From the TCEA Exhibit Floor: Library and research tools

Follett Software Co. demonstrated Destiny Textbook Manager, a centrally installed, browser-based system that helps districts or schools regulate textbook inventory and manage expenditures. To check out a textbook, librarians or other educators simply scan the book’s bar code and assign it to the student in a browser-based, menu-driven database. To return the book, they simply rescan the bar code upon receipt. Destiny Textbook Manager can be used from a single, centralized location or from individual classrooms through a network workstation with a supported web browser. http://www.fsc.follett.com

The Library Corp. (TLC) offered its AquaBrowser Library solution, a search technology for libraries that integrates subscription and external sources into a library’s catalog. TLC says AquaBrowser permits users to seamlessly view search results from such sources as electronic subscriptions, online databases, and periodicals alongside regular library catalog entries. The company says its AquaBrowser solution increases search success rates by offering immediate additional information–including graphical displays that connect research topics to other areas of study that might interest the researcher. These and other features, according to TLC, decrease costs by reducing pressure on library staff. http://www.tlcdelivers.com

Questia Inc. , the online library of more than 60,000 full-text books and more than 1 million other publications, previewed its upcoming lesson plans for helping teachers integrate supplemental digital materials into instruction, which the company bills as original, standards-aligned materials written by qualified education professionals. Each lesson plan is written in a standardized, searchable format that is fully integrated with Questia’s online library and digital tools, the company said. http://www.questia.com

Thinkronize Inc., maker of the netTrekker suite of search products, announced that it has partnered with Promethean Technologies Group, maker of the ACTIVboard interactive whiteboards, to feature links to Promethean lesson plans and other educator resources. The companies said more than 500 Promethean lesson plans initially will be incorporated into the child-safe, standards-based netTrekker d.i. search engine. More lesson plans are slated for development. Promethean says its lessons feature rich, animated, sound-enabled content “to enliven classroom experiences and learning.” http://www.nettrekker.com

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From the TCEA Exhibit Floor: Multimedia creation tools

Adobe demonstrated its new Adobe Production Studio, which the company calls “the most complete post-production software solution available for educators.” Introduced last month, Production Studio combines full new versions of After Effects 7.0, Premiere Pro 2.0, Audition 2.0, Encore 2.0, and the latest versions of Photoshop CS2 and Illustrator CS2 software. The package includes time-saving innovations that deliver a highly efficient workflow experience, as well as Flash Video (FLV) export capabilities to provide video students and teachers with a new, fluid method of delivering content to the web, Adobe says. One of the new time savers is called Dynamic Link, which allows users to move After Effects compositions directly into Premier Pro and Encore DVD, without having to render them first. Changes are updated automatically, so users can see refinements in context instantly. The Premium edition of Production Studio normally sells for $1,699 but is available to schools for just $649. http://www.adobe.com

CCV Software’s corefx Three Level, a four-in-one creative expression software program, gives users different ways to draw, paint, animate, and photo edit in three different skill levels. Using digital photos, image scans, and web graphics, this graphics program is suitable for beginning or advanced users, according to the company. Children can learn with simple, colorful tools, and the program can be changed. The software comes with more than 2,000 graphics. http://www.ccvsoftware.com

FTC Publishing showcased KidCast: Podcasting in the Classroom, which helps users learn the basics of finding and listening to podcasts on the internet, organize podcast shows, and find low-cost audio recording and mixing software. The company says podcasting is a good way for teachers to encourage students’ creativity while at the same time reinforcing certain concepts learned in class. Teachers also can access unique audio programs produced by radio stations, museums, subject-area experts, and educators. http://www.ftcpublishing.com

fTechSmith Corp. , a provider of screen capture and recording solutions, demonstrated its new SnagIt 8. The upgraded screen-capture utility features a new interface, workflow, and feature set that TechSmith says makes computing tasks involving image capturing and editing easier than ever. SnagIt 8 lets users automatically grab active links while taking screenshots of web pages to create interactive screenshots. The company says SnagIt 8 also enables users to capture scrolling windows, objects, menus, video, text, and web pages and include them in eMail messages, instant messages, PowerPoint presentations, Microsoft Office documents, marketing and sales materials, technical documentation, web sites, and blogs. http://www.techsmith.com

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TCEA shows ed tech’s ‘wild side’

Realizing the promise of one-to-one computing and achieving the effective integration of technology into instruction were the foci as more than 13,000 educators, students, and exhibitors–including more than 8,300 paid participants–converged on the Austin Convention Center, Feb. 6-10 for the 26th annual Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA) conference.

