Nueva herramienta en línea ayuda a programas de alfabetización

Las escuelas, bibliotecas y otras organizaciones que procuran mejorar la lectura de los estudiantes tienen ahora una nueva herramienta en línea que les ayudará a evaluar cómo funcionan sus programas de alfabetización: el Verizon Literacy Program Self Assessment Tool (VLP-SAT – Instrumento de Auto-Evaluación para Programas de Lectura de Verizon).

Desarrollado por el National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL–Centro Nacional de Alfabetización Familiar) con fondos del Verizon Foundation (Fundación Verizon), el nuevo Instrumento está disponible sin costo en la página web de la Fundación Verizon, www.Thinkfinity.org.

“Diariamente miles de personas dedican su tiempo y trabajo para avanzar la causa de alfabetización; desafortunadamente, a pesar de esos grandes esfuerzos, la taza de alfabetización todavía no ha alcanzado el nivel esperado,” dijo Sharon Darling, presidente y fundadora de NCFL.

“Nosotros creemos que esta herramienta de auto-evaluación puede jugar un papel importante en la lucha por mejorar el índice de alfabetización,” dijo Darling. “Esta herramienta ofrece una ruta con mas alcance y profundidad que cualquier otra herramienta disponible hasta ahora.”

Según sus diseñadores, este “mapa” incorpora el conocimiento científico más actualizado sobre la efectividad de programas de alfabetización que atienden a poblaciones desde la infancia hasta la adolescencia. La herramienta tiene un cuestionario detallado que hace preguntas sobre la metodología de instrucción de un determinado programa de alfabetización, el nivel de educación de sus alumnos, la participación de los familiares, y los métodos actualmente utilizados para evaluar el éxito.

De acuerdo a las respuestas al cuestionario, se da al programa de alfabetización una nota entre 1 y 5 en varios áreas. Estas calificaciones señalan si la organización está utilizando metodologías científicamente comprobadas y si está logrando los mejores resultados posibles.

Para las escuelas y otras organizaciones que reciben una calificación de “3” o menos en uno de las áreas, la herramienta provee una lista de recursos desarrollada por expertos en alfabetización y educación. Todos estos recursos están disponibles, sin costo, en la página Web www.Thinkfinity.org, como parte del Thinkfinity Literacy Network (la Red de Alfabetización de Thinkfinity).

Thinkfinity.org es el portal gratuito de la Fundación Verizon. Visitantes pueden acceder a más de 55,000 recursos educacionales basados en estándares e investigaciones científicas. Estos recursos incluyen cursos en línea gratuitos, esquemas de instrucción para los grados K-12, mejores practicas,” instrumentos de evaluación de programas, herramientas de enseñaza y aprendizaje, programas modelos que simplifican la tecnología para los padres, y abundante investigación que destaca la importancia de la alfabetización.

Según sus creadores, lo ideal es que el personal utilizara el VLP-SAT como punto de referencia para evaluar las prácticas actuales de alfabetización, buscar recursos para mejorar áreas claves, y volver al VLP-SAT para evaluar el progreso del programa.

La herramienta salió en octubre como parte del National Literacy Summit.3 de la Fundación Verizon (la Tercera Cumbre Nacional de Alfabetización de la Fundación Verizon), que fue celebrado en Georgetown University.

“En la ultima cumbre nos preguntamos hacia dónde deberíamos dirigir nuestros recursos de donación y la respuesta fue: para ayudar a apalancar las habilidades y los recursos de los demás y para empezar con la medición…… Aquí están algunas medidas!,” dijo Kathy Brown, vicepresidenta senior de políticas públicas y responsabilidad empresarial para Verizon.

Brown explicó porqué, ahora más que nunca, la alfabetización es un tema importante.

“En el mercado laboral de hoy, una persona debe tener la capacidad de leer, escribir, hablar, hacer computaciones, y resolver problemas a niveles de mayor eficiencia. Éstas son las destrezas necesarias para poder funcionar en el trabajo y esto requiere el desarrollo de habilidades de un nivel más alto que las que están siendo enseñadas en las escuelas secundarias,” dijo ella.

