2006 Codie awards announced

The Software & Information Industry Association (the principal trade association for the software industry) announced the winners of the 2006 Codie awards on May 16 in San Francisco. Awards are given for excellence in various software categories. However, websites are not eligible. The Codie Awards are the “only peer-recognition awards program of its kind in the industry,” which provides a unique venue for companies to gain the praise of their competitors. A list of winners is education here: http://www.siia.net/codies/2006/winners.asp#Education and a rundown of the judging can be found at: http://www.siia.net/codies/2006/judging.asp

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PowerSchool just latest Pearson buy

Pearson School Systems’ purchase of Apple’s PowerSchool is just the latest in a long list of deals for its parent company, British media giant Pearson PLC. Over the last eight years, Pearson PLC–which owns the Financial Times and Penguin Books, among many other businesses–has steadily acquired a number of U.S. education companies and ed-tech firms. Here are some highlights of Pearson’s aggressive growth:

1998: Pearson Education is created from the merger of Addison-Wesley Longman and the educational businesses of Simon & Schuster. In acquiring the educational holdings of Simon & Schuster for $4.6 billion, Pearson also assumed control of Computer Curriculum Corp. (publisher of the SuccessMaker software), which had been owned by that firm.

2000: Pearson acquires Minnesota-based National Computer Systems (NCS), the largest educational testing and data management company in the U.S., for $2.4 billion. Brought into Pearson Education as NCS Pearson, the company becomes the focal point for Pearson’s professed efforts to integrate the home and school, personalize courses, and link curriculum, assessment, and testing.

2002: Pearson Education acquires DDC Publishing, a provider of software training titles to the high school and post-secondary markets. “This purchase helps meet a growing need in the secondary market for [high-] quality technology textbooks, multimedia CD-ROMs, and lessons designed for students and teachers in grades K-12,” said the company’s Marty Smith at the time of the announcement. The addition of DDC Publishing accelerates Pearson imprint Prentice Hall School’s entry into the software training market and nearly doubles the number of products it has to offer.

2003: Pearson Education acquires LessonLab, a pioneer in education research and state-of-the-art technologies for teaching and professional development.

2003: Pearson Education acquires Scholar Inc., which provides comprehensive data management tools and solutions designed for the U.S. K-12 education market. The company’s Scholar Suite web-based data management system allows school, district, and state administrators to work with student performance results from more than 140 different tests, in compliance with federal mandates established by the No Child Left Behind Act.

2004: Pearson School Systems acquires altonaEd, creator of the School Information & Performance System (SiPs). The acquisition supports Pearson Education’s strategy to enable educators to use student information to assess students, diagnose achievement gaps, and prescribe instructional strategies to close those gaps at the district, school, classroom, and student levels, the company said.

2005: Pearson acquires AGS Publishing from WRC Media for $270 million. The deal enables Pearson to strengthen its position in testing and publishing for students with special educational needs.

2006: Pearson acquires Promissor, a professional testing business, from Houghton Mifflin for $42 million in cash. Promissor provides licensing examinations for state and federal regulatory bodies in the U.S.

2006 Pearson acquires Effective Educational Technologies, a privately held company based in Cambridge, Mass., that developed the next-generation online assessment and tutorial programs MasteringPhysics, MasteringGeneralChemistry, and MasteringAstronomy.

2006: Pearson acquires National Evaluation Systems Inc. (NES), a leading provider of customized state assessments for teacher certification in the U.S. It works under contract with state education agencies, developing and administering licensure tests for prospective teachers who want to enter the profession, teach a new subject, or work in a new state.

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Technology grade isn’t the full story

The Oregonian reports that Education Week assigned Oregon schools a D minus in “Access to Technology” for its high student-to-computer ratio in a recent report. However, the report only examined computers used for instruction. The report did not look at other forms of technology, such as SMART Boards and document cameras. Curtis Nelson, director of information services for the West Linn-Wilsonville School District believes the report is not reflective of the schools he serves, and thinks the report is an “oversimplification.” Nelson feels that numbers only tell part of the story, because his district ensures not only that teachers have technology, and how to use it, but also how to use it to enrich lessons. Peggy Pricer, information technology specialist for Rosemont Ridge Middle and Sunset Primary schools, added that by using a SMART Board, an art teacher can save and print, notes, sketches, and other materials…

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Pearson buys Apple’s PowerSchool

In a shake-up of the market for student information system (SIS) software, Apple Computer and Pearson School Systems yesterday announced that Pearson will acquire Apple’s SIS division, PowerSchool. Pearson also plans to develop educational content for teachers and students that is compatible with Apple’s iPod and will be sold through Apple’s iTunes online music store, the companies said.

