Performance pay for teachers approved

The Miami Herald reports that on Tuesday, February 22, the Florida State Board of Education unanimously approved a plan to base public-school teacher’s pay to their students’ performance on standardized tests. Dade and Broward county officials claim they are unable to meet the June 15th deadline for compliance. Education Commissioner John Winn has stated that he will withhold state lottery funds from districts that fail to comply…

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Google, EarthLink team up on Wi-Fi bid

USA Today reports that Earthlink and Google are teaming up to place a bid to provide wireless access to the city of San Fransisco. The network would provide basic web service for free and charge users about $20 per month to surf the web at higher speeds. The partnership reveals that Google has acknowledged that it needs help in its mission to provide free wireless access in San Francisco…

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Portable Wi-Fi: Hot spot in a box

The New York Times reports that a few companies–Kyocera, Junxion and Top Global–have begun to produce a portable Wi-Fi hotspots in a box. Each box requires the insertion of a PC laptop card provided by a cellular carrier. Once you have the box and insert the card, the portable hotspot allows internet access to any computer within 200 feet of the box. Previously, the PC laptop card would only allow one computer to access the internet, the portable hotspot works around that limitation… (Note: This site requires free registration)

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AASA 2006: “Stand up for Public Education”

The American Association of School Administrators (AASA) National Conference on Education kicks off today at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, Calif.

Intended to address the needs of the nation’s senior education executives–from district superintendents to associate directors and technology coordinators–the annual three-day event calls on educators everywhere to “Stand up for Public Education.”

As widespread policy changes brought on by the federal No Child Left Behind Act continue to usher in sweeping reforms in the nation’s schools, and educators work to better prepare students for the challenges of an emerging global economy, executives at AASA contend a fundamental shift is occurring in the nation’s public schools. No longer is it enough to simply provide students access to a quality education, they say, these days circumstances demand that schools go the extra mile: providing measurable proof of academic gains.

To help foster this change, AASA’s Stand Up initiative advocates a systemic focus, both locally and nationally, on three fundamental principles of public schooling: Getting children ready for school; getting schools ready for children; and getting children ready for democracy.

Throughout the weekend, educators from school systems large and small are expected to spend time meeting with peers; hearing from leading thinkers and practitioners in education; and examining best practices in leadership, curriculum, technology, governance, and school law.

AASA says this year’s event will provide a forum for school leaders to discuss the essence of leadership and to cultivate the types of lasting professional relationships that will enable their districts to stay “at the forefront of school improvement.”

To help put districts on a path to achieving their long-term goals and preparing students for success in the 21st century, AASA has assembled a broad list of distinguished, thought-provoking, if not somewhat controversial speakers, including best-selling author and education expert Jonathan Kozol, social anthropologist Jennifer James, independent researcher and writer Gerald Bracey, and Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, to name a few.

The conference also will feature a large and diverse exhibit hall, giving attendees in for the entire weekend, or just for the day, a chance to experience firsthand the latest in school technology and educational innovation.

With more than 320 registered exhibitors–from big-name technology providers such as Dell Inc., Microsoft Corp., and Apple Inc., to specialized curriculum designers and hardware manufacturers–this year’s show aims to give top-level school executives a glimpse inside the classroom, to see how the effective integration of technology is helping to transform education, one student at a time.

The conference and exposition opens tonight, Feb. 24, with a talk on leadership led by Coca-Cola President and Chief Operating Officer Donald Knauss and will wrap up Sunday, Feb. 26, with a closing address from Wally Amos, the entrepreneur and actor whose guiding philosophy, “The Cookie Never Crumbles,” led to the creation of the Famous Amos brand of cookies.

Be sure to visit the eSchool News Conference Information Center daily, for live, ongoing coverage of this important annual event.

Links:

American Association of School Administrators
http://www.aasa.org

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IPTV for ed set to debut March 3

Looking to take the use of video in the classroom and the community at large to new heights, a group of forward-thinking educators in Missouri is preparing to launch a new internet-based television network–one that might very well transform how education and training is delivered in schools throughout the state, and beyond.

Imagine being a high school football coach and having the capacity to screen the last 10 years of game films simply by logging on to the internet; or a rural high school student who, thanks to a unique television program, now can enroll in classes previously unavailable at his or her school. How about a teacher looking for instructional videos to supplement a difficult biology or history lesson, or a school administrator attempting to wedge important continuing-ed courses into an already bloated schedule.

