In Florida, virtual school could make classroom history

Thousands of Florida students may ditch public elementary and middle schools next year in favor of online classes at home — an option that could change the face of public education, reports OrlandoSentinel.com. A new law that takes effect next fall requires every district in the state to set up an online school for kindergarten through eighth-grade students. They won’t have to get on the bus — or even get out of their PJs — to head to school at the family computer.
A handful of elementary- and middle-school students already are experimenting with virtual classes, withdrawing from regular schools and enrolling instead for online instruction. Students take a full range of courses, including reading, writing, math, science, history, art, music and even physical education.
"I am so excited about this that my goal is to go all the way through 12th grade," said Joni Fussell, whose 8-year-old daughter has been studying at the kitchen computer in their Altamonte Springs home since January…

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Google’s growth worries privacy advocates

Perhaps the biggest threat to Google Inc.’s increasing dominance of internet search and advertising is the rising fear, justified or not, that Google’s broadening reach is giving it unchecked power—especially when it comes to users’ privacy.

As Google burrows deeper into everyday computing, its product announcements are prompting questions about its ability to gather more potentially sensitive personal information from users.

Why does Google log the details of search queries for so long? What does it do with the information? Does it combine data from its search engine with information it collects through other avenues—such as its recently released web browser, Chrome?

Data gathered through most of the company’s services "disappears into a black hole once it hits the Googleplex," said Simon Davies, director of London-based Privacy International, referring to Google’s headquarters. "It’s impossible to track that information."

Google—whose corporate motto is "Don’t Be Evil"—generally sees such concerns as misinformed. For instance, the company says it stores the queries made through its popular search engine primarily so it can improve the service.

But whether the criticisms are valid or not, they are likely indicative of the battles Google will face as it, like Microsoft Corp. in the 1990s, moves from world-wowing startup to the heart of the technology establishment.

The September release of Chrome illuminated the budding conflicts.

To Google, the new browser is a platform on which future web-based software applications might run most efficiently. It also is a sign that Google understands its growing power, because launching a browser is a direct challenge to Microsoft.

In other circles, Chrome provoked suspicion. One group, Santa Monica, Calif.-based Consumer Watchdog, argues that the browser crosses a new line.

In a mid-October letter to Google directors, Consumer Watchdog said it had "serious privacy concerns" about the browser and the transfer of users’ data through Google’s services without giving people what it sees as "appropriate transparency and control."

One of Consumer Watchdog’s complaints surrounds Chrome’s navigation bar, which can be used to enter a web site address or a search query. The group points out that as users type in the navigation bar, Chrome relays their keystrokes to Google even before they click "Enter" to finalize the command.

"The company is literally having this unnoticed conversation with itself about you and your information," Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court said.

This "conversation" stems from the "Google Suggest" feature, which is built into the browser and other Google products, including its basic internet search engine.

"Google Suggest" sends Google searches as you type, in hopes of anticipating your desires. So if you’re keying in "Electoral College 2008 election," Google will offer multiple search queries along the way. First you’d be given results related to the term "electoral," then ones on the Electoral College in general, and finally you’d get links pertaining to the Nov. 4 presidential vote.

This is what worries Consumer Watchdog: Say you key in something that could be embarrassing or deeply personal, but reconsider before you press "Enter." The autosuggest feature still sends this phrase to Google’s servers, tied to your computer’s numeric Internet Protocol (IP) address.

Brian Rakowski, the product manager for Chrome, said Consumer Watchdog’s fears stemmed from confusion about the role a Google web browser plays.

"There was some concern that, given a very naive way of how browsers work, you may think, ‘Now I’m using a Google browser—Google must know everything on their servers about me,’" he said.

Rakowski said queries sent to Google through the auto-suggest feature do include data such as a user’s IP address and the time at which the queries were made. But Google logs just 2 percent of the information brought in through "Google Suggest," in order to improve the feature, Rakowski said, and the company removes identifying elements from this data within 24 hours. The so-called “anonymization” is accomplished by stripping off the last four digits of the IP address associated with the query, according to Rakowski.

"You’re flying blind without that information, so we have to collect a little bit," he said. "But we’re really [collecting] the bare minimum we can to provide that service."

The auto-suggest function can be shut off in the browser or when using Google’s search engine through its home page, but it is not immediately evident how to do so.

One way is through Chrome’s "incognito" tab, which turns off the auto-suggest feature and lets users surf the web without revealing their activities to people who have access to the same computer. However, Consumer Watchdog objects to the design of "incognito." The group claims the feature makes users believe their web surfing is totally private, while in fact Google is still sending some information back and forth between users’ PCs and the company’s servers.

Google takes issue with that complaint, too. The "incognito" function lets users surf without leaving a trail of pages visited or "cookie" data-tracking files behind, but it can’t entirely cloak someone’s internet activity from the outside world.

"We try to be very up-front with users when they enter this mode about what it provides and what it doesn’t provide," Rakowski said.

