Intel shows off tablet Classmate PC design

Intel has unveiled the design for a tablet version of its Classmate PC, a low-powered netbook designed for use in primary schools, ZDNet reports. The tablet-format Classmate, which debuted Jan. 9 at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, will let manufacturers build Classmate PCs that can be used either as a standard clamshell laptop or–with a 180-degree swivel of the display–as a touch-screen tablet. As with most netbooks, it will run on Intel’s Atom processor. "Education is one of the best ways to improve the future for individuals, villages, or nations," Lila Ibrahim, the general manager of Intel’s emerging-markets platform group, said in a statement. "There are 1.3 billion school-age children around the world, and of those, only five percent have access to a PC or the internet. The IT industry has a huge opportunity to contribute to how technology can improve students’ learning and [their] lives." Ibrahim’s division developed the design for the convertible Classmate PC based on ethnographic research. Child-friendly features include a water-resistant keyboard and a sturdy frame. Another feature is dubbed "palm rejection"–in tablet mode, the user can rest his or her palm on the touch screen while writing, without the screen registering the palm’s pressure as input. Intel also announced its Learning Series, a project that will try to make sure there is proper coordination between educational hardware, software, and services in various countries. The idea is for local manufacturers to use Intel’s latest Classmate PC design to create customized versions according to local needs, and to preload those machines with locally relevant software…

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Phony Facebook pages teach students a lesson

After a college resource company created a legion of phony Class of 2013 Facebook groups–a scheme that could have harvested personal information from thousands of students–some higher-education officials say it might be time for colleges to step in and manage online social-networking sites for their campuses themselves.

"It was a wakeup call for many that social media is no longer a ‘maybe’ and that schools need to actively pursue a social media presence," said Brad J. Ward, coordinator for electronic communications at Butler University in Indianapolis and a blogger who first exposed the scheme Dec. 18, later dubbed "FacebookGate" in the blogosphere.

Ward noticed that a student named Patrick Kelly from Plano High School started a Facebook group for members of Butler University’s Class of 2013, or this year’s college freshmen. Ward checked the university’s database and did not find Kelly enrolled. He checked further and found hundreds of Facebook groups for institutions nationwide, created by a handful of supposed students–including Kelly.

The group administrators were traced to a Pittsburgh-based company called College Prowler, which markets student-composed guidebooks about colleges. Luke Skurman, the company’s president and CEO, responded in a post on Ward’s blog–SquaredPeg.com–admitting College Prowler was involved.

"The original purpose was to use these groups as a way to inform students that they can access a free guide about their new college on our site," Skurman wrote on SquaredPeg.com. "No employee or anyone else associated with College Prowler has used these groups to send out messages or wall posts."

In an eMail statement, Skurman said College Prowler did not aim to trick college students into joining online groups that could harvest personal information for marketing purposes.

"In creating the groups some methodologies were used that created a lack of transparency surrounding who was running the groups, most of this was done without the knowledge of College Prowler management," Skurman said. "When the issues were discovered we took full responsibility for any wrongdoing and disassociated ourselves from the groups altogether. It is important to note that College Prowler never sent any messages to the students and never posed as university officials. Our only intention was to engage the students and promote a free college guide for incoming freshmen."

Ward and other officials from colleges across the U.S. said the fake Class of 2013 pages should spur colleges to be more proactive about popular social-networking sites like Facebook.

"I think the best defense is to actually have an offense, meaning that most schools aren’t doing anything with social media, and simply having a presence will help students distinguish between legit and fake," Ward said.

During a webinar on FacebookGate that Ward hosted on Dec. 22, Skurman suggested that students should create private online groups that could be validated by campus faculty who scan the internet for forums that use the school’s name.

"At that point, you can create student administrators and such," Skurman said.

"We don’t want it to ever happen again for anybody," he added.

Tim Nekritz, an associate director of public affairs at the State University of New York (SUNY) Oswego campus, said he was alarmed by how many phony Facebook sites had been created by a only a few pretend students last month.

Nektritz, like many in higher education, believes student-administered social networking sites are preferable to sites managed by the college. But FacebookGate will change that perception, he said.

"If it’s started by students, it is more organic," Nektritz said. "But you also want to make sure they’re getting accurate information. You don’t want them used by someone as part of a marketing scheme. … We have to watch out for our students."

