Remarks of President-Elect Barack Obama as prepared for delivery (Jan. 8, 2009)

Throughout America’s history, there have been some years that simply rolled into the next without much notice or fanfare. Then there are the years that come along once in a generation — the kind that mark a clean break from a troubled past, and set a new course for our nation.

This is one of those years.

We start 2009 in the midst of a crisis unlike any we have seen in our lifetime — a crisis that has only deepened over the last few weeks. Nearly two million jobs have now been lost, and on Friday we are likely to learn that we lost more jobs last year than at any time since World War II. Just in the past year, another 2.8 million Americans who want and need full-time work have had to settle for part-time jobs. Manufacturing has hit a twenty-eight year low. Many businesses cannot borrow or make payroll. Many families cannot pay their bills or their mortgage. Many workers are watching their life savings disappear. And many, many Americans are both anxious and uncertain of what the future will hold.

I don’t believe it’s too late to change course, but it will be if we don’t take dramatic action as soon as possible. If nothing is done, this recession could linger for years. The unemployment rate could reach double digits. Our economy could fall $1 trillion short of its full capacity, which translates into more than $12,000 in lost income for a family of four. We could lose a generation of potential and promise, as more young Americans are forced to forgo dreams of college or the chance to train for the jobs of the future. And our nation could lose the competitive edge that has served as a foundation for our strength and standing in the world.

In short, a bad situation could become dramatically worse.

This crisis did not happen solely by some accident of history or normal turn of the business cycle, and we won’t get out of it by simply waiting for a better day to come, or relying on the worn-out dogmas of the past. We arrived at this point due to an era of profound irresponsibility that stretched from corporate boardrooms to the halls of power in Washington, D.C. For years, too many Wall Street executives made imprudent and dangerous decisions, seeking profits with too little regard for risk, too little regulatory scrutiny, and too little accountability. Banks made loans without concern for whether borrowers could repay them, and some borrowers took advantage of cheap credit to take on debt they couldn’t afford. Politicians spent taxpayer money without wisdom or discipline, and too often focused on scoring political points instead of the problems they were sent here to solve. The result has been a devastating loss of trust and confidence in our economy, our financial markets, and our government.

Now, 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. It will take time, perhaps many years, but we can rebuild that lost trust and confidence. We can restore opportunity and prosperity. We should never forget that our workers are still more productive than any on Earth. Our universities are still the envy of the world. We are still home to the most brilliant minds, the most creative entrepreneurs, and the most advanced technology and innovation that history has ever known. And we are still the nation that has overcome great fears and improbable odds. If we act with the urgency and seriousness that this moment requires, I know that we can do it again.

That is why I have moved quickly to work with my economic team and leaders of both parties on an American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan that will immediately jumpstart job creation and long-term growth.

It’s a plan that represents not just new policy, but a whole new approach to meeting our most urgent challenges. For if we hope to end this crisis, we must end the culture of anything goes that helped create it — and this change must begin in Washington. It is time to trade old habits for a new spirit of responsibility. It is time to finally change the ways of Washington so that we can set a new and better course for America.

There is no doubt that the cost of this plan will be considerable. It will certainly add to the budget deficit in the short-term. But equally certain are the consequences of doing too little or nothing at all, for that will lead to an even greater deficit of jobs, incomes, and confidence in our economy. It is true that we cannot depend on government alone to create jobs or long-term growth, but at this particular moment, only government can provide the short-term boost necessary to lift us from a recession this deep and severe. Only government can break the vicious cycles that are crippling our economy — where a lack of spending leads to lost jobs which leads to even less spending; where an inability to lend and borrow stops growth and leads to even less credit.

That is why we need to act boldly and act now to reverse these cycles. That’s why we need to put money in the pockets of the American people, create new jobs, and invest in our future. That’s why we need to restart the flow of credit and restore the rules of the road that will ensure a crisis like this never happens again.

That work begins with this plan — a plan I am confident will save or create at least three million jobs over the next few years. It is not just another public works program. It’s a plan that recognizes both the paradox and the promise of this moment — the fact that there are millions of Americans trying to find work, even as, all around the country, there is so much work to be done. That’s why we’ll invest in priorities like energy and education; health care and a new infrastructure that are necessary to keep us strong and competitive in the 21st century. That’s why the overwhelming majority of the jobs created will be in the private sector, while our plan will save the public sector jobs of teachers, cops, firefighters and others who provide vital services.