Company officials declined to release the terms of the deal.

PowerSchool’s SIS software allows school administrators, teachers, students, and parents to access information about student performance online, such as grades, homework, and attendance. The product has been a chief competitor to Pearson’s own SIS solutions: SASI, Pearson Centerpoint, and CIMS Student.

SASI–which, according to Pearson, has been installed in at least 16,000 schools–was the top pick of eSchool News readers in a survey of the best student information system earlier this year. PowerSchool, which reportedly is used by some 7,200 schools, was the runner-up to SASI in our reader survey.

PowerSchool now will become the lead brand for Pearson’s integrated SIS business, according to Pearson. The company also said it will develop new services for educators and students, including research-based educational content and professional development materials that are compatible with the iPod, Apple’s popular digital audio and video player.

Making Pearson’s content available via iTunes, Apple’s web-based audio and video store, stands to benefit both companies. It could boost the presence of Pearson–already the world’s largest education publisher–in the ed-tech marketplace even further, by delivering content to a popular device that many students already own. The deal also creates yet another incentive for schools to invest in iPods, as even more educational content becomes available for these devices.

Despite the sale of its PowerSchool division, John Couch, Apple’s vice president of education, said his company’s commitment to education has "never been stronger." He said Apple is excited about broadening its relationship with Pearson.

"Our customers will love having Pearson’s education content on their iPods, and we’re confident that PowerSchool will continue to flourish and grow with Pearson," Couch said.

Wendy Spiegel, director of communications for Pearson School Systems, said her company has been the leader in SIS software development since the technology "elevated out of a spreadsheet." The Pearson School Systems division of Pearson Education was formed after Pearson acquired SIS leader National Computer Systems (NCS) for $2.4 billion in 2000.

Spiegel said PowerSchool will become the brand name under which Pearson will sell its SIS solutions. But, she promised, current users of PowerSchool and of Pearson’s existing student information systems will not be affected by the acquisition.

"There will be no change" in the services these customers receive, Spiegel said, adding: "The expertise of the [former Apple] organization will become part of Pearson. Right now, we’re looking at how to best integrate the operations and manage the equity of both product lines, but the customers’ needs come first. That’s where we’ll focus our efforts."

Spiegel said PowerSchool’s current president, Mary McAffree, will lead the combined business. She also expressed excitement about making Pearson’s learning content compatible with the iPod.

"We are the first [education publisher] to make our materials available on a wide scale with iPod," Spiegel said. "It provides our content business with a new channel of distribution for students and teachers on the iTunes platform. We think that’s a really exciting opportunity to supplement student education with materials from various curricular areas. We will also [develop] professional development learning modules, offering topics by discipline and methodology."

The content, Spiegel said, will be aligned with the text materials Pearson currently offers.

Apple paid $62 million in stock to acquire PowerSchool in 2001.

Links:

Apple Computer Inc.
http://www.apple.com

Pearson School Systems
http://www.pearsonschoolsystems.com

Readers’ Choice Awards: School Management Software
http://www.eschoolnews.com/resources/surveys/editorial/rca

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Site connects users to education research

A Rice University faculty member has created a system for the free exchange of curriculum material and other educational research. Supporters of the project say the resource creates a place online where professors and other educators can turn for reliable, peer-reviewed educational research on topics ranging from engineering to music to technology literacy.

The Rice project, called Connexions–essentially a web-based document creation and management repository for educational research materials–was created by a member of the university’s engineering department.

Members of the National Council of Professors of Educational Administration (NCPEA) say they plan to use the resource to house peer-reviewed materials on all aspects of educational leadership and are encouraging school administrators and other education professionals to consider submitting reports to be posted and archived on the site.

Connexions is “an environment for collaboratively developing, freely sharing, and rapidly publishing scholarly content on the web,” the project web site explains.

The site’s open license allows for free use and reuse of all content.

Richard Baraniuk, an electrical and computer engineering professor at Rice University, started the Connexions project in 1999. His intent was to corral the department’s entire engineering curricula, storing it in one centralized location where students could access it free of charge.

Today the site is free to both users and authors, and users do not have to be members of the Connexions site or have an account to search the database. Though the project is intended as a resource for students and instructors, anyone with an interest in learning more about a particular subject area can search the database and use the information in it, said Ted Creighton, executive director of NCPEA.

