GOP taps ed chair to succeed DeLay

In a move that surprised some observers, House Republicans elected Rep. John Boehner of Ohio–chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, and a long-time education advocate–as their new majority leader on Feb. 2. The elevation of Boehner could bode well for school stakeholders, because it elevates in power someone with proven leadership on education issues.

In electing Boehner, Republicans chose a self-proclaimed reform candidate to replace indicted Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, as the party struggles with an ethics scandal.

Boehner, flanked by Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and other members of the leadership, said Republicans will “rededicate ourselves to dealing with big issues that the American people expect us to deal with”–such as pocketbook and national security issues.

Boehner, a 56-year-old veteran of 15 years in Congress, defeated the Republican front-runner, Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, 122-109, after lagging behind his rival in a first, inconclusive vote.

While Boehner has had feuds with DeLay, Blunt was close to the former majority leader and had served as his top deputy.

Blunt remains the GOP whip. “Believe me, the world goes on,” he said.

“We have a great leadership team,” Blunt said. “We’re going to work to make the Congress better; more importantly, we’re going to work to make the country better, and I look forward to working with John Boehner as majority leader to make that happen.”

Boehner campaigned as a candidate of reform, and said his experience as chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee had demonstrated his ability to pass major legislation.

Blunt had been a temporary stand-in for DeLay, who is charged with campaign-finance violations in Texas.

After the vote, Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., called Boehner “a fresh face,” adding, “It wouldn’t be credible for the same leaders to be advocating change.”

Republicans are at a political crossroads as they work to avoid the taint of scandal from investigations that have already led to the conviction and resignation of Rep. Randy Cunningham, R-Calif. In addition, Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, faces scrutiny in a wide-ranging congressional corruption investigation symbolized by lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The election capped a 24-day campaign in which Blunt sought to convert his experience as majority whip and DeLay’s temporary stand-in into a permanent promotion.

Blunt, who represents a district in southwestern Missouri, had just won his second term in 1998 when DeLay tapped him to take a place at the leadership table as chief deputy whip.

The two men each moved up one rung on the leadership ladder in 2003 and have worked closely together for years. Jim Ellis, a consultant who was indicted with DeLay last year on campaign fund-raising charges, also works for Blunt’s political action committee. He has denied all wrongdoing.

Unlike either of his rivals, Boehner came to Congress when Democrats held a majority, and he joined the Gang of Seven, a group of energetic young lawmakers eager to draw attention to a scandal involving the House bank and Democrats.

Boehner won a place in leadership when Republicans gained a majority in 1994, a position that kept him in frequent contact with lobbyists.

But he and DeLay soon clashed, and Boehner lost his leadership post four years later. Boehner became chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee in 2001, and he helped shepherd President Bush’s No Child Left Behind education bill through the House.

DeLay, who has denied any wrongdoing, is awaiting trial in his home state on the campaign finance charges he has repeatedly denounced as politically inspired.

In accepting his new role as House majority leader, Boehner will be forced to relinquish his role as the chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee. At press time, no replacement had been named.

Links:

Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio
http://johnboehner.house.gov

Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
http://www.blunt.house.gov

Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas
http://tomdelay.house.gov

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More than $3.5M from Best Buy for innovative uses of technology

Best Buy Co. Inc. has presented 36 K-12 schools across the United States with 2006 Best Buy te@ch awards, worth $15,000 each, for demonstrating innovative uses of technology to improve students’ classroom experience. Each of the 36 schools’ districts has been invited to apply for an additional $250,000 te@ch award that will be announced this summer. Best Buy also has presented 1,200 classrooms across the U.S. with $2,500 te@ch awards for demonstrating how interactive technology makes learning fun for students. Each winning school may use its te@ch award to purchase technology at Best Buy to extend or enhance classroom instruction. “Schools are creating exciting and valuable educational experiences through the use of interactive technology in classroomsthe applications we received this year for te@ch demonstrate that,” said Paula Prahl, vice president of public affairs for Best Buy. “Te@ch is designed to engage students in the learning process by using interactive technology to make learning fun. We firmly believe that technology can excite and engage students in the learning process, creating more valuable education experiences over time.” The 2006 te@ch award winners were selected from a pool of more than 7,000 applications. Applications were accepted from July through September 2005; all accredited, nonprofit public and private elementary, middle, and secondary schools located within 50 miles of a Best Buy store in the U.S. were eligible. Since 2003, the Best Buy te@ch program has awarded more than $9.5 million to U.S. schools. For details about the 2007 te@ch awards, visit the program’s web site this summer.