Although Chrome is new, Consumer Watchdog is not waiting to see whether it gets too little use to worry about. In October, Court’s group wrote U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey to caution him about Google’s plans to sell ads for Yahoo, saying that its fears about Google’s market power have been exacerbated by Chrome’s release.

"It’s about having a monopoly over our personal information, which, if it falls into the wrong hands, could be used in a very dangerous way against us," Court said.

Google’s senior product counsel, Michael Yang, said the company is not using any data from Chrome to make improvements to its ad services.

But that doesn’t mollify privacy critics, who fear Google might start doing that someday to best capitalize on its vast audience. Some 650 million people use Google’s search engine—and dozens of schools and universities use its panoply of web services.

"The way Google has fashioned Chrome, it’s a digital Trojan horse to collect even more masses of consumer data for Google’s digital advertising business," said Jeff Chester, executive director for the Center for Digital Democracy, a consumer rights organization.

For now, at least, Google is planning to adopt just one change suggested by Consumer Watchdog. When users spell a web site’s address incorrectly, Chrome sends a request to Google to help determine the actual site the user is trying to visit. This happens even when users are surfing "incognito," and Rakowski said it was an oversight.

"It’s something we’re prioritizing now that we want to fix," he said.

This is not to say that Google is avoiding other privacy-related changes. In July, the company began linking to its privacy policy on its home page. It also recently began its anonymization of the data it stores through the "Google Suggest" feature.

But one other privacy-related move might say more about how Google is perceived than anything.

In September, to placate European Union data-protection officials, Google said it would maintain its search logs—which track search queries and the IP addresses they came from—for nine months instead of 18, as it had been doing. After that time, Google will alter IP addresses to mask their source. (That probably won’t provide true anonymity, because an aggregated list of search queries over time will likely reveal clues about who made them.)

Google hoped the move would win it favor. After all, Microsoft waits 18 months before it anonymizes its search engine logs, and Yahoo does so after 13.

Even so, the European Union’s justice and home affairs commissioner said Google should shorten its logs even further, to six months. Davies, of Privacy International, says the change from 18 to nine months was "not meaningful."

Court says that with all its products, Google has more opportunities than its peers to capture personal information without users realizing it.

"Google’s founders may say, ‘We’re going to protect that information,’ but no other company," he said, "is positioned to exploit that information in the way Google is."

Links:

Google Chrome

Consumer Watchdog

Center for Digital Democracy

European Union

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T+L to educators: Embrace change

Technology is a disruptive force that brings many challenges to teaching and learning–but that doesn’t mean educators should fear its use in schools, said speakers at the National School Boards Association’s Technology + Learning (T+L) Conference in Seattle late last month.

The annual conference opened Oct. 28 with a keynote speech from Paul Saffo, an associate professor at Stanford University and technology trend forecaster and strategist, who acknowledged that the uncertainty that accompanies change can be hard for educators to deal with. But Saffo offered attendees a ray of hope with some advice on how to anticipate the next key trends that will carry education forward into the future.

As attendees and exhibitors sat in their seats, sipping Seattle’s trademark beverage, their eyes focused on the stage: Seattle’s black skyline with hues of purple and blue, clouds massed on the horizon–rain clouds on the way.

"I’m here to talk to you about the technology landscape that lies ahead … and what this implies for education," said Saffo. "We live in uncertain times because of the economy, because of the abundance of technology schools could use to better education–and because most schools can’t afford this kind of technology."

But even storm clouds have silver linings, and Saffo said the same is true for schools and technology. "You as educators need to look back twice as much as you look ahead," he said. "Mark Twain once said that history doesn’t repeat itself, but sometimes it rhymes–and that’s the lesson that will help educators through this changing economy."

According to Saffo, there are some tips educators can use to predict the next big technological innovation that will directly affect the economy–and their schools.

First, take a look at history: In the 1950s, the key technological innovation was the television–and the media expression of it was broadcasting in the 1960s. In the 1980s, it was the client server that led to the media expression of the World Wide Web of the 1990s. Earlier this decade, peer-to-peer file sharing and online social networks emerged, and perhaps in the next decade, sites like Twitter will be the definitive media expression.

"If you look at these trends, technology makes the medium possible, but the … medium is not ubiquitous until the next big innovation comes along," explained Saffo. There is a trend of a decade’s difference between the technology and the medium–and most media will not be fully integrated until the next new technology is able to leverage the decade-old medium.

Saffo listed examples, such as an avatar site called Habitat in the 1980s. Even though it was the same concept as we see today in sites such as Second Life–the avatar moved around a virtual world, buying things and being able to talk to people–the right platform just wasn’t there, and it failed.

According to Saffo, it wasn’t until gaming became popular and gaming software improved that people became enthusiastic about virtual worlds. Thanks to new gaming technology, Second Life is now a huge success.