These are just some of the benefits educators at the Missouri School Boards Association (MSBA) say will be possible through their latest foray into the evolving world of online video instruction, or Internet Protocol Television (IPTV).

The ambitious project, scheduled to kick off March 3 with a live broadcast from the Wonders of Wildlife Museum and Zooquarium in Springfield, Mo., aims to marry all of the benefits of streaming video with the ubiquity of the internet, providing a completely interactive learning experience, the likes of which few schools have ever seen before from a nonprofit education organization.

“When we integrate video material into core lessons … learning takes on a new dimension,” said Carter Ward, MSBA’s executive director.

Dubbed the “Education Solutions Global Network,” or ESGN, the network–available online at www.esgn.tv–supports the delivery of a broad spectrum of original and rebroadcast video content–from live coverage of educational events and conferences, to playbacks of classic high school sporting events and video-conferencing, to virtual learning programs for teachers and students.

Unlike other subscription-based video on-demand services available to schools these days, MSBA says its program, which functions on the internet, is more versatile, providing an interactive venue for teachers and students to become active participants in the learning process.

“We’re not just interested in video streaming solutions,” explained Joel Denney, MSBA’s associate executive director, in an interview with eSchool News. “Because this solution is IP-based it gives us the opportunity to augment all of the opportunities of the internet with video.”

Apart from simply downloading a video and broadcasting it, Denney said, the ESGN portal provides the capability to perform instant text messaging; conduct live polling; offer anytime, anywhere access to content; and broadcast both live and pre-recorded events with the same professional-grade method of delivery.

MSBA plans to use its video network to broadcast everything from online field trips and live broadcasts to virtual courses, extended teacher training and professional development sessions, and high school sporting events, officials said.

Given the technical acumen of most modern-day students, Ward said, the content available through ESGN will represent “a very strong alternative” for technology-literate learners to receive “educational material and entertainment” 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

What’s more, he said, the project could result in a substantial cost-savings for schools. By connecting students and teachers with video virtually via the internet, MSBA says schools can save themselves the time and expense associated with organizing unnecessary face-to-face meetings.

Plus, he said, the technology is affordable. Because the majority of production and infrastructure costs required to power the network are covered by MSBA, he said, the only significant investment required of schools is the purchase of an internet-connected computer.

“Most classrooms today are equipped with the technology necessary to take advantage of the network,” explained Ward.

Depending on what infrastructure is in place at the school level, Denney added, users can choose to view the video on separate desktops, or to simply pull the content down from the internet to be used in whole-class demonstrations via a digital projector or interactive whiteboard. He said the backend system, developed in conjunction with Texas-based Continental Vista Broadcast Group Inc., is compatible with a variety of internet connections, from traditional dial-up modems, to broadband access, and high-speed T-1 lines.

Still don’t have access to the internet? Don’t worry, said Denney. MSBA also is capable of using small dish satellite technology to broadcast directly to individual school buildings.

While finding the technology required to access the network won’t be a challenge for most schools, determining whether to download the content might be.

Currently, MSBA says it is experimenting with a variety of pay and for-free delivery mechanisms–each of which will depend on the type of content schools want to access.

Though some instructional videos might be made available free to schools, Denney said, other programs, including access to on-demand high school sports archives, for instance, will be available under a pay-per-view or subscription-based model. But, he said, those decisions will be “demand-driven.”

Though the March 3 launch, entitled “Extremeophiles: Living in Extremes,” will be available on an invitation-only basis, MSBA says it eventually plans to extend the benefits of its programming to schools throughout the state and, in some cases, throughout the country.

“We anticipate that there will be a wide variety of programs out there,” said Denney. The goal is to provide a solution that meets the needs of students and teachers, enabling them to access the content from home or work, as they see fit.

The use of video and technology in the classroom is nothing new for educators in Missouri, especially those working with MSBA, which has a reputation for using video to enhance instruction.

“This is something we’ve sort of grown into,” explained Ward.

The association’s interest in video-based instruction began in the mid-1980s with a large dish satellite program that delivered one-way instructional videos to schools. That program eventually gave way to the production of instructional video tapes and DVDs and then, finally, to two-way video-conferencing for teachers.

