Ten ways to boost learning with technology

Urging policy makers and school leaders “to take bold steps … to improve education for America’s 21st-century leaders,” the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) has issued new guidance for reforming the nation’s schools with the help of technology.

Hoping to reach the attention of a new administration and Congress, SETDA’s “Class of 2020: Action Plan for Education” notes that every child entering kindergarten this year deserves a high-quality, 21st-century education. The plan includes several white papers, a Student Bill of Rights, and a set of 10 recommendations to improve teaching and learning using technology.

“There is a crisis in American education today, as evidenced in falling graduation rates, entrants unprepared to enter college and the workforce, fewer people seeking science and math degrees, costly teacher turnover, and poor retention rates,” said Mary Ann Wolf, SETDA’s executive director. “Our students deserve better. We know how the proper uses of technology in education can transform teaching and learning to improve student engagement and achievement.”

The report cites several statistics to press home the need for swift action. For example, according to SETDA, the high school graduation rate is just barely over 70 percent, and fewer than 50 percent of graduates are prepared for the workforce or college. Among all U.S. industries, education ranks dead last in the use of technology.

Also, by 2010, more than 90 percent of all scientists will be living in Asia, and the United States ranks 20th in the world for graduate degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

With input from more than 100 national policy makers and all 50 state educational technology offices, SETDA’s action plan sets forth the following 10 recommendations for national, state, and local education leaders:

1. Ensure that technology tools and resources are used continuously and seamlessly for instruction, collaboration, and assessment.
2. Expose all students (pre-K through 12th grade) to STEM fields and careers.
3. Make ongoing, sustainable professional development available to all teachers.
4. Use virtual learning opportunities for teachers to further their professional development, such as through online communities and education portals.
5. Incorporate innovative, consistent, and timely assessments into daily instruction.
6. Strengthen the home-school connection by using technology to communicate with parents on student progress.
7. Provide the necessary resources so that every community has the infrastructure to support learning with technology, including assessments and virtual learning.
8. Obtain societal support for education that uses technology from all stakeholders–students, parents, teachers, state and district administrators, business leaders, legislators, and local community members.
9. Provide federal leadership to support states and districts regarding technology’s role in school reform by passing the ATTAIN Act.
10. Increase available funding for the e-Rate so that schools can acquire telecommunication services, internet access, internal connections, and maintenance of those connections.

These recommendations were culled from a series of five white papers that SETDA published within the last year, on topics ranging from broadband access and STEM education to technology-based assessments and virtual learning.

For students

The action plan says school leaders must ensure that technology tools and resources are used continuously and seamlessly for instruction, collaboration, and assessment. It also says technology should be used to strengthen the home-school connection by communicating with parents on student progress.

One of these technology tools is broadband internet access for all students.

In its report “High-Speed Broadband Access for All Kids: Breaking through the Barriers,” SETDA states that although national statistics boast nearly 98-percent connectivity in U.S. schools, the reliability and bandwidth of these connections are often insufficient. (See “SETDA urges schools to boost bandwidth.”)

To provide a technology-rich learning environment for the next 2-3 years, SETDA recommends an external connection to the internet service provider of 10 megabits per second (Mbps) for every 1,000 students and staff members, and internal wide-area network connections between schools of at least 100 Mbps per 1,000 students and staff members.
Over the next 5-7 years, the group recommends an external internet connection of 100 Mpbs for every 1,000 students and staff members and internal wide-area network connections of at least 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) per 1,000 students and staff members.

SETDA’s action plan also states that all students must be exposed to STEM fields and careers.

Its report “Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)” gives 10 examples from across the United States where states, districts, or schools are successfully implementing STEM education into the curriculum.

“The negative connotations of the computer geek, ‘brainiac’ scientist, and ‘mathlete’ need to be turned on their heads,” said Wolf. “Parents, teachers, and community leaders must promote the possibilities of STEM careers instead of relegating these choices to ‘other kids’ who are really good at math and science.”

For students to gain exposure to STEM careers, schools must obtain societal support for STEM education, provide ongoing and sustainable professional development for STEM educators, and recruit and retain high-quality STEM teachers, SETDA says.

