Bankruptcies throw state’s school laptop program into disarray

It was just four months ago that the Custer School District anxiously awaited a late shipment of Gateway laptop computers. Now, the school is trying to give them back. Custer is one of 56 districts statewide taking part in the state’s Classroom Connections program under Gov. Mike Rounds’ 2010 Education Initiative, according to the Rapid City Journal in South Dakota. The initiative is a series of specific goals and plans intended to improve the state’s education system by 2010. The state provided $1 for every $2 the districts invested in technology. The state brokered a deal with Gateway to provide computers to the districts, but Custer officials say the computers had several problems almost immediately. They ordered replacements for parts under warranty. In the meantime, Gateway sold its business division, which included educational contracts, to MPC Corp., which filed for bankruptcy, leaving schools with broken computers.

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Education snags $105.9B in stimulus package

The final $787 billion stimulus bill that President Obama is expected to sign today contains $105.9 billion for education, including $650 million for the federal Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) program. 

Although encouraged by an increase of more than double its current funding level, ed-tech advocates said they were disappointed EETT did not receive the $1 billion it was slated to receive in earlier drafts of the package.  In past years, EETT has been repeatedly targeted for cuts.

"The funding provides a much-needed down payment toward meeting President Obama’s vision that all students receive the benefits of 21st-century learning environments, but the final level of investment falls short of funding in the House and Senate bills, and far short of what is needed by our students to compete in today’s digital age," read a statement from the International Society for Technology in Education and the Consortium for School Networking.

The two groups noted President Obama’s commitment to education, and urged Congress to increase ed-tech funding levels in FY09 and FY10.  An estimated $9.9 billion total investment is needed to ensure that all Title I schools have effective, technology-rich classrooms, according to the groups.

The EETT funding in the stimulus bill "will provide critical support to states, districts, and schools to respond to warnings from the business community that students are not being prepared for the intellectual demands of the modern workplace," said Mary Ann Wolf, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association.

"Schools are ready, willing, and able to make technology a critical component of education, so that education focuses on what students need to learn and how students need to learn to compete in the modern workforce… For a wireless nation that relies on technology for ordinary tasks and extraordinary achievements, it is time for technology to occupy a prominent place in education operations."

The stimulus package will help essential funding find its way to schools in the midst of budget deficits and "will help cash-strapped school districts avoid program cuts, prevent teacher layoffs, invest in school modernization and increase funding for Title I, special education, and other important programs," said a statement from the American Association of School Administrators.

Acknowledging that the bill does lack some key funding areas that educators enthusiastically supported, the administrators’ group said that while the bill "does not include the level of funding for school construction included in the House version of the bill," it is still a solid step in the right direction.

"This is a solid recognition by Congress that the road to economic recovery runs through our classrooms," National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel said in a Feb. 13 statement.

Echoing the thoughts of other education groups, Van Roekel noted that many improvements are left to be made in U.S. education, but said that "the injection of federal funds will help children learn, modernize schools and labs, keep schools and libraries open, help educators keep their jobs, and provide students with 21st-century environments."

"This bill recognizes the pivotal role that education plays in our economy’s long-term vitality, and supports education in a way that will strengthen learning opportunities for children," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

"Passing the recovery bill is merely the first step. The next step is to ensure the funds are invested wisely," she said.

States will receive $53.6 billion for fiscal stabilization, which includes $39.5 billion for school districts, colleges, and universities to pay for initiatives such as school modernization. It also includes $8.8 billion to states for high priority needs such as public safety and other critical services, which may include K-12 and higher education modernization.

States will use that $39.5 billion to fill cuts that have been made in K-12 and higher ed.  After filling those cuts, remaining funds will be distributed based on current Title I funding formulas.

Title I will receive $13 billion, and $12.2 billion is allocated for special education, pushing the federal share of special education services to its highest level ever.

As part of the stabilization fund, Education Secretary Arne Duncan will direct a $5 billion incentive fund, which includes $650 million for innovation grants that will go to local school districts or nonprofit groups.

The stimulus package includes $7 billion to expand broadband access to rural areas.

The argument over school modernization funds, easily one of the biggest disagreements in the bill, pitted House Democrats against Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, a key broker in the deal that allowed the bill to move forward in the Senate. A top aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Feb. 12 that the matter was resolved quickly. A Senate official close to the talks concurred, requiring anonymity to speak frankly about the topic.

Pelosi herself was involved in a continuing disagreement over the use of federal funds for school modernization–the issue that caused her to withhold support from the compromise on Feb. 11 for more than two hours after key senators had announced it.