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Online tools and technology training from InfoSource

InfoSource Inc., a provider of IT training and courseware for schools and businesses, has awarded Integrating Technology in the Classroom Grants to six school districts representing more than 50 schools.
Designed to accelerate learning through the innovative use of technology, these grants aim to support high-need school systems by providing the tools to improve digital literacy skills for both students and teachers, InfoSource saidmaking computers and the internet an integral part of the classroom.
The winning school districts are El Dorado Public Schools, Ark.; Platte Canyon School District, Colo.; Whitfield County Schools, Ga.; Newton Public Schools, Kan.; South Kingstown School District, R.I.; and Addison Northwest Supervisory Union, Vt.
Winning districts receive InfoSource’s How to Master “Learn It! Build It! Share It!” suite of online tools and technology training. With dial-up or broadband internet access and the “Learn It! Build It! Share It!” suite, staff and students can access online computer and internet skills training, testing, assignments, grade books, reporting, chat rooms, discussion boards, file sharing, a lesson plan builder, and a lesson plan library, InfoSource said. The suite also contains an easy-to-use content authoring tool and test builder, so teachers can create their own online training and tests.
The grant is open to all K-12 school districts in the United States that can demonstrate a need for the How To Master “Learn It! Build It! Share It!” online suite. The application process consist of two parts; an online application form and submission of a short (1-2 page) summary detailing how your district plans to integrate technology in the classroom using the InfoSource suite of tools.

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$155,000 in minority scholarships from Xerox

Xerox Corp. has awarded its annual Xerox Technical Minority Scholarships to 119 graduate and undergraduate students from across the country to recognize their high academic achievement in the fields of science, engineering, and technology.
“The Xerox Foundation is committed to investing in colleges and universities that enhance learning opportunities for minorities, and this scholarship program is another strong avenue we pursue to help students achieve their academic and professional goals,” said Joseph Cahalan, vice president of the Xerox Foundation, which funds the scholarship program.
The 119 winners are from more than 30 states as well as Puerto Rico, and they attend one of about 100 colleges and universities, including Rochester Institute of Technology, Georgia Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Purdue University, North Carolina A&T State University, the University of California at Los Angeles, and Penn State. Chosen from 823 qualified applicants, the majority of the scholarship winners receive $1,000 toward college tuition costs for the 2005-2006 school year, with 12 scholarships granted in amounts up to $10,000, for a total Xerox investment of more than $155,000.
The Xerox scholarship program began in 1987; since then, more than 1,400 students have benefited from nearly $2 million in funding.
Scholarships are made available to minority students enrolled in technical degree programs at the bachelor’s degree level or above. Eligible students must have a grade point average of 3.0 or higher and show financial need. Students are allowed to reapply for the scholarship on an annual basis, and several dozen students are multiple recipients.

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Expenses are core issue of NCLB lawsuit

The Hartford Coruant reports that a central question surrounding Connecticut’s lawsuit against the federal “No Child Left Behind” act is: Are Connecticut’s tests more expensive than is necessary, or is the federal government taking back its word to pay for additional student testing–which is required under the act? U.S. District Judge Mark R. Kravitz questioned state officials about the tests, and whether they actually do more than required by law…

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Exam to measure “tech literacy”

The Washington Post reports that the ICT Literacy Assessment tests traditional skills like analytical reading and math, but with a twist. Test-takers could be asked to query a database, write an email on their research, and search the internet for information as well as make value judgments on the information’s reliability and accuracy… (Note: This site requires free registration)

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Blog follows probe of submerged volcano

USA Today reports that scientists on a research ship exploring the Davidson Seamount, rising from 12,000 feet below the ocean’s surface under Monterey Bay, have been posting images, video clips and journal entries from the site. The public can follow along on the web, through the scientists’ blog, as the they explore the massive volcano…

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Bush: Boost math and science

Bolstering the nation’s math and science teacher ranks and equipping U.S. students with the skills they need to be competitive in the global economy was the foundation for a new 10-year, $136 billion education and research initiative proposed by President Bush during his annual State of the Union address to Congress Jan. 31. Advocates of educational technology say the sweeping proposals could have broad implications for schools as educators look for ways to leverage technology to improve education.

In a speech that began with a tribute to the late Coretta Scott King, wife of civil-rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., the president called for a new era of cooperation in Washington, calling on Capitol Hill lawmakers to put aside political differences on such divisive issues as the war on terror and Social Security and come together, as a nation, to address a wide array of problems–from the rising cost of energy at home and the continued pursuit of freedom in the Middle East, to strengthening an education system that, despite four years of reform, still is struggling to prepare students for the challenges of the 21st century.

On this latter issue, the centerpiece of Bush’s plan is a new proposal called the American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI). A joint effort between the Departments of Education, Commerce, Labor, and Energy, in conjunction with the White House’s Office of Science and Technology, the plan aims to more than double the federal government’s investment in research and development in the physical sciences over the next 10 years, foster the creation of more public-private partnerships between top-flight universities and leading corporations, and bolster the nation’s education system by recruiting and training as many as 100,000 full- and part-time teachers to provide more students with rigorous, high-quality, college-level instruction in important technical disciplines such as math and science.