To finally spark the creation of a clean energy economy, we will double the production of alternative energy in the next three years. We will modernize more than 75 percent of federal buildings and improve the energy efficiency of two million American homes, saving consumers and taxpayers billions on our energy bills. In the process, we will put Americans to work in new jobs that pay well and can’t be outsourced — jobs building solar panels and wind turbines; constructing fuel-efficient cars and buildings; and developing the new energy technologies that will lead to even more jobs, more savings, and a cleaner, safer planet in the bargain.

To improve the quality of our health care while lowering its cost, we will make the immediate investments necessary to ensure that within five years, all of America’s medical records are computerized. This will cut waste, eliminate red tape, and reduce the need to repeat expensive medical tests. But it just won’t save billions of dollars and thousands of jobs – it will save lives by reducing the deadly but preventable medical errors that pervade our health care system.

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.

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 their 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.

Finally, this recovery and reinvestment plan will provide immediate relief to states, workers, and families who are bearing the brunt of this recession. To get people spending again, 95 percent of working families will receive a $1,000 tax cut — the first stage of a middle-class tax cut that I promised during the campaign and will include in our next budget. To help Americans who have lost their jobs and can’t find new ones, we’ll continue the bipartisan extensions of unemployment insurance and health care coverage to help them through this crisis. Government at every level will have to tighten its belt, but we’ll help struggling states avoid harmful budget cuts, as long as they take responsibility and use the money to maintain essential services like police, fire, education, and health care.

I understand that some might be skeptical of this plan. Our government has already spent a good deal of money, but we haven’t yet seen that translate into more jobs or higher incomes or renewed confidence in our economy. That’s why the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan won’t just throw money at our problems — we’ll invest in what works. The true test of the policies we’ll pursue won’t be whether they’re Democratic or Republican ideas, but whether they create jobs, grow our economy, and put the American Dream within reach of the American people.

Instead of politicians doling out money behind a veil of secrecy, decisions about where we invest will be made transparently, and informed by independent experts wherever possible. Every American will be able to hold Washington accountable for these decisions by going online to see how and where their tax dollars are being spent. And as I announced yesterday, we will launch an unprecedented effort to eliminate unwise and unnecessary spending that has never been more unaffordable for our nation and our children’s future than it is right now.

We have to make tough choices and smart investments today so that as the economy recovers, the deficit starts to come down. We cannot have a solid recovery if our people and our businesses don’t have confidence that we’re getting our fiscal house in order. That’s why our goal is not to create a slew of new government programs, but a foundation for long-term economic growth.

That also means an economic recovery plan that is free from earmarks and pet projects. I understand that every member of Congress has ideas on how to spend money. Many of these projects are worthy, and benefit local communities. But this emergency legislation must not be the vehicle for those aspirations. This must be a time when leaders in both parties put the urgent needs of our nation above our own narrow interests.

Now, this recovery plan alone will not solve all the problems that led us into this crisis. We must also work with the same sense of urgency to stabilize and repair the financial system we all depend on. That means using our full arsenal of tools to get credit flowing again to families and business, while restoring confidence in our markets. It means launching a sweeping effort to address the foreclosure crisis so that we can keep responsible families in their homes. It means preventing the catastrophic failure of financial institutions whose collapse could endanger the entire economy, but only with maximum protections for taxpayers and a clear understanding that government support for any company is an extraordinary action that must come with significant restrictions on the firms that receive support. And it means reforming a weak and outdated regulatory system so that we can better withstand financial shocks and better protect consumers, investors, and businesses from the reckless greed and risk-taking that must never endanger our prosperity again.

No longer can we allow Wall Street wrongdoers to slip through regulatory cracks. No longer can we allow special interests to put their thumbs on the economic scales. No longer can we allow the unscrupulous lending and borrowing that leads only to destructive cycles of bubble and bust.