Due to the insistence of Senate Republican moderates, an attempt by House Democrats to create a new federal program for school construction was scrapped in final negotiations. As a compromise, about $10 billion was added to a fund that will provide funds for hard-pressed states, money that governors will be allowed to use for repairing existing schools.

But Democrats wanted assurances that the states would allocate the money according to need, rather than at a governor’s sole discretion, leading to renewed negotiations.

While education receives much-needed funding, House Democrats remained upset that $20 billion in school construction funds had been eliminated.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Links:

Full text of the stimulus package

Summary of stimulus funds

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Stimulus to kick start cash-strapped higher ed

Higher education officials are awaiting an injection of $32 billion in federal money after Congress passed the economic stimulus bill last week, aiming to jumpstart a slumbering economy in part by making college more affordable and funding campus projects that have run out of state funds in recent months.

University decision makers and governors nationwide are touting "shovel ready" projects — campus improvements ready for construction — as President Barack Obama prepares to sign the bill later today that will pump federal dollars into cash-strapped colleges.

Some of the country’s largest universities are anticipating an influx of about $15 billion for campus-based scientific research included in the stimulus. 

Projections of how much of the stimulus money states will receive are preliminary, but many governors have estimates of how their states will benefit. For example, Nebraska colleges and universities expect to get a portion of $230 million set aside for an incentive program, according to federal and state statistics. More than $3 million will be allocated to bolster educational technology in Nebraska classrooms.

Massachusetts lawmakers expect state college renovations to be included in more than $2 billion reserved for education improvements. Universities and colleges in Georgia expect to receive a portion of $1.2 billion in education funds set aside for modernization efforts.

Obama’s repeated commitment to expand high-speed internet connections to rural areas limited to slow dialup connections will jump start distance education programs at universities that serve rural populations, higher education officials said.

Walt Magnussen, director of telecommunications at Texas A&M University, said many of the school’s students live in rural areas with limited or no access to broadband web connections. This has been a roadblock for students who would like to take web-based courses, but find themselves limited by dialup connections.

"It’s a real challenge to do this in areas that are underserved," said Magnussen, former president of the Association for Information Communications Technology Professionals in Higher Education (ACUTA). "In many cases, there are no broadband options. … It was great for five years ago, but not adequate for what we’re striving for right now. And hopefully, this stimulus package will turn that around."

Campuses like Texas A&M, Magnussen said, can develop the most up-to-date web applications, but without high-speed internet connections in nearby rural areas, students can’t benefit from the technology.

"I can have the greatest applications in the world, but if I don’t have any way of delivering them, they’re useless," he said.

Mark Luker, vice president of the education technology advocate organization EDUCAUSE, said in a statement that expanding broadband could have far-reaching effects for colleges’ online learning programs.

"EDUCAUSE is pleased with the new support for extending broadband connections to rural and underserved areas, since this will improve access to education and increase participation in research, a powerful long-term benefit as well as a short-term economic stimulus," Luker said.

Several Missouri colleges and universities have cancelled or postponed construction projects that were slated to be funded by the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority (MOHELA). After missing a series of payments to the Missouri state government, MOHELA now owes more than $10 million. The agency finds itself in the red for the first time since its creation in the early 1980s.

While state and campus officials anticipate money for long-awaited projects, students will soon benefit from increases in tuition assistance. With the passage of the stimulus package, the maximum Pell Grant, which helps the lowest-income students attend college, would increase from $4,731 currently to $5,350 starting July 1 and $5,550 per year in 2010-2011. That would cover three-quarters of the average annual cost of a four-year college. An extra 800,000 students, for a total of about 7 million, are now expected to receive Pell funding.

The stimulus also increases the tuition tax credit to $2,500 and makes it 40 percent refundable, so families who don’t earn enough to pay income tax could still get up to $1,000 in extra tuition help.

Computer expenses will now be an allowable expense for 529 college savings plans.

The final package cut $6 billion the House wanted to spend to kick-start building projects on college campuses. But parts of the $54 billion state stabilization fund — with $39 billion set aside for education — can be used for modernizing facilities.

Funding for the National Institutes of Health includes $1.5 billion set aside for university research facilities.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Links:

ACUTA

Texas A&M University

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Editorial: Morning in America

Default Lines for eSchool News, print edition, March 1, 2009—After a years-long slumber, it’s time to stretch, yawn, and notice a new day dawning all around us. In the dim morning light, it appears we’ve been transported to a place not quite like anywhere we’ve visited before. If I’m not mistaken, we seem at this precise moment to be somewhere deep in the trees—so deep, in fact, we might be oblivious to the forest stretching far beyond the limits of our immediate vision.