Taking “Technology Gone Wild” as its theme, TCEA aimed to guide attendees through the “jungle” of educational technology, with special speakers, hundreds of free instructional sessions, and 700 ed-tech exhibits.

Throughout the three-day event, one of the largest annual statewide demonstrations of educational technology in the nation, educators and software vendors alike came together to find solutions to a pressing problem: How to prepare today’s students for success in the new global economy–one where technology will intersect every aspect of their personal and professional lives.

Motivational speaker Coach Ken Carter was the featured keynote for the opening day of conference activities. Carter’s experiences as the head coach of the Richmond High School basketball team in Richmond, Calif., became the basis of the movie Coach Carter. Carter made news when he locked out his undefeated basketball team to push them to improve their grades. The team members later went on to be successful in basketball and academics.

In his speech, Carter emphasized accountability, integrity, and teamwork. His positive attitude generally matched the mood of those taking part in the morning’s proceedings.

But Carter’s words might have had more resonance than many of the educators in the packed conference hall would have liked. With President Bush proposing to eliminate the Enhancing Education Through Technology block-grant program–the primary source of federal ed-tech funding for schools–in his 2007 budget proposal, part of $3.2 billion worth of cuts to education spending overall, Carter’s words on keeping a positive attitude while growing up poor in the south were perhaps too close in their relevance, if positive in their message (see story: Bush: Cut $3.2B from education).

“You can be broke,” Carter told the crowd. “There’s nothing wrong with that. But, never be poor. Broke is an economic state–just ask any college student, they’ll tell you. But poor is a disabling state of mind.”

It’s this same “disabling” state of mind that academics such as David Thornburg, a senior fellow at the Congressional Institute for the Future and author of Campfires in Cyberspace, a guide to teaching with the web, say is keeping schools from fully embracing the benefits of technology-based learning–and one-to-one learning environments in particular.

In an interview with eSchool News, Thornburg stressed the value of ubiquitous computing models in the nation’s classrooms. Thanks to lower prices made possible by the emergence of free, or inexpensive, open-source alternatives to proprietary operating systems and applications, he said, one-to-one computing is becoming an educational reality–albeit somewhat slowly. Despite the continued march of technology, Thornburg said, the average student-to-computer ratio remains stuck at 4-to-1, where it’s been now for nearly three years.

Thornburg attributes much of this sluggishness to a general reluctance on the part of educators–and even some parents–who he believes feel threatened by the emergence of anytime, anywhere learning in the nation’s schools.

“There is a perhaps well-placed fear among educators that if technology becomes ubiquitous, it will totally transform the practice of education,” Thornburg said. It’s this threat to the established economy of learning–where the teacher is the keeper of knowledge and the student is the one upon whom it is bestowed–that leaves educators uncertain, he said, adding, “[Educators] don’t want the practice of education transformed, because they’re very comfortable with it.”

And some of these concerns are justified, he said.

As with any kind of wholesale instructional change, Thornburg explained, it’s entirely possible that learners who thrive under traditional teaching models might encounter a learning curve when moving to a more cooperative classroom environment–one that is less dependent upon rote memorization and other strategies inherent in the textbook-and-lecture approach to learning.

Conversely, he said, many students who do poorly in traditional settings have been shown to improve dramatically in the types of collaborative, inquiry-driven, project-based learning environments offered by anytime access to technology.

“The possibilities offered to all students with this kind of access–we just can’t talk about that enough,” he said.

But achieving that potential won’t be easy, he acknowledged.

Like the business world–which today is powered by a vast array of digital tools, from cell phones and laptops to personal digital assistants–schools, too, must begin to integrate these technologies effectively, he said. Without them, U.S. students will continue to enter the workforce at a distinct disadvantage to their academic counterparts from other, more forward-thinking nations.

