Facebook has removed 5,500 sex offenders since May

The AP reports that Facebook has removed more than 5,500 convicted sex offenders from its social networking Web site since May, Connecticut’s attorney general said Thursday. Richard Blumenthal said the world’s largest social networking site, which claims to have more than 175 million active members, reported to his office that 5,585 convicted sex offenders were found on the Web site and removed between May 1, 2008, and Jan. 31, 2009.
"The message in this number is Facebook has an equal stake in solving this problem of protecting children," said Blumenthal, who along with North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper has led an effort remove sex offenders from the social networking Web sites.
"They have an equal stake in the predator problem and its solution."
Earlier this month, rival networking site MySpace announced it had removed 90,000 sex offenders in a two-year period. Last year, the attorneys general got both sites to implement dozens of safeguards, including finding better ways to verify users’ ages and putting limits on older users’ ability to search the profiles of members under 18…

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Crisis survival tops agenda at AASA meeting

AASA keynoter Donna Brazille urged school leaders to make lasting investments in education.

AASA keynoter Donna Brazille urged school leaders to make lasting investments in education.

The tanking economy and its devastating effect on education budgets, as well as the freshly signed economic stimulus package that promises billions of dollars in new money for cash-strapped schools, dominated the conversations on Day One of the American Association of School Administrators’ annual conference in San Francisco.

“In times like this, it’s important to remember there have always been times like this,” said Carlos Garcia, superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District. “We’ll get through it. We always do.”

Of course, the $106 billion pegged for education in President Obama’s economic stimulus plan is sure to help.

As the conference opened at the Moscone Convention Center Feb. 19, several featured speakers noted that, despite a gloomy fiscal outlook, the future is about to get a whole lot brighter for schools.

“For the first time in a long time, we got it right,” said opening keynote speaker Donna Brazille, a political consultant for the Democratic Party. “We elected a president [who] cares about all of us. We elected an education president.”

Both Brazille and AASA President Randy Collins spoke of the current fiscal climate as a huge challenge for educators. But both also said the current political climate offers an enormous opportunity to reinvest in, and reshape, education so that all kids can succeed, regardless of their abilities.

“This moment in history, this chance to make a real difference, might not come again” for a long time, Collins said. Brazille added that people across the nation “are hungry for change. …They’re eager to roll up their sleeves” and work with their local schools to bring about lasting reforms.

Both speakers, however, warned that school leaders can’t be complacent and expect this change will happen on its own.

“We know that all kids can learn, just not in the same way or at the same pace,” said Collins, who is also the superintendent of the Wallingford, Conn., school system. “We know that all kids can learn with a competent teacher in each classroom … and engaging content.” But “we must use our collective voices,” he said, to enlighten members of Congress to make sure they understand what school leaders need–and to continue to provide the resources necessary to achieve this vision for education.

As education leaders, “our voices matter,” he said.

Brazille made the same point in her speech.

“Education is one of the most important investments we can make” in the nation’s future, she said, noting that preventing just one high school dropout will save the federal government an estimated $200,000 in benefits over that person’s lifetime.

“We need people to go out there and talk about this [stimulus] plan,” she said, adding: “Don’t let the naysayers control the debate.”

Garcia also urged education leaders to take advantage of the current political climate, and the infusion of federal funding it has brought, to effect lasting educational change. “There cannot be social justice if people can’t get an equal education in America,” he exhorted.

Brazille ended her talk by noting she’s a firm believer that “you can create change where there’s none to be seen.”

There is “so much hope, so much energy–so many people willing to do the right thing,” she said. “This is our moment now–let’s seize it to serve a greater cause than ourselves.”

(Editor’s note: For more real-time coverage of this year’s AASA conference in San Francisco Feb. 19-21, visit the AASA Conference Information Center page at eSN Online: http://www.eschoolnews.com/conference-info/aasa.)