It is time to set a new course for this economy, and that change must begin now. We should have an open and honest discussion about this recovery plan in the days ahead, but I urge Congress to move as quickly as possible on behalf of the American people. For every day we wait or point fingers or drag our feet, more Americans will lose their jobs. More families will lose their savings. More dreams will be deferred and denied. And our nation will sink deeper into a crisis that, at some point, we may not be able to reverse.

That is not the country I know, and it is not a future I will accept as President of the United States. A world that depends on the strength of our economy is now watching and waiting for America to lead once more. And that is what we will do.

It will not come easy or happen overnight, and it is altogether likely that things may get worse before they get better. But that is all the more reason for Congress to act without delay. I know the scale of this plan is unprecedented, but so is the severity of our situation. We have already tried the wait-and-see approach to our problems, and it is the same approach that helped lead us to this day of reckoning.

That is why the time has come to build a 21st-century economy in which hard work and responsibility are once again rewarded. That’s why I’m asking Congress to work with me and my team day and night, on weekends if necessary, to get the plan passed in the next few weeks. 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 — if we are able to summon that spirit again; if are able to look out for one another, and listen to one another, and do our part for our nation and for posterity, 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. Thank you, God Bless You, and may God Bless America.

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FETC 2009 kicks off Jan. 22

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Thousands of educators from across the nation will convene in Orlando, Fla., Jan. 22-24 for the annual Florida Educational Technology Conference (FETC)–and eSchool News will be there, too, providing daily conference updates from the convention center floor.

FETC 2009 will feature an opening keynote speech by Philippe Cousteau, chief ocean correspondent for the Discovery Channel’s Animal Planet, and a closing general session in a town hall format with Dr. Frances Haithcock, chancellor of public schools for the Florida Department of Education, who will take questions from the audience about ed-tech challenges and successes.

In between, attendees will have the opportunity to sample some 80 professional development workshops targeting 21st-century skills; more than 200 concurrent sessions addressing topics such as emerging technologies, safety and security, social networking and collaboration, and green computing; and an exhibit hall with some 500 companies displaying their latest ed-tech products and solutions.

FETC participants also can take part in a hands-on Assistive and Instructional Technology Lab to explore new learning technologies; tour Ocoee Middle School, a state demonstration school that models the effective use of technology; and register to compete in a multiplayer tournament of DimensionM, a three-dimensional gaming environment that helps teach math skills.

For daily conference reports, see our FETC Conference Information Center at eSchool News Online: http://www.eschoolnews.com/conference-info/fetc.

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Minnesota wants all schools to combine purchasing power

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and state legislators in the House and Senate want to require all the state’s school districts to band together in a purchasing pool to lower the cost of technology, supplies, and other goods and services, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Their proposal, called "Minnesota K-12 Shared Service," would require districts to combine their buying power to purchase things such as food, computer equipment, and school buses. All Minnesota public schools and charter schools would have to participate. Schools would have to do their buying from a list of companies approved and compiled by the Minnesota Department of Education. The idea is that creating a large buying pool of districts would drive down prices. Supporters of the measure say schools in other states have cut their buying costs 5 to 15 percent by using such arrangements. "We believe that, by requiring districts to come together in these areas, services will be more efficient, less expensive, and of higher quality," said Pawlenty at a Capitol news conference Jan. 6 announcing the initiative. Textbooks and other school curriculum-related materials are not covered by the proposal. Though efforts in other states were cited in the news conference, many school districts in Minnesota are already involved in cooperative buying pools with other districts. Anoka-Hennepin schools, for instance, is part of a technology-buying consortium that has allowed it to buy new iMac computers for $719 apiece, 24 percent less than the normal price for schools. Some school officials warned legislators to tread carefully before mandating something many districts are already practicing…

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One Laptop Per Child slashes workforce in half, cuts salaries

Citing the poor economy, the nonprofit One Laptop Per Child project announced Jan. 7 that it is slashing its workforce by 50 percent, reducing salaries for the remaining staff, and restructuring its operations, CNET reports. Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the group that aims to provide low-cost laptops to children in developing countries, announced the cuts in a company blog post: "Like many other nonprofits that are facing tough economic times, One Laptop Per Child must downsize in order to keep costs in line with fewer financial resources. Today we are reducing our team by approximately 50 percent, and there will be salary reductions for the remaining 32 people. While we are saddened by this development, we remain firmly committed to our mission of getting laptops to children in developing countries. We thank team members who are departing for their contributions to this important mission…" Negroponte wrote that the group will focus on development of its second-generation device, but it will hand off development of the Sugar operating system to the open-source community. The Cambridge, Mass.-based project has faced its share of challenges in the three years since it was formed. Its XO laptops initially cost $188 each instead of the anticipated $100, and some countries are scaling back their deployment plans…

