initiative that helps public broadcasters provide educational and professional development resources to schools–also would go unfunded. The program received more than $14 million from Congress in 2004, up from $12 million in 2003.

The Regional Technology in Education Consortia, or RTECs, would meet a similar fate. In 2004, the RTECs faired somewhat better, receiving $10 million from Congress despite Bush’s plan to strike the program from the budget last year.

Not everyone is discouraged by the cuts. In a press briefing unveiling the 2005 budget request, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige called the proposal “historic,” lauding the president for eliminating certain programs in hopes of reallocating nearly $1.4 billion for more effective, higher-priority activities such supplementing state accountability efforts and providing increased support for early reading initiatives–two cornerstones of NCLB.

“President Bush has once again provided record support for our nation’s students, parents, schools, and teachers,” Paige said. “In the last three years, we have witnessed watershed moments in education. I believe that one day we will look back on these years and say that this was the turning point.”

Paige said the United States spends more on education per year than any other nation with the exception of Switzerland–a commitment the administration seeks to uphold with its 2005 budget request. If Congress adheres to the president’s request, ED for the second year in a row would receive the largest dollar increase of any federal agency, increasing federal spending in America’s schools by more than 61 percent over the three-year period since Bush took office.

Besides $1 billion increases to Title I and IDEA, Bush has proposed nearly $823 million more for Pell Grants to give additional underserved students the chance to attend college, and his $1.1 billion proposal for Reading First State Grants would amount to a $101 million increase compared with 2004–all part of his plan to support NCLB’s promise that all students learn to read by the end of the third grade.

In support of the high-quality teacher provisions of NCLB, Bush also has requested $2.9 billion next year for Improving Teacher Quality State Grants, which are intended to give states and school districts more flexibility in the strategies they employ to select high-quality teachers for core subject areas.

But the Educational Technology State Grants program would receive $692 million next year, about $3 million less than in 2004. The program, which is the main federal initiative supporting the integration of technology into classroom instruction, has not received an increase in funding since 2002.

Though Bush’s 2005 spending plan might disappoint school technology leaders–many of whom are still reeling from lawmakers’ recent decision to eliminate the Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology program, a $62.5 million effort promoting partnerships between colleges of education and K-12 schools to help new teachers integrate technology into their instruction, from the 2004 budget–the Bush administration contends it is making headway in preparing the nation’s students for success in the 21st century.

At the crux of Bush’s plan is $333 million in funding for a new initiative called Jobs for the 21st Century, which the president unveiled last month during his State of the Union address. The goal of the program is to improve the quality of education in the nation’s high schools and colleges to better prepare students for success in higher education and the new information-age workplace, the White House said.

Primarily, Bush wants to expand access to postsecondary education for low-income students, while fostering a new generation of job training partnerships between community colleges and employers in industries with the most demand for skilled workers.

Under his proposal, the program would include $100 million for a new Striving Readers plan to improve the reading skills of teenage students who are reading at or below grade level; $120 million for a new Secondary Education Mathematics initiative to help ensure that high school math teachers are highly qualified and can meet the needs of struggling students; $40 million for an Adjunct Teacher Corps that would enable well-qualified individuals from business, technology, industry, and other areas to serve as adjunct high school teachers; $12 million to increase the number of states in the State Scholars program; $33 million to provide an additional Pell Grant award of up to $1,000 to low-income students who are State Scholars and take a rigorous high school curriculum; and $28 million to ensure that teachers in low-income schools are qualified to teach Advanced Placement courses.

Don Knezek, chief executive officer of ISTE, said that although the Jobs for the 21st Century initiative addresses some critical skills–including providing additional support for students who struggle with reading and math–the program offers no guarantee that students will leave school with the kinds of information technology (IT) skills needed to succeed in a 21st-century economy.

“Almost a third of that funding goes to helping struggling readers,” he said. “While these are important skills, what we still don’t see is a commitment to the future.”