But when compared with IPTV, Ward said, schools haven’t seen anything yet.

Dr. Linda Ross-Happy, a former Missouri educator and retired director of the Conservatory of Music at the University of Missouri in Kansas City, says MSBA’s IPTV project harbors serious potential, especially when it comes to reaching poor and disadvantaged students.

After meeting Ward and other educators from her state at an awards ceremony in California, Ross-Happy says she was instantly drawn to the idea of video as an instructional equalizer.

“It just hit me–technology was going to be the way to get music to inner-city kids,” she said. “This is the answer. With incredible technology, they can broadcast over the internet to schools.”

And it couldn’t have come at a better time, she says.

Thanks to sweeping education changes brought on by the federal No Child Left Behind Act and a new national emphasis on technical disciplines, Ross-Happy says many schools have been forced to cut, or eliminate, arts and music programs.

“With the push for standards, the first programs to go often are arts and music,” she said. Committed to the need for better music instruction in the nation’s classrooms, Ross-Happy says she plans to work with MSBA to develop a series of online music education courses to be broadcast over the ESGN portal. Potential topics include everything from basic musical keyboarding to music theory and history.

Though video programs such as the ones being offered in Missouri won’t eliminate the need for classroom teachers, she said, the technology offers a viable alternative for students who otherwise would not have access to a fully diversified curriculum.

“This isn’t necessarily intended to replace the teachers,” Ross-Happy explained. But in schools that don’t have the resources, “it could help out.” With the integration of the internet and ESGN, she added, “education can be so much more interactive. It no longer has to be just a flat screen up there [on the wall]. The possibilities are endless.”

Links:

Education Solutions Global Network
http://www.esgn.tv

Missouri School Boards Association
http://www.msbanet.org/

Wonders of Wildlife Museum
http://www.wondersofwildlife.org/

Continental Vista Broadcasting Group Inc.
http://www.msbn.tv/cvbg/index.aspx

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Gulf Coast educators reveal tech needs

As Gulf Coast school leaders grapple with how to rebuild educational infrastructures in an area of the country that ranks near the bottom in terms of student achievement, many in the devastated region are asking how educational technology can play a role to make sure their schools are rebuilt for 21st-century teaching and learning. In an effort to answer that question, members of the Hurricane Education Leadership Program (HELP), an Intel-led coalition of educational technology companies and nonprofit organizations, traveled to New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Plaquemines Parish late last month to witness firsthand the scope of the destruction and the efforts to recover.

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Report blasts government’s indifference to disaster preparation

The deaths and suffering of thousands of Hurricane Katrina’s victims might have been avoided if the government had heeded lessons from the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States and had taken a proactive stance toward disaster preparedness, a Republican-led House inquiry concluded.

But from President Bush on down to local officials, there was largely a reactive posture to the catastrophic Aug. 29 storm–even when faced with early warnings about its deadly potential.

A 520-page report, titled “A Failure of Initiative,” was released Feb. 15 as Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff testified before a Senate committee conducting a separate investigation of the government’s Katrina response.

“The preparation for and response to Hurricane Katrina should disturb all Americans,” said the report, written by a Republican-dominated special House committee chaired by Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va.

“Passivity did the most damage,” it said. “The failure of initiative cost lives, prolonged suffering, and left all Americans justifiably concerned our government is no better prepared to protect its people than it was before 9-11, even if we are.”

The hard-hitting findings allocated blame to state and local authorities and concluded that the federal government’s single largest failure was in not recognizing Katrina’s likely consequences as it approached. That could have prompted a mobilization of federal assets for a post-storm evacuation of a flooded New Orleans, the report said, meaning aid “would have arrived several days earlier.”

It also found that Bush could have speeded the response by becoming involved in the crisis earlier and says he was not receiving guidance from a disaster specialist who would have understood the scope of the storm’s destruction.

“Earlier presidential involvement might have resulted in a more effective response,” the inquiry concluded.

White House spokesman Allen Abney declined to comment on the report. On Feb. 13, White House homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend said Bush was “fully involved” in Washington’s preparations and response to Katrina.

The inquiry into one of the nation’s worst natural disasters looked at everything from the evacuation to the military’s role to planning for emergency supplies and in each category found much to criticize. The House study is the first to be completed in a series of inquiries by Congress and the Bush administration into the massive failures exposed by Katrina.