Scott Testa, a marketing professor at St. Joseph’s University, said students forming and managing a college Facebook group leads to productive, helpful online exchanges, but university officials should be more conscious of fake sites that could misrepresent the campus and steal students’ identity.

"From a marketing perspective, [schools] should probably be [starting social-networking sites] anyway," said Testa, who writes a marketing and business blog called ScottTesta.com. "But I think ultimately, if they’re organically driven, there’s something to be said for that."

Testa said he has seen other data-collecting schemes online, but the number of universities involved in last month’s controversy was surprising.

"I can’t recall a college marketing scheme as full-blown and wide-ranging as this one," he said. "This was pretty daring."

Less than a month after Butler University students were told about the faux Facebook web pages, Ward said the school has promoted its official Class of 2013 Facebook site–and the effort has paid off. The Class of 2013 page had more members and wall posts in December than the Class of 2012 Facebook page had in April 2008, he said.

"We’re seeing great conversation," Ward said.

SUNY Oswego warned students about the fake pages with a prominent post on the school’s official Facebook page. Uncovering false Class of 2013 Facebook pages, Nekritz said, has made students more aware of online groups that have no affiliation with their college or university.

"People felt very betrayed or insulted," he said. "A lot of [students] used the term ‘creepy.’"

Links:

SquaredPeg.com

College Prowler

Webinar on FacebookGate

SUNY Oswego

Butler University

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Netbooks’ popularity set to rise in 2009

Last year, so-called "netbooks"–smaller, cheaper versions of laptop computers–made their way into the hands of countless students and educators. Now, concerns about the economy are driving a further increase in the number of netbooks available to schools.

Netbooks are computers that often cost less than $400, with small screens and keyboards that make them look Lilliputian next to laptops that seemed perfectly portable only a year ago.

These little computers introduced consumers to the idea that extreme portability could be combined with a low price, as long as people were willing to use the computer for getting online or connecting to a school’s network and not much more. Netbooks typically don’t include a DVD drive, the fastest microprocessor, or enough storage space to house endless amounts of photos and videos.

This year, because of the dismal economy and laptop buyers’ increasing comfort with these miniature computers, more netbooks are headed to store shelves. Some netbooks will keep their lower-than-a-cheap-PC price, but others will cost what bigger laptops do and include features such as touch screens and metal casings as companies look to keep the category’s momentum going.

At the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas last week, Taiwan-based AsusTek Computer Inc.–which launched its $269 to $699 Eee PC netbooks in 2007–introduced a new one called the Eee PC Touch. It sports a nearly 9-inch touch screen that swivels or folds over so it can be used as a tablet-style PC. Asus expects the Touch to be available in March for $499 and plans to release a version with a 10-inch screen.

That size and price aren’t far from a regular laptop. A Dell Inspiron 1525 with a 15-inch screen and more powerful processor starts at $479 through the Round Rock, Texas-based company’s web site.

Jackie Hsu, Asus’ president of the Americas, said his company sold 5 million Eee PCs worldwide in 2008. He expects the market to grow this year because there are more product choices.

Indeed, larger computer makers such as Dell Inc., MSI Computer, Lenovo Group Ltd., Acer Inc., and Hewlett-Packard Co. are betting on netbooks as well. Several of them introduced upcoming models at this year’s CES.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based HP, the world’s No. 1 computer maker, showed an addition to its Mini netbook line, the Mini 2140, which is expected to be available this month for $499. Unlike the company’s $329 Mini 1000, the 2140 includes features like an aluminum case, keyboards coated to resist wear, and an accelerometer that can tell when the device is dropped and will instruct the hard drive to shut down.

Dell, the second-largest computer maker, unveiled a new netbook as well. And it is hoping to drive sales of an earlier model by temporarily cutting its price to $99. That includes a $350 rebate when buyers agree to pay for a two-year AT&T Inc. data plan that gives the computer internet access over the air.

Retailers have high hopes for netbooks in 2009, too, if Amazon.com is any indication. Between Black Friday and Christmas, eight of the top 10 best-selling laptops on the site were netbooks, said Amazon’s vice president of consumer electronics, Paul Ryder.

"I think the category will continue to do better than the standard laptop category. It’s still new, so I think it’s going to grow faster," he said.

This could present a problem for computer makers, though.

Several of them hoped netbooks would not be a replacement for an out-of-date laptop, but a companion device that people take with them while on the go. For now, though, NPD Group analyst Stephen Baker thinks the bad economy will help netbook sales and cut into sales of larger laptops. People who ordinarily would have spent $600 on a laptop might trade down and spend less to buy a netbook instead.