“[T]o keep America competitive, one commitment is necessary above all: We must continue to lead the world in human talent and creativity,” said Bush in his speech. “Our greatest advantage in the world has always been our educated, hard-working, ambitious people, and we are going to keep that edge.”

Driven by the perception that the United States is losing ground as a world economic power, mainly to rapidly developing nations such as India and China, Bush says his latest initiative is intended to give today’s students “a firm grounding in areas such as math and science,” so they have the technical skills to win high-paying jobs and ensure that America remains a leader on the world economic stage.

To support this effort, the president is expected to ask Congress for $5.6 billion for the program’s first year in his 2007 budget proposal, which is expected sometime early next week.

Of those funds, just $380 million will go to the Department of Education, most of which will be used to fund an ambitious new training program intended to increase the number of highly skilled math and science teachers working in the nation’s schools. The president’s proposal seeks to provide additional training to as many as 70,000 existing high school teachers over the next five years, giving educators the know-how they need to effectively teach higher-level Advanced Placement and college-level courses, particularly in mathematics and the sciences, where good help often is hard to find.

In addition, Bush has proposed bringing as many as 30,000 private-sector employees into the classroom to serve as adjunct teachers, acting under the belief that these people will serve as both guides and mentors to students as they enter the workforce and move on in their pursuit of a successful career.

Gerald Wheeler, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, had this to say of the president’s proposal: “Science and math education–in addition to basic research and policies that encourage innovation at our nation’s labs and universities–are critical to our nation’s future competitiveness. Our nation’s science teachers are educating the next generation of scientists, engineers, and workers who will find new ways to defend our country, create new technologies, and cure diseases. We commend the president for highlighting the importance of science and math before a national audience.”

National Education Association President Reg Weaver had a slightly different take on the president’s prposal. Though the program looks encouraging on paper, he said, a lack of federal funding and recent budget cuts by Congress likely will prevent schools from getting the job done.

“It’s reassuring to hear the president focused on competing in a global economy. As he said, to keep our competitive edge we must maintain our greatest advantage: educated, hard-working, ambitious people. Yet in December, lawmakers cut $13.7 billion from education spending, the first federal cuts to education in a decade,” he said in a statement about the address. “While the president says he wants the United States to remain competitive in the changing global economy, that simply can’t happen without quality education. Quality public schools, and access to higher education, are stepping stones to better lives. The massive education cuts by Congress don’t just hurt students, they hurt our national standing in the global economy.”

In a briefing with reporters on Feb. 1, members of the president’s cabinet–including Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, and John Marburger, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy–discussed ACI and the role it will play in helping America remain competitive in the new world economy.

Calling Bush’s proposal “a bold plan that speaks to the needs of Americans throughout their lifetimes,” Spellings emphasized the need for highly trained teachers, especially in the areas of math and science.

“You can’t teach what you don’t know,” she said plainly. “It’s time to train, recruit, and improve the quality of teaching in America.”

In addition to boosting training for both new and existing teachers and increasing students’ access to rigorous courses, Spellings said the administration also will focus on early intervention for elementary-aged students, stress the need for more higher-order thinking in schools, and increase instructional research “to bring best practice-type solutions” to public education.

The plans set forth in ACI are ambitious, she said, and the implications will extend well beyond the four walls of the classroom.

“As I travel around the country…I continue to hear the same message: ‘We must improve our K-12 pipeline if we are to stay successful as a country,'” Spellings explained, adding that “in this fast-changing landscape, our education system must keep pace.”

Bush’s new education proposals are part of a larger plan to spur technology innovation. Another way ACI seeks to promote economic competitiveness is through the approval of some $4.6 billion in tax credits to U.S.-based companies to encourage the continued development of new technologies.

By enacting a widespread, permanent tax credit, the White House aims to embolden corporations, giving companies certainty in their tax planning and encouraging more aggressive research and development.

In addition to the tax credits, another $910 million will go to bolster research and development in the public sector and through government agencies. A large chunk of that money–$137 million–is expected to promote federal research through organizations such as the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology. The investment is intended to buttress the development of a wide range of new and emerging technologies with implications for schools, including nanotechnology, supercomputing, and alternative sources of energy.

If the plan holds, Bush expects the federal government’s financial stake in these agencies to increase by $50 billion over the next 10 years.

Pointing out that the global economy has provided 3 billion new competitors for U.S. corporations, Gutierrez called on “every company and every community in the country” to meet the challenge by supporting the president’s plan.

