ED willing to bend NCLB rules to quell concerns in Florida

The Washington Times reports that the U.S. Department of Education’s recent decision to change assessment rules for the state of Florida has weakened a key portion of the No Child Left Behind law. Florida voters were unhappy that 77 percent of their schools failed to meet NCLB standards in 2004, and the Florida Department of Education and Gov. Jeb Bush requested special waivers to improve Florida’s overall NCLB report card.

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ED’s tech chief is stepping down

In a surprise move, Susan Patrick, head of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology, announced July 26 that she will leave the Bush administration in August to assume control of the Virginia-based North American Council for Online Learning (NACOL).

Patrick made the decision to step down as the nation’s top ed-tech administrator after less than two years on the job. “I didn’t plan to leave the department,” she said of her new role as president and chief executive of the nonprofit NACOL. “But this was an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up.”

When contacted by an eSchool News reporter, the Education Department (ED) confirmed that Patrick will step down effective Aug. 6. Though the administration has yet to name a successor, officials said they will be “actively looking” to fill the position.

ED officials said there are no immediate plans for changing the federal office, but they stopped short of guaranteeing its long-term survival, noting that Education Secretary Margaret Spellings will evaluate the department’s “technology needs externally and internally before making any decisions.”

But Patrick’s departure, though sudden, is probably less drastic than it might appear. With President Bush safely locked into a second term, Patrick, like many other outgoing government officials before her, says the time is right to pursue new opportunities.

Perhaps best-known for her role in helping to create the latest National Educational Technology Plan (NETP), Patrick spoke with eSchool News about the reasons behind her departure and her new role as a national figurehead for the advancement of virtual learning.

“I really felt like I accomplished a lot during the three and half years I was with the administration,” she said, pointing to the release of the NETP and the creation of summer leadership conferences designed to help educators understand the demands of the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law as proof that she had accomplished the bulk of what she set out to do when taking over in March of last year (see “ED’s new tech chief sets her agenda“).

Patrick, an agency veteran, was appointed by former Education Secretary Rod Paige to fill the post vacated by her predecessor, John Bailey, who left to help with President Bush’s reelection campaign.

And her contributions have not gone unnoticed.

“As director of the Office of Educational Technology, Susan Patrick has played an integral role in the implementation of No Child Left Behind,” said ED’s chief of staff, David Dunn. “She successfully led the department’s efforts on the 2004 National Education Technology Plan and has spent several years developing and coordinating the department’s educational technology policies. Susan shares our goal that every child can learn and has worked tirelessly to help provide leadership to the nation in the use of technology to promote achievement.”

At NACOL, Patrick plans to use her knowledge of the ed-tech landscape to promote the continued adoption of online learning in schools. Though schools are beginning to realize the value of online learning as a tool for reform, Patrick says, the majority of institutions still are not using these technological resources to their full potential.

“We’re just beginning to see the potential of what the internet, and especially online learning, will do for education,” Patrick said. “Today’s students want more options when it comes to education, and our global economy is demanding students are equipped with rigorous coursework and real-world skills.”

Patrick draws most of her support for this argument from a 2005 report by ED’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which states that that just more than one-third (36 percent) of public K-12 school districts currently enroll students in online programs. In all, ED estimates there are more than 328,000 online course enrollments nationwide. But analysts have predicted that number could soar to as many as 500,000 in the coming years, Patrick said. And schools need to understand what challenges lay ahead.

“Not since the creation of the printing press have we seen such a dynamic shift in the reinvention and expansion of educational opportunities,” Patrick explained. “Online learning is not a trend–it is a fundamental shift in the way students are learning and a new reality.”

Patrick takes over at NACOL for former Executive Director Tim Stroud. Stroud, once a special advisor on education in the Clinton administration, left NACOL in June to become a program manager with the National Science Teachers Association.

In her new role, Patrick will be responsible for overall management of all NACOL programs, including its Virtual School Symposium and Online Learning Clearinghouse, the organization said. She also will be responsible for implementing NACOL’s strategic plan, including developing projects based on member priorities and collaborating with other education organizations.