"The end result is that I think these are more likely to be cannibalistic, at least in the early parts of 2009," he said.

But in the long run, some analysts–Baker included–are skeptical about the netbook category’s life span. Baker believes netbooks could fade out next year and be replaced by even smaller devices that are also focused on getting their owners on the internet.

Gartner Inc. analyst Ken Dulaney said the category is "slowly evaporating" and points out that while the bad economy might make netbooks more appealing in the short term, they are unlikely to win over a broad swath of consumers who require bigger keyboards and more powerful performance found in bigger laptops.

"If your usage pattern really demands a notebook, you will be disappointed," he said.

Links:

Asus

HP

Dell

Gartner

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Technology Without Breaking the Bank resource center. With every dollar at a premium, school and district leaders are looking for ways to cut costs without sacrificing their education initiatives. The good news is, new advancements in technology make this scenario possible. Strategies such as software virtualization, software as a service, open-source software and open technologies, and a new breed of low-cost computers enable school IT directors to streamline their operations and bolster their ed-tech programs-without breaking the bank. Go to: Technology Without Breaking the Bank

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25 schools set for shakeup

In his last major act before heading to Washington as President-elect Barack Obama’s pick for education secretary, outgoing Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan wants to close or consolidate 25 "underperforming" or under-enrolled schools, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.
The proposal — which Duncan plans to unveil Wednesday — would be the largest wave of school closings in Chicago in one year since Mayor Daley gave the schools chief the authority through the "Renaissance 2010" initiative to replace 70 underperforming schools with 100 new schools by 2010.
Fenger High School on the South Side is slated for a "turnaround," where students remain but the staff is replaced. Twenty-five Chicago Public schools are slated to be affected under a new proposal from Arne Duncan.
Six schools would be closed under Duncan’s plan, details of which were obtained from information provided to parents groups and the CTU.
Five more schools would be consolidated, or merged into other schools. Five would be phased out. And nine would become "turnaround" schools, where students remain but staff replaced…

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Immigrants see charter schools as a haven

Charter schools, which are publicly financed but independently run, were conceived as a way to improve academic performance. But for immigrant families, they have also become havens where their children are shielded from the American youth culture that pervades large district schools, reports the New York Times.
For example, the curriculum at the Twin Cities International Elementary School, and at its partner middle school and high school, is similar to that of other public schools with high academic goals. But at Twin Cities International the girls say they can freely wear head scarves without being teased, the lunchroom serves food that meets the dietary requirements of Muslims, and in every classroom there are East African teaching assistants who understand the needs of students who may have spent years in refugee camps. Twin Cities International students are from Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Sudan, with a small population from the Middle East.
Amid the wave of immigration that has been reshaping Minnesota for more than three decades, the International schools are among 30 of the state’s 138 charter schools that are focused mostly on students from specific immigrant or ethnic groups…

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MPC’s collapse leaves schools in the lurch

Computer supplier MPC Corp., which acquired Gateway’s education business in 2007, is going out of business–leaving countless schools and students with machines in need of repair and/or thousands of dollars in lost warranties.

MPC representatives did not respond to repeated requests for an interview. But educators who spoke with eSchool News said they’ve experienced poor service and support from MPC since the company’s purchase of Gateway’s assets–and they pointed to this failed acquisition as a key reason for MPC’s collapse.

In October 2007, even though MPC posted a net loss of $25.3 million on net revenue of $53.6 million for the second quarter of fiscal 2007, the company bought Gateway’s professional division–which included its business, education, and government customers–for $90 million; Gateway’s consumer brand was bought by Acer.

At the time, MPC said it would take responsibility for operations and warranty support service.

"We believe that the customers of MPC and Gateway’s professional business will benefit greatly from this combination," said John P. Yeros, chariman and CEO of MPC, in a statement released after the merger. (See "MPC acquires Gateway’s school business.")

The acquisition was supposed to help MPC’s lagging sales and make the company a major player in the PC market. However, the deal appeared doomed from the start.

According to the Sioux City Journal, last January, more than 400 former Gateway workers retained by MPC in North Sioux City, S.D., moved to their new offices. For the first month, "sales representatives could not enter orders or offer quotes due to problems related to switching to MPC’s system. That contributed to lost sales, and a worsening of MPC’s already tight cash flow."

Problems continued, with manufacturing delays, parts shortages, inaccurate orders, and billing and routing problems.