Link:

American Association of School Administrators

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Saving school budgets in a recession

Buying from large group contracts, aligning budgets with school improvement plans, starting an educational foundation, and mastering the art of passing school bond issues were among the strategies for surviving the current fiscal crisis discussed at the American Association of School Administrators’ annual conference in San Francisco Feb. 19.

AASA Chief Executive Daniel Domenech said this year’s conference includes 14 hours of sessions devoted to managing school systems during a tough economy.

Despite an influx of $106 billion in federal funding from the recently signed stimulus package, “we are all experiencing an economic situation the likes of which we’ve never seen–and as a result, we’re going to be forced to make several changes,” Domenech said.

How to make those changes while protecting valuable teaching and learning programs from the budget chopping block was the focus of several sessions on Day One of the conference.

Mike Hajek, director of business development and marketing for the National Joint Powers Alliance (NJPA), discussed how his organization can help school systems buy goods and services in a more cost-effective way.

NJPA is a national contract purchasing organization that lets schools save money by leveraging the collective buying power of districts nationwide to achieve substantial price discounts on classroom supplies, administrative software, computer equipment, printers and copiers, furniture, carpeting, and more.

James Bird, an associate professor of educational leadership at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, said making the budgeting process open and transparent can win you the support of key allies within the district and the community at large.

“The manner in which a superintendent leads his community through this process creates the potential for building trust,” he said, “or eroding it.”

Bird studied the budget-building process in several school systems and uncovered a strong need for better training within school leadership programs. Of the 37 participants in Bird’s study, 36 of them said they learned their current budget-building strategies on the job, instead of in the classroom.

Building budgets based on sound educational data, fostering close coordination among various school departments, and creating an assessment system to measure the impact of educational programs all will help superintendents gain the trust of their stakeholders–and the support of key educational programs, Bird said.

Communicating with stakeholders during the budgeting process is key, agreed Ralph Marshall, a former school superintendent who is now an assistant professor at Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas. Typically, school budgeting is a top-down process, Marshall said, and that needs to change.

Marshall recommended that superintendents align their budgets with their school improvement plans. He noted that Joel Klein, chancellor of the New York City Public Schools, issued a budget guidance document to the city’s school leaders last year that asked principals to document the benefits they expect to see from each budget item.

Marshall also said superintendents should borrow concepts from the business world, such as cost-benefit analysis, as well as improve the ways they communicate their budget proposals to the public.

“In 22 years [as a superintendent], I never had anyone come to a budget meeting,” he said–yet for a budget referendum, the room is usually packed.

Carleton R. Holt, an associate professor of educational leadership at the University of Arkansas, discussed the keys to getting a school bond issue passed.

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Colleges find new uses for open-source tech

Open-source learning management systems such as Moodle and Sakai have made great inroads in higher education, but LMS software isn’t the only area where colleges and universities are benefiting from open source. Higher-ed institutions also are saving money by using open-source software to chat with prospective students, improve library storage and research, and create web pages for alumni–whose donations could prove critical while campus budgets are being slashed in a down economy.

Campus technology chiefs are exploring the merits of open source, while vendors that have proved to be staples in higher education–such as Blackboard Inc.–have introduced ways for colleges to open new lines of communication with students in platforms they are most familiar with, including Facebook.

At Albion College in Michigan, IT administrators have harnessed the open-source model–which encourages flexibility and collaboration in creating software–to attract high school seniors deciding which campus they’ll settle on next fall. Nicole Rhoads, Albion’s web manager, said it took less than two hours to have the open-source, chat-enabled software "up and running."

Albion is using the system to reach out to prospective students and help close the deal. For example, Rhoads said, prospective students interested in majoring in biology are put in touch with biology faculty members.

Melinda Kraft, an instructional technology supervisor on Albion’s 1,950-student campus, said the system allows faculty to answer student questions with more than just words.

"We can send [prospects] a photo of a piece of equipment from our labs or a picture of the inside of a classroom," Kraft said. "So there is a real connection there."