Ella agregó: “De cada 13 personas que entrevistamos para un trabajo con Verizon, solamente escogemos a uno, y esa persona debe tener un título universitario de dos años . . . [y] esto es nada más para [un trabajo] de nivel básico.”

Hasta ahora Verizon ha donado $31 millones para la plataforma Thinkfinity.

Fareed Zakaria, editor de Newsweek International, dijo que el problema más grave al que se enfrenta los Estados Unidos (EE.UU.) en términos de competitividad global no es la cantidad de matemáticas y ciencias que los alumnos de Harvard aprenden, sino la brecha de alfabetización y educación [entre los más y los menos afortunados] que existe en el país.

“La diferencia entre el estadounidense menos calificado y el más calificado es cinco veces la de Singapur,” añadió Zakaria. “El verdadero problema es que el tercio más bajo de los ciudadanos estadounidenses vive con beneficios sub-estándar del tercer mundo. Son analfabetos, sin acceso a una educación decente.

Brown citó el National Adult Literacy survey (Encuesta Nacional de Alfabetización de Adultos) que estima que cada año el analfabetismo adulto cuesta a los EE.UU. alrededor de $17 billones por causa de pérdida de ingresos de tributarios comunes; asistencia pública, desempleo, crimen y encarcelación; y costos de capacitación en las empresas y la industria—produciendo un impacto negativo en la economía y en la sociedad estadounidense.

Ella dijo también que el Departamento de Educación de los EE.UU. “anticipa que en la próxima década la brecha en alfabetización en los EE.UU. generará una escasez de 12 millones de trabajadores calificados.”

Vínculos:

Thinkfinity

Verizon Literacy Network

Verizon Literacy Program Self-Assessment Tool

Verizon Foundation

National Center for Family Literacy

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OLPC struggles to realize ambitious vision

Greeted with fanfare and kudos when its prototype PC was shown off by Nicholas Negroponte and United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan more than two years ago at the World Symposium on the Information Society in Tunis, the One Laptop Per Child project is now beset by waning orders and competition from commercial vendors that threaten to sideline the nonprofit effort.

While Intel is successfully selling its Classmate PC to governments and educators in the developing world, OLPC’s distribution and support model are not appropriate for a venture of this kind, critics said. Both have led to its stumbling, as its target customers, governments, reduce orders or withdraw from commitments to order the laptops.

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The generational divide in copyright morality

I’ve been doing a good deal of speaking recently. And in one of my talks, I tell an anecdote about a lesson I learned from my own readers.

It was early in 2005, and a little hackware program called PyMusique was making the rounds of the Internet. PyMusique was written for one reason only: to strip the copy protection off of songs from the iTunes music store.

The program’s existence had triggered an online controversy about the pros, cons and implications of copy protection. But to me, there wasn’t much gray area. “To me, it’s obvious that PyMusique is designed to facilitate illegal song-swapping online,” I wrote. And therefore, it’s wrong to use it.

Readers fired back with an amazingly intelligent array of counterexamples: situations where duplicating a CD or DVD may be illegal, but isn’t necessarily *wrong.* They led me down a garden path of exceptions, proving that what seemed so black-and-white to me is a spectrum of grays.

I was so impressed that I incorporate their examples into my talks, to illustrate how many shades of wrongness there are, and how many different opinions. Almost always, there’s a lot of murmuring, raised eyebrows and chuckling.

Recently, however, I spoke at a college. It was the first time I’d ever addressed an audience of 100 percent young people. And the demonstration bombed.

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Maine expands education in rural areas

The Maine Community College System has unveiled a $6.2 million program designed to expand its reach into rural Maine.

The new program will enable the state’s seven community colleges to provide greater access to college courses for high school students, create scholarships, assist college students with child care, and expand distance learning opportunities and work force training assistance to small business in the rural regions.

“I think it is a wonderful beginning in realizing the true potential of rural Maine,” Gov. John Baldacci said of the program.

John Fitzsimmons, president of the community college system, announced the program at the Burton M. Cross Office Building at the state capital on Wednesday with Baldacci, other officials and the presidents of six of the state’s seven community colleges at his side. Fitzsimmons credited grants and donations from the private sector with making the program possible. No state funds will be required to implement the initiative.