Click here for the full story

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Educators to Obama: Focus on 21C skills

As President-elect Barack Obama prepares to take office, his education reform plan has the potential to modernize library technologies, make school buildings more energy-efficient, and invest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education and research. Yet, according to a recent survey, educators say addressing 21st-century (21C) skills should top the list of priorities in Obama’s plan, so students are prepared for the workplace of tomorrow.

The survey, conducted by the American Society for Quality (ASQ)–a professional association that offers training and tools to educators and businesses–was conducted from August through November 2008 and polled more than 700 K-12 teachers and administrators from across the United States.

"[We] saw the opportunity [to give] educators … an outlet to provide ideas on what needs to change most in American education and offer them the chance to help shape our nation’s K-12 education agenda," said ASQ in a statement.

ASQ plans to work with its Public Policy Action Committee to deliver the list of priorities to Obama and his Education Secretary designee, Arne Duncan, by the end of the month.

"While education might not be front and center [owing] to the immediate economic crisis, educators want to remind President-elect Obama that K-12 students need to be a top priority so that our nation can produce a globally competitive workforce for the future," said Maurice Ghysels, chair of ASQ’s K-12 Education Advisory Committee and superintendent of Mountain View Whisman School District in Mountain View, Calif.

The five-minute, three-question survey asked educators to rank education issues in order of their highest priority for the next president of the United States. Sample choices included "help all students meet achievement goals" and "ensure adequate and stable funding of school budgets at state and federal levels."

More than half (52 percent) of educators surveyed ranked 21C skills as the most important priority for the new administration–skills such as the ability to collaborate, innovate and create, and learn about technology.

Two issues tied for second place in the survey: retaining qualified teachers and helping all students meet achievement goals (42 percent).

What surprised ASQ was that "transforming NCLB to improve measurements" was not listed as a top priority, with only 29 percent ranking this as a top area of focus.

Two other areas that educators ranked as lower priorities were closing the achievement gap among whites and minorities (17 percent) and eliminating budget waste and inefficiency in K-12 schools (22 percent).

Another recent ASQ study, conducted by Harris Interactive, shows that other adults agree with educators that schools are not making 21st-century skills a priority.

In fact, 96 percent of adults believe that students today need to improve upon the skills needed to succeed in the 21st century. Skills listed by adults and parents as needing more development include organizational skills, communication skills, problem solving and reasoning, creativity, teamwork, and science and technology skills.

Among adults who think students today need to improve such skills, 64 percent say U.S. school systems are not making these skills enough of a priority, and 35 percent say state and local governments are not holding schools accountable to adequately train students.

"Such 21st-century skills as research, development, design, marketing, and global supply-chain management will require not only a framework of competencies in core subjects, life, career, media, and technology skills, but also strong learning and innovation skills," said Ghysels. "To prepare our students for this world, teachers must move beyond the role of facilitators and become collaborators in learning, seeking new knowledge alongside students and modeling positive habits of work and mind–moving our schools from teaching systems to learning organizations."

Ghysels said his district devotes a great deal of time to core academic subjects, while simultaneously incorporating elements of what he calls "continuous improvement" (CI), to help students engage in 21st-century skills.

Teachers at Mountain View Whisman:

– Give students more control during lesson development. For example, students provide feedback to their teacher’s lessons and run class meetings analogous to creative project management teams, in which they share ideas on how to learn better and faster. They conduct "plus-delta" exercises (identifying what’s going well and what needs to be changed), or what Pixar calls "post-mortems," to discover as a team what went right and what went wrong with a lesson, their own learning behavior, or the pace or depth of the subject matter. "In this culture of respect, they develop character and the definitions of a ‘quality student’ and ‘quality teacher’ and publicly display those agreements on their classroom walls with all of their signatures," said Ghysels.

