Florida may expand online education

The Florida Legislature has passed a bill that mandates that every school district by 2009 offer some type of online education program, even to students as young as 5, the Miami Herald reports. The bill awaits Gov. Charlie Crist’s signature. While proponents of the measure say it is meant to accommodate a growing demand for online education, some experts worry the legislation will harm the state’s existing virtual-education programs, while providing a boon to private companies that could be tapped to design and run the programs. To overcome potential objections from school districts, lawmakers crafted the bill in such a way that districts can potentially make a profit off the students that take the online courses. School districts will receive full funding for all students who stay home and take online courses, even if the actual program costs less…

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Pennsylvania equips schools for the digital age

Across Pennsylvania, the way teachers teach and students learn is undergoing a massive upgrade for the digital age, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Much of the change comes courtesy of Classrooms for the Future, a three-year grant initiative designed to equip the state’s high schools with laptops and other technology. So far, $126.7 million in state grants and a small number of federal grants have been awarded to 303 of the state’s 501 school districts. "As time has evolved, so have the ways we educate our students," said Leah Harris, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education. "We step away from the blackboard and evolve with the technology that is evolving around us." Funding is targeted for classrooms in the four core study areas: English, math, science, and social studies. The grants have been used to purchase laptops, printers, scanners, web cams, interactive whiteboards, digital still cameras, and video cameras. The goal is for every Pennsylvania public high school to be part of the initiative by 2009. This year, Gov. Rendell is asking for an additional $101 million to finance the third year of the initiative. If the legislature approves this funding, additional grant awards will be announced in July or August…

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Now professors can get their star rankings, too

The New York Times reports on the Social Science Research Network, an increasingly influential web site that now offers nearly 150,000 full-text documents for downloading and gives academics the chance to see how popular their writings are online. The network is a business set up in 1994 by five people who saw a niche in online academic research. They pooled their money and began building relationships and the infrastructure to post so much material online. All but one comes from the world of economic and legal scholarship, and it is in those areas that the network is strongest, adding an estimated 45,000 articles or so a year. So far, more than 550,000 users have registered to download documents. And with a precision common to the digital age, its rankings of downloads can be sliced and diced in many ways with only a click: most downloads over all or most downloads in the last 12 months, either by article, by author, or by institution. The network was not created to be a Top 40 list for academics, said Michael C. Jensen, its chairman and one of its founders, but it has turned out that way…

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McCain, Obama reps discuss education

Education advisors for presumptive presidential nominees John McCain (R) and Barack Obama (D) outlined the candidates’ stances on key issues June 6, with both emphasizing a larger role for technology in schools.

The advisors spoke at the Association of Educational Publishers’ Great American Education Forum in Washington, D.C. More than 400 attended the forum, and a panel of six publishing experts asked the advisors a series of questions.

Jeanne Century, director of science research at the University of Chicago’s Center for Elementary Mathematics and Science Education, said Illinois Sen. Obama would push for school systems to bring broadband internet access into all K-12 schools.

"That would be the floor," Century said.

Lisa Graham Keegan, a former lawmaker and superintendent of public instruction in Sen. McCain’s home state of Arizona, said that while school leaders struggle with shrinking operating budgets and teacher shortages, technology could supplement educators’ daily lessons. She added that qualified teachers could never be replaced by advanced classroom technology.

"We could potentially have a perfect storm of success here," said Graham Keegan, who has worked with McCain since his 2000 presidential bid. "You can enhance what a teacher does with technology."

Asked if McCain had taken a position on broadband internet access in schools, Graham Keegan said the senator had not yet released his stance on classroom technology. At a news conference after the forum, she said that position would be unveiled in the coming weeks.

Century said school officials should encourage students at all grade levels to use the web to research and supplement reading assignments and daily homework.

"These are skills about problem solving," she said.

Using internet access to communicate with students from across the globe, Century said, would broaden children’s understanding of other cultures.

"We have the technology to do that now," she said. "We need to work with the world, because we can do this now."

The president or other federal officials could promote more technology-based education, but long-term changes would largely be up to principals, superintendents, and school board members, Graham Keegan said.

"What we need is for schools to want to incorporate technology," she said.

McCain and Obama differed on teacher merit pay programs. Obama would oppose any system that tied "teacher bonuses to student scores," Century said, but would back programs that rewarded educators for becoming highly qualified educators. McCain would fully support a pay-for-performance incentive model, Graham Keegan said. Paying teachers extra according to data from test results, she said, would be the only reliable method to reward educators who stood out among their peers.

Graham Keegan said McCain’s education stances would "violate existing policies and will offend certain groups," adding that he was skeptical of teacher unions’ "one-size-fits-all" contracts that provided little flexibility for school districts.

Both education advisors said the candidates would alter the federal No Child Left Behind Act. McCain’s Education Department would conduct a thorough study of what programs and initiatives were working best under NCLB and eliminate all but the most effective programs, which could cut costs to local school districts, Graham Keegan said.

"You can’t focus on everything simultaneously and do anything well," Graham Keegan said.