The action plan also maps out a Student Bill of Rights, which says:

1. Each student has the right to feel safe in and proud of a school.
2. Each student deserves an engaging educational experience that provides opportunities for learning and for the future, including the acquisition of 21st-century skills required for the global workforce.
3. Each student deserves to have highly qualified and effective teachers that have the necessary support in terms of resources, professional development, planning time, and leadership.
4. Each student deserves an individualized learning experience addressing his or her abilities, strengths, and weaknesses.
5. Each student has a right to the tools, technology, and resources needed for developing into lifelong learners and creators of knowledge.

For teachers

SETDA’s action plan calls for all teachers to have access to ongoing and sustainable professional development–including virtual learning opportunities to further their development, such as online communities and education portals.

In another report, titled “Empowering Teachers: A Professional and Collaborative Approach,” SETDA says that “while some school districts and states are moving toward ongoing, relevant, and continuous learning for teachers, this is not necessarily the standard and is not scalable nationwide. Online learning communities, education portals, and coaching and mentoring are some of the proven methods for providing sustainable professional development for our teachers.”

The report goes on to highlight more than 20 examples from states and districts using innovative approaches to professional development.

It also lists these key components of effective professional development for teachers:

– Leadership–effective schools and district leaders who guide continuous instructional improvement;
– Knowledge–a deep understanding of the subject-matter content;
– Resources–access to resources and tools necessary to implement learning strategies appropriate to the goals of teaching and learning;
– Collaboration–participation in professional learning communities;
– Evaluation–use of data to improve instructional approaches, improve student achievement, and evaluate teacher effectiveness; and
– Sustainability–ongoing and sustainable professional development for improving teaching practices.

For the classroom

The action plan calls for incorporating innovative, consistent, and timely assessment into daily instruction.

In its report, “Technology-Based Assessment to Improve Teaching and Learning,” SETDA calls on states to redefine their role from “Data Compliance Officers” to “Data Leaders”–supporting the use of relevant, timely data at the school and district levels to improve instruction and teacher quality and drive school reform efforts. (See “Technology key to analyzing assessment data.”)

Many schools and districts that have shown strong gains in student achievement are using low-stakes formative assessments throughout the year to monitor individual student progress, SETDA notes. These formative assessments can provide data that are useful to inform systemic change in policies at the district level–and changes in instruction at the classroom level.

“The difference is whether our educational system uses data reactively or proactively,” explained Wolf. “Scaling these low-stakes formative assessment systems up will make a real difference in our educational system. This will require meaningful teacher training, IT support to ensure that data delivered to teachers are relevant and user-friendly, and strong leadership emphasizing the importance of data analysis to drive classroom instruction at the school, district, and state levels.”

The report highlights 15 examples from states and districts using technology-based assessments to individualize instruction to improve student achievement, remediate students before it’s too late, track individual student growth and progress, and achieve school improvement goals.

For lawmakers

In conclusion, the action plan asks that communities be given the necessary resources and infrastructure to support learning with technology, including virtual learning.

It calls for societal support of educational technology and asks federal leadership to support states and districts regarding technology’s role in school reform by passing the ATTAIN Act. (See “New bill would revamp ed-tech funding.”)

Finally, the plan asks federal policy makers to increase the amount of e-Rate funding that is available to help schools acquire telecommunication services, internet access, internal connections, and maintenance of those connections.

“Now is the time to take bold steps in education policy to improve education for America’s 21st-century future leaders,” said Wolf. “America’s students have the potential to compete effectively in the global economy, [but] our educational system must respond to the needs of America’s future innovators by supporting them as lifelong learners and inquisitive creators of knowledge.”

Link:

SETDA’s “Class of 2020: Action Plan for Education”

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the “ Creating the 21 st Century Classroom ”resource center. Preparing today’s youth to succeed in the digital economy requires a new kind of teaching and learning. Skills such as global literacy, computer literacy, problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, and innovation have become critical in today’s increasingly interconnected workforce and society–and technology is the catalyst for bringing these changes into the classroom. Go to Creating-the-21st-century-classroom

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Harvard law professor fires back at RIAA

A Harvard Law School professor has launched a constitutional assault against a federal copyright law at the heart of the music industry’s aggressive anti-piracy campaign, which has wrung payments from thousands of online song-swappers — including many college students — since 2003.

The professor, Charles Nesson, has come to the defense of a Boston University graduate student targeted in one of the music industry’s many lawsuits. By taking on the case, Nesson hopes to challenge the basis for the suit, and all others like it.

