$100,000 for science education programs

The American Honda Foundation, a nonprofit philanthropic organization, was established in 1984 in conjunction with American Honda’s 25th anniversary in the United States. It was founded to make grants to worthy national nonprofit causes, programs, and organizations that directly benefit the people of the United States. Since its inception, the American Honda Foundation has provided more than 400 grants worth more than $18.1 million total. Nonprofit organizations and other education programs involved with developing curriculum that encourages innovative education methods and techniques may apply. Projects focusing on youth and science education are of particular interest. The American Honda Foundation reflects the basic tenets and philosophies of the Honda companies, which are characterized by the following: Dreamful (imaginative), Creative, Youthful, Foresightful (forward-thinking), Scientific, Humanistic, and Innovative.

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At AFT, Spellings signals NCLB leeway

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, speaking at the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) conference in Washington, D.C., indicated that she might consider a “growth model” of assessment–a system of measuring individual students’ academic improvement as they advance from grade to grade–that could allow states to change how they rate student progress.

Reaching out to the AFT audience during a “conversation” with AFT President Edward J. McElroy, in which she answered pre-determined questions, Spellings appeared receptive to teachers’ concerns and indicated that she shared many of the AFT members’ goals.

“A school not meeting AYP [Adequate Yearly Progress] or a school in need of improvement is not, in my opinion, a failing school,” Spellings said to an applauding crowd during the July 8 gathering. She said the U.S. Department of Education (ED) is looking seriously at a growth model for the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program, but provided few specifics.

On July 14, an ED spokesman gave eSchool News an update.

“Right now, a growth-model working group is trying to figure out what exactly that growth model would be,” said Chad Colby, an ED deputy press secretary. “We want to know if there’s a way we can still get students to proficiency by using different levels of growth [for students who perform at different levels],” he said.

At press time, the working group had met only once. It was expected to meet again to determine if states can track growth by showing significant overall gains from year to year instead of having everyone meet the same benchmark, Colby added.

During the conference, AFT’s emphasis was on urging ED to make practical alterations to NCLB. McElroy said many teachers think the current AYP requirement doesn’t really measure progress, a notion reflected in the AFT’s advocacy program called “NCLB–Let’s Get It Right.” He added that teachers and paraprofessionals feel the law’s emphasis is more on testing and less on the quality of instruction, and that many subjects still believed to be important–such as foreign languages and civics–are shortchanged because students are not tested on them.

Spellings said she heard similar concerns from educators in Texas when implementing a precursor to NCLB with then-Gov. Bush, suggesting that teachers of subjects such as foreign languages and civics should be patient. NCLB started with reading and math, she noted, but now is moving on to science, and eventually will bring all the important subjects to the fore.

Under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, schools are judged on how current students in a grade score compared with how the previous year’s students in that same grade scored on reading and math tests, instead of following a student’s progress through different grades.

“We also believe, however, that we have to keep score … and have to make assessments to know where [students] are,” McElroy said. “How do you take care of both concerns?”

“In many ways … we’re in the infancy of testing and accountability. We’re going to have a rounding-out of this keeping score,” Spellings responded.

To have a sound growth model system, schools first need annual data, Spellings said, acknowledging that ED and other educational organizations need improvement. Looking at data gives school administrators crucial information on what a school or district needs to improve, she said.

McElroy said some of the difficulty occurs when guidelines are set on the federal level but then handed to state officials, who get to decide what those guidelines mean and what proficiency levels meet those guidelines.

Spellings said she has heard similar concerns about school testing before, and that the testing system will be expanded to include more options. While her comments suggest ED will be open to exploring new options for meeting AYP, such as the growth model of assessment, educators presumably will have to wait to discover what those options might be. Still, her apparent readiness to work with educators is a good start, conference attendees said.

“We were pleased by her openness and her willingness to be there, speak with us, and express her views,” said Richard Iannuzzi, president of New York State United Teachers.

Iannuzzi said AFT members generally disagree with Spellings on issues such as AYP interpretation and NCLB funding levels, but he said he was pleased to hear Spellings say a school that doesn’t meet AYP is not a failing school. The AFT believes NCLB is needed but that it must change, and it’s encouraging that Spellings would welcome the union’s input, he added.

