Channel One’s future in question

PRIMEDIA Inc., the New York-based media conglomerate that owns Films Media Group and Channel One, the for-profit television news network for schools, has announced plans to classify its educational segment as a “discontinued operation” in its 2006 tax filings.

The move has fueled speculation that the struggling–and controversial–news network eventually will be dismantled or sold. Despite the rumors, however, company spokeswoman Amanda Cheslock told eSchool News that it is “business as usual” at Channel One, which airs daily news broadcasts supplemented with advertisements to more than 7 million secondary schoolchildren across the U.S. The network has earned its share of critics, who decry the service for delivering ads to a “captive” audience of teens during the school day.

According to financial earnings statements posted on PRIMEDIA’s web site, the firm’s education division–which also includes Films Media Group, a publisher of educational video content, and PRIMEDIA Healthcare, a medical education offering–suffered a 16-percent decline in revenue in the first nine months of 2006, compared with the same period a year ago.

Cheslock said the decision to classify PRIMEDIA’s education division as a “discontinued operation” was made in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles and would enable PRIMEDIA executives to explore new options for the business going forward. In September, the company sold its Crafts Group for approximately $132 million after classifying it as a discontinued operation.

Despite speculation about Channel One’s future, the network announced Jan. 9 that it was partnering with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to launch a new web-based campaign dedicated to teaching U.S. schoolchildren about the First Amendment. Called 1Voice, the new campaign–accessible at channelone.com–aims to build an online community featuring exclusive broadcast content, public service announcements, contests and events, and instructional materials and resources for students and teachers interested in First Amendment issues and rights. The three-year program commences this month and is funded with a Knight Foundation grant of $2.25 million.

“While many of the programs that we have planned regarding the First Amendment will certainly pique teens’ and teachers’ interest, 1Voice is designed to open the door for further conversation and exploration on a subject matter that is of critical importance,” said Judy L. Harris, president and CEO of Channel One. “It is our responsibility as an unbiased news resource to push the envelope on educating American students on their rights and freedoms and to ensure that the First Amendment is no longer taken for granted by so many.”

Pentagon to restrict data used in teen recruiting

The U.S. Department of Defense has agreed to change the database it uses for military recruitment efforts to better protect the privacy of millions of high school students nationwide, a civil liberties group announced Jan. 9.

In settling a lawsuit brought last year by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) on behalf of six students, the government agreed it will no longer disseminate student information to law enforcement, intelligence, and other agencies and will stop collecting student Social Security numbers, the group said in a statement.

It also said the government would limit to three years the time it retains student information and will clarify procedures by which students can block the military from entering information about them in its database.

Last year’s lawsuit claimed the department was flouting a 1982 recruitment law that specifies that it refrain from collecting information on students younger than 17, that it store the information for no more than three years, and that the information be kept private, the lawsuit said.

The current database includes information on 16-year-olds, is storing the information for five years, and is being shared with law enforcement and other agencies, the lawsuit said.

Military officials have said they have about 30 million names in the database. The Pentagon said in 2005 the list included high school students ages 16 to 18 and college students, and it included such information as the students’ Social Security numbers, gender, and race.

The government published the changes in the Federal Register on Jan. 9 before they were announced by the NYCLU. A spokeswoman for government lawyers on the case said they had no comment. Tenn. schools to get tech vouchers from Microsoft settlement

Software giant Microsoft Corp. has announced it will distribute $15.3 million in software vouchers to Tennessee schools. The vouchers, to be distributed by the state education department, are the result of a class-action lawsuit filed against the company for unfair competition.

Tennessee school systems will get vouchers they can use to purchase software from any manufacturer, including Microsoft, state officials said.

The class-action lawsuit contended that Microsoft used unlawful trade practices to maintain a monopoly and overcharge Tennessee consumers.

With the announcement, Tennessee becomes at least the 12th state–Arizona, California, Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Vermont are the others–whose schools have begun to, or soon will, collect on a series of high-profile antitrust settlements with Microsoft.

In total, 15 states and the District of Columbia entered into settlements with the Redmond, Wash.-based company. As part of these agreements, customers were to receive vouchers that would allow them to purchase new software and hardware products of their choice, from any vendor.

Though each state has a slightly different agreement, the consensus was that a large portion of any unclaimed vouchers–as much as two-thirds in some places–would be distributed to schools to upgrade aging technology components. The rest would be returned to Microsoft.

“We are pleased that the outcome will allow Tennessee school systems to upgrade technology for the benefit of their students and allow additional resources to be directed toward improving teaching and learning,'” Education Commissioner Lana Seivers said.

Each Tennessee school district will receive about $16.40 per student through the settlement.

Mass. using web to help students prep for college

High school students in Massachusetts have higher SAT scores than the national average, but only about half of ninth graders start college and fewer than 30 percent earn a degree. The state’s top education leaders hope a new online campaign, and an expanding partnership between K-12 and higher-education officials, will start to reverse that trend.

The state education department is spending $250,000 to promote a new web site, ReadySetGotoCollege.com. The campaign, running through April, includes advertisements on buses in Boston and Springfield; radio, movie theater, and television ads across the state; and posters for every high school directing students to the site. On the site, middle and high school students can see eight steps to get into and be successful in college, including taking the right high school classes, applying for financial aid, and thinking about what careers they are interested in. The site also has information such as what courses are required for Massachusetts’ public universities and how to sign up for the SAT or ACT exam.

Though strictly informational now, officials hope to expand the site over time to include everything from links to online college and financial aid applications to student testimonials and tuition calculators.

“Sometimes students, when they pass the MCAS in the 10th grade, see it as an end point,” Board of Education Chancellor Patricia Plummer said, adding that the campaign is about “making sure they’re aware of the level of preparation they need to go to college.”