Albion is just one of many colleges–both small and large–that use web-based programs for recruiting purposes. High school students and their parents recently chatted with representatives from several schools, including George Mason University and Marquette University. The web-based introductions included a virtual student union, where students could chat with each other.

Kraft said Albion has used the open-source platform Worpress MU for its recruiting initiatives and to create web pages for graduating classes that want to stay in touch with classmates and the college. This provides a connection between the campus and alumni, and it could spur more donations to Albion, Kraft said.

"The culture is such that we’re very connected," she said. "And we facilitate that. … People are becoming more receptive to that."

Maintaining contact with alumni is critical during a recession that has pummeled endowments that once served as the financial lifeblood of universities, higher-education officials said. More alumni signing up for weekly or monthly online newsletters, officials said, could spur many small donations that could keep campuses afloat while the economy continues its slide.

While campus IT chiefs are finding new way to communicate with students through open-source platforms, traditional technology vendors are introducing programs that offer new modes of communication as well.

Blackboard, a giant in the education technology field, unveiled a partnership in 2008 that will let college faculty work with students via Facebook, the popular social-networking site that many students visit while they’re studying or doing homework. The Blackboard Sync program allows professors to deliver course content and alerts through Facebook. If a student signs up for Blackboard Sync, he or she can check discussion board posts and grades while logged into Facebook.

"A lot of the work we do involves group projects and collaboration," said Zachary Girod, a University of Maryland graduate student. "Having access to academic alerts while I’m on Facebook lets me work more efficiently and informally with classmates and learn from their experiences."

Greg Ritter, director of product management for Blackboard Learn, said the Facebook alerts also can be received by students’ iPhones, which are increasingly common on campuses nationwide.

"At the heart of all of this work is our effort to enable institutions working with Blackboard to offer a more engaging experience to students–one that acknowledges and takes advantage of their interest in social networking and mobile devices," he said.

Blackboard’s popularity in higher education is unquestioned. With more than 2,000 campus clients, Blackboard remains a primary provider of campus technology. But during the latter half of this decade, open-source software has become more attractive for campuses hoping to save money on licensing and maintenance fees.

Bill Thirsk, vice president of information technology and CIO at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., said his school’s switch to the open-source Sakai system has saved money and allowed IT workers to manipulate and customize the program–a luxury schools typically don’t often have with vendors.

"If something doesn’t make sense, we can read the code," Thirsk said. "If we want a feature or function, we can write it. And if we want to collaborate with other colleges and universities, it is welcome."  

Campus library administrators are migrating toward open-source options largely because they can customize storage options, which is key in libraries that must make thousands of books and articles accessible to students and faculty.

Susan Gibbons, vice provost and dean at the University of Rochester’s River Campus Libraries, said vendor products did not allow the campus to focus on web-based book repositories. Crafting its own repository system with open-source software, Gibbons said, has simplified the search process for students.

"We found that the marketplace wasn’t meeting our needs," said Gibbons, who used DSpace open-source software to create her school’s repository. "We could articulate those needs, but there wasn’t a vendor who could be responsive. … Instead of making tweaks on the edges, we felt we had to take it into our own hands … because our students hold us accountable for how their library experience is. It’s not as much the cost savings as it is the control over our own destiny."

Some higher-education IT officials have found that joining active open-source communities is more efficient and less costly than requesting help from vendors. For instance, if a college struggles to find a certain open-source platform, a question is sent to other open-source users, who recommend strategies for writing code.

Gibbons said open source’s reliance on user collaboration fits library systems well.

"In the library world, the community has always been based on sharing anyway," she said. "There is an active community, the burden is spread across the community."

Links:

DSpace open source software

Albion College

Marist College

Blackboard

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AASA 2009 will help guide administrators in a troubled economy

The American Association of School Administrators (AASA) 2009 Conference on Education, which runs Feb. 19-21 in San Francisco, promises to offer administrators a wealth of information and ideas for districts of any size.

