Firm offers eMail archiving software to schools for $99

To help schools comply with state and federal rules regarding eMail archiving, Waterford Technologies has announced a $99 special price for its MailMeter Archive software for any K-12 school district, MarketWatch reports. The price covers the software licensing fee for an unlimited number of mailboxes. School districts are required by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP), Freedom of Information Act, and state Sunshine Laws to keep relevant electronic information reasonably accessible for e-discovery and public record searches. With budget cuts and insufficient resources, many superintendents have been deflecting requests for eMail archiving systems from their IT staff. Unfortunately, many school districts have learned that backup tapes don’t solve the e-discovery problem when it comes to litigation. "We felt it was our civic duty to reach out and help the education system," said Tom Politowski, President of Waterford Technologies. "With the drastic budget cuts challenging even the most frugal superintendents, we wanted to make sure that school districts could satisfy their FRCP needs. The $99 special price is a huge discount from our normal business pricing…"

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More Pennsylvania schools to get state-funded laptops

Despite lean budget times, another 152 Pennsylvania school districts have been added to the state Classrooms for the Future program, which provides laptops to high schools, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. This brings the program, entering its third year, into 543 high schools in 453 of the state’s 501 school districts in 2008-09. It is expected to reach about 500,000 students. The state education budget provides $45 million for laptop computers, high-speed internet access, and state-of-the-art software for high school math, science, English, and social studies classrooms, as well as professional development…

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School district set to battle cyber bullies

A New Jersey school district is trying to protect its students from cyber bullies, even when they attack from home, reports local TV news station CBS 2 HD. When students head back to school in Montclair this fall, they’ll get an extra page in their student handbook that addresses cyber-bullying, which is harassment through eMails, text messages, and social networking sites. School officials will now have the authority to take action, even when the cyber attacks are off school grounds. "When a kid is at home on his own home computer, then he’s not totally isolated from the school," Superintendent James Patterson said. "It used to be, as you know, the internet is an area of basically free speech–but free speech has some restrictions to it." With the new policy, teachers are now obligated to report cases of cyber-bullying to school officials. And students say they need all the help they can get. "I think it’s a good idea because if they don’t take action, it’s just going to keep happening and people are going to get hurt," Montclair High School student Carole Johnson said…

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Panel seeks level field for disadvantaged kids

Raising expectations, recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers, encouraging the most talented teachers to work in the neediest schools, and focusing on early childhood education are all ways that educators can work to ensure minority and low-income students are receiving a good education, speakers at a recent conference said.

“To make progress, we have to address standards and accountability,” said Janet Murgia, president and chief executive officer of the National Council of La Raza. “There are too many minority and low-income kids with low expectations.”

Panelists who met July 24 at a town hall event sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation noted that teachers often have high expectations only of the students who already do well, not expecting students who struggle academically to improve. The town hall discussion took place in Chicago at the quadrennial convention of UNITY: Journalists of Color.

Beverly Hall said that when she began as the superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, a district with a large black and low-income population, a survey of kindergarten teachers showed that many of them didn’t think their students would graduate from high school.

“Teachers weren’t confident in themselves,” she said, noting that many of them were overwhelmed and intimidated by how poorly prepared for learning the children seemed as they were entering school. “So we’ve invested in teaching teachers how to teach.”

Hall said Atlanta’s teachers have done intensive work around literacy for the past few years and are now focusing on improving their ability to be confident in teaching science and math.

One of the reasons some minority students have trouble learning is because studies have shown that children of color learn better when learning visually and in a collaborative environment, whereas white children are able to learn linearly, speakers said.

“The styles of teaching are outdated and not flexible,” said Patty Loew, associate professor of life sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “There’s a cultural disconnect.”

To ensure that all children receive a high-quality education, Hall said, there must be a focus on improving the caliber of teachers.

“The most important issue is teacher quality,” she said. “Teachers need to have the ability to teach and know the subject matter that they are teaching.”

And this isn’t always the case.

“Accelerated courses in Hispanic high schools have more teachers who don’t have a degree in what they’re teaching [than in mostly white schools],” Murgia said.