– Create a peer culture in which goals in the classroom are known and transparent. The goals are related to district goals, as well as state standards, and students openly chart their progress in individual student data folders and graph their cumulative results in classroom data centers. These are then analyzed during class meetings in which students talk about defining the support for each of their classmates to become successful in meeting individual and class goals.
 
– Encourage communication by addressing difficulties in solving class problems. For example, ineffective or inefficient use of instructional time is analyzed among students, and broken agreements to ground rules are addressed to manage the class in a trustworthy and respectful manner.

"This communication and collaboration produces more student buy-in and implicit motivation to achieve academic results. The open communication also ensures that core values and strong character behaviors are transparent, positive, and productive. Students even run their own parent conferences describing their goals, their assessment data, and their accomplishments to their parent and teacher," said Ghysels.

He continued: "We are not suggesting that CI is the only solution to generating academic results and creativity; we are simply reporting that the CI classroom is a powerful way to engage students in 21st-century skills that demand creativity–but it’s not enough."

Students, too, can speak up

Thanks to the Speak Up Project, a national initiative from the educational nonprofit organization Project Tomorrow (formerly known as NetDay), students around the country can share their own thoughts on improving education with the new president and Congress.

Though the national Speak Up survey has already closed, one open-ended question will remain online for all students through January 20th (Inauguration Day): "Imagine you are the President of the United States (or the leader of your country), and your No. 1 education goal is to make sure every student is prepared for the jobs and careers of the future. What is the one thing you would do to improve schools to ensure that all students receive the education and skills they need to be successful in life?"

"We look forward to seeing the breadth of ideas our nation’s students put forward, and sharing those with this country’s elected leaders in the spring," said Julie Evans, CEO of Project Tomorrow. "We encourage students to respond on their own, teachers to lead a class discussion on the topic or assign it for homework, and parents to discuss suggestions with their children."

Links:

ASQ

Project Tomorrow’s question for students

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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Simulations help faculty ID at-risk students

Some students are cranky and irritable. Others are nervous and uneasy. College classrooms can include a variety of behaviors, and judging whether these behaviors could indicate something more troubling beneath the surface can be difficult. Now, a computer simulation is helping professors identify and approach so-called "at-risk" students and recommend a visit to a campus counselor.

Recently, web-based computer training company Kognito unveiled At-Risk, a simulation program that gives college faculty practice in identifying, talking to, and analyzing students who might need professional counseling.

Nearly two years after a Virginia Tech student whose behavior disturbed faculty and classmates killed 32 people on campus, professors are eager for formal training in how to refer troubled students to counseling centers.

"You can see clearly if a person is just an overwhelmed freshman or [someone] who has a serious issue," said Ted Henken, a professor at the City University of New York (CUNY) who trained with the Kognito At-Risk program. "[The simulation] really shows you how to go through the conversation with empathy and not just cut to the chase."

The April 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, Henken said, made it impossible for college faculty to ignore students showing tell-tale signs of depression, such as skipping class, failing to turn in homework or projects, and being abrasive with classmates.

"I didn’t think about it very much until Virginia Tech," said Henken, a CUNY professor for six years. "You realize that anything can happen. … You think most of that is dealt with at the high school level, but we realized that it’s not."

The Kognito program leads users in a 45-minute, step-by-step process that examines grades, attendance, and class participation–along with behaviors such as rudeness, argumentativeness, extreme nervousness, or avoidance of eye contact–before the student is asked for a one-on-one talk with the professor simulation.

In an online demonstration, At-Risk users are shown a classroom with six students who have shown consistently abnormal behavior. By clicking on a student, the user can see the student’s academic record and behavior trends. Three of the six students can be chosen for interviews, where the professor asks a series of questions. If the answers warrant concern, the user can refer the student to on-campus counseling.

Ron Goldman, Kognito’s co-founder and CEO, said the Virginia Tech incident and other campus violence have put professors in a quandary: They should be aware of behavioral problems, but they are not trained or qualified to offer professional advice, so a tempered, logical approach is necessary to get students help.