Connexions’ Content Commons boasts a wide array of educational materials for a variety of users from children, to college students, to professionals. Materials are organized into small “modules,” or “knowledge chunks,” that are connected to larger “courses,” or collections of modules.

“Our profession–education leadership–has been struggling for a couple decades to assemble everything we know about principal and superintendent prep programs in one place, where folks could look at the entire knowledge base,” said Creighton. That task has been made even more difficult given the fact that materials often are scattered across different mediums–in textbooks, journals, and other areas, he said.

“From the perspective of practitioners, there’s little in the knowledge base written by principals and superintendents,” explained Creighton. “We can pretty much count the contributors, perhaps less than 100 people. That doesn’t make sense to us–principals have things to say, everybody has expertise to contribute to the pile of knowledge.”

With Connexions, he said, principals and other executive-level administrators now have a place where they can go to submit research and to hear what their colleagues are saying about a particular area of instruction.

“This Connexions medium began to make sense to us, [and we thought] if we can make it attractive for people to contribute, we can get [content] contributions from everyone.” noted Creighton.

The idea is to assemble a collection of articles that has been peer-reviewed and, therefore, validated.

The hope is that having an NCPEA endorsement on an article will affirm for readers that the article has been validated by someone–a professional–in the field. Connexions staff do not review submitted articles. Rather they leave that responsibility to the authors and instructors who use its content.

Each NCPEA member-reviewed article contains a logo and a note at the beginning telling readers that it has been peer-reviewed.

The peer review process is not mandatory, but is a way to both recognize the authors and let readers know that the information in the article is valid and true, said Creighton. If authors go through NCPEA, the organization acts as a “filter.”

“We look at all of this information, and we’ll determine if it’s really about leadership, if it’s scholarly, and if it’s helpful,” he said. “We’ll put our stamp on it.”

The process begins when an author sends an eMail submission to Creighton, or other NCPEA staff members, asking them to review the article for Connexions. The reviewer then looks at the article and sends it out to two or three other reviewers who are assigned to look over articles on a particular topic. Then, after the reviewers have read the article, they send it back to Creighton, who forwards it onto the author with any comments and suggested revisions. The author addresses the changes, sends the article back to Creighton, and he uploads it to Connexions for publication.

“One of my tasks is to get the word out that we’re seeking submissions,” said Creighton, who currently is working with NCPEA state affiliates to generate interest in the project.

He also has been working with authors to help them optimize the exposure and impact of their work.

Creighton said a critical component of the submission process is developing keywords to accompany each article.

“I’m working with one author right now and I told him the more keywords he can come up with, the better–even if he gives me 100,” Creighton said. “Then, when you go in and you’re the searcher and you don’t [type in] leadership’ but you [type in] change process,’ [the article] will come up.”

When users search for a topic–“music,” for example–each archived article with the word “music” designated as one of its keywords will appear. Users then can click on a PDF version of the article, which they can print out to be distributed to classes or colleagues, he said.

All Connexions authors maintain individual copyrights to their works. One benefit to the online system: it enables authors to change and edit their documents as they deem necessary. “With Connexions, the author can check their piece out, change it, update it, and immediately publish it back into the database,” explained Creighton.

For instance, an original version of an article might appear in the database as version 2.0, while an updated version would appear as version 2.1, and so on. Searches provide users with the most recent versions of the articles first, but also provide links to older and original documents.

As an added benefit to educators, the organization also is looking in to translating articles into different languages, particularly Spanish and Chinese. Ideally, Creighton said, users would be able to select which language they’d like to view an article in by clicking a button designated to a particular translation.

“We haven’t quite figured that out yet because translation is difficult, and also costly, but I’m thinking that one day real soon it’s going to be very easy,” he said. “If we can pull this off, there are two great benefits–we can first of all translate into languages, but we can then seek contributions from people in other countries.”

Creighton and his colleagues also have the ability to review articles that have already been published to the site. In such a situation, Creighton said, someone from NCPEA would contact the author and guide her or him through the necessary steps to achieve NCPEA approval.

Despite the innovation and convenience that comes with an online submission process, he says, not all educators are fans of the idea.

“There’s a bit of resistance coming from what I consider to be the old guard–the professors who are not really tech-savvy, who still think they have to have a hard copy of everything, and who think it has to be peer-reviewed by 16 people,” said Creighton, who added, “Our response is, What problem do you have with us giving knowledge away?'”