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Author Nicholas Carr on the terrifying future of computing

Nicholas Carr is high tech’s Captain Buzzkill — the go-to guy for bad news. A former executive editor of Harvard Business Review, he tossed a grenade under big-budget corporate computing with his 2004 polemic Does IT Matter? (Answer: Not really, because all companies have it in spades.) Carr’s new book, The Big Switch, targets the emerging “World Wide Computer” — dummy PCs tied to massive server farms way up in the data cloud. We asked Carr why he finds the future of computing so scary.

Wired: IBM founder Thomas J. Watson is quoted — possibly misquoted — as saying the world needs only five computers. Is it true?

Carr: The World Wide Web is becoming one vast, programmable machine. As NYU’s Clay Shirky likes to say, Watson was off by four.

Wired: When does the big switch from the desktop to the data cloud happen?

Carr: Most people are already there. Young people in particular spend way more time using so-called cloud apps — MySpace, Flickr, Gmail — than running old-fashioned programs on their hard drives. What’s amazing is that this shift from private to public software has happened without us even noticing it.

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Final 2008 budget a mixed bag for schools

Ending a tense standoff with the White House, the Democratic-led Congress has agreed to a $555-billion year-end budget bill that meets President Bush’s baseline spending cap on domestic programs and allows lawmakers to return home for the holidays.

The budget contains $59.4 billion in funding for the U.S. Department of Education (ED), though an across-the-board recision of 1.75 percent (applied equally to all domestic programs) will leave actual spending at $58.4 billion. That’s still $1 billion more than in 2007—and $2.2 billion more than Bush had requested.

Under the new budget deal, federal funding for educational technology remains the same, at $272 million—though the recision will bring actual spending levels down to $267 million, thus marking the fifth time in the last six years that federal ed-tech funding has been reduced.

Still, supporters of school technology say the 2008 federal budget could have been worse.

“We are glad to see that Congress continues to recognize the significant impact [educational technology] has on schools and students,” said Mary Ann Wolf, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association.

The recision was an “across-the-board cut, and all programs suffered,” said Hilary Goldmann, director of government affairs for the International Society for Technology in Education. “Other programs had significant cuts. In the scheme of things, we’re pleased, and we think our Ed-Tech Action Network [a national grassroots advocacy campaign] really made a difference this year. … It shows that Congress heard us and shows the support we’re getting.”

Ed-tech advocates had reason to be concerned after the president vetoed lawmakers’ first budget attempt last month. That bill, part of a package that included $22 billion in domestic spending increases, would have boosted total ED funding by 5 percent, to $63.6 billion.

As Congress sought a budget compromise, the White House—urged on by many hard-line Republicans—threatened to veto any legislation that proposed spending increases to non-military domestic programs.

Democrats succeeded in smoothing out the rough edges of Bush’s February budget plan, which sought below-inflation increases for domestic programs (other than military-base construction) and contained numerous cutbacks and program eliminations.

Democrats and moderate Republicans were able to fill in most of the cuts by shifting money from the Pentagon and foreign aid budgets, adding “emergency” funding above Bush’s budget cap, and adding future-year funding for federal education programs.

Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association, had this to say in response to the final budget bill: “NEA applauds leaders in the House of Representatives for making significant increases in education funding, despite the Scrooge-like constraints outlined by the White House.”

Weaver continued: “Clearly, we had hoped for higher funding levels, but the numbers show that lawmakers worked hard to make children winners in this budget battle. A greater investment in education is needed to provide public schools with the resources to ensure that all children have access to a [high-]quality public education and a chance to compete in a global economy.”

Under the year-end budget bill, Title I funding will increase by about $1 billion after the recision, to $13.9 billion (about the same as Bush proposed). Improving Teacher Quality state grants will receive about $48 million more, to $2.94 billion (about $150 million more than Bush sought). Special-education grants to states will see a $165 million increase, to $10.9 billion ($456 million more than Bush’s request). Grants to after-school programs will get $100 million more, to $1.08 billion ($100 million more than the president sought). And career and technical education will receive $1.16 billion in funding—$20 million less than last year, but nearly $600 million more than Bush proposed.