Assessing tech skills

During the conference, executives from the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) brought together educators with makers of classroom technologies and other assessment tools to ease the transition to a better-connected 21st century classroom.

The session, “Assessing Students’ and Teachers’ Technology Skills: NETS as Benchmarks,” highlighted initiatives that focus on providing high-quality assessment items, tasks, and resources supporting ISTE’s National Education Technology Standards, or NETS, a list of benchmarks designed to promote the effective integration of technology in schools.

“Ready or not, the world is different,” said Christine Richman, a representative for the ISTE 100, a group of ISTE corporate partners recognized by the organization for their commitment to improving education through technology.

“One assessment may work for one school, and may not work for another,” Richman said.

To maintain vendor neutrality while demonstrating industry-wide acknowledgement of the NETS’ high quality, ISTE invited educational software providers Certiport Inc., Learning.com, Microsoft Corp., and PBS Teacherline to demonstrate their assessment products.

Together, the vendors showcased a variety of teacher- and student-based assessment tools, remediation solutions, and technology certification programs, all based on NETS benchmarks.

‘Techno-traditionalism’

Elsewhere at the conference, educators continued the search for new and innovative approaches to learning, sampling a variety of products and solutions designed to resonate with a generation of students raised on digital media.

“Any time you can keep a kid interested for a longer period of time by engaging more of their senses, the better they’re going to learn,” said motivational speaker Tony Brewer. Author of Beginners’ Guide to the Internet, Brewer led a session on the integration of digital presentation technologies in the classroom.

Using Photo Story 3, a free photo-editing product available for downloading from Microsoft, Brewer demonstrated how to edit images for presentations, using the program’s functionality to quickly create documentary-style photo editing using pan camera techniques, voice-overs, and more.

Brewer said the software enables teachers and students to incorporate their own images into assignments and classroom instructional materials for the purposes of illustration and demonstration, offering an array of possibilities for learning through the addition of a strong visual element.

In contrast to Thornburg, who said the effective integration of technology in the nation’s schools could be achieved only through a radical shift in teaching and learning, Brewer argued for the continued maintenance of more traditional approaches to learning, in which students are monitored closely by instructors, whose job is to engage them through traditional lecture and assignment-based practice activities.

The difference between the two styles provided a great illustration of the broad range of teaching and learning solutions represented at this year’s conference.

“The answer,” said Brewer, “is techno-traditionalism, which brings tech into play when it’s needed to engage kids in the learning process. By doing a PowerPoint presentation about the Civil War, with embedded videos and things like that, it’s a lot more engaging than just reading aloud from the textbook. Techno-traditionalist teaching brings technology in to enhance, accelerate, and engage the kids.”

The first step: Building the right infrastructure

But, as at least one school technology leader noted during the conference, pairing the right philosophies with the right standards will get you only so far. To make technology work for learning, the first step–for schools, at least–needs to be building an infrastructure that can support the needs of an evolving institution.

David Burkhart, network communications manager for Texas’s Wylie Independent School District (WISD), said in his presentation, “IP Telephony: Do It Right the First Time,” that district officials have to embrace the transition from traditional telephone network services to the much higher-functioning Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). VoIP converts analog signals of traditional telephone networks into data packets and transports them across a fiber-optic data network. This increasingly popular, flexible, intuitive solution to a district’s telephony needs reportedly lowers the total cost of ownership of the district’s network.

Burkhart said VoIP permits communications managers to have greater local ownership of and control over their communications network. He said it offers more features, including voicemail-eMail integration, drag-and-drop desktop options for assistants and secretaries, and video conferencing. VoIP also reportedly permits simplified, “fix-it-from-anywhere” support options for overstretched district support staff, and a far more redundant telephony network resulting in fewer communications disruptions, he said.

Burkhart’s step-by-step VoIP demonstration was intended for chief technology officers and systems administrators and was culled from his own experiences at WISD.

For officials who want to make the switch to VoIP, Burkhart offered a few helpful tips.

First, he said, administrators must embrace the concept of VoIP. Burkhart warned that critical administrative buy-in will help ease the difficulties that are likely to arise when transforming the district’s voice communications network. These will include technical as well as human challenges, resulting from the frustrations of faculty and staff as they adjust to the transition.