Another example is handheld electronic books. In the 1980s, Franklin Electronic Publishers made a handheld device that stored books. But it wasn’t until the invention of sturdier hardware, newly designed plastic frames, and the switch from print to digital nearly two decades later that Amazon’s Kindle eBook reader was able to take off.

Saffo related the popularity and successful mainstream implementation of technology to an "S"-shaped curve.

At first, educators and technology trend watchers usually overestimate the influence of a new technology on the market. Then, just when educators and tech enthusiasts give up hope and severely lower expectations, the technology is diffused into society.

"I give this piece of advice to educators: Embrace failure," he said. "It worked for Christopher Columbus. Don’t be afraid. It’s only through failure and unexpected conclusions that progress happens."

Saffo also provided analysis of some future trends educators should look for: the rise of "superstar" educators, thanks to the ability to blog and post free classes online; the change from the information revolution to the personal media revolution; and the switch from a consumer economy to a creator economy.

"All of these things are important to watch as an educator, because students will have to learn from different types of teachers; use different types of resources, such as Web 2.0 tools; and exist as a citizen in a ‘you-buy-and-you-sell’ economy," he said. "We have to prepare these kids."

As attendees pondered these tips and trends, Saffo closed by saying: "Don’t be in the valley, be on the mountaintop. Don’t look for what little bits of tech you need just to stay afloat, look around to the past and the present. Be a leader and look out."

Banning school technology: A bad idea?

This theme of embracing change continued on Day Two of the conference. In a session titled "Leveraging Banned Technologies to Create Ubiquitous Learning Environments," panelists offered their advice to educators on why technology shouldn’t be banned from classrooms–and why saying "yes" is worth the time and effort.

The session started by asking school superintendents and technology chiefs about the use of technology in their schools. Using a Promethean ActivExpression system, educators weighed in on their tech policies and practices.

Here’s what they had to say: 50 percent of participants said they had schoolwide wireless access; most said they don’t allow students to bring their own technology devices to school; and many don’t have a policy in place about students bringing their own devices to school.

But perhaps the most revealing data came from the next question: Do you allow cell phones in school?

Most participants said students can carry cell phones as long as they keep them turned off during class; yet, most also agreed that cell phones could be useful for instruction.

Participants also said that if students bring personal devices to school, 40 to 60 percent of those students bring a device with broadband access.

"This makes sense to me; I’ve seen this type of data before," said Karen Greenwood Henke, founder of Nimble Press and one of NSBA’s "20 to Watch," a list of 20 movers and shakers in educational technology. "Educators want their students to be able to use these technologies, but they don’t know how they can be applied in the classroom."

According to Henke, there are three types of reactions from educators to students’ use of personal technology devices:

1. Banning outright. This will quell the innovation that’s already happening in educational technology, Henke said–and although educators might think the personal devices aren’t being used, they usually just go underground.

2. The Walled Garden–the "yes, but…" approach. This means firewalls, filters, and a host of other restrictive policies and technologies aimed at keeping students "safe" and on task. This is the most common of school practices, Henke said, but maintenance and management consumes time and money and often provides only a false sense of security.

3. The Jungle–meaning the school wholly embraces most new technologies and innovations that come along. It’s not always safe or "pretty," but it is rich in variation, Henke said–and many new opportunities can be created.

"The jungle is a great option," said Henke, "but it’s not all wild. The school has to have common goals that are prioritized. The school must also build consensus among all departments, not just teachers over here and the IT department over there. It must be everyone together."

Henke said another challenge for schools adopting the "jungle" approach is bandwidth capacity.

"Schools first need to develop a plan of action for when new technologies are introduced and then determine their bandwidth needs. Then they’ll be getting somewhere," she said.

For Kathy Rains, director of technology for Madison City Schools in Alabama, her district’s success in using new technologies started with defining what "ubiquitous" access really should mean for students.

Rains and her team decided it was more complex than a single sentence could encapsulate–and this led officials to develop a plan of action with key points, such as developing a school system network, offering parent information training, and defining rules and safety for students.

"We decided that ubiquitous [access] for our students meant 24-7, anytime, anywhere access to learning, through the internet, and we went from there," she explained.

In Madison City Schools, students can bring in their own laptops and can log on to the district’s network with a guest sign-on. Rains said the district would have given students their own laptops, but it cannot afford to.

The district is working with the city’s Wi-Fi provider to make this access possible, she said.

The district also opens its libraries after-hours, provides laptop carts for classroom use, allows students to sign out laptops overnight and for long-term use, and has developed a common technology language.

"This means that we want everyone to be on the same page, so we use all open-source technology. We also go by PDFs and we have one file transportation system, not eMail. We also have a district web portal through Stoneware and a content management system through Moodle," said Rains.

The district’s web portal is functional for parents as well. Besides being able to view lunch menus and school schedules online, parents can submit payments online.

Students can search the internet through this web portal, then save and store any information or documents they might need directly to their own space on the portal.