In other words, maybe we can’t see the forest for the trees.

At least, that’s the thought that occurs to me as I absorb the early responses from some education advocates to the stimulus package being signed into law today by President Barack Obama.

The stumbling, bumbling run-up to the legislation probably accounts for much of the sour reaction. I certainly shared the sharp disappointment as we watched the initially heralded $1 billion ed-tech allocation cut back to $650 million. Yet, isn’t it ironic? We’ve arrived at a place where we’re glum because a federal allocation for school technology contains just an “m” instead of a “b.”

Hang on just a minute: $650 million for the Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) program is nearly two and half times the amount allocated last year under the Bush administration. Many Republicans, as you might recall, wanted to eliminate EETT altogether. So we were darn glad only months ago that we were able to hang on to the $272 million eventually approved.

Viewed from that perspective, $650 million doesn’t look so very bad. It isn’t enough, to be sure, but it is the largest allocation of its kind in five years, and that’s better than a poke in the eye.

It’s also not the last word. Let’s keep in mind, please, the stimulus package is becoming law just 28 days into the new administration. Education advocates will have plenty more chances to seek more-fully adequate funding for school technology.

As a matter of fact, it would be a mistake to focus on EETT as the sole source of federal funding for education technology.

The overall stimulus package contains some $105.9 billion in federal funds for education. And, as those wretched bankers like to point out, such funding is fungible.

If you have federal dough to help modernize the elementary school, for example, that assistance from Washington can spare you from having to redirect budgeted technology dollars to the needed modernization project – not to mention that the modernization project itself more than likely will include upgrading the school’s technology.

But bookkeeping aside, what has happened in the early hours of this new day might signal authentic change on a large scale. We might be witnessing the beginning of an era that brings Washington’s education agenda into closer alignment with state and local education institutions and agencies. For at least half a century, our nation has largely resisted federal involvement in education.

In The Doyle Report, Feb. 13, education pundit Dennis P. Doyle cataloged the key reasons concisely:  “. . . Education was afflicted with a political 3 ‘R’s’: race, religion, and region . . .  Northerners thought that a federal role would further reinforce racial segregation; Southerners thought it would lead to integration; Catholics thought that a federal role would eliminate the practice of public support for religiously affiliated schools, and non-Catholics hoped it would; and everyone believed in local control.”

The recent election offers hope that we might finally be ready to rise above impediments of “race, religion, and region.” Local control remains a core value, but the scope of the challenge demands a more nuanced approach. The challenges and complexity of contemporary schooling require the efforts and resources of our entire society.

Not that everyone sees it that way, naturally. In the recent congressional debate, some senators actually railed against what they dubbed “generational theft,” arguing that the costs of investments in social resources would snatch opportunity from future generations.

Generational theft! What gall.

Apart from sheer hypocrisy, after nearly a decade of unbridled spending on war and the upward redistribution of wealth, such an argument is also breathtakingly obtuse. Allowing young people to enter the future unprepared to succeed in the 21st century would be the genuine disservice. A well-schooled, thoroughly educated citizenry represents our best hedge against future economic hardship.

So that’s why we should be generally encouraged by the new direction we’re beginning to discern in these early hours – the disappointment notwithstanding that did accompany some of the specifics of the stimulus package.

For the first time in nearly a decade, the president and most members of Congress seem to recognize there is a significant role for the federal government in education . . . and that their role doesn’t amount merely to holding educators’ feet to the fire.

Let’s hope this happy feeling lasts at least until Noon.

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New media-education program targets parents

Common Sense Media, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that aims to improve the impact of media and entertainment on kids and families, has introduced a free media-education curriculum aimed at parents. The program—which the organization calls the first of its kind—offers resources that address parents’ questions and concerns about television, movies, the internet, gaming, and more, giving schools the tools they need to run an effective media-education program for parents and faculty. “Kids today spend more time with media than they do in school or with their parents,” said CEO and founder Jim Steyer. “Parents need help sifting through the information about media use, and they often turn to their child’s school for advice. Through the Common Sense Schools Program, Common Sense Media will help build a bridge between parents and schools to help them nurture media-smart children.” The program provides resources on more than 30 topics, including cyber bullying, virtual worlds, advertising, social networking, and the impact of media on kids’ health and development.

http://www.commonsensemedia.org/educators

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Industry makes pitch that smart phones belong in the classroom