Burkhart also pointed out that the network should be cautiously deployed from building to building and “tested, tested, tested” through a third-party VoIP service provider who can come in and make certain that the network has been properly configured by the core district support staff. Burkhart also said it is best to use a single hardware vendor for the total solution, because “Cisco stuff works best with other Cisco stuff,” for example.

Burkhart’s final piece of advice: “Keep the secretaries happy. They’re the ones who are on the phones most often. If they’re happy, then the principals will be happy. If the principals are happy, then the teachers will be happy. Since you have to deal with all of them, then everybody being happy means less work for you.”

Links:

TCEA 2006
http://www.tcea.org

eSchool News Conference Information Center: TCEA coverage
http://www.eschoolnews.com/cic

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From the TCEA Exhibit Floor: Presentation and communications technologies

AVerMedia Technologies, a digital multimedia and presentation technology provider, announced the release of the new AVerVision300p Portable Document Camera, which has a 3-megapixel resolution and an 8X digital zoom. The camera includes image capture capability and AVerVision PC Cam applications with the ability to capture and store up to 80 images directly to the internal memory or to a PC using a USB cable. http://www.aver.com/2005home/product/doccam/doccam.shtml

ePALS Classroom Exchange, a provider of secure eMail solutions for schools, announced an increase in assessment scores among students who used the company’s ePALS SchoolMail product for eMail letter-writing. According to the company, the fourth-grade students from Roseville Avenue Elementary School in Newark, N.J., showed a 30-point improvement on the New Jersey State Language Arts Literacy Test. ePALS said the same instructor used the same curriculum and goals to teach the lower-scoring students the previous year. The only difference, according to ePALS, was the inclusion of two weekly eMail exchanges with an ePALS peer classroom in Bologna, Italy. The company also conducted several teacher-training workshops in Newark to demonstrate and provide examples of how ePALS SchoolMail could be easily integrated with literacy projects and lesson plans. The company said Newark’s example suggests that students might be more motivated to do classroom assignments with a collaborative peer using eMail than for a teacher using pen and paper. http://www.epalscorp.com

PolyVision Corp. , a provider of visual communication products, demonstrated its recently launched Thunder Virtual Flipchart System. PolyVision said the flipchart system allows new possibilities for collaboration among groups and teams in which any data and information, in any format, can be communicated, stored, displayed, and organized–all captured on an unlimited, shared group canvas in real time. The group easel feature allows input and sharing of any media image, analog or digital, PolyVision said. Participants can use the feature to control functionality and jot notes and drawings onto a “page” with a stylus or finger. Multiple pages are projected onto the wall in high resolution, allowing all the information to remain visible to all participants. Participants can use point-and-click options to permit users from other sessions, classrooms, or even other countries to join a session, see all of the posted information, exchange data, and share ideas–regardless of their physical location. http://www.polyvision.com

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From the TCEA Exhibit Floor: Professional development

Atomic Learning has expanded its resource library with an offering dubbed Lesson Accelerators. Lesson Accelerators uses Atomic Learning’s show-and-tell tutorial approach with project-based media lesson plans that are goal- and objective-driven. Each Lesson Accelerator provides descriptive information about a project, step-by-step tutorial movies using a specific software application, and a project activity guide. Projects can be extended or adapted based on the needs of the classroom. Lesson Accelerators have been incorporated into the curriculum resources section of the Atomic Learning product and are available to all Atomic Learning subscribers. Atomic Learning provides web-based software training for popular applications, plus other specialized software programs. The training is delivered through short movies that provide on-demand answers to questions. http://www.atomiclearning.com

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From the TCEA Exhibit Floor: School management software

Akuratus Corp. demonstrated its Akutrust online document retrieval system, which the company says is a secure, web-based service used to retrieve active and archived records stored in a digital format. According to Akuratus, the product is aligned with government standards for student privacy, protects records from unauthorized access, and ensures confidentiality through comprehensive security. http://www.akuratus.com

Blackboard Inc. displayed its Academic Suite, an integrated group of web-based software applications. The suite includes the Blackboard Learning System to help instructors create and manage course content, the Blackboard Community System to connect users to online academic communities, and the Blackboard Content System to help instructors and students create digital content that can be shared and repurposed. http://www.blackboard.com