But it’s not just students who get all the fun, according to Steve Hargadon, director of the K12 Open Technologies Initiative at the Consortium for School Networking, and founder of www.classroom20.com.

Hargadon developed his social networking site for educators as a way to get educators used to the idea of social networking not always as a scary, educationally empty phenomenon.

"We have to look at the tools and the devices behind popular technologies. Just because bad things sometimes happen on Facebook doesn’t mean the technology itself can’t be useful. It just depends how it’s used," he said.

Hargadon says that for educators, profile pages can be portfolios and background information for others to see. The "friends" you are making are really "colleagues," he said–and uploading content and adding commentary provides authentic feedback to your ideas.

"Common interest groups can be turned into group projects, and the discussion forums allow for asking questions and getting engaged in meaningful conversation. The wisdom of the group will always help when trying to solve problems," he said.

For these panelists, the shift in education from a teacher-centric, factory-style model to a more dynamic model filled with ubiquitous access to information, newly created content, and personal devices is not a struggle if you start with a plan–because only by being open to new ideas will today’s students be tomorrow’s innovators.

News from the exhibit hall

The American Education Corp. released phonics-based reading content geared toward kindergarteners through second-graders as part of its A+nyWhere Learning System. Featuring 15 lessons, the company’s Storybook Phonics I module takes a story-based approach to reading instruction that emphasizes phonetic fluency, initial consonant sounds, and beginning reading. Read by a British voice, all 15 stories contain a study guide, practice test, mastery test, and a two-part essay. The company says its new curriculum set can be used for independent or team study with computers, and all stories are compatible with interactive whiteboards. They’re also illustrated in full color and include character animations. Words are highlighted in sync with the narrator’s voice. Each lesson contains a variety of interactive games, such as drag-and-drop activities and picture-to-word matching. American Education also plans to introduce Storybook Phonics II for grades 1 and 2 soon. These additional 15 stories reportedly will focus on initial consonant clusters, vowels, and long vowel phonemes.

Ascend Education released data suggesting the efficacy of its Ascend Math Solution 3.3 software, which offers targeted intervention in mathematics by delivering personalized, differentiated instruction that includes assessments, lessons, and summative reporting. The company says the data show that its targeted math solution is used in before- and after-school programs, classrooms, computer labs, alternative learning environments, and in students’ homes. Using the product, for instance, Pinellas County, Fla., high school students reportedly improved their math scores by 28.7 percent. (Individual gains for these students on the math portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test reportedly averaged 27.4 percent.) At the completion of the program, 78 percent of students said they had a positive experience in using Ascend.

DigitalBridge Education announced that it has won a statewide contract from the Utah State Office of Education for an electronic student achievement and data management system. As many as 40 Utah school districts and 96 charter schools will use the company’s DigitalSAMS solution, the company said–allowing teachers, parents, and administrators to have better visibility and understanding of each student’s individual academic needs throughout his or her educational career. DigitalSAMS is a software system that gathers both historical and real-time information about students from a variety of data sources, allowing the entire educational community to collect, view, act on, share, and protect individual student information.

Follett Software announced that its Destiny Library Manager software now works with SAFARI Montage video from Library Video Co., allowing users to incorporate video-on-demand clips into lesson plans and student research projects more easily. When Destiny users load the MARC records for SAFARI Montage video clips into their database, those records will appear within Destiny search results. Clicking on these results will take users directly to the district’s SAFARI Montage video server and the titles in question. Users also can add reviews or recommend these titles within the Destiny system, just as they can do with other resources. In addition, Follett announced that its Destiny Resource Management Solution now gives users greater flexibility. Students and teachers can manage their own usernames and passwords, and users can choose the background, colors, and images that are displayed during Destiny Quest searches. Other new features include ways to narrow searches more effectively and the ability to track consumables such as workbooks and study guides through Destiny Textbook Manager.

Funds for Learning has expanded its E-Rate Manger for Applicants service by adding a resource designed to help applicants prepare for audits by guiding them through each step of the process. The new resource guides applicants through an audit from start to finish, telling them what documentation they will need and what they can expect when auditors arrive. The company also announced that it has automated the entire e-Rate application process and has launched a free, online e-Rate Calendar.

Phonevite, a broadcasting service, allows teachers and administrators to broadcast emergency alerts, absence notifications, school event reminders, weather cancellations, school closings, student progress reports, and more for a per-call rate of 4 cents–meaning schools can cut their mass-communications costs by up to 75 percent, according to the company. Phonevite also offers a free service that teachers can use to send up to 25 calls at a time at no cost. Teachers can receive immediate feedback with call tracking and response-back features, and Phonevite reportedly has no setup, training, or maintenance fees.