To save on overhead costs, MPC signed a deal with Singapore-based Flextronics to outsource its manufacturing. However, Flextronics cancelled the deal after rumors of miscommunication and service delays.

In May, the American Stock Exchange (AMEX) notified MPC that it was not in compliance with AMEX regulations, because the company’s shareholder equity had fallen below $2 million and because MPC had sustained net losses in two of its three most recent fiscal years.

MPC responded by filing a plan to achieve compliance, which AMEX accepted in June–giving the company until November 9, 2009, to bring itself back to viability under AMEX rules. However, in October, the exchange (which had changed its name to NYSE Alternext) notified MPC that it was not making sufficient progress with its plan and would be delisted.

Through the first nine months of the year, MPC’s losses totaled nearly $100 million, and its shares tumbled from $8 a share to only 4 cents per share before its delisting.

In early November, MPC filed a petition for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. In a press release announcing the filing, Yeros said issues surrounding the integration of the former Gateway unit, along with problems with MPC’s "manufacturing partner," contributed to extensive losses.

Shane Steckelberg, technology director for the Dakota Valley School District in South Dakota, said MPC’s flounderings have forced his district to spend its own time and money servicing Gateway computers–many of which were supposed to be under warranty.

Dakota Valley has about 370 warrantied Gateway computers and 144 computers that are out of warranty in its classrooms.

According to Steckelberg, Gateway opened its first headquarters a few miles down the road from Dakota Valley, with thousands employed by Gateway from the community. The district, which was created in 1995, has used Gateway computers since that time. However, at a July board meeting, approval was given to move to another vendor as a result of the poor service the district was receiving from MPC.

"We dealt with two local representatives. Their responses and service had always been exceptional, but following the MPC transition, it seemed difficult for them to provide answers and complete the tasks required to successfully service our district," Steckelberg explained.

After receiving a letter with notification of MPC’s bankruptcy, Dakota Valley filed a claim against the company to recover the remaining value of the extended warranties on its machines. The district also is withholding payment on its final purchase of 85 tablet computers from MPC back in May–an amount that is slightly less than the value of the remaining warranties on its machines.

"We’ve been very lucky in that we’ve had a sufficient stockpile" of computers to ensure that MPC’s struggles have not affected classroom instruction, Steckelberg said. "Some of the spares have been older machines used in a temporary capacity as we were on hold, wondering whether warranty repairs and replacement might still occur. We are now fixing our machines through another vendor at our own cost as long as parts are available."

He continued: "While end users have seen very little issues directly, the toll on the technical side has been extremely time-consuming."

Another school system, South Dakota’s Baltic School Distric, wants to return about 50 Gateway laptops it received under a state program.

Baltic Superintendent Bob Sittig said his district has used Gateway computers issued under the Classroom Connections program for part of 2008, but it never received its complete order of 175 laptops for high school students.

Within the last few weeks, MPC has told the Idaho Department of Labor it will shut down permanently. MPC noted that a substantial portion of its sales force resigned without notice between Dec. 4 and Dec. 12, which has made it impossible to continue with business operations. The company also said efforts to reorganize under Chapter 11 were unsuccessful and announced it would lay off 147 employees immediately, keeping the remaining 51 employees only to wind down operations.

MPC had tried to continue operations while reorganizing but was not able to get the financing it needed to continue operations.

In posts to internet sites such as IdahoBusiness.net, students who’ve purchased Gateway computers for schoolwork revealed they’ve been left stranded as well.

Regina Myers from Phoenix, Ariz., said she bought a high-end Gateway laptop after the company had merged with MPC. She sent her laptop to be repaired in October, under the manufacturer-issued warranty, but never got it back.

"I don’t understand why they told me to ship my system back to them when they knew that the work was not going to be done. I have called MPC customer service and was informed the warranty work was not and will not be done on my system; [they] could not tell me when my system will be returned or even where my laptop was at the present time," said Myers.

After further calls and eMail queries, Myers still had not heard anything back from MPC as of press time. "All of this has left me without the laptop [I] purchased for school, which is required in order to complete my daily assignments. I now have to take a leave of absence from school. We, the working people, are being hurt by this strategic business decision made by MPC for [its] own benefit, with no consideration or concern for [others]," she wrote in her internet post.

A Vermont student said she’s required to have a tablet PC for her degree in engineering. After the hard drive of her Gateway tablet crashed, she called MPC only to find out from an automated system that the company went bankrupt.