“We are looking forward to working with Susan. Not only does she have a wealth of expertise working in educational technology, but she has a passion for creating successful projects through collaboration and exploration,” said Steve Baxendale, chairman of the board for NACOL and director of PRELStar at Pacific Resources for Education and Learning in Honolulu. “Her vision and commitment to online learning, combined with her experience at the U.S. Department of Education, will enable NACOL to achieve its overall goals and objectives and create additional momentum in the online learning community.”

Others in the ed-tech community also are looking forward to Patrick’s arrival at NACOL.

“It makes sense that Susan sees great potential with [NACOL], especially in an era of diminishing support for educational technology from the administration in Washington,” said Don Knezek, chief executive officer for the International Society for Technology in Education. “Susan has worked tirelessly in the areas of policy, school transformation, and support for meaningful accountability … and she will be a powerful addition to our community.”

Patrick’s first day with NACOL is scheduled for Sept. 6.

Links:

North American Council for Online Learning
http://www.nacol.org

National Science Teachers Association
http://www.nsta.org

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

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

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State grant will give Vt. district a chance to produce TV show

The Rutland Herald of Rutland, Vt., reports that the local Springfield school district is dveloping a student-produced news program, thanks to a $75,000 grant from the Vermont Department of Education. The small district already boasts one of the state’s best high school newspapers, and the same students who produce the award-winning newspaper will now be able to learn about broadcast journalism, too.

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Software gives small district ability to offer first summer school

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports on the Ligonier Valley School District’s first summer-school program for students in its middle and high schools. The program features remedial math and English classes for 18 students from the district, and it is conducted entirely with PLATO Learning software, which allows each student to work at his or her own pace while a teacher supervises. This saves the district much of the money needed to run a summer school for the handful of students needing remediation before they can advance to the next grade.

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Gates: Guide students to computer science

The world’s richest man, perhaps reflecting on his own success, pronounced himself baffled by what’s keeping more students from going into computer science. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates was speaking July 18 at the annual Microsoft Research Faculty Summit in Redmond, Wash. He addressed nearly 400 computer science professors from 175 schools in 20 countries on the software maker’s campus.

Even if young people don’t know that salaries and job openings in computer science are on the rise, Gates said, they’re hooked on so much technology–cell phones, digital music players, instant messaging, internet browsing–that it’s puzzling why more don’t want to grow up to be programmers.

“It’s such a paradox,” Gates said. “If you say to a kid, ‘Yeah, what are the 10 coolest products you use that your parents are clueless about, that you’re good at using,’ I don’t think they’re going to say, ‘Oh, you know, it’s this new breakfast cereal. And I want to go work in agriculture and invent new cereals or something.’ … I think 10 out of 10 would be things that are software-driven.”

Maria Klawe, Princeton University’s dean of engineering and applied science, who was sharing the stage with Gates, said most students she talks to fear that computer science would doom them to isolating workdays fraught with boredom–nothing but writing reams of code.

Gates said computer scientists need to do a better job of dispelling that myth and conveying that it’s an exciting field.

“How many fields can you get right out of college and define substantial aspects of a product that’s going to go out and over 100 million people are going to use it?” Gates aked. “We promise people when they come here to do programming … they’re going to have that opportunity, and yet we can’t hire as many people as we’d like.”

Citing statistics from UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute, Klawe said students’ interest in computer science fell more than 60 percent from 2000 to 2004, even though salaries have increased and more jobs have opened up.

Klawe opened an hourlong question-and-answer with Gates by asking him what he thought could be done to stem a decline in federal funding for computer science research and graduate education.

In past three years, she noted, the Defense Department’s research agency–a major source of money for computer science academics–has cut its funding for information technology research at universities almost in half.

The National Science Foundation is awarding a smaller percentage of grants for computer science than for other fields, she said.