SMART Technologies unveiled a new product called the SMART Table, an interactive learning center designed for students from preschool to sixth grade. The new product is a colored table with a touch-sensitive surface, where groups of students can work together and interact simultaneously with digital content. The SMART Table builds on SMART’s Digital Vision Touch (DViT) technology, which allows for multi-user and multi-touch functionality. The table is ready to use right out of the box, the company said, and contains a customized PC and a projection system that are turned on with one button. It has a built-in, 27-inch screen that can read simultaneous input from a number of fingers or pen tools. The table is 29 inches wide and 25 inches high, and it ships with a standard set of learning applications, interactive activities, and educational games. It also supports SMART Notebook software through the SMART Table toolkit. A toolkit is included with every unit and allows teachers using a PC or Mac to create their own customized lesson activities and content, which can be loaded onto the table easily with a USB key. Independent software and content developers have begun to create additional content, which will be available with the product next spring, SMART said.

(Editor’s note: For more coverage of this year’s T+L Conference, see our online Conference Information Center.)

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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Winnipeg school buses fitted with cameras to nab reckless drivers

Winnipeg drivers might want to think twice before putting their foot to the floor to illegally pass a stopped school bus, reports the Canadian Press: A Winnipeg school board is braving new ground in a bid to stop reckless drivers by turning their buses into mobile traffic cameras. The city’s Seven Oaks school board is installing exterior cameras, which record the license plate, make of the car, and even the hair color of the driver who passes a school bus illegally. Although the board is among the first in Canada to take the step, transportation experts say the cameras will become much more common on the roads as the technology continues to improve and prices fall. Don Remillard, director of transportation with Seven Oaks, said complaints from school bus drivers about cars constantly blowing past stopped school buses while children were getting on or off prompted the board to outfit eight of its 37 buses with digital cameras. The cameras will become standard options on new school buses within the next few years, he said. In the past, bus drivers were asked to write down the license plate numbers of offending drivers. Now, Remillard said, they will have something much more substantial to hand over to police. In the United States, schools in Will County, Ill. (http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/top-news/index.cfm?i=31417&CFID=2844512&CFTOKEN=46694510), are among those that have implemented similar programs.

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State law threatens gender-equity programs

The Nov. 4 decision by Nebraska voters to ban affirmative action could derail programs designed to increase the participation of women in technology related courses at colleges and universities in the state, Nebraska education officials say.

Nebraska’s Southeast Community College, for instance, has reportedly made significant strides in boosting the enrollment of women in technology-related courses—a goal that is considered important not only to women, but also to high-tech employers seeking diversity in their field. But eliminating affirmative action could keep enrollment in technical classes almost exclusively male, college officials warn.

Nebraska’s educational institutions, as well as its city and county government agencies, are beginning to scour their programs to see if they violate a ban on race- and gender-based affirmative action approved by 58 percent of voters last week.

A similar affirmative-action ban was narrowly defeated in Colorado. 

The ban might force Southeast Community College—which has three campuses and more than 10,000 students—to cease or change its partnership with a national association that promotes equity for women in community colleges, said Jose J. Soto, the college’s vice president of affirmative action. And a program designed to boost female enrollment in technology classes might have to be dropped as well.

The college’s Milford campus is dedicated primarily to technical courses such as building-construction technology, automotive technology, and auto-collision repair, said Southeast spokesman Stu Osterthun. In recent years, college recruiters have increased the number of female students on the Milford campus. Women now make up about 10 percent of the 740 students on campus, Osterthun said.

One of the ways the college has recruited women is by hosting an annual "Women in Technology Day," where women can learn about Southeast’s 20 technical programs and apply for scholarships.

"We try to have events such as this to let female students know that this might be a male-dominated industry, but there’s room for you, too," Osterthun said. But the annual event might have to be axed after the Nov. 4 vote, officials said.

A spokeswoman for the American Association of University Women said the affirmative action ban could shrink the pool of qualified candidates in a number of fields and "reduce jobs, hurt businesses, and squelch educational opportunity just when our economy needs them the most."

"We believe it is bad for Nebraskans – not just women and minorities, but all citizens," AAUW director of public policy Lisa M. Maatz said in a statement. "Nebraska was unfortunately the target of out-of-state forces seeking to divide communities and deny equal opportunities to our friends and neighbors. Affirmative action has opened a lot of doors for women, and AAUW is very concerned that enactment of [the ballot initiative] will likely slam them shut."

Osterthun said Southeast Community College also would have to "adjust" Soto’s job title in the wake of the affirmative-action ban.

At the University of Nebraska, administrators are expected to review a wide range of programs and policies aimed at boosting diversity on campus, including a math camp for high school girls, Native American Day, the recruitment of foreign students, and a law-college policy that uses race as a factor in deciding which students to admit.

"We know we need to look at programs where race or gender or national origin are involved," university President J.B. Milliken said.

The Nebraska constitutional amendment prohibits public agencies from giving preferential treatment on the basis of race, sex, or ethnicity when hiring and performing such tasks as awarding contracts and granting scholarships.