In a discussion of the budget figures Feb. 2, Undersecretary of Education Eugene Hickok told reporters the U.S. now has an average per pupil expenditure of approximately $8,745. He added that federal funding has always been merely an adjunct to spending efforts at the state and local levels, which traditionally represent well over 90 percent of the nation’s education expenditures.

But Knezek said state and local educators rely on the federal government to provide leadership on such important issues as IT planning and integration. The Bush administration says its budget gives educators more leeway when it comes to spending federal dollars, but Knezek said the absence of technology-specific education programs threatens to create an environment in which students’ IT proficiency is dependent upon what schools they attend.

“We’re going to see pockets of future focus and development in education,” he predicted. “We know we are losing ground in terms of students who feel that learning is engaging. We also know technology can change that.”

Links:

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

President Bush’s 2005 education budget
http://www.ed.gov/news/pressreleases/2004/02/02022004.html

The White House
http://www.whitehouse.gov

Consortium for School Networking
http://www.cosn.org

International Society for Technology in Education
http://www.iste.org

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Xerox unveils new cheaper, faster imaging products

Xerox Corp. is making over a classic line of copiers and printers as part of a broader effort to attract cost-conscious educators and other customers looking for new imaging technology.

Xerox, which announced the new offerings Jan. 29, said the products include five new printing and imaging systems based on what it called two breakthrough technology platforms. The new platforms allow the products to be manufactured more cost effectively and improve the speed of the scanners, the quality of the images produced, and the price, Xerox said.

The company’s products have long been a staple of schools, where the need for high-volume, low-cost printing and scanning is essential.

The new offerings include the first major redesign of the company’s DocuTech products in more than a decade. The DocuTech line, introduced in 1990, was Xerox’s first venture into digital printing from traditional offset printing.

At up to 120 pages per minute, the new products represent “the fastest scanners on a printer-copier in the market,” according to Xerox public relations manager Karen Stroh.

Stroh said she expects the upgrades will prove especially useful in schools, where high-quality copies and additional scanning features are necessary to produce the vast array of educational pamphlets, forms, parent notices, newsletters, quizzes, tests, and worksheets distributed throughout the year.

The DocuTech 100 and DocuTech 120 machines produce black-and-white copies and print at a rate of 100 and 120 pages per minute, respectively. The 100 model starts at $77,000, but educators should expect to pay up to $99,000 for the higher-end 120 version, Stroh said. Both DocuTechs are designed to bridge a gap between light production copier/printers and heavy-duty systems by offering features previously available only on high-end equipment.

Stroh said the machines, which are built to print an average of 500,000 copies per month, are ideal for schools and universities looking for a top-tier product at a mid-market price.

Xerox simultaneously rolled out two other office printers, the Phaser 4500 black-and-white laser printer and the Phaser 7750 color laser printer. The 7750 represents the first color printer derived from a new solid-ink technology designed to improve image quality, the company said. Both sell for under $1,000. Xerox has introduced 38 new products in the past two years as part of a strategy that has returned the company to profitability. On Jan. 27, the Stamford, Conn.-based maker of printers and copiers reported fourth-quarter profits of $222 million, compared with $19 million for the same period a year ago.

Market analysts predict the new products will address a growing need in the marketplace.

“It’s about time,” said Andrew Johnson, vice president of research at Gartner Inc., also of Stamford. “There is some pent-up demand for these types of products.”

Competitors, including Canon and Ricoh, began to gain market share against Xerox in the late 1990s. The new products will help Xerox defend against the competition by offering printers with more features at a comparable price, said Charles Pesko, managing director at CAP Ventures, a research company whose clients include Xerox and its competitors.

“I think it’s going to raise the bar,” Pesko said of the company’s announcement.

Gartner’s Johnson, who predicted strong initial demand, said he’ll watch to see how Xerox’s distribution channel works in selling the products. Xerox has had trouble in the past with sales.

The new offerings are timely because they come as corporate spending for printers and copiers is expected to pick up, Johnson said. The products also respond to a trend by businesses to centralize their printing and copying by relying on fewer machines that produce greater volume, he said.