But despite enthusiasm from the White House and throughout the broader administration, Democrats in what has become an increasingly partisan Congress questioned whether the president has expended too much political capital battling issues such as the debate over federal wiretapping and the continued presence of U.S. forces in Iraq to see these and other domestic improvements through.

Speaking for the Democratic National Party in response to the president’s speech, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine said the administration has failed to provide enough funding to adequately support the goals of the president’s signature education law.

“The No Child Left Behind Act is wreaking havoc on the nation’s school districts,” said Kaine. “Despite the insistence of Democrats in Congress that the program should be funded as promised, the administration has opposed full funding and is refusing to let states try innovative alternatives. Now the Republican leadership in Washington is actually cutting billions of dollars from the student loan programs that serve working families, helping to get their children through college.”

While urging the need for more cooperation in Washington on both sides of the political aisle, Kaine called for alternative solutions to education reform and increased results in the nation’s schools, saying, “There has got to be a better way.”

Urging the need for “common-sense solutions to common problems,” the first-term Democratic governor said there is a natural desire among Americans to expect results. And when those results don’t come, he said, it’s within the right of every American to call for change.

Rather than support ACI and other initiatives laid out in the president’s speech, Kaine instead suggested that the country look to other alternatives, particularly in education, where the nation’s governors–both Democrats and Republicans alike–have proposed a litany of reforms intended to bolster student achievement, redesign the nation’s high schools, and help America maintain its competitive edge.

Kaine’s political allies in Congress have expressed similar doubts about the current direction of education in the nation’s schools.

Last November, Congressional Democrats proposed a competitiveness agenda of their own design (see story: Democrats: Education is the key to reclaiming innovation).

Introduced by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the Democrats’ proposal featured a “five-pronged” strategy for improving education and promoting economic progress, including offering financial incentives to attract more high-quality teachers to science and math classrooms, promoting the use and expansion of school and community-wide broadband internet access, and making college tuition tax-deductible for prospective teachers specializing in science and math instruction.

When asked whether the president’s plan would provide similar tax breaks and monetary incentives, Spellings did not deny the possibility but was unable to provide specifics.

After seeing funding for major educational technology programs cut by millions of dollars in 2006 (see story: Education takes $59M hit in new federal budget), several ed-tech advocates who spoke with eSchool News were largely encouraged by the president’s latest proposals. Though the ACI program doesn’t directly provide money for the purchase or integration of school technology, leaders of several national ed-tech organizations agreed the goals outlined during the president’s speech would be hard, if not impossible, to achieve without the use and integration of technology in schools.

“I think that this proposed initiative [ACI] is critical in today’s changing global landscape,” said Melinda George, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association. “I now look to [members of Congress and the Bush administration] to make technology a priority in learning and teaching so that we are providing students with the opportunities and experiences that are needed for them to succeed in the 21st-century workforce and economy.”

“We look forward to working with the administration and Congress on the details and implementation of this agenda,” wrote Mark Schneiderman, director of federal education policy for the Washington-based Software & Information Industry Association, in an eMail message to eSchool News. “We believe this agenda can best be achieved by including support for instructional and other school technologies, as well by ensuring our students have necessary technology literacy and 21st-century skills.”

But given recent budget cuts to school technology programs in both chambers of Congress, they say, the federal government still has a long way to go to turn promise into practice.

“Education policies have been moving us backwards in relevance of curriculum and in required skills–including skills with technology–that are necessary for maintaining global competitiveness. So, not only must we gear up in science and math, but we must undo damage, reverse policies, and refocus efforts…in math, science, and technology,” said Don Knezek, chief executive officer for the International Society for Technology in Education. “The challenge to solve the math and science issue is far more complex than it appears on the surface, and it requires a new focus on relevant curriculum, on teacher development, and on requisite technology skills, as well as technology-rich math and science content.”

Links:

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

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

U.S. Department of Commerce
http://www.commerce.gov/

U.S. Department of Energy
http://www.energy.gov/

U.S. Department of Labor
http://www.dol.gov/

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

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

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

State Educational Technology Directors Association
http://www.setda.org

Software & Information Industry Association
http://www.siia.net/

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Battle brewing over Texas spending plan

The Houston Chronicle reports that many school superintendents and teachers are against Texas Governor Rick Perry’s directive that school districts use 65 percent of their funds in the classroom. A major study from Standard & Poor came to the conclusion that this spending target is unlikely to raise student achievement…

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ACLU files information request on alleged spying

The San Diego Union Tribune reports that The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California filed a request for information about alleged government spying during student-led protests at two universities.

The Freedom of Information Act request was filed Wednesday with the government on behalf of UC Santa Cruz Students Against the War and Berkeley Stop the War Coalition at the University of California, Berkeley, according to Dorothy Ehrlich, executive director of the ACLU-Northern California…

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