Colleges mull new music royalty structure

The nonprofit group Choruss, one of the organizations promoting blanket licensing for the use of digital music, is meeting with higher-education officials to formulate a plan for the future of music on campus–and its president, Jim Griffin, said in a March 3 webinar that schools can no longer depend on technology or new laws to prevent illegal file sharing.

Griffin, a longtime music industry consultant, spoke to educators who are concerned about the uncertain future of online music during an hour-long webinar hosted by the ed-tech advocacy group EDUCAUSE.

Choruss’s concrete strategy won’t be rolled out until fall 2010 at the latest, Griffin said, but he hinted at the approaches the company would take in negotiations with colleges and universities. Griffin said higher education should not focus on legal P2P file sharing. Instead, he said, universities should consider "lower fees spread evenly across campus, like library or gym fees."

Choruss aims to monetize digital music with a flat fee and distribute the profits evenly among all parties involved, including the artists who produce the music.

"We’re clearly in a circumstance where it’s become voluntary to pay for music products," said Griffin, head of OneHouse LLC, an organization that helps businesses and artists transition to a digital platform. "I think it’s fair to say the business of music products has fallen and it just can’t get up. … For any civilized society, it has to become very, very concerned when it becomes voluntary to pay for … the stuff of innovation, because those are the very things that drive civilized society, especially the one we live in."

Acknowledging the system will "never be perfect," Griffin said illegal downloading is "only going to get worse every year," and he said IT administrators and programmers will only be able to slow illegal downloading before people find their way around the digital blockades.

Griffin–who said industry giant Warner Music Group is "incubating" Choruss during its development–addressed mounting criticism of the Choruss model during the EDUCAUSE webinar, assuring participants that the nonprofit’s plans don’t include instituting a standard fee on every American campus.

Griffin said college officials should survey their students and faculty to measure what level of participation the campus would receive with a flat fee. Depending on the response, colleges could implement a system in which students are free to opt in or opt out at any time, he said. 

"It isn’t that Choruss starts out with the notion that the entertainment industry ought to balance its books on the backs of students," he said.

Griffin’s proposals come just weeks after thousands of campuses nationwide were left without a legal digital music service. In early February, Ruckus–a download service supported by advertisements and available free of charge to college students–went under, continuing a string of early departures by low-cost music sites. Ruckus shut down after Universal Music Group and Sony did away with their Total Music venture, which owned Ruckus.

Napster, which switched to a legal downloading service after beginning as a controversial file-sharing site in the late 1990s, and Cdigix were other affordable music sites that have closed down or stopped catering to colleges in recent months.

The Choruss model has received mixed reaction in early 2009. In interviews with eCampus News, many college officials said they’d be willing to pay a nominal per-student fee to give the campus access to legal online music, but exorbitant fees could be rejected outright.

"One dollar yes, $3 no," said Jean L. Boland, vice president for IT services at Morrisville State College in New York, a former Ruckus customer.

Griffin said an official Choruss web site could be built sometime in the next year. First, he said, Choruss decision makers wanted to meet with university leaders before a final strategy is unveiled.

"It’s wrong to say, ‘Here’s what it’s going to be,’ and to carve that into stone on a web site," he said. "When we have clear answers to that, we’ll put them up."

Link:

EDUCAUSE webinar on Choruss

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Reading, Writing, and Technology

Like most first-grade teachers, Shannon Smith at St. Michael Elementary School in Albertville, Minn., never lacks for tasks to keep her busy in the classroom. Wrangling eager students, planning appropriate lessons, and grading assignments are just a few of her daily activities, and with many other "to dos" on her agenda there never seems to be enough time in the school day to get everything accomplished. 

While the promise of classroom technology offers great advantages, for many teachers it often seems like more of an inconvenience than a resource. Using technology to shape lesson plans is important to Smith, but the time it takes to manage the different tools occasionally becomes a challenge. After all, it’s difficult enough to hold the attention of two dozen six-year-olds and keep the lesson plan on schedule, much less figure out how to toggle from one media input to another or adjust the volume.

Located 30 miles northwest of Minneapolis, the 5,000-student St. Michael-Albertville (STMA) School District, where Smith teaches, is not unlike school districts nationwide–eager to bring instructional technology into the classroom, but at the same time somewhat intimidated by the prospect.

Though many districts like STMA have projectors, interactive whiteboards, and sound amplification systems, these tools don’t always realize their full potential, partly because the products were not designed to work as an integrated system. As a result, teachers’ usage of instructional technology tools is compromised. 

At STMA, the district’s technology team was quick to recognize that success required eliminating the disconnect between the technology and teachers like Smith. With a $2 million classroom technology project underway across the district’s eight facilities and 400 classrooms, STMA wouldn’t be measuring success by what technology they’ve installed, but rather by how teachers are using the technology in their daily lessons.