Nesson argues that the Digital Theft Deterrence and Copyright Damages Improvement Act of 1999 is unconstitutional, because it effectively lets a private group—the Recording Industry Association of America, or RIAA—carry out civil enforcement of a criminal law. He also says the music industry group abused the legal process by brandishing the prospects of lengthy and costly lawsuits in an effort to intimidate people into settling cases out of court.

Nesson, the founder of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, said in an interview that his goal is to "turn the courts away from allowing themselves to be used like a low-grade collection agency."

Nesson is best known for defending the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers and for consulting on the case against chemical companies that was depicted in the film A Civil Action. His challenge against the music labels, made in U.S. District Court in Boston, is one of the most determined attempts to derail the industry’s flurry of litigation.

The initiative has generated more than 30,000 complaints against people accused of sharing songs online. Only one case has gone to trial; nearly everyone else has settled out of court to avoid damages and limit the attorney fees and legal costs that escalate over time.

Nesson intervened after a federal judge in Boston asked his office to represent Joel Tenenbaum, who was among dozens of people who appeared in court in RIAA cases without legal help.

The 24-year-old Tenenbaum is a graduate student accused by the RIAA of downloading at least seven songs and making 816 music files available for distribution on the Kazaa file-sharing network in 2004. He offered to settle the case for $500, but music companies rejected that, demanding $12,000.

The Digital Theft Deterrence Act, the law at issue in the case, sets damages of $750 to $30,000 for each infringement, and as much as $150,000 for a willful violation. That means Tenenbaum could be forced to pay $1 million if it is determined that his alleged actions were willful.

The music industry group isn’t conceding any ground to Nesson and Tenenbaum. The RIAA has said in court documents that its efforts to enforce the copyright law are protected under the First Amendment right to petition the courts for redress of grievances. Tenenbaum also failed, the music group noted, to notify the U.S. Attorney General that he wanted to contest the law’s constitutional status.

Cara Duckworth, a spokeswoman for the RIAA, said her group’s pursuit of people suspected of music piracy is a fair response to the industry’s multibillion-dollar losses since peer-to-peer networks began making it easy for people to share massive numbers of songs online.

"What should be clear is that illegally downloading and distributing music comes with many risks and is not an anonymous activity," Duckworth said.

Still, wider questions persist on whether the underlying copyright law is constitutional, said Ray Beckerman, a Forest Hills, N.Y.-based attorney who has represented other downloading defendants and runs a blog tracking the most prominent cases.

One federal judge has held that the constitutional question is "a serious argument," Beckerman said. "There are two law review articles that have said that it is unconstitutional, and there are three cases that said that it might be unconstitutional."

In September, a federal judge granted a new trial to a Minnesota woman who had been ordered to pay $220,000 for pirating 24 songs. In that ruling, U.S. District Judge Michael J. Davis called on Congress to change copyright laws to prevent excessive awards in similar cases. He wrote that he didn’t discount the industry’s claim that illegal downloading has hurt the recording business, but called the award "wholly disproportionate" to the industry’s losses.

In the Boston case, Nesson is due to meet attorneys for the music industry for a pretrial conference on Nov. 18, ahead of a trial set for Dec. 1.

Entertainment attorney Jay Cooper, who specializes in music and copyright issues at Los Angeles-based Greenberg Traurig, is convinced that Nesson will not persuade the federal court to strike down the copyright law. He said the statutory damages it awards enable recording companies to get compensation in cases where it is difficult to prove actual damages.

The record companies have echoed that line of defense. In court filings in Tenenbaum’s case, they contend that the damages allowed by the law are "intended not only to compensate the copyright owner, but also to punish the infringer [and] deter other potential infringers."

But are these lawsuits the only way the record industry could deter piracy? Nesson believes the industry could develop new ways to prevent copyright material from being shared illegally. One idea would be to bundle music with ads and post it for free online, he says.

"There are alternative ways," he said, "of packaging entertainment to return revenue to artists."