Katrina left more than 1,300 people dead in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, hundreds of thousands homeless, and tens of billions of dollars worth of damage. Bush has accepted responsibility for the federal government’s shortfalls, but the storm response continues to generate finger-pointing.

In a 59-page Democratic response released Feb. 12, Reps. Charlie Melancon and William Jefferson of Louisiana said that although they largely agreed with its conclusions, the report falls short of holding “anyone accountable for these failures.”

Despite its accomplishments, the committee “adopted an approach that largely eschews direct accountability,” Melancon and Jefferson said in their assessment.

The report finds fault with Chertoff for failing to activate a national plan to trigger fast relief, and with Homeland Security for overseeing a bare-bones and inexperienced emergency response staff. It found that the military played an invaluable role in the response but lacked coordination with Homeland Security and other relief agencies.

Moreover, federal agencies were unclear about their responsibilities under a national response plan issued a year ago. And lessons learned from Hurricane Pam–a fictional storm designed to test Gulf Coast preparedness–went unheeded.

Describing similar delays, the report concludes that Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin waited until too late to order a mandatory evacuation of the city. Despite warnings of Katrina’s potential destruction 56 hours ahead of landfall, the evacuation order came only 19 hours before Katrina hit.

Charitable organizations such as the American Red Cross were described as overwhelmed by the sheer size of demands, leading to water, food, and other supply shortages and disorganized sheltering processes.

The House panel spent five months investigating the failures. It interviewed scores of federal, state, and local authorities, sorted through more than 500,000 pages of eMail messages, memos, and other documents, and held nine public hearings spotlighting sometimes feeble explanations by officials.

Though some Democrats mostly representing Gulf Coast districts participated in the House inquiry, their party leaders boycotted it, holding out for an independent commission similar to the one that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Links:

U.S. House report: “A Failure of Initiative”
http://katrina.house.gov/

U.S. House of Representatives
http://www.house.gov

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HELP arrives on the scene

When the Hurricane Education Leadership Program (HELP) traveled to Baton Rouge and New Orleans late last month to view firsthand the plight of schools affected by Hurricane Katrina, team members found school and government officials more than ready to accept help and recommendations for how to rebuild their schools for the 21st century.

Many education companies sent representatives to help team leader Terry Smithson of Intel Corp. coordinate recovery plans. These organizations included the Tiger Woods Foundation, the George Lucas Foundation, Scholastic, The Princeton Review, McGraw-Hill Companies, SAS, the Pearson Foundation, Futurekids, Scantron Corp., the Center for Digital Government, the International Society for Technology in Eduation, LearnStar, SchoolNet, Apple Computer, Pitsco, Ignite! Learning, and SMART Technologies, and eSchool News.

The team held a three-hour meeting with Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden and his staff, along with the Louisiana governor’s education policy advisor and superintendents of the East Baton Rouge Parish, Zachary Schools, Baker City Schools, and other districts.

Smithson also announced that Hudson La Force, the deputy assistant secretary for planning in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Planing, Evaluation, and Policy Development, will fill the fifth and final position on HELP’s Executive Oversight Committee.

The other four members of the committee are Melinda George, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA); Cathilea Robinett, vice president of the Centers for Digital Government and Education; Mike Hall, Georgia’s deputy superintendent of instruction; and Smithson.

Before joining ED, La Force was a general manager with Dell, and in 2002, he founded the Project on Government Leadership, a nonprofit research organization focused on developing new models of government guidance.

Smithson and other team members met with NBC executives to discuss New Orleans’ education plan. During the meeting, participants also discussed creating a media academy for multiple schools.

In addition, the HELP team toured Plaquemines Parish, the first area hit by Hurricane Katrina, and visited several destroyed schools to see how much damage the schools sustained and how long the road to recovery will be.

Smithson met again with Plaquemines Parish staff to discuss the parish’s current technology plan and to identify possible technology usage models. James Hoyle, superintendent of Plaquemines Parish, emphasized the parish’s need for help.

With HELP’s assistance, the Plaquemines Parish is progressing toward the creation of a 21st century learning environment, wrote Smithson in an eMail message to HELP team members. The parish plans to open a school for 600 students using portable trailers until the original building can be rebuilt.