The League of Nebraska Municipalities is reviewing how the amendment might affect hundreds of local governments across the state, Executive Director Lynn Rex said. Some federal grants, such as those for affordable housing, are tied to affirmative action, she said.

"There’s the potential for large consequences that we just don’t know yet," Rex said.

Milliken and other university officials are concerned that Nebraska’s status as one of a handful of states to pass an affirmative-action ban could project a cold image to women and minorities, hindering recruitment efforts. Similar measures were previously approved in California, Michigan, and the state of Washington.

"It’s important that we, while complying with the law, make every effort to provide broad access to the University of Nebraska," he said.

Like Milliken, Soto feels the amendment won’t dismantle all efforts to increase diversity.

"Affirmative action is something often done on the front end of the hiring process to make sure you have a job description that doesn’t limit candidates, and that you have a recruitment process," Soto said. "Ninety percent of affirmative action has nothing to do with … using race or gender to make a hiring decision. It’s to provide open access to opportunities."

Ward Connerly, the black businessman and former University of California regent who orchestrated the effort to ban affirmative action in Nebraska, said the win could give momentum to his state-by-state campaign against affirmative action. Opponents of affirmative action, such as those at Connerly’s American Civil Rights Institute (ACRI), argue the program is effectively a moratorium on the recognition of achievment by women and minorities and discrimates against whites and men. "Race has no place in American life or law" is the motto of ACRI.

The Election Day victory for Connerly and his supporters in Nebraska is being challenged. Opponents of the ban have filed a lawsuit arguing that petition signatures needed to put the issue on the ballot were gathered using a "pattern of fraud and illegality." If successful, the lawsuit could invalidate the results of last week’s vote.

Links:

Southeast Community College

University of Nebraska

League of Nebraska Municipalities

American Civil Rights Institute

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Paperless classroom saves money, resources

Marty Speth’s classroom at Delavan-Darien High School in Wisconsin doesn’t operate like most, reports the Janesville Gazette: It’s almost entirely paperless–no textbooks, no hardcopy lecture outlines, no written tests. Tables specially designed to accommodate two dozen computers replace the traditional desks and chairs. Electronic whiteboards replace chalkboards. Three large recycling bins–two for aluminum, glass, and plastic and one for paper–trump a small garbage can. "At the end of last school year … when I took stuff down [to the main office] to be duplicated, I was astounded at the amount of paper that came back," said Speth, an agriculture education teacher. He estimates that since he implemented his largely paperless approach, he’s reduced paper consumption by at least 50 percent in his five classes. Speth uses MyCaert.com, an online system designed exclusively for agriculture education that organizes readings, homework, quizzes, and tests. Students access their lessons–called "e-units"–and related assignments and assessments through the web portal. Speth also manages his students’ grades at MyGradebook.com, an online grade book. "I’ve always tried to stay on the outer edge of technology," he said. Speth’s plans for a paperless classroom were set into motion at the end of last school year, when the district cut its second high school agricultural teacher, leaving the curriculum in need of an update. The Delavan-Darien FFA Alumni paid for the MyCaert.com subscription–a one-time cost of $1,200, which covers the curriculum for all but one of the high school ag classes. The Delavan-Darien School District spent money to add a half-dozen computers and upgrade the classroom.
District officials have responded well to the paperless approach, saying it saves money and resources. Delavan-Darien High School Principal Mike Cipriano said it also "ties right in" with Speth’s teachings about the environment. "He not only teaches about it, but he puts it into practical use," he said…

Click here for the full story

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These traits make online teachers successful

What are the qualities that help instructors succeed when teaching online? That was the focus of a lively discussion at the 14th annual Sloan-C International Conference on Online Learning Nov. 6.

Presenter Bill Phillips of the University of Central Florida discussed findings from his research on the topic. Not surprisingly, he said, successful online instructors share many of the same characteristics that successful teachers in traditional classrooms exhibit–but they also spend a lot of time establishing a persona of approachability and ensuring students’ comfort in the course.

Online instructors face a number of challenges that traditional, face-to-face teachers don’t have, Phillips noted. For one thing, students and their instructors can’t see the visual clues that often help us understand the meaning behind another person’s words. Humor is hard to pull off online, he added, lest it be mistaken or misunderstood. Also, communicating primarily through writing takes more time, and the technology itself can create a barrier to learning.

Phillips studied four undergraduate faculty members who were considered successful online instructors, based on factors such as their students’ grades and course evaluations. He interviewed them extensively and also observed their online teaching.

He said all four demonstrated the “Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education” (Chickering & Gamson, 1987), which are:

– Encouraging student-faculty contact;
– Encouraging cooperation among students;
– Encouraging active learning;
– Giving prompt feedback;
– Emphasizing time on task;
– Setting high expectations; and
– Respecting diverse talents and ways of learning.