Links:

Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society

Ray Beckerman’s blog

Recording Industry Association of America on music piracy

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Media companies help promote low-cost laptop project

After a rocky beginning, the nonprofit group One Laptop Per Child thinks an advertising campaign will give a lift to the organization’s effort to place low-cost laptops in the hands of children in developing nations, reports the New York Times. About 500,000 of the group’s light and rugged machines are being used in 31 countries, including Afghanistan, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Iraq, Lebanon, Peru, Rwanda, and Uruguay. But the cost of the laptops, at less than $200 each, has been prohibitively high for many countries, and the number of laptops distributed has fallen short of early projections. An additional 500,000 of these XO laptops are in transit or being built and should be in use by early next year, said Nicholas Negroponte, chairman of the project. The marketing campaign seeks to sharply increase those numbers. Television time, billboard space, and magazine pages are being donated by media companies, including News Corp., CBS, and Time Warner. The goal, Negroponte says, is greatly increasing the donation program, "Give a Laptop. Get a Laptop. Change the World." For $399, a person can donate an XO laptop and also receive one. Or donors can simply donate $199, to give a child a laptop, at www.amazon.com/xo. The advertising time is donated, and the spots are expected to start conversations. One spot is an uplifting vision of a 7-year-old girl in a South African township, sitting in a dark room, her face lighted only by the laptop’s glow. "With education, we will solve our own problems," she says. Another TV spot says children learn quickly, whatever their tools of survival are–whether loading an AK-47 or mastering an XO laptop…

Click here for the full story

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New school’s designs anticipate future of education

If technology is the future of education, Pennsylvania’s Dallas School District is paving the way by building a high school designed to embrace today’s technology as well as adapt to tomorrow’s advances, reports the Citizens’ Voice of Wilkes-Barre, Pa. "We had to tackle this process with the idea of looking at a crystal ball for the next 50, 75 years," Superintendent Frank Galicki said. The district intends to have the $43 million building open for the 2010-11 school year. Technology has been worked into almost every aspect of the process, from making library research books digital and building interactive screens into classrooms to incorporating green building and operating methods. There will be no cafeteria, and there is a big hole in the building next to the commons. The media center will have LCD screens and computer hook-ups instead of rows and rows of books. All resource books will be digitalized, so multiple students can access them at the same time. Environmental science students will tend a rooftop garden and greenhouse, while journalism students develop TV programs in a fully equipped broadcast studio that, eventually, could be seen by all area residents. All classrooms will be equipped with Promethean interactive whiteboards that will allow teachers and students to run programs, show textbook pages, and do anything else possible on a computer on a full-size screen. English teachers requested their classes be just around the corner from the media center, so students have easy and quick access to the large space conducive to group projects and research. Students pushed for the open amphitheater that sits in the middle of the building and provides a contained outdoor area for eating lunch, teaching classes, and–with the addition of an electronic screen–watching movies…

Click here for the full story

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Schools caught in internet safety dilemma

In the constant struggle to keep kids safer online, a new solution is emerging that enlists the help of schools in age-verification techniques to ensure that online predators are kept off child-friendly web sites. But some critics say this puts schools in a questionable role, because the information they provide can be used to target age-appropriate advertising to their students.

The solution in question, developed by an online protection service called eGuardian, is one of the latest attempts at "digital identification." eGuardian purports to block online predators from reaching children, making search engines and social-networking sites safer for students.

"We collect just the information we need to verify children by having the parents provide that information–parent’s name, child’s name, age, school, gender, and parent’s signature," said Rod Zayas, eGuardian CEO. "Parents then ask the school to verify that information, so a trusted third party is telling us that the information is correct. This is the basis of our security. We pay schools for taking the time to verify the information. Web sites pay us to help them protect children, and by saying they are more secure, they are able to attract more parents [and therefore more] children. They can also offer child-centric services without fear of attracting predators."

eGuardian keeps this identifying information offline, so "there is no chance of tying an eGuardian ID to an individual," explained Zayas. He added that schools can use his company’s service as a fundraiser by encouraging parents to participate. "If they do a fundraiser with eGuardian, 100 percent of the proceeds go to the schools," he said. "Schools can earn from $1,000 to $5,000, depending on the size of the school."

eGuardian recently presented its solution to the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, which was formed in January in response to an agreement between MySpace and 49 state attorneys general. The task force aims to identify effective strategies and technologies for creating a safer online environment for children and teens. (See "Harvard scholars to explore web safety.")

In eGuardian’s presentation to the task force, the company described its revenues as coming primarily from technology partners that use the eGuardian protection system for commercial purposes.

Said the company: "Our goal is to enhance our partners’ product offerings, thereby allowing them to charge more for this value-added service; we share in this additional incremental revenue. We collect a monthly fee between 25 cents and 50 cents per month per identity-verified member, based on volume. Alternately, for partners that do not charge access fees and [instead] rely on advertising, we also offer revenue-sharing models derived for this targeted advertising revenue. Our ability to provide identity [verification] allows for better targeted, and more appropriate, advertising to eGuardian-protected children, which has been positively received by the parents. Partners are able to charge more for the directed ads."

