Idaho charter school says no thanks to state lottery money

CNN reports on the decision of the North Star Public Charter School in Idaho to turn down $10,000 in funding because the money came from state lottery proceeds. The school’s co-founder said the money was rejected because “it’s the less fortunate and the poor in the communities who are buying these [lottery] tickets, and children are the ones who will pay for it.”

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Hacker penetrates Berkeley firewall, putting data at risk

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that a hacker was recently able to penetrate a UC Berkeley computer, putting Social Security numbers and other key data for 600,000 Californians at risk. The FBI is investigating the break-in, which took place on Aug. 1 and was reported to the state on Sept. 21. The sensitive data was located on a computer used by a visiting scholar examining 1.4 million records related to the state’s In Home Supportive Services program.

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Split student polls reflect tightness of presidential race

WorldNetDaily.com reports on two national polls in which U.S. students cast mock votes for the upcoming presidential election. In an online and mail-in poll run by Scholastic, youngsters gave President George W. Bush 52 percent of their vote. In another poll, conducted online by the Nickelodeon TV network, students gave Sen. John Kerry 57 percent of the vote.

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Parents blitz school’s server after being given access to data

The Bridgeton News of Bridgeton, N.J., reports on a local school’s participation in a program that lets parents access their children’s school records online. Since implementing the Planet K-12 program, the school’s server has been overwhlemed with requests from parents, who were given user names and passwords to access the site. Planet K-12 offers viewing of attendance records, disciplinary information and grades.

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Ed tech: What do students want?

U.S. students who want to share their thoughts on the state of educational technology in the nation’s schools have until Nov. 12 to participate in Speak Up Day 2004, an online survey that aims to give K-12 students a say in how schools use technology and the internet.

Building on the success of last year’s inaugural Speak Up Day event, the NetDay organization–a California-based nonprofit group that supports the use of technology in schools–hopes to hear from 500,000 K-12 students enrolled in public, private, charter, and parochial schools from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and on American military bases worldwide.

“Speak Up Day is a tremendous opportunity for students in our nation’s schools to engage in meaningful civic engagement,” said Julie Evans, chief executive officer of NetDay. “Last year, many schools used Speak Up Day data to inform parents about technology, draw local businesses into supporting their schools, educate teachers about today’s students, and bring attention to their technology needs.”

Congressman Ed Royce (R-Calif.), right, and McPherson Magnet School principal Tara Saraye observe a student using a computer during a recent NetDay event in Orange County, Calif.(Photo courtesy of NetDay)

Response was so great last year that officials at the U.S. Department of Education (ED) agreed to consider students’ survey responses in drafting the 2004 national ed-tech plan.

“It was really important for us to have a student voice represented,” said Susan Patrick, director of ED’s office of educational technology, which published the plan. Patrick says a final version of the plan is expected later this year.

Having grown up in a society that thrives on high-speed communications and computer access, students share an affinity and understanding for technology, which Patrick says is essential to building new learning strategies. When it comes to the application of technology in schools, “American students are our ultimate constituents,” she explained.

Approximately 40 percent of the questions on this year’s survey are new questions, Evans said. Topics will include timely inquiries into cyber-bullying, plagiarism, the educational value of video games, and what types of writing students do using technology.

NetDay also hopes to get a better sense for how schools are integrating technology into the curriculum. Questions such as “How do you use technology to help you learn about science?” and “When you are doing math homework, or assignments, which of these technologies are you most likely to use?” are meant to move the national conversation away from specific hardware and software applications to the value of technology in improving instruction.

The survey also gives students a chance to make suggestions for policy reform.

One open-ended question asks, “What is the one thing you would like to tell the next president about how you use technology for learning?”

NetDay plans to send these answers to the president after his inauguration next year.

NetDay encourages entire schools to sign up for the survey. As an incentive, administrators in participating schools will receive access to their own aggregated school data–at no charge or fee. Though they won’t be allowed to identify students individually based on their personal responses, administrators will be able to track the data at both the classroom and building level, so they can compare local responses to national averages.

Evans hopes the data will have both a national and local impact on reform. Schools taking the survey for the second straight year also will be able to compare responses from year to year to see how students’ opinions toward technology have changed, she said.

“Schools that participate are finding the data to be so valuable,” added Evans. As schools continue to align themselves with the data-driven provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), there is no substitute for hard evidence of technology’s success, she said.

Last year, more than 210,000 students across all 50 states took part in the survey. (See “Students see tech as necessity, say schools fall short.”) Its findings suggested that students were becoming heavily reliant on technology as an eMail and communications tool and were, by and large, disappointed with the amount of technology education and access they were getting at school.

In June, NetDay released the results of its first-ever NetDay Speak Up Day for Teachers. More than 11,000 teachers from 1,885 schools completed the survey, which found teachers are using technology more than ever to improve learning and meet the goals of NCLB. This, even though teachers reported that limited time and access prevent them from using technology to its full potential. (See “Teachers: Limited time, access cut school tech use.”)

As of press time, NetDay had registered more than 238,000 students in 975 schools across 50 states to participate in this year’s event. Some 25,000 participants already have taken the survey, according to Evans.

NetDay also is holding a series of local Speak Up Days to increase awareness of the program and touch off a local conversation about the value of technology in schools. Individual events were held recently in San Francisco Oct. 14 and in Orange County, Calif., Oct. 20.