On Feb. 16, Smithson had another meeting with New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Don Hutchinson, Nagin’s economic advisor, to further discuss the recovery plan for New Orleans schools. Smithson said Nagin was supportive of HELP’s input and the idea to rebuild the city’s schools to be 21st-century learning environments.

The HELP coalition isn’t the only ed-tech initiative helping to rebuild Gulf Coast schools.

Students from 15 hurricane-ravaged school districts in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas soon will have access to educational content, thanks to a donation of mobile computer labs from Dell Inc., SETDA, and Cable in the Classroom.

“These mobile labs provide students with critical access to educational content, both in their classrooms and from the internet, that had been unavailable since the storms,” said Helen Soule, executive director of Cable in the Classroom. “They also demonstrate the powerful role that technology and online resources can play in restoring educational programs after disasters threaten to disrupt learning.”

The donation comes through a program called vSKOOL, a consortium providing education-related relief to K-12 students, educators, and families affected by the Gulf Coast storms. vSKOOL has established an online clearinghouse of donated educational products and services at www.vskool.org. Available items include online courses, test preparation services, software, and digital content, the group said.

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Gulf Coast educators reveal tech needs

Buras High School sits open and empty in Louisiana’s Plaquemines Parish, the first school district hit by Hurricane Katrina last August. Trophies are huddled together beyond the main entrance, where a door with a cracked glass window reads “Enter.”

Tiles, ripped loose from the walls during Katrina’s visit, litter the stairs, making for a hazardous climb to the second floor. Upstairs, in the library, muddy footprints peek out from under papers strewn across the carpet.

The parish suffered a great deal of wind damage and is working with lawyers, insurance adjusters, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to settle claims and secure funding for the difficult chore of rebuilding its schools, said Stanley Gaudet, principal of Buras High School. The parish has formed a task force to lead its Katrina rebuilding efforts and has brought in structural engineers to assess the damage.

Still, the labor and costs involved in rebuilding schools do not make for an easy time. “There’s a lot of political infighting,” Gaudet said of the school board and community.

The challenges facing Plaquemines Parish are typical of those facing dozens of school systems along the Gulf Coast, whose schools either sustained severe wind or water damage or have swelled beyond maximum capacity from taking in displaced students.

As they grapple with important questions of how to rebuild educational infrastructures in an area of the country that ranks near the bottom in terms of student achievement, many in the devastated region are asking how educational technology can play a role to make sure their schools are rebuilt for 21st-century teaching and learning.

To help answer that question, members of the Hurricane Education Leadership Program (HELP; formerly known as the Hurricane Education Recovery Operation), an Intel-led coalition of educational technology companies and nonprofit organizations (see story: Education rebuilding begins for Gulf Coast), traveled to New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Plaquemines Parish late last month to witness firsthand the scope of the destruction.

Local superintendents joined the group to provide insight into their schools’ struggles in the days following Katrina, and also to shed light on what their schools need in terms of technology and other materials.

Their needs go well beyond the reconstruction of buildings that were damaged in the storm, the superintendents said.

“Immediately after the storm we received about 400 students, and we were already overcrowded,” said Warren Drake, superintendent of Zachary Schools, located about 15 miles north of Baton Rouge. “Money obviously helps, but what I’m more interested in is a blueprint for how to make these schools ready for the 21st century.” The district plans to expand a high school and build a new elementary and middle school, and Drake emphasized the importance of putting technology into those schools.

Charlotte Placide, superintendent of the East Baton Rouge Parish School System, also spoke of the need for a “blueprint.”

“We are [also] in a construction mode, and we … need an updated blueprint as to what our technology should be in our schools,” said Placide, whose district, like Zachary, also took in many displaced students.

With the influx of additional students, “we don’t have enough tech specialists to keep everything up and going,” said Placide. “We also need to be able to communicate and enter data with the state Department of Education better.”

Placide added that one roadblock to technology’s success is teacher knowledge. Simply putting new technology into schools where teachers don’t know how to use it is problematic, she said.

“If we have all this technology and we can’t use it, it’s absolutely worthless,” she said. “We need to figure out a way to get more teachers trained.” Placide also said her parish needs funding for school communication and security systems.