Children’s privacy advocates liken the services offered by eGuardian and other digital-identification firms to a sort of Faustian bargain in which parents–and, in this case, schools–hand over the chance to market goods to children in return for the prospect of shielding kids from online predators.

"The fear that companies engaged in the digital identification of minors will partner with market profilers and advertisers to support targeted advertising is real," said Nancy Willard, head of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use.

Zayas notes that if eGaurdian’s customers are membership-based sites, there is no advertising on the sites, and this does not change with eGuardian’s service. "We do not encourage our partners to display advertising. We do not sell advertising. We do not accept advertising for eGuardian. Membership-based sites pay us a monthly fee for each protected child," he said.
 
He continued: "If the site displays advertising, our agreement ensures that any ads displayed are age-appropriate. A 12-year-old should not see a gambling ad or an ad for an adult-oriented site. Sites can use the information we send them for that session only to know that the visitor is a 12 year-old boy. But they don’t know which boy, or even if it is the same boy who visited yesterday. They can’t resell that information to their advertisers, because there is nothing to sell. They can’t tie it to the eGuardian ID, because it is not the real ID–it is a key–and it changes every session. At best, they can tell their advertisers that, [for instance], ‘a hundred 12-year-olds visited our site last month.’"

Zayas compared the process to what happens when kids watch the Disney Channel.

"If you let your child watch the Disney Channel, or visit Club Penguin, you have every right to expect that no adult-oriented content or ads will be shown," he said. "You should also expect that the commercials will be targeted to kids. [Advertisers] know that the person watching is a kid, but they don’t know who–[and] eGuardian works the same way."

Willard still finds the practice objectionable. "It is an outrage that under the guise of protecting children from online sexual predators, companies are promoting solutions that will allow market-profiling predators to engage in more effective targeting of advertisements to children," she said.

But others, such as Microsoft Corp., disagree.

According to Kim Cameron, chief identity architect for Microsoft, "Working with identity providers, such as eGuardian, [Microsoft Windows’] CardSpace provides a solution to key industry concerns such as phishing, secure information communication, and online identity management. eGuardian provides the age of verified children as an Information Card that is stored in CardSpace. Children can choose to present the card to web site partners. This is a safe and reliable method for telling web sites they are working with a minor, without revealing any unnecessary information, and allows them to create safer environments for children."

Educators who spoke with eSchool News said they were uncomfortable with schools getting involved in the conflict.

"In my opinion, schools should not get into the business of sharing student information with third-party vendors," said Jim Hirsch, associate superintendent for academic and technology services at the Plano Independent School District in Texas. "In most jurisdictions, these vendors can request directory information on students as required by law and use it as they wish. Schools have no choice but to comply with that type of information request, but they should [refrain from] providing student information outside of legal requirements."

He added: "School systems need to ensure that student information is kept private as required by the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act. Parents can make individual choices if they wish to use digital ID software without school involvement."

Marc Liebman, superintendent for the Berryessa Union School District in San Jose, Calif., agreed with Hirsch. Even though solutions such as eGuardian’s could provide greater protection for kids, Liebman said, "schools should not be involved in making that decision… For me, the term ‘market profiling’ is a synonym for exploiting children, and that is unacceptable."

Liebman also says using school funding as an incentive for parents to participate puts undue pressure on them to release information.

"If we need to digitally identify young people, then we should only do so with a federal law in place that ensures this will not be used for market-profiling purposes," said Willard.

The Internet Safety Technical Task Force is scheduled to present its final report to the state attorneys general by Dec. 31.

Links:

Internet Safety Technical Task Force

eGuardian

Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use

Nancy Willard’s digital ID blog

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Keeping Online Learning Secure resource center. Online learning is becoming increasingly popular, especially as fuel costs force schools to consider shortened schedules and have college students opting for virtual classes to save money. But while interest and enrollment in virtual classrooms rises, so do concerns about security while students are learning online. School IT staff already work around the clock to make sure their systems are secure and reliable; they can’t afford to have school networks vulnerable to attacks from outside—or from curious students who believe they are honing their tech expertise. Go to: Keeping Online Learning Secure

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Study: Online enrollment jumps 13 percent

Enrollment in online college courses in the United States outpaced overall growth in higher education last year, and officials predict a sustained increase in online enrollment as the economy slumps and good jobs become scarcer, according to report published this month.