"Teachers and tech directors need to concentrate on the learning environment, not the myriad of potential technical issues," said Wayne Hoistad, STMA’s director of technology. "Technology should be an extension of the teacher and success should be measured by the teacher’s ability to seamlessly integrate technology into the lessons. If it is an inconvenience, then the return on investment isn’t there. It’s one thing to have the tools, but they won’t do much good if they’re not connected and easy to integrate and use in the classroom."

Taking into account teachers’ needs and comfort level, Hoistad and his team developed a technology plan around two principles: the solution had to be easy for teachers to use; and it had to provide the power to harness all of the technology tools available in a seamless manner.

With those goals in mind, STMA determined that a critical factor would be bringing together the various technology elements–from interactive whiteboards to microphones, projectors and computers–through a common control and management platform.

The solution STMA selected was Calypso Systems’ ezRoom Classroom Bundle. The ezRoom solution provides everything districts need to build, manage and use "21st Century Classrooms." Compatible with all standard projects and A/V gear, the ezRoom addresses every classroom technology need. Virtually invisible to teachers and students, the Calypso system would empower the teachers with technology rather than hinder.

Teaching Without 21st Century Technologies  
    
Before STMA invested in new technology, teachers within the district had the opinion that incorporating technology into their lesson plans was often "more time than it was worth."

"The hassle associated with accessing the available technologies, such as checking out LCD projectors from the library, meant we didn’t use technology everyday," said Matt Rooker, St. Michael-Albertville Senior High School economics, government, and psychology teacher.

In order to use technology in their lesson plans, teachers had to either use LCD projectors, which were shared between multiple instructors, or go to the computer lab, which logistically cut into valuable teaching time. In addition to inconvenience, the LCD projectors and computer labs didn’t accommodate or invite student participation and feedback.

"Information flowed one way–from the teacher to the students–without the option for collaboration," said Roger Bovee, STMA’s curriculum and technology integration coordinator. "Teachers lectured their students, and the students contributed from time to time, but there wasn’t technology in the classrooms that fostered shared teaching and learning."

Although the technology available wasn’t ideal, STMA’s teachers could still see the potential in its use and longed for additional tools that allowed them to share presentations, real-life video examples, and the internet with students in an easier, more engaging manner.

Technology was taking off all around them, yet they weren’t able to bring it into the classroom like they wanted.

A Calculated Plan For New Technology

As the district grew over the years, so did its investment in technology. The district has invested more than $10 million over ten years in classroom technology by incorporating networks, servers, computers, software, printers, scanners, copiers, TVs and VCRs, and, more recently, projectors, sound systems and interactive whiteboards.

Over the span of five years, STMA was in the unique position of planning to open two schools and renovate three others, and in 2004, under the direction of Hoistad, the district took a major step toward bringing technology into daily lesson plans by equipping 25 classrooms in several schools with projectors and interactive whiteboards that were connected to a projector and computer.

A very visible district-wide project, there was a lot of pressure for this transition to be successful. Failure was not an option. For that reason, each step of the way needed to be calculated and tested before rolled out to the entire district. That was why the 25-room beta test was extremely important. The pilot project allowed Hoistad to try out equipment options in real world situations and integrate feedback from teachers as they prepared for the larger-scale district-wide rollout of the technology.

"My team and I had the ultimate plan to incorporate these new technologies into the entire district," said Hoistad. "With this in mind, it was important that the technologies were well received and ultimately used by teachers in the classrooms."

The new SMART Boards and projectors were immediately a hit. Teachers had their own systems and no longer had to check out projectors and share tools with other instructors. Students also enjoyed the freedom and creativity the new technology allowed because it let them to play an active role in the learning process.

Based on the lessons learned in the pilot program, the district equipped its Fieldstone Elementary School (opened in 2007) with SMART Boards, projectors, new sound systems and integrated media control systems.

Eliminating the Disconnect

By 2008, STMA had been actively incorporating technology in the classrooms and the district was beginning to realize the importance of integration as they prepared to install new systems in 150 classrooms.

It was clear that the district needed a sophisticated yet easy-to-use control solution with multiple inputs for audio, video and microphone that allowed teachers to toggle from one media input to another in a seamless manner.

For STMA, affordability, ease of use, and flexibility in programming and expansion were the driving decision-making criteria. After testing a separate system in Fieldstone Elementary that failed to meet the district’s needs, Hoistad and his team wanted a solution with a proven track record. To find a similar but more effective solution, Hoistad enlisted the help of Hallberg Engineering, a mechanical and electrical consulting engineering firm.

The first step in selecting a solution was to determine the scope, schedule and budget allocated for the project, followed by an assessment of the possible solutions. Working together, Hoistad and Hallberg Engineering researched the different solutions available to determine which would meet the needs of the district’s administration, technology team and especially the teachers.