Gates said Microsoft and other high-tech companies need to keep telling the government it’s making a big mistake– one that could forestall stunning advancements in medicine, environmental science, and other fields.

He also said companies can help by boosting their own investments in research and development.

“The best investment we’ve ever made is having our Microsoft Research groups,” Gates said.

Modeled after academic research facilities, Microsoft Research focuses on work that is relevant to Microsoft’s product lineup, such as security or search technology.

Products including the TabletPC have come out of the research arm, which has labs in Redmond; San Francisco; California’s Silicon Valley; Cambridge, England; Beijing; and Bangalore, India.

Link:

Microsoft Research
http://research.microsoft.com/

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Major photo libraries join forces to provide free online service

The New York Times reports that a partnership between photo library giants George Eastman House and International Center of Photography has sparked development of an impressive digital image collection called Photomuse.org. The new web site–now in a testing phase–has great promise for educators, since it will offer free access to legendary photos that have value in classroom instruction. The project is expected to cost a minimum of $800,000. (Note: This site requires registration.)

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Privacy rights at issue as California eyes RFID legislation

The Modesto Bee of Modesto, Calif., reports that the growing controversy over RFID identification tags in California has led to proposed legislation that would set clear standards for this technology’s usage by public agencies. Part of Senate Bill 682 would ban RFID cards from being issued to students in K-12 schools over a three-year period after the law took effect. Although the bill is hailed by some as a victory for civil liberties, others say it is an overreaction to a technology that offers real security benefits.

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Dallas ISD official’s dealings with vendor spark investigation

The Dallas Morning News reports that Ruben Bohuchot, the Dallas Independent School District’s associate superintendent in charge of technology, has been making regular use of a luxury yacht owned by Micro System Enterprises president Frankie Wong. Over the past few years, while Bohuchot was using the boat, Micro System Enterprises received millions of dollars in eRate-related contracts from the Dallas district. Both Bohuchot and Wong say their friendship, which led to the loaning of the yacht, is purely coincidental and has not influenced contracts negotiated by the distrct. DISD officials say they are investigating Bohuchot’s actions because, even if the two are close personal friends, the district would not allow Bohuchot to accept gifts or favors from Wong. (Note: This site requires registration.)

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Educators capture Armstrong’s triumph

When Lance Armstrong pedaled his way into Paris yesterday for an unprecedented seventh-consecutive Tour de France victory, veteran educator Hall Davidson was standing by, video camera in hand, to capture the moment.

A guest of Armstrong’s Discovery Channel Team, Davidson, a former teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District, is in France to promote the Discovery Educator Network (DEN), Discovery Education’s new initiative that seeks to establish a global community where innovative teachers can trade best practices and work together to improve the quality of learning in their classrooms, wherever those might be.

While on the road with the world’s most famous cyclist, Davidson and a select group of “Discovery Educators” are documenting their experiences in the form of video and journal entries and posting them to a special Educator Blog. (To view selected videos, click here.)

Entries from the once-in-a-lifetime trip–which began cropping up online July 16–represent the first step in what Discovery hopes is the beginning of a new culture of sharing and communication in schools.

First announced during the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) in Philadelphia in June, Discovery’s Educator Blog was conceived as a venue for tech-savvy educators to discuss their use of Discovery’s unitedstreaming video-on-demand product, the web-based multimedia learning tool now reportedly used by more than 20 million students in some 50,000 schools nationwide.

“The goal is to connect teachers with teachers,” said DEN Vice President Coni Rechner. The company hopes the majority of the conversation will stem from the use of Discovery’s products in the classroom, but Rechner said educators are free–and even encouraged–to chat about broader issues concerning the use of technology in schools.

“We want to use unitedstreaming as the nucleus,” she said. But as teachers, “these people hear and see lots of things about implementing technology in the classroom. We want them to talk about these things, too.”

Indeed, the blog has already begun to confront some longstanding debates regarding the use of technology as a tool for learning. Recent entries have discussed everything from the textbooks vs. laptops dispute currently raging in Arizona (See “Textbooks give way to digital curriculum“) and the effects of game-based learning on student achievement to the use of video production and presentation software in the classroom and the 20th Anniversary of Christa McAuliffe’s selection by NASA as the first Teacher in Space, among other topics.