"Schools understood they needed to take more responsibility in identifying and helping those students," said Goldman, adding that the program’s content was created in part by the Mental Health Association of New York City. "It is difficult to teach you without giving you practice. This is better than lists and PowerPoint presentations … because you become much more comfortable in doing it, and not everyone is comfortable approaching students."

Once the simulated conversation with the student begins, the At-Risk user can choose from a variety of topics. For instance, if the student has shown extreme anxiety during class presentations and exams, the user can talk about the student’s home life, anxiety problems, childhood, or suggest counseling. If the user chooses to recommend a counselor right away, the student hedges and asks, "You think I need therapy?"

Goldman and professors who have used the program said an online simulation held faculty’s attention more effectively than a lengthy staff meeting during the school year.

"There’s a game element there," Goldman said. "It’s more engaging and … it makes [professors] aware of what they can and cannot say. Too many faculty step out of their role and start counseling the student, and [the simulation] helps them understand how far they can go."

The ability to pinpoint disruptive or disturbing student behavior was evident in a 2006 survey released by the American College Health Association. More than 50 percent of students surveyed said they had felt so depressed that "it was difficult to function." About 10 percent said "they’d seriously considered suicide."

CUNY was the first school to adopt the Kognito program, and Goldman said more than 25 colleges and universities could have their faculty using the simulation sometime this year.

Henken said an hour-and-a-half using the At-Risk simulation prepared him to engage students who are increasingly short-tempered or consistently miss class and fail assignments. 

"The program helped me to actually talk to the students," he said. "I feel more confident approaching a student. It gave me a new way to think about it."

Links:

Kognito At-Risk simulation

City University of New York

American College Health Association

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Fair-use guide offers copyright protection for educators

Hoping to clear up the confusion over the “fair use” of digital materials in teaching and learning, a panel of university professors has developed a “Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education.” The document clarifies how fair use applies to the most common situations where media-literacy educators make use of copyrighted materials in their work, and it offers guidance for instructors so they can make more informed judgments about using these materials. Created though a partnership among the Media Education Lab at Temple University, the Center for Social Media at American University (AU), and AU’s Washington College of Law, with funding from the MacArthur Foundation, the code identifies five principles of consensus about acceptable practices for the fair use of copyrighted materials, wherever and however it occurs: in K-12 schools, higher-education institutions, nonprofit groups that offer media-education programs for children and youth, and adult-education programs. The guidance comes as research suggests educators are shying away from using digital materials in their classrooms, fearing they could be sued for copyright violation.

http://mediaeducationlab.com/pdf/CodeofBestPracticesinFairUse.pdf

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Is virtual education the answer to school budget cuts?

Virtual instruction might provide school districts with a way to save money during the poor economy, reports Channel 10 News of Tampa Bay, Fla. During a special legislative session in Tallahassee this week, State Sen. Stephen Wise from Jacksonville is pushing for school districts to take advantage of the state’s virtual education program. Wise proposed and helped pass a bill last year expanding the state’s program to all students, including elementary school kids. "Virtual education is the wave of the future," says Wise. He also adds it’s one more way school districts can save money: Private companies offer state-certified online curriculum at less than half the cost. "The course is $3,000, [and] school districts get on average $7,000 [to teach a child each year]," he says. "They keep the extra $4,000. They can use that for music programs other programs they need."
Hillsborough school officials say virtual education might help save districts some money. But Hillsborough’s chief information and technology officer, David Steele, says the savings won’t be as much as legislators think: "Other costs, like transportation, may not be [eliminated], because the bus is still going by the child’s house. One would have to break the savings down case by case."

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Tracking equipment leads to recovery of stolen school computer

Thieves had better think twice before stealing a computer from the Fort Worth, Texas, school district, reports the Dallas Morning News: Fort Worth school officials say police have recovered a laptop computer taken from one of their schools because a tracking device had been installed on it. The laptop, valued at $1,500, was lifted from a classroom at Polytechnic High School in late October while the teacher was at a meeting. The computer did not contain any personal information about students, officials said. The Fort Worth school district had recently bought Lo/Jack tracking technology for its computers. Police tracked the stolen computer to a Fort Worth home, where it was recovered just before the end of the year. Criminal charges are pending, officials said. "This is notice that if you steal our computers, we will find them and prosecute you," said Kyle Davie, the district’s chief technology officer. The system costs roughly $50 per computer, officials said. The tracking company has a big incentive to make sure it works: It has to pay $1,000 to the district if a stolen computer isn’t found…

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eMail intervention teaches internet safety

More than half of U.S. teenagers in a recent study mentioned risky behaviors such as sex and drug use on their MySpace pages, according to researchers. But the study also suggests that simply reaching out to teens via eMail can help them learn safe and responsible internet use.