Century said Obama would support more class time for social studies, art, physical education, and science—four areas that have been greatly reduced or eliminated at K-12 schools since NCLB was enacted in 2002. The law requires every school in the country to be 100-percent proficient in math and reading by the 2013-14 academic year—a goal some educators say is unlikely, if not impossible. 

Century said NCLB was "insufficiently funded and poorly implemented," failing to provide school officials with resources needed to meet the law’s rigorous demands. She said Obama’s education policy would modify many aspects of NCLB, including adding emphasis to teacher recruitment, retainment, and more consistent professional development.

"It’s more than tinkering around the edges of NCLB," Century said, adding that Obama’s education officials would aim to broaden student assessments if he wins the White House. "It’s more than identifying one or two strategies."

Link:

Association of Educational Publishers

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FCC chief’s free broadband plan delayed

A plan by the nation’s top telecommunications regulator to provide free wireless high-speed internet service hit a snag this week over concerns about possible interference and a proposed censoring feature that upset free-speech advocates, the Associated Press reports. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin told AP that the plan will not be voted on at the agency’s June 12 meeting as first promised, but he hopes to present it to the full commission in July. "I want to be clear that I am still very supportive of the cause of providing a lifeline broadband service across the country," he said. Under the plan, the FCC would auction 25 megahertz of spectrum–a sizable chunk–to a single bidder who would use it to build a nationwide network and dedicate about 25 percent of it for the free broadband service. But Martin said some wireless companies whose frequencies are near those of the proposed network voiced concerns that it might create interference. He also said some were worried about a plan to filter offensive content that could be accessed on the network that might be inappropriate for children…

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Schools see declining yearbook sales, thanks to technology

Hello Facebook, goodbye yearbook: At a time when teens are logging onto web-based social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace in droves, more and more are declining to pick up a copy of that tried-and-true memory keeper, the high school and college yearbook, the Toledo Blade reports. Ohio’s Whitmer High School once sold as many as 1,300 copies; now it’s down to 900. Maumee High School has dropped from more than 700 in the past to 483 this year. At colleges like Bowling Green State University, it’s even tougher. Annual sales there have plummeted from a peak of 3,600 copies in 1986 to between 200 and 400 per year now. As a result, next year the school plans to give up the traditional hardbound format and replace it with a slimmer magazine published twice a year. That decision makes BGSU the fifth college this year to give up its traditional yearbook, according to Lori Brooks, chairman of the yearbook committee for College Media Advisors, a national organization for collegiate media professionals. School officials blame struggles with the economy and student apathy, but some issues contributing to the decline of yearbooks are unique to modern times. Thanks to digital cameras and the internet, students can take their own photos of their circle of friends, then share and comment on them online…

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Retired Supreme Court justice unveils educational video game

America’s first female Supreme Court justice unveiled a video-game project on June 4 to teach children how courts work, saying she wanted to counter partisan criticism that judges are "godless" activists, Reuters reports. Sandra Day O’Connor, 78, who served as U.S. Supreme Court justice from 1981 until her retirement in 2006, said she never imagined she would be asked to address a conference about digital gaming. She said she got involved with developing the project, called "Our Courts," out of concern over public ignorance about the judiciary and partisan attacks on what should be an independent institution.
"In recent years I’ve become increasingly concerned about vitriolic attacks by some members of Congress, some members of state legislatures, and various private interest groups … on judges," O’Connor told the Games For Change conference on using gaming technology for social improvement and education. The Our Courts project will have two parts, O’Connor said. The first is an online interactive civics program designed for students in grades 7-9. The program, developed with Georgetown University law school and Arizona State University, will be distributed free online starting in September…

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IBM, university team up to prepare students for jobs of the future

IBM and Michigan Technological University have announced several initiatives to help students develop the multi-disciplinary skills required in a growing number of jobs and professions around the world, CNNMoney.com reports. Businesses today are looking to the next generation of IT and business experts for so-called "T-shaped" skills, which encompass both deep business skills, represented by the horizontal line of the "T," and technical understanding, represented by the vertical line. Top prospects will understand the dynamics of the globally integrated enterprise, can work across geographically distributed teams, and have experience using open-source technologies to address real-world business challenges. IBM is teaming with Michigan Tech to develop curricula and sponsor an "on the job" learning program to encourage the development of these sought-after skills. To encourage the use of open-source technologies, IBM has donated WebSphere software with the agreement that any assets created through these programs will be made available to other universities around the world at no charge…

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Bill allowing schools to issue bonds for computers fails

A bill that would have given Arizona school districts another way to raise money for computers, in exchange for converting to a digital curriculum, failed in the state Senate on June 4, the Arizona Republic reports. The measure would have allowed schools to issue bonds for bulk computer purchases, a move that supporters say is necessary to help schools move rapidly into eLearning. But the state Senate couldn’t muster enough votes to support it, so House Bill 2475 failed on a 14-13 vote. Opponents argued that the move would give school districts with a wealthier tax base an advantage, because bonds are based on property values…

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