Xerox also is stepping up its consulting services designed to help schools and businesses cut costs and improve productivity.

Though Xerox has yet to announce special pricing incentives for the education market, Stroh did say the company is open to negotiating costs based on the size and scope of certain orders.

Links:

Xerox Corp.
http://www.xerox.com

Gateway to buy PC maker eMachines in $235 million deal
From eSchool News staff and wire service reports

In its latest attempt to find profits in the notoriously low-margin personal computer business, Gateway Inc. is buying privately held eMachines Inc. in a deal valued at $235 million.

The combined company would still trail Dell Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co., but executives hope the increased volume will give it more leverage in negotiating with suppliers. A similar argument was made when HP announced it was buying Compaq Computer Corp. in 2001.

“There’s an element of last man standing here,” said Roger Kay, an analyst at the research firm IDC. “The PC industry is definitely consolidating and, at this stage, bulk counts.”

Gateway and eMachines each had about 3.4 percent of the total U.S. computer market in the fourth quarter of last year, according to IDC. By comparison, Dell and HP commanded more than half.

The agreement, announced Jan. 30, came a day after Gateway posted its 12th loss in 13 quarters, a result of sharply declining sales and charges related to its makeover from a personal computer maker to a consumer electronics company.

Gateway’s revenue last year was little more than one-third what it was in 2000. The company introduced a raft of flat-panel TVs, cameras, and music players last year, but lackluster holiday sales failed to validate its decision to branch into consumer electronics, market analysts reported. The performance of the education division at Gateway has been a bright spot, company officials said.

Last year, Gateway’s overall PC shipments fell 24 percent to just under 2.1 million units. eMachines shipped 1.9 million PCs last year, meaning the transaction would effectively double Gateway’s overall PC business.

Ted Waitt, who founded Gateway in 1985 and returned as chief executive in 2001, said skepticism by analysts about the future of the company’s PC business, which still accounts for about 70 percent of its revenue, “basically gets answered” by the acquisition.

Once the deal is closed in about six to eight weeks, Waitt will be replaced by eMachines’ CEO, Wayne Inouye. Waitt, 41, will remain Gateway’s chairman. Inouye, 51, was senior vice president of computer merchandising at Best Buy Co. before joining eMachines in 2001 to turn around the then-struggling company.

The two companies, which began negotiating about a month ago, have targeted different customers. eMachines employs only 138 people, mostly in Orange County, Calif., hiring outside firms and selling its lower-end PCs through major electronics retailers, including Best Buy, Circuit City Stores Inc., and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Gateway, which employs about 7,500 people, sells its higher-end gear at its shrinking chain of 190 stores, over the internet, and by phone.

Gateway declined to say whether eMachine’s lean operating structure would result in additional layoffs. Gateway, which employed 25,000 people in 2000, recently stopped manufacturing its products–except for some large, custom accounts–and hired outsiders to handle everything from shipping to employee benefits.

Irvine, Calif.-based eMachines had revenue of $1.1 billion last year and has been profitable for nine straight quarters. The company declined to provide additional financial information.

Gateway, based in the San Diego suburb of Poway, had revenue of $3.4 billion last year. It said it expected to return to profitability in 2005.

Links:

Gateway Inc.
http://www.gateway.com

eMachines Inc.
http://www.emachines.com

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Free Kurzweil software for excellence in teaching and learning

The Kurzweil 3000 Software Awards initiative consists of three programs that recognize students, teachers, and schools that have shown a commitment to learning or an excellence in teaching students, including those with learning disabilities. Award winners will receive complimentary license(s) of Kurzweil 3000 for individual or classroom use, as well as complimentary support services. Kurzweil 3000 is a reading, writing, and learning software program for struggling students.