Educational Testing Service announced upgrades to its Instructional Data Management System (IDMS) application, a web-based program the company says is designed to help K-12 educators manage and use assessment data to drive instructional practices and improve student achievement. The company says IDMS 6.1 has the ability to create lesson plans that teachers can align with student-pacing guides and share with other educators. Another feature, called the Formative Assessment Item Bank, permits teachers to use a database of 30,000 math and language-arts test questions to create formative assessments for students that are aligned with state standards. IDMS 6.1 also includes student profiles, a new gradebook, and other features. http://www.ets.org

Mindjet Corp. , a provider of information mapping and management software for education and business, highlighted its MindManager Pro 6 application. The company says MindManager is the most effective way to capture, organize, and communicate information and ideas. MindManager software, according to Mindjet, helps users quickly capture ideas and organize them into a map view onscreen, with links to relevant information. Graphs and colors can be used to draw relationships between important issues to better visualize their significance. The company says the program helps students prioritize tasks and manage resources, and it helps teachers monitor student task completion. http://www.mindjet.com

NetSupport Inc. highlighted the benefits of its desktop management suite for schools. NetSupport says its software helps schools better manage and support computers on campus from the network level to the computer lab. Offerings include NetSupport School, a software-only classroom instruction, monitoring, and testing tool that the company says enables instructors to train students in the computer lab, and NetSupport DNA, an all-in-one IT asset management tool that provides hardware and software inventory, software distribution, application and web metering, query-based reporting, a help-desk component, and remote-control functionality. http://www.netsupport-inc.com

SchoolCenter, a maker of educational content management software by the same name, said its software allows teachers to develop their own web pages quickly and easily, so that everyone involved in the education process–students, parents, teachers, and administrators–can access a school or classroom web site and keep up to date on news and information. The software offers education-specific user levels, can import grade book software files, has a profanity filter, and includes an educational image gallery, SchoolCenter said. http://www.schoolcenter.com

Xandros Inc. , a publisher of Linux solutions for the consumer, educational, and enterprise markets, introduced the Xandros Desktop OS Education Edition, offering schools applications such as OpenOffice 2.0, which runs with Microsoft Office documents, spreadsheets, and presentations, as well as the Firefox web browser, Skype Internet Telephony, and others. The Xandros Education Edition protects networks from threats through firewall software, anti-virus software, VPN software, and folder encryption. The new edition can help administrators manage campus-wide deployments and updates from a graphical interface on their desktops, the company said. http://www.xandros.com

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From the TCEA Exhibit Floor: Security software

Centurion Technologies, a producer of hard-drive and configuration-protection solutions, featured its CompuGuard CornerStone software. CornerStone is meant to maintain a computer’s critical configuration settings. The company says CornerStone protects against configuration setting changes by making them disappear upon reboot, enabling users to experiment without doing harm. The process also eliminates a number of maintenance issues, according to the company. It reportedly protects against viruses and enables web surfing that is safe from spyware and other malware designed to intrude upon user privacy and steal information. Centurion says the application takes up only a small amount of hard-drive space and improves workstation performance in the process. http://www.centuriontech.com

DerbyTech Inc. displayed its CIPAFilter, a network hardware appliance it says filters out unsafe and inappropriate content while still allowing access to legitimate web sites and other materials. DerbyTech claims its CIPAFilter blocks 95 percent or more of pornography, but never blocks informative sites such as a breast cancer research site, for example. The hardware reportedly also offers anti-spam and eMail services, virus protection, web-usage reporting, and other features. http://www.cipafilter.com

Fortress Grand Corp.’s Clean Slate, designed to protect public-access computers from malicious or inexperienced users, does not restrict users’ activities, but will automatically discard unwanted computer changes upon reboot or log off, the company says. Clean Slate restores the computer to its original configuration, discarding unwanted user changes such as erased files, installed software, and downloaded spyware. http://www.FortresGrand.com

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From the TCEA Exhibit Floor: Virtual learning programs