The biggest loser in the 2008 education budget was the president’s signature Reading First program, which will receive $506 million—less than half of the $1.15 billion it got in 2007.

In slashing the Reading First budget by some $643 million, lawmakers might have been voicing their displeasure with the Bush administration’s handling of the program. ED released a series of audits earlier this year that revealed significant mismanagement of the program, resulting in referrals to the Justice Department for criminal investigation.

Still, the cuts are sure to affect reading programs in several states and school systems—many of which rely on proven software programs to help boost reading scores.

There were other losers in the final budget, too. The $99 million State Grants for Innovative Programs initiative was zeroed out, as was the $11 million Star Schools program, which funded creative telecommunications and distance-education programs in schools. And the Safe and Drug-Free Schools program took a $64 million hit, to $513 million (an 11-percent cut).

Federal funding for science and research also proved disappointing to educators—especially in light of the recent sub-par performance of U.S. students on an international science exam.

“The FY08 omnibus appropriations bill is very disappointing to those who support the competitiveness and innovation agendas of the president and Congress,” said Robert Berdahl, president of the Association of American Universities. “After accounting for inflation, this legislation essentially flat-funds or cuts funding for key science agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Energy Office of Science. Additionally, the bill cuts need-based student aid, making it more difficult for low-income students to attend college and contribute to the nation’s economy.”

Berdahl added: “The America COMPETES Act, enacted earlier this year, was a far-reaching response to concerns about the nation’s long-term competitiveness. It proposed new funding and programs that would enhance the nation’s research capabilities, while improving science and math education for students from elementary schools right through postgraduate education. The America COMPETES Act has little meaning if it is not funded, and this bill does not fund it. We will work with Congress and the president in hopes that they begin to fulfill that commitment next year, because this year has been a severe disappointment.”

He concluded: “In exchange for an arbitrary cap on domestic spending and thousands of earmarks, the administration and Congress have sacrificed investments in research and education that would help assure our nation’s long-term national and economic security.”

Links:

U.S. Department of Education: 2008 budget overview

State Educational Technology Directors Association

International Society for Technology in Education

Ed-Tech Action Network

National Education Association

Association of American Universities

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Report: Girls blog, boys post video

Just like with diaries, teen girls tend to blog more than their male counterparts, but boys post more video, a new study finds.

About 35 percent of all online teen girls blog, compared with only 20 percent of boys, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project “Teens and Social Media.”

“Girls continue to dominate most elements of content creations,” the study finds.

About 54 percent of the girls online post photos compared with 40 percent for boys, but boys are nearly twice as likely as girls to have posted video online (19 percent vs. 10 percent).

Overall, 28 percent of online teens have their own blog, up from 19 percent in 2004, while 27 percent of the teens maintain their own Web page.

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Student hackers suspended for changing grades

Computer passwords will get tougher for thousands of Jefferson County, KY, teachers, after two duPont Manual seniors were involved in a scheme to hack into school computers to boost grades, erase absences and post coming tests.

Jefferson County Public Schools is upgrading its password policy and changing teacher log-ins after the breach, said district technology director Cary Petersen.

The district also is looking at using fingerprint scanners on computers and is asking some Manual teachers to verify grades, he said.

The breach occurred when at least one of the seniors, who were not identified by the school district, apparently installed software on his teacher’s computer that recorded each keystroke to help determine passwords, according to officials, who are still investigating.

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MIT students power supercomputer with bicycles

A team of ten MIT students powered a supercomputer for 20 minutes by pedaling bicycles. They duly claimed the world record for human-powered computing (HPC).

They powered a SiCortex SC648 supercomputer with a Linux cluster of 648 CPUs and almost 1TB of main memory in a single cabinet. The system is low-powered and draws 1,200 watts without needing special power supplies or cooling.

An SC648 chip, with six processors on it, draws around 8 watts of power, which compares to a typical notebook computer CPU needing 100 watts, according to SiCortex CEO John Mucci. Other supercomputers draw tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of watts.

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