Many teenagers cleaned up their MySpace profiles, deleting mentions of sex and booze and boosting privacy settings, if they got a single cautionary eMail message from a "busybody" named "Dr. Meg," the study says.

The message was sent by Dr. Megan Moreno, lead researcher of a study of lower-income kids that she says shows how parents, educators, and other adults can encourage safer web use.

Her message read in part: "You seemed to be quite open about sexual issues or other behaviors such as drinking or smoking. Are you sure that’s a good idea? … You might consider revising your page to better protect your privacy."

Parents, educators, and even doctors who care for adolescents "should feel very comfortable looking up" their students’ or patients’ profiles on social-networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook, said Moreno, a pediatrician and adolescent medicine specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It’s not creepy or an invasion of privacy, she said, but more like reading posters on their walls or slogans on their T-shirts.

Young people don’t consider the consequences of posting their drinking habits and sexual behavior, Moreno said. Several wrote back to "Dr. Meg" saying they had no idea their pages could be viewed by anyone. Such social-networking sites have privacy settings, but they’re not always used.

The sites can be a window into a teenager’s world, the study revealed.

"People who work with teens often have this idea that teens are hard to reach," Moreno said. But many young people publicly post their hobbies and interests on MySpace or Facebook and expect people to look. "It can be a great icebreaker," she said.

The study, published in the January issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, shows adult supervision of MySpace can raise adolescents’ awareness of how accessible their pages are, she said.

The researchers first located 190 MySpace public profiles in a single urban ZIP code, randomly selected from the 10 U.S. Census areas with the lowest average income because researchers wanted to target adolescents who might have less access to doctors. Moreno said she could not reveal the city because of privacy restrictions set by a study review board.

All the users said on their profiles they were 18 to 20 years old, and their pages included three or more references to sex, drinking, drug use, or smoking.

Half were sent the "Dr. Meg" eMail; the other half weren’t contacted.

After three months, 42 percent of those getting a "Dr. Meg" eMail message had either set their profiles to "private," meaning only people they’d chosen as MySpace "friends" could view it, or they removed references to sex or substance use. Only 29 percent of those in the group who had not been contacted by Dr. Meg made such changes over the three-month period.

Moreno said the results suggest the eMail intervention had a positive impact on "the hardest-to-reach teens, which gives us great hope that a similar intervention could be used to reach teens as a whole."

In a separate study, Moreno and other researchers looked at 500 randomly selected MySpace profiles of 18-year-olds nationwide and found that more than half contained references to risky behavior such as sex, drinking, and violence.

"The ones to me that were most surprising and most worrisome were the sexual references," said the doctor. "We often found males and females describing the circumstances around the loss of their virginity. Females would describe things males could do" to have a better chance of having sex with them. "They’d say, ‘I like a guy who brings me flowers and takes me to dinner and [if you do that] I might consider having sex with you.’"

Teens decorate their pages with beer logos, marijuana leaf icons, and Playboy bunnies. Those counted in the research. But typically it was bold references in the teenagers’ own words that researchers found.

"Clear and concise language: ‘I got drunk last Friday,’" said Moreno, who is a 35-year-old mother of a baby and a toddler. She said she’ll try to stay involved with her kids’ computer use as they grow up.

Teenagers who refer to risky behavior on their MySpace pages put themselves at risk of online harassment or solicitation for sex, Kimberly Mitchell of the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center, who wasn’t involved in the studies, wrote in an accompanying editorial. These teens also might jeopardize future job prospects.

But social-networking sites also give teens a chance to develop their identities, become independent, and get support from friends.

"It is time to use the benefits offered by social-networking sites to reach youth, perhaps in new and creative ways that were not available prior to the advent of these sites," Mitchell wrote.

Links:

Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine

Crimes Against Children Research Center

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