“She was frank in her responses and was willing to say where she disagreed with us and hear where we disagreed with her. I think that type of openness will go a long way,” he said.

McElroy cited statistics showing that two-thirds of school districts will receive fewer Title I dollars this year, leaving them short of money. He also conveyed the AFT majority opinion that NCLB funding is inadequate and will not help the program.

“We’re always going to have these talks about money,” Spellings said. “I’m going to use my access to the White House to fight for all I can get within the budget” in a time of war.

Under Bush’s leadership, she added, NCLB funding has increased 40 percent since the law was passed.

“I’m proud that we’ve focused Title I as never before on our neediest kids,” Spellings answered, “and those resources have increased significantly.”

Not everyone was fully impressed with Spellings’ remarks.

“There are certain areas in which she was kind of rigid but managed to sound open,” said attendee Mary Bergan, president of the California Federation of Teachers and a vice president of the AFT. “We would like to see the same standards applied to supplemental services and charter schools that are applied to public schools, and she sidestepped that [issue], so that was a concern.”

In fact, when the conversation turned to supplemental services and charter schools, Spellings told McElroy and the audience that accountability is, in some ways, a state issue. Private supplemental service companies and charter schools are held to state standards and do not appear on state approval lists if they fall short of their states’ requirements, she said.

Still, Bergan said, she was heartened that Spellings at least seemed amenable to changes on AYP. “She seemed open to listening to things, and I think that’s the first step toward making change,” Bergan said.

Spellings appears to be more conciliatory toward teachers’ unions than her predecessor, Rod Paige, who once called the National Education Association (NEA) a “terrorist organization.”

“She’s certainly done a lot in public to indicate that she wants to listen to the concerns of teachers and educators,” said Dan Kaufman, a spokesman for the NEA.

Kaufman said his organization has expressed interest in meeting with Spellings to discuss NCLB. “We haven’t heard anything back yet, but we’re still hopeful that she’ll be willing to work with us,” he said.

Despite some differences of opinion, Spellings and McElroy said they were eager to form a working partnership and further the progress of testing and accountability. McElroy praised the education secretary and said not many people at her level would sit before an audience of teachers to answer questions.

“The bottom line is that we’re going to do what’s best for kids,” McElroy told the secretary, “and I know you’re going to do what’s best for kids.”

Links:

American Federation of Teachers
http://www.aft.org

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

No Child Left Behind
http://www.ed.gov/nclb

National Education Association
http://www.nea.org

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Video to help district administrators with disciplinary decisions

The State Journal of Charleston, W.Va., reports that local Harrison County Schools has installed a high-end video surveillance system for the 2005-06 school year. The goal is to be able to review incidents such as vandalism and student fights so that school leaders can make more informed decisions regarding disciplinary action. No one monitors the cameras’ live feeds, and the system will only be used to review reported or disputed incidents.

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Smart-card data aids researchers studying student eating habits

Innovations Report, a European forum for science, industry and business professionals, reports on a two-year study conducted by the Institute of Food Research, which examined the eating habits of students at a British school. In order to record what each student was eating, researchers went through data generated by smart-card technology, which is used by students to pay for their meals. The senior nutritionist on the study said that smart-card technology had “demonstrated the ability of the system to identify individuals who persistently choose highly inappropriate meals.”

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$500,000 for alternative programs that foster academic excellence

The Mary A. Crocker Trust funds programs that encourage academic excellence, aid schools in meeting the special demands facing the San Francisco Bay area, and provide alternative approaches to traditional education. Projects involving the use of technology will be considered. The Trust distributes 5 percent of its asset value, or approximately $500,000 a year, to charitable organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area. The average grant size ranges from $10,000 to $25,000.

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$650,000 to develop family literacy efforts

The goal of the Barbara Bush Foundation’s National Grant Program is to develop or expand family literacy efforts nationwide and to support the development of literacy programs that build families of readers. Funded programs must include reading instruction for parents or primary caregivers; literacy or preliteracy instruction for children; and intergenerational activities in which the parents or primary caregivers and children come together to learn and read. Programs also can include additional components, such as parent support groups, parent involvement, home visits, job training, etc. Approximately $650,000 is awarded each year; no grant request should exceed $65,000.