"I found out that Gateway would not fulfill the rest of my one-year warranty, and they can’t fix my computer even if I was willing to pay to have them do it!" she wrote.

With the angry posts continuing through several pages, it appears MPC’s liquidation has affected more than just the computer market, as students, schools, districts, employees, and entire communities have been left stranded in the wake of a risky merger gone horribly wrong.

Said one internet poster, "The sad thing is that [MPC] could have continued to be a good, small company, but their desire to play in the big leagues created one bad decision after another."

Link:

MPC

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Eco-Friendly Computing resource center. With energy costs soaring to record levels, taking steps to reduce the amount of energy you use isn’t just good for the environment–it’s also essential for your schools’ fiscal health. Fortunately, manufacturers of technology are responding to these needs by developing more eco-friendly products that can reduce power consumption and save schools money over the life of these systems. Go to: Eco-Friendly Computing

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Updated privacy law addresses student safety

New student-privacy rules that take effect this month address two burgeoning challenges in higher education: shielding students from computer-related identity theft and protecting them from peers identified as a potential threat by faculty members.

The altered privacy rules were outlined in the government’s newly revised Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, known as FERPA, which went into effect Jan. 8. The federal Education Department (ED) released the new FERPA guidelines in response to both the April 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech and the growing threat of identity theft on campus.

Seung Hui Cho, a Virginia Tech student, killed 33 people, including himself, months after Cho’s behavior disturbed professors and other students. Many faculty members wanted to notify Cho’s parents of his behavior, but they thought it would violate FERPA rules.

"The purpose was to clarify the fact that schools may release information on students who are considered threats to themselves or others," said ED spokesman Jim Bradshaw. "There appeared to be enough confusion to clarify the rules. We wanted to make it crystal clear that schools could release student information to parents, law enforcement [personnel], … school officials, and health officials."

The FERPA update, for the first time, now states that privacy laws protect online students as well. The rules do not stipulate that colleges and universities must alert students when their personal information is stolen. However, most states have passed laws requiring colleges to notify students whose information has been compromised.

The rules state that students’ identification numbers–which have replaced Social Security numbers as identifiers on many college campuses–cannot "be used to gain access to education records except when used in conjunction with one or more factors" that "authenticate the student’s identity," such as a password.

The department’s original proposal was far different, barring the use of any identification number in college directories. But this more stringent version was scrapped after some higher-education officials complained that the proposed changes would have been a costly, logistical nightmare for campus IT administrators.

"That was of great concern to the IT folks, and legitimately so," said Steven McDonald, general counsel for the Rhode Island School of Design who specializes in student privacy law.

If that initial proposal had been enacted, U.S. colleges and universities would have faced a massive retrofitting process that would have charged campus IT chiefs with changing student ID numbers throughout their school’s network. The undertaking would have been expensive for colleges–and doubly painful during a recession that already has campus officials scrambling to maintain operating budgets.

In the new FERPA guidelines, which are available on ED’s web site, a swath of educators’ opinions is included, along with the department’s final decision on the ID number regulations. Some campus officials said the proposed regulations "did not go far enough" to prohibit the use of students’ Social Security numbers, pointing out that keeping SSNs on academic transcripts and electronic databases could jeopardize students’ identity.

Rodney J. Petersen, a government relations officer for the higher-education technology advocacy organization EDUCAUSE, said most institutions were satisfied with FERPA’s stipulation that alternative student ID numbers did not have to be treated "with the same sensitivity" as SSNs, but would still require passwords to access student data.

"It’s just one more reason why campuses should move away from SSNs as students’ primary identifier," Petersen said.

The FERPA document says some who commented on the proposed ID rules said treating student IDs as directory information "would improve business practices and enhance student privacy," because colleges would be encouraged to require more passwords and personal identification numbers to access education records.

The new regulations also allow more flexibility for higher-education officials, Bradshaw said, so campus decision makers won’t be faced with the quandary that Virginia Tech faculty faced.

"We purposely didn’t lay down hard and fast guidelines, because we wanted to give school officials flexibility to make that call" whether to share student information with authorities, Bradshaw said.

Not everyone is satisfied with the changes. The Washington, D.C.-based Student Press Law Center criticized the new rules, saying colleges’ newfound freedom to control student information would allow campus officials to stop journalists and parents from collecting basic statistics tracking campus safety and academic performance.