With support of the Louisiana Department of Education, the City of Baker School System hired 21 displaced teachers from the New Orleans metropolitan area. “We had children in class with uniforms by the end of the first week, before Christmas we received donations and had winter jackets for all the displaced children, and I can’t tell you how many book sacks we received from children all over the country,” Superintendent C. Lester Klotz told the group. “It’s been a very heartwarming experience for us.”

One company outfitted the district’s high school for wireless connectivity, he added.

“We can have kids in class and we can have them in uniforms, but if we don’t effect meaningful change in their performance, then we’ve accomplished very little,” Klotz said, emphasizing the need for technology in helping teachers assess students’ performance and needs. “There are gaps in performance, and the challenges our teachers faced were just enormous.”

He added: “Our teachers have worked very hard, but they’re very tired. We’ve entered into a consortium with other school systems and universities to offer teachers free graduate credits through online courses, but very few have taken advantage of it because they’re so tired.”

The ability to give teachers high-speed internet access for both classroom instruction and their own professional growth is essential, Klotz said.

Sister Mary Michaeline, superintendent of the Diocese of Baton Rouge, said her district took in about 4,000 extra students after Katrina. “We don’t have the counseling services we need. We’re short on textbooks, and it’s difficult sometimes meeting the coursework these students had because they were coming from different schools,” she said. “The schools have done a tremendous job and it’s been a stress on everyone, but we’re happy to do whatever we could.”

Mayor Kip Holden of Baton Rouge praised HELP members for their efforts in helping Louisiana schools not only recover from the hurricane, but also improve.

“There’s one thing we all have in common, and that’s saving children,” Holden said. “The common enemy is a state that is ranked second in the nation with regard to illiteracy. We can talk about a learning city, but you need action to go along with the words.”

The ed-tech group also received some words of appreciation from a Plaquemines Parish student.

“Thank you for giving us a chance at a new beginning, for showing us people do care, and for allowing thousands of students to continue to get the education they deserve,” wrote Belle Chasse High School student Brad Field in a letter to HELP members.

“… Katrina can only take so much,” Field wrote. “She can take our homes, she can take our possessions, but one thing she can’t take is our memories.

“…When you come here today, you open the minds of many people, to the thought that people do care. That people do more than just throw around money and say they helped. There is so much to say, but there is not enough paper in the world to express how we as a parish feel.”

The letter, read aloud to the group before it toured the Plaquemines Parish schools, left some members teary-eyed and elicited a round of applause at the end.

Although the U.S. Department of Education (ED) has announced $1.6 billion in aid, some leaders, at press time, had yet to receive a penny. James Hoyle, superintendent of Plaquemines Parish, which lost six of its nine schools, said his district has received just $100,000 from FEMA and has not seen any funds from ED.

“We’re working with the federal side, and we definitely need your assistance,” a representative from Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s office told the group. “The governor is pushing forward, and we would love you to assist us.” Blanco was in Washington, D.C., during the group’s visit to testify before the U.S. Senate regarding the federal government’s Hurricane Katrina response (see accompanying story).

Before the storm, Plaquemines Parish had an enrollment of 5,000. Now, 2,737 students remain.

Port Sulphur High School’s front entrance remains open because there are no doors, and the main hallway is water-stained and reveals loose wires. A filing cabinet and copy machine sit around the flagpole outside Buras Middle School, which Gaudet said FEMA ordered torn down because of the damage. Lockers hang open and wall, floor, and ceiling coverings have been ripped away by Katrina’s wind.

Parish employees had numbered 820, and now 600 people currently work for the school system. The parish has provided temporary housing for employees who have lost their homes, and these communities are on school property in the north end of the parish.

FEMA will give the parish two modular preK-12 schools–one on the East Bank to serve approximately 400 students, and one on the West Bank to serve approximately 600 students. Schools also will have new wireless computer labs to accommodate the Louisiana Comprehensive Curriculum’s new requirements.

Despite the significant challenges it faces, Plaquemines Parish has big plans for its schools and its technology, Hoyle said.

School libraries will have advanced media centers, and science labs will have probes and sensors that can gauge motion, light, temperature, and voltage. Electron microscopes and other microscopes with projection devices also will become part of the science classrooms.