"Staying the Course: Online Education in the United States, 2008," published by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, says 22 percent of American college students took at least one web-based class in the fall 2007 semester, or 3.94 million students. That marked an increase of 12.9 percent from the fall 2006 semester. During the same period, overall higher-education enrollment increased by only 1.2 percent, according to the report, which surveyed officials from more than 2,500 colleges and universities.

The jump in online enrollment from 2006 to 2007 is just part of a steady increase in web-based classes this decade. In fall 2002—the Sloan Foundation report’s first year—1.6 million students were taking at least one online class, meaning 9 percent of college students were taking online classes. That number eclipsed 2 million in 2004 and topped 3 million in 2005.

Jeff Seaman, co-author of the Sloan report, said some in higher education have expected the increase in online enrollment to level off in recent years, but students’ interest in web-based learning has yet to peak. 

"Every year, we think it will level out, and it hasn’t done so quite yet," Seaman said. "At some point, the demand is going to be met and [enrollment numbers] will meet some sort of steady state."

Suspicion of online college degrees remains, Seaman said, but almost exclusively at institutions that have not developed an online program. Seaman said that in the past six years, online education has grown from a curiosity to an accepted way to earn a college degree.

"Six years ago, the questions were, ‘What is this stuff?’ And then, it was, ‘[Online learning] can’t be any good, can it?’ … Now the most common question is, ‘How do I tell people how to find the right online program?’" he said. "The perception has changed considerably."

College and university decision makers say they expect increased overall enrollment as financial markets continue to struggle. People who are underemployed or unemployed often look to bolster their resumes with a degree that will make them more attractive to employers when the country breaks from its economic malaise, Seaman said.

"People are finding that this is the time I can get an education to get the next best job," he said. "People want to be in a good position when the economy picks up again."

Because online classes are more convenient than traditional courses, which often require adult learners to commute, Seaman said officials are expecting web-based course enrollment to continue to outpace the overall numbers.

The annual report also examined what concentrations and majors are affected the most by online education. Engineering is the only discipline where the proportion of online students dips dramatically, according to the report. Associate’s degree institutions have a "wide lead" in online penetration in the fields of psychology, liberal arts, and social sciences. 

Link:

Staying the Course: Online Education in the United States, 2008

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Don’t let ‘mission creep’ infiltrate your grant seeking

There might be a disease making its way through your school district. It sounds like something you might pick up from summer camp. What is it? Mission creep.

Typically, mission creep has infected nonprofit organizations that rely on grant funding for part of their budget. Though I haven’t heard any district grant writers raise an alarm about this phenomenon, after reading a recent article I started wondering how prevalent mission creep might be in education.

What is mission creep? Originally applied to military operations, the term refers to the expansion of a project beyond its original goals, especially after some initial success—to the point that it becomes untenable.

Basically, if your district is chasing after grant dollars for the sake of trying to secure money rather than furthering your district’s mission, or if you are proposing a project that hasn’t been carefully planned, you’ve got mission creep. It also means that your district doesn’t keep its mission in mind when pursuing grants. In the worst cases, district grant writers might even be asked to "alter" the district’s mission in a grant proposal, to make it sound like there is a fit between the funder’s intentions and their proposed project.

Why is mission creep a problem? Many funders will ask you to discuss the need for your project, and funders typically expect this need will relate to the mission of your school district and will fit into your district’s strategic plan. Some funders might ask about your district’s ability to carry out the proposed project, based on its expertise in that area. If you cannot show any expertise, funders might question your district’s ability to meet the project’s goals and objectives. Worst of all, funders probably will be able to put two and two together and figure out that your district is just trying to grab some grant funds. When it appears that you are merely chasing money, your chance of winning a grant plunges to practically zero.

Here are some key ways to avoid mission creep:

1. If you have been asked to write grants that have nothing to do with your district’s mission, have a serious discussion with your administrators. You should explain the issue in detail and note that it is difficult, if not impossible, to be funded for a project that has nothing to do with your mission and strategic plan.

2. Only identify potential funders whose intentions are an exact match for the type of project you want to implement and your expected outcomes.