Of course, the DEN isn’t the first corporate project to offer blogs for educators. Other firms and media organizations, including eSchool News, boast similar tools. But Discovery says the DEN is about much more than creating a dialogue between teachers: It’s about turning good ideas into actionable results.

To help the project get under way, Discovery has tapped a group of 35 former teachers and administrators, including Davidson, to begin populating the blog and recruiting potential contributors to the site. As full-time Discovery employees, this first group of educators will be responsible for canvassing their local communities for technology success stories and recruiting others who are willing to share their stories with the world.

Each educator then must apply for membership to the program. Among the requirements, educators are asked to submit a one-page statement that addresses their motivation for participating in the network as well as how their inclusion will benefit other teachers; a detailed description of what they believe are the most effective ways to integrate technology effectively into classroom practice; and an outline detailing at least one lesson plan that demonstrates the use of Discovery’s line of digital media products in the classroom.

If selected, they will be given the opportunity to post information to the site; exchange ideas with other Discovery Educators; participate in special education summits and industry trade shows; download special training kits, learning resources, and Discovery support materials; beta test new Discovery Education products; and earn technology discounts for their schools, among other benefits.

For Carole Gooden, distance learning specialist for the 40,000-student St. Lucie County Public Schools on the Florida coast, the decision to participate was a no-brainer.

Unfortunately, she said, “teaching is not often a team sport. You have wonderful things happening across the district, throughout the building, and even across the hall … and nothing is shared. [The Discovery Educator Network] is a wonderful opportunity to share best practices with one another. It’s a real sounding box,” she explained.

During NECC, the group held its first Discovery Educator Network Summit, at which the founding members got together to talk about the program’s direction and make suggestions for future improvements. Suggestions, which can be found on the DEN web site, include developing partnerships with museums, cable companies, zoos, national parks, associations, and corporations to provide more virtual learning opportunities; recruiting authors and education personalities to conduct online events and webinars for students; providing professional development and increased recognition for innovative teachers; and emphasizing greater student involvement.

In terms of stakeholder buy-in, Gooden says, Discovery did well to recruit former educators to help spread the word.

“When you send salespeople into a school district it’s always about the pitch,” she said. With educators there is an inherent confidence that these people know what they’re talking about–that they’re doing it not for money, but for the good of the kids, she said.

With no limit to how many educators can participate in the program, Discovery aims to recruit its first hundred applicants by the fall. To expand the program’s reach, the company also is in the process of building an online discussion board that will allow educators worldwide to make contributions to the site, Rechner said.

But like Armstrong shedding his rivals during steep climbs in the Pyrenees, Rechner says, teachers today face a hard road–and Discovery’s quest to connect educators is no small task.

“With all the stress educators must deal with today,” she said, “it’s even more important for them to have a network where they can share their stories.”

Early adopters are excited about the network’s potential.

“This is a way to keep fresh–to really show people how to use the technology effectively,” said Gooden of the initiative.

Her network counterparts agreed.

“To me, the Educator Network is about teachers working with teachers to do things they never dreamed of and using the power of Discovery to make their ideas a reality,” wrote Discovery Educator Betsy Whalen, a former public school teacher in Washington, D.C.

Links:

Discovery Educators’ Videos
http://www.eschoolnews.com/vrc/denvideo725.cfm

Discovery Educator Network Web Log
http://discoveryeducation.typepad.com/

Discovery Education
http://education.discovery.com/

Discovery Educator Network
http://unitedstreaming.com/publicPages/den.cfm

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Laptop efforts prove to be great source of headlines across U.S.

In his “Random Access” column for WashingtonPost.com, Robert MacMillan examines the boom in one-to-one computing intiatives. MacMillan links to numerous online articles that document the growth of laptop programs in various districts and states. (Note: This site requires registration.)

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