Links:

NetDay

NetDay’s National Report on Speak Up Day 2003: “Voices and Views of Today’s Tech-Savvy Students”

U.S. Department of Education

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Columnist: NCLB critics have a lot to learn about learning

In a column on his newspaper’s web site, Washington Post staff writer Jay Mathews responds to a colleague’s criticism of the No Child Left Behind Act. Mathews argues that for all the anti-NCLB sentiment, most educators have trouble actually faulting the law when pressed. Most policy-makers and educators tell Mathews that NCLB is on the right track, and learning should be measured by tests. (Note: This site requires registration.)

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Schools dial up cell-phone content

As more and more teenagers own cell phones, a small number of schools are making the most of the devices’ popularity by finding legitimate educational and instructional uses for them.

Twenty-five schools in New Hampshire are encouraging their students who own web-enabled cell phones to use them to access homework, class assignments, and other content.

“It allows cell phones to be viewed more as educational tools than simply for recreational use,” said Nick Rago, director of HomeWorkNow.com, a homework-management web site that recently began allowing students to access its content via web-enabled cell phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs).

Cell phones are one of most ubiquitous portable technology devices available to students. According to NetDay’s “Speak Up Day for Students 2003” survey, 70 percent of students in grades 6-12 and 61 percent of students in grades 3-6 said they use a cell phone either in school or during their free time.

Nearly two-thirds of the teachers at Exeter High School in New Hampshire post homework and class assignments for their students each day on HomeWorkNow.com, and with the site’s new accessibility, teachers now encourage students to check the site via their cell phones.

Like many schools, Exeter has adopted an “as long as I don’t see or hear it” policy regarding cell-phone use during school hours. Because of the no-cell-phone rule, Exeter students can’t access their homework assignments on their phones during the day–but after school, when they are at part-time jobs or riding the school bus, it’s not a problem.

“Students are pretty busy, and this allows them to retrieve their homework pretty quickly,” said Ellen Johnson, a Spanish teacher and advisor to the world languages department at Exeter High School.

Only two months into the school year, accessing HomeWorkNow.com seems to be popular among students. “Just from my personal account from my Spanish students, I’ve received more than 1,000 hits,” Johnson said.

Students at a high school in Ohio show their passion for their cell phones. Schools and vendors are tapping into this passion by offering access to schedules, homework assignments, and even practice SAT questions through the phones.(Associated Press photo)

Besides homework, Johnson posts project outlines and vocabulary flash cards. Parents can check project due dates, and students who have multiple teachers posting to HomeWorkNow.com can check for homework assignments for more than one class.

With more ways to access their assignments, students have fewer excuses when they don’t complete their homework. “Students would forget to copy it down, or students wouldn’t be listening at the end of class because they were thinking of lunch or getting home,” Johnson said.

The cell-phone version of HomeWorkNow.com offers fewer search capabilities than what’s available through a computer. “There are fewer features, and it’s more of a limitation of what the phones can do,” Rago said. “It’s the same content minus the interactive [stuff].”

HomeWorkNow.com, which costs $175 a year per school for up to 75 teachers, also lets teachers post links, images, and video.

“On the cell phone, everything is converted to text,” Rago said. “[It’s more of] a reference tool. Quickly, I want to see: Did I have homework today, and when is that test scheduled?”

Navigating to the HomeWorkNow.com site via cell phone is a bit of a challenge, Rago said: “Right now, it is a little tricky, if you’ve ever typed in a URL over a phone.”

Most cell-phone plans get around this difficulty by creating easy-to-navigate web links that are organized by categories.

But to the surprise of Andy Lutz, vice president of program development for The Princeton Review, no education category exists so far. “I was just stunned. When you go to the cell phone, there’s virtually no education content.”

The Princeton Review just launched an SAT prep tool that is delivered to students via their cell phones. “I don’t think anyone is going to sit and stare into their cell phone for three hours and read long passages or a book,” he said.

But cell phones are perfect devices for delivering “bite-size pieces” of information to students in their free time. “If you’ve got five minutes sitting in the back of a bus or car, instead of looking out the window, you can look at your phone and learn something,” Lutz said.

The Princeton Review’s new cell-phone application, which is only available to Verizon cell-phone users so far, lets college-bound students take timed mini-tests or drill for the math, grammar, and reading components of the SAT.

Students also can program their phones to deliver a certain number of questions at a certain time each day. Using this push technology, the phone will ring to let students know new questions have arrived. “That’s the most cutting-edge part of this,” Lutz said.

The cell-phone SAT prep tool is free to students enrolled in one of The Princeton Review’s programs. Students can also sign up for it separately for a $5.75 fee charged to their monthly Verizon phone bill. Schools and districts can contact The Princeton Review for more information about how to offer the cell-phone program to their students.

Links:

HomeWorkNow.com
http://www.homeworknow.com

Exeter High School
http://www.ehs.sau16.k12.nh.us

The Princeton Review
http://www.princetonreview.com

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Data management software a big hit in New Mexico district

The Alamogordo Daily News of Alamogordo, N.M., reports that the local school district has been having success with its new STI management software. The software is letting teachers do more grade management on the web, and also giving parents more access to student data.

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