But the successful online instructors also exhibited what Phillips called “swift trust,” a term taken from the military. “You have to exude authority … and gain students’ trust from Day One or before,” he explained, noting that all four instructors he observed shared this characteristic.

One way online instructors can establish this trust right away is to send a note to students individually before the course starts, introducing themselves and setting clear goals and expectations. The note can be warm and informal, but it must be clearly written.

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Gaming software improves math scores for Scottish students

An experiment involving 600 pupils in 32 Scottish schools has found that using math problem-solving games for 20 minutes every day can improve math performance to a significant degree, reports the United Kingdom’s Independent. The test group of pupils used the commercially available Nintendo’s Brain Training game for nine weeks, while a control group continued their lessons as normal. When they were tested again at the end of the period, the results found all groups had improved their scores–but those using the game had improved by a further 50 percent. The time taken to complete the tests also dropped by five minutes, with the games group improving more than twice as much as the control classes. The idea to use brain training in the classroom came from Derek Robertson, national adviser for emerging technologies and learning at Learning Teaching Scotland, who bought a console for himself a couple of years ago and thought: "I bet this could work in a primary school." He believes the targets set within the games were one of the main reasons why the children improved so quickly at arithmetic. He says: "One of the biggest drivers was the self-improvement model; the children were also playing something they wanted to play." He also offers another reason why these games have boosted math achievement: Classroom teachers have embraced the handsets because of their simplicity of use. "These games have a low technology-skills threshold–play around with it for five minutes and you are away, which means the teacher doesn’t have to worry about anything going wrong and can concentrate on teaching," he says…

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Politics holds new role in high school classrooms

As the results of the election sank in Nov. 5, teachers in high school classrooms across the nation found themselves debriefing a group of young people who are, by all accounts, more informed and civic-minded than any in recent memory, thanks largely to the internet, reports USA Today. "They’re very intelligent, very engaged, very savvy," says Alex Koroknay-Palicz, executive director of the National Youth Rights Association, a nonprofit working to get states to lower the voting age to 16. "The internet has made them knowledgeable about many more things that are going on." To the students in Gil Stange’s second-period AP Economics class at Towson High School in Maryland, it was a chance to test a theory: What if the Republican candidate had been the African American and the Democrat the 72-year-old white guy? "Is it really overcoming race?" asked Allison Rich, 17, dressed in a bright-red University of New Hampshire sweatshirt. "Or is it just a party issue?" Stange, 44, who has taught at Towson High School for 18 years, wasn’t surprised by the skeptical reaction of his students. For one thing, his students watched far less TV coverage of the election than he did. "They weren’t sort of swept away by the whole media idea, the ‘big sea change,’ whatever the popular meme was," he says. "They approached it from an analytical point of view." Blame political blogs, The Colbert Report, and, perhaps most significantly, Facebook, which allows them to post political stories online and post comments in real time, Stange says…
Open-source cloud-computing tools offer greater flexibility

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Most ed leaders bullish on Obama’s win

For educators and millions of other Americans, Barack Obama’s election as 44th president of the United States indicates that the nation is ready for change–in economic policy, in health care, and especially in education. With Democrats on track to gain at least five seats in the Senate and 19 in the House, according to projections at press time on Nov. 6, and with Democrats ahead of Republicans in gubernatorial elections 29 to 21, many reforms in student assessments, early education, and teacher incentives appeared to be on the horizon.

"We’re excited about President-elect Obama’s agenda; we think he presents a compelling and strong commitment to education and are looking forward to the opportunity to work with him to make the federal role more successful in providing our nation’s students with a 21st century education," said Michael A. Resnick, associate executive director of the National School Boards Association (NSBA).

With plans to increase Head Start and Early Head Start programs, increase teacher pay and provide better teacher training programs, incorporate 21st century skills into state assessments, support English-Language Learning and Disability programs, and rid the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of labeling schools as failures, the Democratic Party for Congress promises to change education to make students prepared to be leaders of the future. (See Democratic Agenda here).

In Tuesday’s election, Democrats netted at least 24 seats, with the GOP taking four seats from the Democrats, according to CNN projections.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said Tuesday night she was confident Democrats would ride a "wave" of pro-Democratic sentiment across the country and add to their House majority, but declined to say by how much.

"Since endorsing Sen. Obama at its national convention in July, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) made more than four million contacts with its membership, including phone calls, mail, leaflets, and direct member-to-member contacts," said AFT president Randi Weingarten. "States with a strong AFT and union presence made a decisive difference in the elections, not only in choosing the next president, but also in giving him a Congress to work with that will champion the concerns of working people and will support public education and other vital public services."

"We hope our new President will invest in America’s teachers, ensuring that they have command of the digital tools, technologies, and pedagogical skills that are so necessary to ensure the success of America’s students and this nation," said Don Knezek, CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). "ISTE looks forward to partnering with the new administration and the new Congress to make the hopes and dreams of America’s students and educators come true."