Frank D. LeMonte, the center’s executive director, said the information could be kept out of the public eye, because ED expanded the definition of what can be classified as a confidential "education record."

"[ED’s] interpretation flies in the face of every court ruling to interpret FERPA, and it goes well beyond what Congress intended in enacting the law," LeMonte said.

"The public has a right to know essential safety information, such as what steps administrators take when they catch a student carrying a gun into a high school. There is no legitimate ‘privacy’ interest in committing a felony on school grounds, and the department’s insistence on protecting the privacy of a would-be school shooter over the safety interests of the public shows just how arbitrary and irrational these rules are."

Bradshaw defended the department’s expanded definition of what can be considered student records.

"These regulations were an effort to strike a balance between confidentiality concerns and keeping parents informed about potentially dangerous situations concerning their kids," he said.

Links:

New FERPA guidelines

Student Press Law Center

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Bush wants education law kept after he leaves

President George W. Bush urged President-elect Barack Obama and the Democratic-led Congress not to abandon the No Child Left Behind law, arguing that to do so would "weaken a chance for a child to succeed in America," reports the Associated Press. "Now is not the time to water down standards or to roll back accountability," Bush said, his message aimed at his successor and at lawmakers who want to overhaul Bush’s signature education law. The president marked the seventh anniversary of No Child Left Behind on Jan. 8 with remarks at General Philip Kearny School in Philadelphia. It was his final policy address as president. No Child Left Behind remains one of Bush’s top domestic achievements, and he considers it vital to his legacy. Approved with strong bipartisan support in 2001, the school accountability law still has support from key Democrats, but it has grown deeply unpopular, and Obama has pledged to revamp it. The law prods schools to improve test scores each year, so that every student can read and do math on grade level by the year 2014. Critics say the law’s annual reading and math tests have forced other subjects like music and art from the classroom and that schools were promised billions of dollars that never showed up. And they say the law is too punitive toward struggling schools; nearly 36 percent of schools failed to meet yearly progress goals in 2008, according to research…

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‘Green’ effort causes schools to go paperless to promote events

Schools have long relied on one emissary to deliver paperwork into parents’ hands: students’ backpacks. But driven by environmental and economic concerns, many schools now are posting notices online instead, reports the Chicago Tribune. Libertyville Elementary School District 70 switched to paperless fliers when students returned to class Jan. 5, continuing an effort that began last year with the debut of electronic school newsletters. Officials of the north suburban district expect they may reach more parents of their roughly 2,650 students with the new distribution channel. "We’d look at lockers in June and find fliers from September and October. It was just a tough sell to get kids to get all this stuff home," said Libertyville Supt. Mark Friedman. "Here we know parents will at least have the option of seeing it."?Libertyville joins a growing number of suburban districts that recently made the switch. Northwest suburban Kildeer Countryside School District 96 in August moved both the weekly school newsletter and various notices online. And Naperville District 203 instituted its paperless flier policy in August. School bags now are reserved for homework and school news in keeping with the district’s "take back the backpack" campaign, said spokeswoman Melea Smith. "When your kid comes home, you don’t want to lose important papers amid all the fliers with people trying to get your attention," Smith said. "What the kids are carrying back and forth should be academic related."

Click here for the full story

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Obama urges action on stimulus plan

President-elect Barack Obama shed more light on his economic recovery plan in a Jan. 8 speech at Virginia’s George Mason University–and for education, the news is encouraging.

Equipping classrooms with modern technology to better prepare students for the jobs of the future is a key component of Obama’s stimulus plan. And though the proposed dollar amount for this portion of the plan remains unclear, a leading educational technology advocacy group says the funding to support it could be disbursed through the federal Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) block-grant program.

In the interest of making America "strong and competitive in the 21st century," Obama laid out his goals of doubling the production of alternative energy over three years, updating most federal buildings to improve their energy efficiency, making medical records electronic, expanding broadband networks, and modernizing schools and universities.

"To give our children the chance to live out their dreams in a world that’s never been more competitive, we will equip tens of thousands of schools, community colleges, and public universities with 21st-century classrooms, labs, and libraries. We’ll provide new computers, new technology, and new training for teachers so that students in Chicago and Boston can compete with kids in Beijing for the high-tech, high-wage jobs of the future," Obama said.

"To build an economy that can lead this future, we will begin to rebuild America. Yes, we’ll put people to work repairing crumbling roads, bridges, and schools by eliminating the backlog of well-planned, worthy, and needed infrastructure projects. But we’ll also do more to retrofit America for a global economy.