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EETT funding pays for Ala. school’s new wireless laptop lab

The Montgomery Advertiser reports on a local elementary school that will be getting a big dose of much-needed technology after receiving an Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) grant this week. The school will buy 28 laptops and, for the first time, have a mobile wireless lab. All computers in the mobile lab will be equipped with the same software already on the school’s desktop computers.

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Mozilla fixes ‘critical’ flaws in its popular Firefox web browser

cNet’s News.com reports on the release of Mozilla Firefox v1.0.5, which includes patches for numerous security flaws uncovered in the popular, open-source Firefox web browser. The Mozilla Foundation, which distributes Firefox, said two of the 12 detected bugs were rated “critical.” Some of the holes were found by Mozilla users who each received $500 and a Mozilla T-shirt from the foundation for their work in locating the problems.

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Grants encourage ‘sustainable’ tech

Outfitting a classroom with shiny new technology is great, but if educators can’t keep the equipment up to date, much of the luster can be lost, and then students can become disheartened and teachers discouraged. Now the technology director of a regional service agency in Washington state has devised a low-cost strategy intended to beat the predictable obsolescence that often afflicts classroom technology.

The Sustainable Classroom Grant Project is meant to strike a balance between the perennial budget concerns of public-school educators and the swift pace of technological advancement by creating a replicable model for the integration of classroom technology that can remain viable beyond the three- to five-year obsolescence cycle of most computers.

The initiative–funded at $8,400 per classroom–is the pet project of Debbie Tschirgi, director of educational technology for Vancouver-based Educational Service District 112, one of nine regional service agencies serving Washington schools. Her offices have partnered with vendors and local resellers to design a classroom model that will be piloted in five classrooms this fall.

Each of the five classrooms will be equipped with one computer bought by the district; a SMART Board interactive whiteboard and peripherals from SMART Technologies; a Hitachi CP-RS55 digital projector; a Califone Sound System; an AverVision 300 digital document camera; an Avocent Longview Wireless Extender for the projector; an eInstruction wireless response system; an annual subscription to eBoard, an online educational learning environment; and other peripherals and software solutions that are requested to ensure a successful implementation of the project.

The companies whose products will be used in the pilot classrooms already had won bids to provide technology to ESD 112’s schools and have “enthusiastically donated” products and services to Tschirgi’s project. Tschirgi also has set aside some of her own department’s funding to supplement the project as needed.

Tschirgi is no newcomer to strategic thinking. In 1995–as the technology boom was still in ascendancy–she wrote a grant proposal to underwrite the development of high-tech classrooms in which technology supported teaching and learning to meet Washington’s academic learning requirements. Her proposal was funded.

“At the heart of that technology grant was the one-computer-to-every-four-students ratio,” Tschirgi said. “What we set out to prove was that we could change classroom cultures by providing teachers with high-quality professional development around best practices and technological integration.”

The name of the grant was TELDEC, an acronym for “Technology and the Essential Learnings: Developing Effective Classrooms.”

“We did the right thing; we proved that technology could be used [to support] the curriculum [successfully],” Tschirgi said. “But now we know that it was not the best thing: It was not replicable. Districts without the funding couldn’t replicate the model, because of the high [degree] of classroom access to technology. It was not replicable, and it was not sustainable.”

She added, “I’m hearing that some of the teachers who were involved during those TELDEC years still have the same equipment in their classrooms, because the districts don’t have the funds to replace [the equipment].”

Ten years later, many educators have come to believe that technology plans with such high student-to-computer ratios are expensive to deploy and fraught with difficulty from an administrative point of view. Further difficulties arise when the software becomes obsolete, or the machines begin to wear out, or both.

“It now looks like a sustainable model that focuses on one computer and a number of other technologies is what’s needed at this time,” Tschirgi said.