AASA will offer more than 14 hours of economic-impact related sessions designed to help administrators operate the best public school system possible under strained economic circumstances.

New for 2009 is a mentor program to help aspiring superintendents, or those who have been a superintendent for less than five years, build a supportive network of peers.

Mentors with the National Conference on Education Mentor Program can answer questions, lend an ear and serve as a contact throughout the conference. Mentors can introduce administrators to many of the conference "regulars" to help them form long-time friendships.

Mentors are experienced superintendents with years of valuable knowledge, best practices, industry contacts and life experiences to share. Mentors will also benefit from those they mentor by gaining a fresh perspective to their own challenges.

The conference offers new curriculum "Focus Zones," including "Executive Edge," developed for CEOs and superintendents, targeted curriculum for "Aspiring Leaders," and the "Communities of Practice" zone with issues regarding women, diversity and rural/urban/suburban school systems.

This year’s program also offers more interactive discussions.  Attendees have in previous years asked for more small-group discussions to speak freely and exchange ideas.

Sessions will help attendees increase their leadership skills and professional competence, provide an exchange of ideas and solutions, address controversial issues, provide wisdom and insights from industry experts, and provide a forum to develop a network of colleagues.

Speakers include Bruce Hunter, associate executive director of Advocacy and Policy; Donna Brazile, founder and managing director of Brazile and Associates LLC, and chair of the Democratic National Committee’s Voting Rights Institute; and Robert Marzano, president and founder of Marzano and Associates.

Links:

AASA 2009 Conference on Education

AASA 2009 Conference Registration

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AASA speakers will focus on district improvement

Speakers at AASA General Sessions are selected to build administrators’ vision of the future and to explore how global trends, advancements in science, corporate management techniques and even imagination can help to move districts forward.  Click here to view all this year’s speakers.

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School computer deal gets state’s attention

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s legal counsel, Jason Gonzalez, has asked the inspector general of the state’s education department to investigate a Northeast Florida school computer system deal worth as much as $3 million, reports the St. Petersburg Times. Gonzalez wrote in his letter to Inspector Ed Jordan that the matter was brought to his attention by attorney Edwin Bayo, who provided eMail messages and meeting notices suggesting that something was fishy in negotiations between the 15-school board North East Florida Education Consortium and Skyward, a Wisconsin-based firm that produces finance and student-tracking software for schools. "These documents raise concerns of possible Sunshine Law and other ethics violations," Gonzalez wrote. The most intriguing document: A Jan. 14 eMail from Skyward vice president Kevin McFerrin and two consortium staffers who were among 10 scheduled to review the systems in the Badger State. McFerrin suggested they come up early. "It will cost you nothing!" McFerrin wrote. "This will give you the time to come to the Northwoods. We can snowmobile in some beautiful areas and do some ice fishing—even some snowshoeing at my hunting shack!" McFerrin said the trip never happened, though 10 NEFEC members still flew up to check out the system. "Everything was above-board," he said. "This is [instigated] by a vendor who’s upset."

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Girl arrested after texting in class

A Wisconsin high school resource officer said a 14-year-old girl was arrested after she was allegedly caught text messaging in class and denied having a phone. The Wauwatosa East High School resource officer’s report said the student refused to stop text messaging after she was confronted by her teacher and told the officer she did not have a cell phone at school, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Feb. 17. The girl continued to deny having a phone even after other students confirmed seeing her texting during class, so the male officer called in a female officer to search the student, the report said. The female officer found the phone hidden in the girl’s clothes near her buttocks. The phone was confiscated, and the 14-year-old was charged with disorderly conduct, which carries a $298 fine. "The arrest was more for her behavior than for the texting," Wauwatosa Police spokesman Lt. Dominic Leone said. "All she had to do was put the phone away and that would have been that."

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