At the state level, teachers and organizations such as the National Education Association (NEA) campaigned for education leaders and helped overturn many potentially damaging propositions for public schools.

In North Carolina, after a close race, Democratic Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue won over her opponent, Republican Mayor Pat McCrory of Charlotte; Gov. Chris Gregoire of Washington beat out Republican opponent Dino Rossi; and Delaware Democrat Jack Markell beat his Republican opponent, Bill Lee.

"Tuesday, we made history," said Gov. Perdue. "As a door closes on our past, a new one opens. Beyond that door is a new day; a fresh start. Our beginning is now."

Perdue, who plans to expand early childhood education initiatives and improve college scholarship programs, was backed by teachers’ union volunteers from North Carolina and other states, as well as the NEA.

The North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) mounted a member-to-member GOTV effort to mobilize more than 800 volunteers across the state for campaigning.

"Educators across the country–especially here in the Tar Heel state–were energized. We’re very proud to have helped deliver our very own education family like Bev Perdue and Larry Kissell," said Sheri Strickland, president of the 65,000-plus-member NCAE.

"This is an incredible opportunity to begin to correct the failed education policies of the Bush administration and prepare our students to compete in a 21st century economy," said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel.

In Delaware, Jack Markell also intends to prepare students for the 21st century and has detailed plans for early education, K-12, and higher education.

Besides attracting higher quality teachers and strengthening vocational learning for students, Markell plans to increase parental engagement, concentrate more public education initiatives in formative years, and provide underprivileged children with additional programs and support networks in early education.

He also plans to use education dollars effectively and efficiently, create a balanced financial accountability system, introduce a better system of student evaluations, and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of charter schools as part of his Education Resources and Accountability Plan.

Finally, Markell plans to improve High School Graduation Rates, introduce Early/Middle colleges to Delaware, establish more scholarships for students, and strengthen university research and development in higher education.

"Delaware voters are clamoring for change, and that’s what Democrats will give them," said Markell.

State ballots also had a major impact on education in this election, with many states offering initiatives that directly influenced education spending and programs.

In Massachusetts, voters turned down a proposal to eliminate the state’s income tax. The proposed law would have reduced the state personal income tax rate to 2.65 percent for all categories of taxable income for the tax year beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2009, and would eliminate the tax for all tax years beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2010.

While advocates of this proposal said that the state could benefit from less government spending, the proposal also would have cut funding for school programs and services.

It would have meant "a drastic reduction in state funding for local public schools, leading to teacher layoffs, school closings, and other cutbacks that would harm our children’s education," said Peter Meade, chair of the Coalition for Our Communities.

In Oregon, voters chose not to enact ballot measures widely opposed by education advocates. Measure 58 would have put a two-year cap on the amount of time English-language learners could receive instruction in their native languages, and stated that public school students who aren’t proficient in English "shall be immersed in English, not sidelined for an extended period of time, but mainstreamed with English-speaking students in the shortest time possible."

Measure 60 also was defeated. It said school districts would be prohibited from considering a teacher’s experience in the classroom when determining the teacher’s pay. Instead, salaries were to be set according to students’ standardized test scores.

The NEA, AFT, and the Oregon PTA mobilized against both of these proposals.

Finally, in Maryland, voters approved a measure to legalize slot machines in Anne Arundel, Cecil, and Worcester counties, Baltimore City, and state-owned property in Rocky Gap State Park in western Maryland. The measure passed with a 59 percent approval. Now, half of the slot machines’ proceeds, or roughly $600 million a year, are slated to support public schools.

In spite of election results sought by the majority of educators, most experts say Democrats will have a hard time implementing some of their bolder initiatives, which will be hindered by the current sputtering economy.

"President-elect Obama faces considerable challenges–a severe economic crisis, a broken healthcare system, the needs of an aging population, enormous infrastructure strains, and American troops engaged in two wars," said AFT’s Weingarten. "But he is well-equipped to lead our country, which is unparalleled in its ability and determination to face such challenges."

Roekel of NEA offered this assessment: "Voters elected pro-education candidates at all levels…the election of 2008 was a milestone for our nation. Educators realize that the challenges facing our public schools today are complicated and complex. Creating schools we need for the 21st century will require a new commitment and a new partnership among federal, state, and local governments, as well as local communities.

"The 2008 election put in place many friends of education who can help us achieve that commitment and partnership. Now we must build on our hard work and continue the momentum toward a great public school for every child."

Links:

National School Boards Association

American Federation of Teachers

National Education Association

International Society for Technology in Education

North Carolina Association of Educators

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Leveraging the E-Rate resource center. Fueled by a growing need to prepare students for an increasingly global, 21st-century workforce, school leaders understand that access to school technology is more important than ever before. But as school budgets face cuts and re-evaluations in the midst of a struggling economy, many districts are concerned with their ability to pay for new technologies. Go to: Leveraging the E-Rate for Ed-Tech Success

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