The sustainable classroom plan is presented as an alternative to more costly laptop and desktop programs designed to increase the student-to-computer ratio. At the center of the plan is a single computer that the teacher uses for instruction. The supporting technology infrastructure provides permanent classroom support for this computer at a one-time cost (or nearly so), ideally through several PC obsolescence cycles. The combination of a whiteboard, projector, sound system, and personal response system makes up for the lack of individual computing devices for students by allowing them to engage with the instructor, the technology, and each other, while not leaving them huddled around a single desktop PC four at a time.

With the ESD 112 plan, only one computer per classroom must be replaced within the typical three- to five-year obsolescence cycle. The sustainable classroom model depends largely on equipment that need not be replaced in three to five years.

“In these ten years,” Tschirgi said, “the definition of technology has broadened. In 1995, technology meant ‘computers.’ [Today,] technology has become … a solution that fits a need.”

The need, she said, remains the same: increased student achievement. The holy book that her grantees will attempt to emulate is “A Handbook for Classroom Instruction that Works,” by Robert Marzano.

“We will use those technologies to reinforce the proven strategies from [Marzano’s] book,” said Tschirgi. “The reason we chose that book is because there are a number of districts in our region and state that are doing studies of the book and the strategies in it that are proven to increase student achievement.”

Here are the strategies discussed in “Handbook”:

  • Identifying similarities and differences;
  • Summarizing and note taking;
  • Reinforcing effort and providing recognition;
  • Homework and practice;
  • Nonlinguistic representations;
  • Cooperative learning;
  • Setting objectives and providing feedback;
  • Generating and testing hypotheses; and
  • Questions, cues, and advance organizers.

Tschirgi said her grantees will metabolize those nine strategies and use the technology to strengthen them. Grantees have agreed to take part in web-based collaboration on how they have used their classroom systems to achieve their goals, and to develop best practices among themselves and for the district’s future use.

“As a teacher, very infrequently do you get together and talk about what you’re doing, what works for me, what worked for my kids, et cetera,” said Kristy Schneider, a sixth-grade teacher of math, science, art, and reading, who was one of the grant winners. “You [don’t] get that time with other teachers.”

Another teacher taking part in the project, Jerri Ann Patten, said she’s also excited about how Tschirgi has chosen to run the project.

“Debbie’s running this a lot like action research–kind of documenting the impact that technology is having on student learning as we go,” Patten said. “I like that.”

Tim Fahlberg, a representative for eInstruction, which produces the Classroom Performance System (CPS), a wireless classroom response system that’s being used in the pilot, described how his company’s technology relates to the outline in Marzano’s book.

“There’s a huge piece of those nine principles that relate to formative assessment: Get immediate feedback, and use that to drive review,” he said. “Our product provides teachers with a relatively painless and engaging way to do formative assessment. By putting CPS in the classroom, I can get students to respond without embarrassing them and know how the learning has gone.”

The wireless eInstruction keypad system permits anonymous, immediate student responses to teacher polls and allows educators to view the success of any given lesson immediately. Its data-management system also allows teachers to track student progress and performance data against state standards.

Bob Berry, a representative from Troxell Communications, a reseller that connected the district and many of the vendors whose wares are being showcased through the Sustainable Classroom Project, said the program will provide a much more effective learning environment in general.

Ultimately, Tschirgi said, she hopes the project will “weave seamlessly” into school improvement and building plans.

“We’re developing these models that we hope will support increased student learning in the classroom,” she said. “We’re not saying that technology is going to increase student achievement. We’re saying that these teachers will use the instructional strategies identified to increase student achievement–and they’ll use this technology wherever it fits.”

Links:

ESD 112 Educational Technology Support Center
http://www.esd112.org/edtech

SMART Technologies Inc.
http://www.smarttech.com

AverMedia Technologies
http://www.aver.com

Califone International Inc.
http://www.califone.com

eInstruction Corp.
http://www.einstruction.com

Hitachi Global
http://www.hitachi.com

Troxell Communications Inc.
http://www.trox.com

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Santorum won’t have to repay district for enrolling kids online

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., will not have to repay the Penn Hills school district for enrolling his five children–all residents of Leesburg, Va.–in the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School. Santorum’s critics said the district should not have to fund his children’s education, because they were not even living in Santorum’s home state. However, school district officials failed in their effort to reclaim up to $67,000 because they did not file a challenge within the legal timeline for such disputes.

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