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$38 million to improve technician education in college and high school

The Advanced Technological Education program promotes improvement in technological education at the undergraduate and secondary school levels by supporting curriculum development; the preparation and professional development of college faculty and secondary school teachers; internships and field experiences for faculty, teachers, and students; and other activities. With an emphasis on two-year colleges, the program focuses on the education of technicians for the high-technology fields that drive our nation’s economy. The program also promotes articulation between programs at two-year colleges and four-year colleges and universities–in particular, articulation between two-year and four-year programs for prospective teachers and between two-year and four-year programs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Additionally, the program invites proposals focusing on research relating to technician education. NSF expects to make 65 awards, depending on the availability of funding.

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$10,000 to celebrate an exemplary young educator

To search for what works in schools, ASCD plans to seek out and celebrate the accomplishments of a young educator who achieves excellence and equity in teaching and learning. In 2004, ASCD will select four finalists from two rounds of nominations. Spring nominations will run until April 15, with two finalists announced in May. Fall nominations will run from April 16 to Oct. 15, with two finalists announced in November. In December, the annual winner will be chosen from among the four finalists. The winner will receive a check for $10,000, be profiled in Educational Leadership magazine, and be honored during a general session at the 2005 ASCD Annual Conference and Exhibit in Orlando. The winner also will receive an ASCD Institutional Membership for his or her school or district. Nominees should be education professionals, 40 years of age or younger, who demonstrate exemplary commitment and exceptional contribution to the profession. Their creative and innovative accomplishments within the classroom, school, district, state, or region must have had a significant impact on student performance and achievement over time and must provide an ongoing model of excellence in encouraging all learners to succeed. Nominations must be made by ASCD members; self nominations are not permitted.

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A $2,000 scholarship and $500 cash for diplomacy web projects

The U. S. State Department is sponsoring the “Doors to Diplomacy” educational challenge to encourage middle and high school students around the world to produce web projects that teach others about the importance of international affairs and diplomacy. Each student team member of the winning “Doors to Diplomacy” teams will receive a $2,000 scholarship, and the winning coaches’ schools will receive a $500 cash award. The State Department also will sponsor a trip to Washington, D.C., where the winners will receive a private tour of State Department facilities, meet with key officials, and participate in a special award presentation ceremony.

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Up to $10,000 in U.S. savings bonds for inventing a tool to make life

The Craftsman/NSTA Young Inventors Awards Program challenges students to use creativity and imagination along with science, technology, and mechanical ability to invent or modify a tool. A student, with guidance from a teacher-advisor, parent, or significant adult, will design and build a tool that must perform a practical function, including (but not limited to) tools that mend, make life easier or safer in some way, entertain, or solve an everyday problem. Two national winners (one from grades 2 to 5 and one from grades 6 to 8) each will receive a $10,000 United States Series EE Savings Bond. Ten national finalists (five from each grade category) each will receive a $5,000 United States Series EE Savings Bond. The winning teachers and schools will receive prizes from Sears, Roebuck and Co. retail stores. Twelve second-place regional winners (six from each grade category) each will receive a $500 U.S. Series EE Savings Bond. The 12 third-place regional winners (six from each grade category) will receive a $250 U.S. Series EE Savings Bond.

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$75,000 to honor outstanding contributions to education

Since 1988, the McGraw-Hill Companies has awarded the Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education to three individuals who have had an unusually positive impact in the field of education. Past honorees include U.S. Secretaries of Education Roderick Paige, Richard Riley, and Terrel Bell, former First Lady Barbara Bush, former Governor James Hunt, as well as university presidents, principals, superintendents, and educators from across the country. Prize recipients are selected by a distinguished board of judges who review eligible nominations. Recipients are honored at a dinner in New York City and receive a $25,000 prize.

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A PDA and a trip to the Kennedy Space Center for ed-tech excellence

To recognize outstanding contributions by K-12 educators and district-level personnel in the field of educational technology, the Astronauts Memorial Foundation will award a state-of-the-art personal digital assistant (PDA) and a commemorative trophy with his or her name engraved to someone chosen for his or her exceptional accomplishment in school technology use. The recipient of this award also will be flown to the Kennedy Space Center and will attend the Astronaut Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in April 2004.

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