But it’s not because there aren’t qualified teachers out there, it’s just that they aren’t going to the schools that are struggling, said Allan Golston, the U.S. program president at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“The best teachers are sent to the best schools where they’re not needed. The less qualified teachers are at schools that perform more poorly,” he said.

Once high-quality teachers are in place, school systems need to do what they can to make sure those teachers stay at the schools. Hall suggested looking at teacher residency programs, where young teachers work under a mentor for a year at a full teacher’s salary.

“If you attract quality teachers, you won’t be able to keep them if you don’t have quality leadership,” she said.

Besides making sure students are nurtured and challenged once they get to school, Murgia said, she supports promoting universal preschool.

“Students need to have early childhood education. When kids go to preschool, they have a better chance for success,” she said.

Hall said the extent of a student’s success can often be determined by the time they reach the third grade.

“Parents need to make sure that their child can read and do math on their grade level by the third grade,” she said, adding that when choosing a school, knowing how many third-graders are performing at grade level is as important as knowing graduation rates.

But even graduation rates can be misleading, Golston said.

“A high school diploma has to mean something. It can’t just be someone getting a piece of paper. It has to be that the education was rigorous enough to prepare [students] to go to college,” he said, adding that often students who do everything they’re told to do are able to get a high school diploma but are not prepared when they get to college.

Only one-third of students graduating from high school are ready for college, and only one in 10 children who come from low-income households get a college degree, Bill Gates said in a video presentation at the beginning of the town hall meeting.

Gates left software giant Microsoft Corp. last month to devote his full attention to the foundation he created with his wife. One of the foundation’s missions is to prepare all students for college, careers, and life in the 21st century.

Links:

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

National Council of La Raza

UNITY: Journalists of Color

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Microsoft releases new tools for academics

Microsoft’s research group has announced a set of free software tools designed to improve the interoperability of programs that scholars and academics currently use and better meet their research needs.

These free tools include add-on programs for Microsoft Word that simplify the researching, writing, and publishing of articles for scholarly journals; allow users to plot, graph, and solve functions and equations; and more. They also include a virtual workspace designed to facilitate collaboration among researchers at different institutions.

Tony Hey, corporate vice president of Microsoft External Research, announced the free tools at Microsoft Research’s ninth annual Faculty Summit on July 28.  Hey underscored the group’s commitment to providing tools that work with resources already in use by the academic community.

The new applications address all phases of the scholarly communication life cycle, he said—collecting and analyzing data; authoring, publishing, and preserving information—and are designed to help researchers share data and knowledge, ultimately making it easier for them to uncover, publish, disseminate, and preserve their research findings.

Here are the new tools freely available now:

•  An add-in that enables authors and editors to open and save Microsoft Word files in the National Library of Medicine’s NLM XML format, a file format that is used in the publishing and archiving of scientific and technical articles. Beyond its core file format capabilities, this add-in allows users to capture additional metadata at the authoring stage and preserve semantic information through the publishing process, which is essential for enabling search and semantic analysis once the articles are archived at information repositories, Microsoft said. The add-in aims to simplify the authoring, submission, and interaction process between authors and journals.

•  A Creative Commons add-in for Office 2007 that allows authors to embed Creative Commons licenses directly into an Office document (Word, Excel, or PowerPoint) by linking to the Creative Commons site via a web service.

•  A Microsoft Math add-in that enhances Microsoft Word 2007 with computational and graphing capabilities. With the add-in, users can plot a function, equation, or inequality; solve an equation or inequality; calculate a numerical result; and simplify an algebraic expression. Users also can employ a linear format for entering equations into Microsoft Word 2007 and Microsoft Math.

•  The Microsoft eJournal Service, a hosted solution that simplifies the self-publishing of online-only journals to facilitate the availability of conference proceedings and small and medium-sized journals.

•  The Research Output Repository Platform, which helps capture and leverage semantic relationships among academic objects—such as papers, lectures, presentations, and video—to provide access to these items in exciting new ways.

•  The Research Information Centre. In close partnership with the British Library, this collaborative workspace will be hosted via Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007, allowing researchers to collaborate throughout the entire research process—from locating funding to searching for and collecting information, as well as managing data, papers, and other research objects.

Microsoft researchers partnered with scholars throughout the development of these tools to better learn the needs of the academic community, the company said.

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