3. If a district staff member comes to you with a project idea, make sure it matches your district’s mission and relates to your district’s strategic plan. If it doesn’t, explain the issue and see if there are ways to revise the project so it fits better with both your mission and the funder’s intentions. If there aren’t, the project idea should be dropped.

4. Make sure grant seeking is part of the strategic planning process for your district. As projects are identified, ask whether they are potentially grant-funded projects. Begin looking for funders only for those projects that lend themselves to grants

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Computer salesman, IT chief sentenced in Dallas schools bribing case

Houston businessman Frankie Wong, convicted last summer of bribing a Dallas Independent School District administrator to obtain district technology contracts, was sentenced Nov. 12 to 10 years in prison, reports the Dallas Morning News. U.S. District Judge Sam Lindsay also meted out an 11-year sentence to Ruben Bohuchot, the former Dallas ISD technology chief convicted of accepting an estimated $947,000 in illegal gifts and cash payments. In return, he made sure Wong’s company won two large computer contracts worth more than $120 million. "None of this would have happened without the participation of both of you," Judge Lindsay told Wong. "The one thing I guess we’ll never know is who approached whom first." Wong and Bohuchot are scheduled to report to prison on Jan. 20. Both said they will appeal their convictions. This week’s sentencing hearings effectively end a three-year federal investigation that uncovered a couple of creative schemes that Wong used to route gifts and cash to Bohuchot and his family and friends. Trial testimony showed that Wong bought a 46-foot deep-sea fishing yacht for $305,000. Basically, he turned over control of the boat to Bohuchot, an avid tournament fisherman. Wong’s company was called Micro System Enterprises. Prosecutors alleged that he created a "shell corporation" to own the boat and make it difficult to determine who was really "entertaining" Bohuchot. Federal investigators found that Wong also bought Bohuchot airline tickets, meals, golf outings, and hotel rooms…

Click here for the full story

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Teachers and Facebook: Privacy vs. standards

An attorney for a suspended Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools teacher says she never intended for the public to view negative comments she made about students on Facebook. But the case is now part of a national debate that pits teachers’ rights to free expression against how communities expect them to behave, reports the Charlotte Observer. "This is a new frontier in education, where technological and social norms are outpacing law and policy," said Tom Hutton, an attorney for the National School Boards Association. Attorney John Gresham, who represents the teacher, said she only meant to share her comments with friends with access to her page on the popular social networking site.
She now faces possible firing for listing "teaching chitlins in the ghetto of Charlotte" among her activities. "Facebook pages are only meant to be viewed by people permitted to see them," said Gresham, who questioned how her private postings became public. District spokeswoman Nora Carr said the district allows teachers to post personal information online, but had to take action because it affected the teacher’s ability to interact with students and parents. She called the comments racially insensitive or offensive to students. District officials plan to send a memo to their 19,000 employees reminding them that web postings that can be viewed by the public should be appropriate. The district announced earlier this week that it had suspended the teacher and disciplined four others for postings on Facebook. The action came after WCNC, the Observer’s news partner, discovered the pages on the web site by searching for people who identified themselves as CMS employees…

Click here for the full story

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A school chief takes on tenure, stirring a fight

The Washington, D.C., schools chancellor has proposed spectacular raises for teachers willing to give up tenure in a move that has stirred up controversy, reports the New York Times. Michelle Rhee, the hard-charging chancellor of the D.C. public schools, thinks teacher tenure might be great for teachers–but it hurts kids, she says, by making incompetent instructors harder to fire. So Rhee has proposed raises of as much as $40,000, financed by private foundations, for teachers willing to give up tenure. Policy makers and educators nationwide are watching to see what happens to Rhee’s bold proposal. The 4,000-member Washington Teachers’ Union has divided over whether to embrace it, with many union members calling tenure a crucial protection against arbitrary firing. "If Michelle Rhee were to get what she is demanding," said Allan R. Odden, a professor at the University of Wisconsin who studies teacher compensation, "it would raise eyebrows everywhere, because that would be a gargantuan change." Rhee has not proposed abolishing tenure outright. Under her proposal, each teacher would choose between two compensation plans, one called green and the other red. Pay for teachers in the green plan would nearly double by 2010. But they would need to give up tenure for a year, after which they would need a principal’s recommendation or face dismissal. Teachers who choose the red plan also would get big pay increases but would lose seniority rights that allow them to bump more-junior teachers if their school closes or undergoes an overhaul…

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