News Lines

Colorado virtual schools under scrutiny

Hoping to avoid a showdown with lawmakers, the Colorado Board of Education has convened a task force to recommend changes to online education following a scathing state audit that criticized some virtual-school programs for being poorly supervised and ineffective.

The task force, a bipartisan panel that includes internet entrepreneurs, lawmakers, and educators, met for the first time on Jan. 22.

Joe Shea, who heads a company that provides online schools for school districts, told the panel that online courses are the best way to help students who are struggling academically, but he said those courses need to be closely monitored. Students also should be evaluated before they are allowed to take their courses from the internet, Shea said.

Dave Grosche, superintendent of Edison 54 JT Schools in El Paso County, Colo., said online courses are often the final option before a student drops out. He said he’s concerned about the criticism being directed at online schools and the possibility of increased regulation.

“I’m really concerned about the climate for online education,” he said.

Released in December, the audit said Colorado students who take public school courses on the internet perform worse and drop out more often than their counterparts in public schools. The report also said students who get their education online had lower reading, writing, and math scores on statewide tests than students in public schools.

Auditors said the state education department failed to act against school districts that sponsor underperforming online schools, despite state rules requiring that such districts have their accreditation revoked or be placed on accreditation watch.

Education Commissioner Bill Moloney said a large part of online schools’ enrollment are at-risk, academically challenged students who go to the schools as a last resort.

Moloney said it’s up to local school districts to decide what needs to be done to help students. He said the state can help by setting up rules for the number and qualifications of online teachers and by redefining ways to identify at-risk students who need additional help.

Colorado lawmakers authorized online programs in 1998, allowing school districts, charter schools, or independent boards to set up online programs. This year, 14 school districts are operating 18 online schools and receive $33 million in state and local funds.

University auctions year’s tuition on eBay

Hoping to gain some publicity for the school, Oklahoma Wesleyan University has auctioned off a year of tuition, room, and board on the popular online auction site eBay.

Thirty-three bids were cast, and the winning bid was $18,669.99. A year of tuition, room, and board at the small, private Evangelical Christian college costs about $23,000. University officials say eBay has told them it doesn’t know of any other college or university that has tried such an auction.

Bidders were allowed to buy the tuition for themselves or someone else. Among the bidders were current students at the school, which has an enrollment of about 1,030 students and offers 39 majors.

Mike Colaw, the university’s special assistant to the vice president, said the school was looking to “create a buzz” surrounding the auction. University officials say the number of hits on the school’s web site has doubled since the auction was announced.

“We’ve had a tremendous amount of eMail from people who were inquiring about it,” university Executive Vice President Bob Myers said.

“If you’re watching some of the tuition prices, there are some colleges and universities that are freezing tuition now because it’s so high, and we were really … a little bit tired of the elitist attitude about tuition. And we wanted to have some fun and give some people an opportunity to come here.”

The tuition recipient has to meet the university’s admission requirements. The winner must apply for any financial aid for which he or she is eligible and pay what was bid on the auction. The university will cover the difference beyond financial aid and the bid.

Newspapers losing ground in web-savvy schools

More U.S. teachers are forgoing traditional print newspapers and are using national and international online news sites in the classroom instead, a study by the Carnegie-Knight Task Force on the Future of Journalism Education has found.

Fifty-seven percent of social-studies teachers said they use internet-based news in the classroom with some frequency, according to the study, which was based on a survey of 1,262 teachers in grades 5 through 12 last fall. That compares with 31 percent who said they use national television news and 28 percent who use daily newspapers to share current-events information with their students.

“Students do not relate to newspapers at all, any more than they would to vinyl records,” one teacher said in the study.

The findings reflect a wider trend of falling circulation and advertising revenue at many daily U.S. newspapers, as more people go online for news and entertainment.

The most popular news sites among teachers are run by large news organizations such as the British Broadcasting Corp., the New York Times, and, the study found.

The survey showed that half of teachers are making greater use of news today than they were a few years ago, an increase attributable to developments outside school such as the war on terrorism and the fighting in Iraq. But it appears the rise in online news sources might be helping drive this trend, too: Among teachers using news with their students, 67 percent say “the internet has made news use in the classroom easier and better.”

Of the teachers who said they’ve cut back on their use of news in the classroom, three-fourths blame the time it takes to prepare for standardized tests. Eighty percent who said they planned to cut back also cited testing requirements.

Princeton joins Google’s book-scanning project

About 1 million books in Princeton University’s collection will be made available online through Google Inc.’s book-scanning project, the school announced Feb. 5.

The university library will work with the Google’s Book Search Library Project over the next six years to digitize books that are a part of the public domain and no longer under copyright, according to a school news release.

“Generations of Princeton librarians have devoted themselves to building a remarkable collection of books in thousands of subjects and dozens of languages,” Princeton librarian Karin Trainer said. “Joining the Google partnership allows us to share our collection with researchers worldwide.”

Princeton is the 12th institution to make its books available through Google Book Search, joining schools like Harvard University, University of Texas-Austin, and Oxford University. Internet users will be able to use keywords to search the full texts of the books, which can then be downloaded.

“We will be working with Google in the next several months to choose the subject areas to be digitized and the timetable for the work,” Trainer said, adding that library staff, faculty, and students will be able to suggest what should be digitized.

The Google project also includes Stanford University, the University of California, the University of Michigan, the University of Virginia, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the New York Public Library, the University Complutense of Madrid and the National Library of Catalonia.

Students charged in online snow-day hoax

Two teenage girls in Ohio face criminal charges after posting a fake announcement on their school district’s web site that said school was closed for the day because of winter weather, police said.

The notice, posted Feb. 5, confused many parents–snow was not in the forecast–and persuaded some students to stay home.

Edgewood City Schools Superinten-dent Tom York said he discovered the posting when he logged on to write his own announcement that school would be delayed for an hour because of an extreme cold snap.

“I didn’t make that call, and I’m the guy who does, so I knew something was up,” York said.

The two Edgewood High School students, whose names were not released, were charged with delinquency in juvenile court on Feb. 9 and face expulsion.

The company that runs the district’s web site, RCH Networks Inc., said the system was not hacked into because no security breach was detected. Administrators say the girls must somehow have gotten the password.

RCH helped the district track down the girls by supplying the identification numbers from computers that accessed the system, which authorities then tracked to the girls’ homes.

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