Creighton said having a peer-review system should help professors, and other educators, share their knowledge while at the same time getting credit for their work.

“We fully know that professors are not going to write if it doesn’t give them credit for their tenure process,” he said. “We hope it will let people see that a professor wrote an article, it was reviewed, that the author made revisions based on comments, and then re-published it. Because otherwise, professors won’t write if they don’t get credit for it.”

And the submitted articles do not have to be articles at all. “The pieces can be as short as a paragraph or as long as a book,” explained Creighton.

When looking for a means to justify the energy he’s put into the product, Creighton recalls a time when, as a superintendent, he didn’t entirely understand certain rules pertaining to special education.

“I wish I would have had a page, half a page, of the rules and regulations on what a district is responsible for,” he said. Submissions could even be more along the lines of best practices. “We care about how we can help that principal, or that superintendent, or that school.”

Links:

National Council of Professors of Educational Administration
http://www.ncpea.net

Connexions
http://www.cnx.org

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12th-graders’ science scores drop

The New York Times reports that the first nationwide science test administered in the past five years shows that the achievement of high school seniors has declined during the last decade. This decline happened despite the fact that science performance for fourth graders rose and eight graders’ performance held steady. The declining science scores appeared to be a reflection of a growing academic trend where gains in the lower grades were tempered or reversed as the students progressed to the higher grades. The test results came from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which was administered in 2005 by the Department of Education to over 300,000 students in all 50 states…

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Calif. Supreme Court reinstates exit exam

Bloomberg.com reports that the California Supreme Court has temporarily reauthorized the exit test for high school seniors, a decision that jeopardizes the graduation of 47,000 students next month. The exit exam had been declared unconstitutional by a lower court because it denied students the equal opportunity to graduate. The California Supreme Court sent the decision to an appeals court for further argument, and in the interim, the requirement is reinstated. The test is designed to ensure that high school graduates meet minimum performance requirements in reading, writing, and mathematics. Now that the test is reinstated, those 47,000 students who have failed the exit exam may not be able to graduate on time…

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Teens charged with MySpace extortion

The Associated Press reports that two teenagers from New York have been charged with illegal computer access and extortion charges after threatening to take down MySpace.com unless the site operators paid $150,000. The teens allegedly hacked into the site and stole personal information from registered users. Following this act, the site operators kicked them off the site. In response, the teens threatened to distribute a method of stealing information from the site unless they were paid the sum of $150,000. The two teens then flew to Los Angeles to collect the payoff. Instead of receiving it, they were arrested and taken into custody by undercover officers. Each faces more than four years in prison if convicted…

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Google enhances its digital maps with video of popular travel destinations–and images from Mars

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Internet search giant Google Inc. has been busy with more enhancements to its online maps. In March, Google launched Google Mars, a browser-based mapping tool that gives users an up-close, interactive view of the Red Planet with the click of a mouse. The Martian maps were made from images taken by NASA’s orbiting Mars Odyssey and Mars Global Surveyor. Users can see the planet in three different formats: The Martian elevation map is color-coded by altitude; the visible-imagery map shows the surface in black-and-white pictures; and the infrared map indicates temperature, with cooler areas dark and warmer areas bright. Users can zoom in on any of the three maps to view geographical features such as mountains, canyons, dunes, and craters, and the maps also pinpoint the locations of unmanned space probes that have landed on Mars. Last month, Google also announced a new partnership with Discovery Communications to enhance its popular Google Earth digital mapping service with video clips of historic sites and other locations around the globe. Through the partnership, Discovery will integrate streaming video of such locations as Yellowstone National Park, the Great Wall of China, Trafalgar Square, and others into Google Earth. By clicking on Discovery’s globe icon at sites for which Discovery video content is available, Google Earth users will launch an interactive broadband player hosted by Discovery that will enable them to select from several two- to four-minute videos from Discovery’s rich archive.

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OU server was in hackers’ hands for a year

News.com reports that a string of electronic intrusions into the university’s computer system has led to a sweeping reorganization of the computer services department as well as one technician being placed on a paid leave of absence. Recent findings show that data thieves compromised at least three campus servers–one of which had Social Security numbers of 137,000 people. The evidence suggests that this security compromise went undetected for about a year, a development that leaves some experts astonished. The university only became aware of the problem when the FBI alerted them that someone remotely controlled one of the school’s servers…

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