The cell phone industry has a suggestion for improving the math skills of American students, reports the New York Times: spend more time on cell phones in the classroom. At a conference this week in Washington, D.C., called Mobile Learning 09, CTIA, a wireless industry trade group, plans to start making its case for the educational value of cell phones. It will present research–paid for by Qualcomm, a maker of chips for cell phones–that shows so-called smart phones can make students smarter. Some critics already are denouncing the effort as a blatantly self-serving maneuver to break into the big educational market. But proponents of selling cell phones to schools counter that they are simply making the same kind of pitch that the computer industry has been profitably making to educators since the 1980s. The only difference now between smart phones and laptops, they say, is that cell phones are smaller, cheaper, and more coveted by students…

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In the internet age, librarians’ job gets an update

Even as more school librarians teach increasingly important digital literacy skills, they often become the first casualties of budget crunches, reports the New York Times. Stephanie Rosalia, 54, is part of a growing cadre of 21st-century multimedia specialists who help guide students through the digital ocean of information that confronts them on a daily basis. These new librarians believe that literacy includes, but also exceeds, books. "The days of just reshelving a book are over," said Rosalia, the school librarian at Public School 225, a combined elementary and middle school in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. "Now it is the information age, and that technology has brought out a whole new generation of practices." Some of these new librarians teach children how to develop PowerPoint presentations or create online videos. Others get students to use social networking sites to debate topics from history or comment on classmates’ creative writing. Yet as school librarians increasingly teach students crucial skills needed not only in school, but also on the job and in daily life, they are often the first casualties of school budget crunches. Mesa, the largest school district in Arizona, began phasing out certified librarians from most of its schools last year. In Spokane, Wash., the school district cut back the hours of its librarians in 2007, prompting an outcry among local parents. More than 90 percent of American public schools have libraries, according to federal statistics, but less than two-thirds employ full-time certified librarians…

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Internships help prepare future online teachers

As virtual schooling continues to surge in popularity, there is a growing need for new K-12 teachers who understand how to teach in an online environment successfully. To help meet this need, the Florida Virtual School (FLVS) is teaming up with area colleges to pair teachers-in-training with its online instructors in a first-of-its-kind internship program.

Six University of Central Florida (UCF) education majors are in the middle of a seven-week internship where they are working hand-in-hand with FLVS teachers. Interns were chosen because they expressed an interest in teaching online.

UCF student Katelyn Richardson, who is majoring in English language arts education, was chosen to participate in the internship program, but has not yet begun the virtual portion of the program at FLVS. She will begin her virtual internship in the second week of March.

“Being able to have this chance to intern with the Florida Virtual School opens a world of possibilities for the University of Central Florida, and me, personally,” she said. “It is truly encouraging to know that there is an organization that truly believes, and lives out, the philosophy of student-centered education. The Florida Virtual School not only puts forth these ideals, but supports and enables the teachers to give 100 percent of themselves to the students and their education.”

FLVS, founded in 1997, provides virtual K-12 education solutions to students throughout the country, offering more than 80 courses for middle and high school students.

After spending seven weeks at FLVS, interns will spend seven weeks in traditional classrooms in central Florida, said Brian Marchman, instructional leader with FLVS.

“I think that it’s the first of its kind of … internship to prepare students to teach not only online, but in the traditional classroom as well,” he said.

The program is being piloted with UCF as well as at the University of Florida in Gainesville, but Marchman said FLVS hopes to be able to work with all 10 of Florida’s state colleges and universities eventually. Officials currently have established at least some communication with five.

Marchman said the internship was welcomed immediately at UCF.

“We’re a forward-thinking institution here,” said Michael Hynes, the chair of the Teaching and Learning Principles department at UCF, in a press release. “We want to be thinking ahead of where the education industry is now. We have great confidence this pilot is going to work. It will give our students an edge, because they will not only know how to teach a traditional class, they will also know how to do it virtually.”

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Win a Kurzwell 3000 site license for your school

The MWCC and Kurzweil Educational Systems, a division of Cambium Learning Technologies are teaming up to encourage teachers across the country to engage middle school students in writing about courage
The goal of this collaboration is to: encourage the integration of technology in student writing; increase students’ writing capabilities; foster teacher interest in The Max Warburg Courage Curriculum, a nationally recognized Boston-based year-long language arts program dedicated to strengthening the character development and literacy skills of students.

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Up to $1,000 scholarship for high school students

Samsung is asking high school students to submit essays that are up to 500 words about what they think about technology advancements and how they will change the way people learn in the future.
Students must have a teacher sponsor and give permission to use their photo and essay in publicity if they win.

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