Learning Upgrade LLC, a provider of online courses, offered its Reading Upgrade and Comprehension Upgrade online courses. The company says Reading Upgrade is a course for struggling readers meant to improve reading skills in learners from grades three to adult in just three to eight weeks. Comprehension Upgrade is meant to help students who have reading skills, but need an increase in comprehension skills to compete in school. It is meant for readers in grades five to adult, and students can learn modern comprehension techniques, improve their vocabulary, and develop critical-thinking skills. Learning Upgrade says both courses feature pop teaching songs, learning videos, and reading games. http://www.learningupgrade.com

Officials from Walden University, an accredited online higher-education institution, were present to discuss program opportunities at the virtual school. Walden offers doctoral and master’s degrees in management, education, psychology, and health and human services, as well as bachelor’s degrees in business administration. Walden says it provides its students with experienced faculty, virtual community, and a challenging curriculum to create an optimal learning environment. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and a member of the North Central Association of Schools and Colleges, Walden University says its distance-learning degrees allow students to continue their education by taking advantage of the convenience and flexibility of online learning. The program, according to Walden, makes it possible for busy professionals balancing work, family, and education to earn a respected degree. http://www.waldenu.edu

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ED to name Magner new ed-tech chief

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) plans to announce that Tim Magner, former deputy director of ED’s Office of Educational Technology (OET), has been named the nation’s top ed-tech official, eSchool News has learned.

Magner, who served as executive director of K-12 education for Microsoft Corp. before joining ED, would take the place of Susan Patrick, who left the department seven months earlier to accept a position as executive director of the Virginia-based North American Council for Online Learning (NACOL).

Though ED had not made an official announcement regarding Magner’s status as of Friday morning, an automatic message forwarded from Magner’s work account confirmed the promotion, stating that as of Feb. 16, “I will be serving as the Director, Office of Educational Technology for the U.S. Department of Education.”

Although Magner’s name had been mentioned as the logical choice to replace Patrick, ED officials have been reluctant to confirm the promotion, saying up until late last month that they were still considering candidates to fill the position.

Meanwhile, several educational technology advocates who spoke with eSchool News about the longstanding vacancy said not having a leader at OET to lobby on behalf of their interests made it increasingly difficult to build a case for educational technology at the national level.

As news of Magner’s impending appointment circulated around ed-tech circles yesterday, the response out of Washington and around the country was encouraging.

“I applaud the Department of Education for bringing into this pivotal role a professional of Tim’s caliber,” wrote Don Knezek, chief executive officer for the International Society of Technology in Education (ISTE). “Tim Magner brings a unique blend of depth of experience, passion for innovation, exceptional skill for navigating the education policy arena, and sincere commitment to improving schools.”

Joe Kitchens, superintendent of the Western Heights Public Schools in Oklahoma City, called the move “a very positive development,” adding that Magner is “extremely talented, innovative, and very deserving of this important appointment.”

“Tim gets it–that kids get it,” noted Elliot Soloway, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering. “Technology is the hook and the opportunity for today’s digital youth. Our community can definitely breathe easier now.”

But not too easy, cautioned ISTE’s Knezek.

“As Tim knows well, he comes to this leadership post in ED’s Office of Educational Technology at a particularly critical time,” said Knezek. “Facing the challenge of an administration retreating from support of technology–one of the cornerstones of global competitiveness–Tim accepts the awesome responsibility of orchestrating the rebirth of a federal educational technology agenda to ensure competitiveness of our educational system, and of our workforce, over the next decades.”

Magner’s other related work experience includes directing the Schools Interoperability Framework and working for the Public Broadcasting Service. He also was the director of technology for Framingham Public Schools in Massachusetts and taught graduate courses at Framingham State College and George Mason University.

Magner began his career as a high school social studies teacher and taught middle and high school in France and Switzerland. He has a B.A. from William & Mary and an M.ED from Harvard University.

Be sure to check back with eSchool News next week for more on this developing story.

Links:

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

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Venture capitalists invest in education reform

The New York Times reports that Silicon Valley venture capitalists are financing a new group: schoolmasters. L. John Doerr helped found the New Schools Venture Fund in San Francisco six years ago. The fund is for a new breed of entrepreneur–onee that doesn’t have to make a profit. Recipients of the fund’s investments are mainly public school teachers with a passion to improve the ways poor children are taught… (Note: This site requires free registration)

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