The parish also hopes to provide networked laptops for every classroom, at a student-to-computer ratio of 5 to 1. Web-based educational programs, an auto-attendance system, an integrated telephone system, remote response pads, global positioning system (GPS) devices, digital and video cameras for classroom use, a video studio with cameras and editing devices, and interactive whiteboards also are planned.

A few miles away, New Orleans education officials are faced with the similar task of rebuilding and reorganizing their schools–a daunting mission for a school district that was among the worst in the nation academically.

Don Hutchinson, director of economic development in the New Orleans mayor’s office, said the city will recover.

“[We] will be able to change the face of the city,” he said, adding that the city’s public service departments and other organizations have faced severe reductions and limits in the days since Katrina.

The Bring New Orleans Back commission, which has committees focusing on areas such as education, urban planning, infrastructure, culture, and government effectiveness, has been created to rebuild and strengthen the city.

New Orleans Parish had 117 public schools before Katrina, and now only 17 public schools were functioning as of press time. Plans to rebuild the city’s schools are still in development.

“They will not be schools as they were pre-Katrina,” Hutchinson predicted, adding that the schools will become community centers as well. “It will be better than what it was,” he said. “I feel confident about that.”

But at press time, the New Orleans Parish, unlike Plaquemines, had no clear plan for its use of technology.

The Boston Consulting Group and Tulane University teamed up to create a skeleton outline of the future of New Orleans public schools, but this outline lacked any clear mention of technology–something Intel’s Terry Smithson was quick to point out during the HELP members’ visit.

New Orleans would welcome any input and recommendations for the city’s schools, especially regarding technology, said Veronica Chau of The Boston Consulting Group. Smithson said his coalition would be happy to help.

Before the storm, New Orleans was home to roughly 475,000 people. After the storm, that number has dropped to between 225,000 and 250,000 inhabitants during the day. Hutchison said many people now travel to the city for work and leave at night. After the workday, between 135,000 and 140,000 people actually live in the city.

City demographics have changed, too. New Orleans, which used to be around 68 percent African-American, 3 percent Hispanic, and 29 percent white, is now 80 percent white and 20 percent “other,” including African-American.

“If we don’t get involved, our fear is that the schools will be rebuilt just like they were 100 years ago, and that is going to be the same type of learning environment,” Smithson said. “Teachers will teach the same way they did 100 years ago, and that’s one of the problems in the U.S. right now.”

Smithson added that the HELP group’s efforts can serve as a model not only for hurricane-damaged schools, but for schools affected by disasters worldwide.

Links:

Bring New Orleans Back Commission
http://www.bringneworleansback.org

Intel Education
http://www97.intel.com/education

Federal Emergency Management Agency
http://www.fema.gov

Plaquemines Parish Schools
http://www.ppsb.org

City of Baker School System
http://www.bakerschools.org

East Baton Rouge Parish School System
http://www.ebrschools.org

Zachary Community School Board
http://www.zacharyschools.org

Diocese of Baton Rouge
http://www.csobr.org

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Scholastic launches new site to promote science literacy

Ever wonder how the domed tortoise’s shell protects it from predators–or what Charles Darwin saw when he visited the Galapagos Islands? Scholastic.com recently launched a new section of its web site, called Science Explorations, as part of an ongoing partnership between Scholastic and the American Museum of Natural History to promote science literacy among students in grades 3-10. Students who visit Science Explorations can take part in live chats with scientists from the museum, uncover clues in online investigations and activities, and keep a record of their discoveries in their own field journal. Science teachers will find an interactive way to supplement lessons that support students’ development of key science and cross-curricular skills, including observation, formulating a hypothesis, interpreting clues, critical thinking, vocabulary, writing, and reading comprehension. Interactive explorations are tailored to students’ grade level and feature a range of photos and videos, narration, diagrams, maps, and charts to help with the discovery process. In the first Science Exploration, called “Animals, Adaptation, and the Galapagos,” users got an up-close look at the animals, plants, and terrain that Darwin confronted when he visited the island. Additional Science Explorations to come will include “Zoom in on Insects,” “Journey into Space,” “Investigate Invertebrates,” “Beam up with Bats,” and “Research Reptiles.” Students and teachers can dig further on each topic in Scholastic’s classroom magazines, SuperScience (for students in grades 3-6) and Scholastic Science World (for grades 6-10).

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