"That means updating the way we get our electricity by starting to build a new smart grid that will save us money, protect our power sources from blackout or attack, and deliver clean, alternative forms of energy to every corner of our nation. It means expanding broadband lines across America, so that a small business in a rural town can connect and compete with its counterparts anywhere in the world. And it means investing in the science, research, and technology that will lead to new medical breakthroughs, new discoveries, and entire new industries."

In his remarks, Obama did not say how much funding the stimulus package would include, but in an interview with CNBC on Jan. 7, the president-elect suggested that the total package could be between $800 billion and $1 trillion. (Tax cuts for the middle class are expected to account for some $300 billion of the total.)

Educational technology advocacy groups said they were pleased to hear the substance of Obama’s speech, and its reference to 21st-century classrooms in particular.

"We are excited to see modernizing schools and supporting world-class, future-focused education taking a prominent and immediate role in the new administration’s economic agenda," said Don Knezek, chief executive officer of the International Society for Technology in Education. "Focusing on schools and student-centered learning to ensure a competitive workforce … shows a sophisticated understanding by top federal leadership that we have desperately missed in recent years."

The Consortium for School Networking "wholeheartedly agrees with President-elect Obama that investing in educational technology through the forthcoming economic recovery package is essential to reenergizing America’s economy," said Keith Krueger, the group’s CEO.

"A significant infusion of federal dollars is needed to create technology-rich classrooms, adequately train pre-service and in-service educators to use and integrate technology into daily classroom activities, and connect all classroom computing devices via broadband. This investment will yield rich dividends: immediate job creation and today’s students prepared for tomorrow’s high-end jobs. We urge Congress to fully implement President-elect Obama’s bold vision for 21st-century learning."

In a letter sent to its members after Obama’s speech, the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) said it has been "working closely with the Obama-Biden transition team and responding to many questions regarding costs of implementing technology-rich classrooms, including the hardware, software, content, professional development, and IT support."

The letter continued: "We have also been able to share data and research on why this will [not only] stimulate the economy, but also accelerate transformation in schools."

According to SETDA’s calculations, it would cost about $11,695 to equip a single classroom with 21st-century technology. With an estimated 844,409 Title I-eligible classrooms that haven’t been fully equipped, that works out to a cost of about $9.9 billion to outfit all of the nation’s K-12 classrooms–or less than 2 percent of a stimulus package worth a total of $800 billion.

In his Jan. 8 speech, Obama warned of dire and lasting consequences if Congress doesn’t pump unprecedented dollars into the national economy.

"In short, a bad situation could become dramatically worse" if Washington doesn’t go far enough to address the spreading crisis, he said as fresh economic reports showed an outlook growing increasingly grim.

Since his November election, Obama has deferred to President George W. Bush on foreign policy matters such as the Middle East. But with the urgency of the economic crisis growing, Obama has waded deeply into domestic issues as he works to generate support for his plan to create jobs, jolt the economy, and make long-term investments to bolster the nation’s capacity to thrive in a 21st-century economy.

In his speech, Obama cast blame on "an era of profound irresponsibility that stretched from corporate boardrooms to the halls of power in Washington." But he added, "The very fact that this crisis is largely of our own making means that it is not beyond our ability to solve. Our problems are rooted in past mistakes, not our capacity for future greatness."

Obama asked Congress to work day, night, and on weekends if necessary to pass a revival plan within the next few weeks, so that it can be ready for his signature shortly after he takes office on Jan. 20.

"The time has come to build a 21st-century economy in which hard work and responsibility are once again rewarded," he said. "That’s why … I’m calling on all Americans–Democrats and Republicans–to put good ideas ahead of the old ideological battles; a sense of common purpose above the same narrow partisanship; and insist that the first question each of us asks isn’t ‘What’s good for me?’ but ‘What’s good for the country my children will inherit?’

"More than any program or policy, it is this spirit that will enable us to confront this challenge with the same spirit that has led previous generations to face down war, depression, and fear itself. And if we do … then I have no doubt that years from now, we will look back on 2009 as one of those years that marked another new and hopeful beginning for the United States of America."

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Editor’s note: To read the full text of Obama’s speech, click here.)

Links:

Obama-Biden Transition Team

International Society for Technology in Education

Consortium for School Networking

State Educational Technology Directors Association

Note to readers:

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