After attending live demonstrations of different solutions and exploring systems that were being effectively used in other Minnesota schools, Hoistad found that Calypso Systems stood out to him above the others because of its cost-effective price. After doing some research, it was determined that Calypso’s products met the district’s other needs by being flexible, easy to use and had a proven track record in other schools.

A complete pre-assembled solution, Calypso’s ezRoom-1000 Classroom Bundle addresses the evolving technology needs of K-12 classrooms by bringing together state-of-the-art control, interface, audio and connectivity, products quickly, reliably, and cost effectively. The ezRoom bundle includes an A/V device controller, A/V switching, audio amplifier, PC user interface and an intuitive operator interface control panel – all fully integrated.

With the addition of a projector, screen and A/V source devices, the ezRoom provides the tools necessary to achieve a 21st century classroom environment. And as STMA brings new technologies and systems into its schools, ezRoom’s open-architecture platform allows for easy integration and expansion.

Before making a purchase decision, Hoistad wanted to test the Calypso solution in the district’s environment, so he put Calypso’s ezRoom bundle in an STMA test classroom to get feedback from teachers.

"The feedback that we received on Calypso was very positive," said Hoistad. "Teachers found it to be easy to use, and Calypso’s solution met all of the district’s initial requirements for a flexible, proven and cost-effective integrated media control solution."

Of similar importance in other districts, the purchase price and the life cost of the solution was a major consideration. What makes Calypso an affordable solution is not only the initial cost of the system, but also the minimal expense of installing the solution in the rooms and the low long-term cost of ownership associated with additions to the system in the future.

ezRoom Makes Technology A Convenience, Not A Hindrance

In the summer of 2008, following the test room set up, the district equipped a total of 150 classrooms in three elementary schools, one middle school and one high school with Calypso Systems’ ezRoom-1000 Classroom Bundle and Wireless Classroom Microphone.

Before the implementation began, Hoistad was concerned about having to install the systems in so many classrooms in such a short amount of time–150 classrooms in just three months, to be exact. This broke down to four rooms a day. If this schedule was not met, the district would not be ready for the school year to begin and would have rippling ramifications for the long-term acceptance of technology in the classroom–it would reinforce the view that it was a hindrance.

To Hoistad’s surprise, the ezRoom-1000 Classroom Bundles were incredibly easy to install. The solutions came as pre-assembled bundles that included all the technology pieces necessary to build out the classrooms. Almost all of the wires and working components were neatly packed inside of a metal box, which took the guesswork out of the installation. Once the ezRoom bundles were in place, the solution start-up was also simple. 

"The pre-assembled, packaged aspect of the ezRoom made installation a breeze, so the installer didn’t have to waste time dealing with cumbersome wiring. This was one of the reasons we were able to finish the installation on time," said Hoistad. "Once in place and ready to be tested, everything with the ezRooms went smoothly with very few bugs to work out. Anytime we encountered any sort of issue with the products, Calypso always provided a solution."

Like most of the recent technology upgrades, the ezRoom-1000 Classroom Bundle and Wireless Classroom Microphone were exciting to teachers, yet there was still some hesitation to dive into another new technology. Roger Bovee provided staff training and mentoring to facilitate the integration of the new technology into the curriculum, demonstrating to teachers how effortlessly Calypso Systems’ solutions made using instructional technology.

For teachers, the ezRoom bundle is an invisible component–both physically and functionally. Secured neatly above the projector, just inches from the ceiling, the box that contains most of the ezRoom’s working parts integrates with the other technologies out of sight from the teacher and the students. A button control panel on the wall is the only immediately visible indicator that a control system is in place.

In terms of functionality, the things that the ezRoom can do–such as power and drive different technologies and help teachers quickly and easily switch between multiple inputs–are "invisible" as well. The integration of the existing technologies provided by the ezRoom bundle is so seamless that many teachers have a difficult time distinguishing where one technology tool ends and the next begins.

The solution also allows teachers to do things that previously seemed too time-consuming. Debra Middleton, sixth-grade teacher, no longer uses her TV and VCR. Instead, she uses the ezRoom bundle to stream daily audio and video announcements directly through her projector. "The ezRoom bundle is simple and reliable," said Middleton. "Not only does it make navigating the technologies easier than before, I can also trust that it will always work."

Calypso’s Wireless Classroom Microphone was also a part of the technology upgrade and now acts as an extension of the teachers. Used by both teachers and students, it allows teachers to be heard over classroom chatter and allows students to speak up and participate during group activities. Students pass the microphones around the room to help them share information with the class, amplifying quiet voices and making them easy to hear by the other students.

"My students and I use the microphone system frequently to create interactive lessons," said second-grade teacher Stephanie Al-Rifai. "The student microphones allow the children to be more engaged in what we’re doing, and the teacher microphone lowers the stress level for me since I don’t have to raise my voice to be heard."

Al-Rifai even jokes that because of the wireless microphone she now experiences fewer sore throats.

Integration That Works

With the Calypso Systems solutions in place, the STMA district is finally able to measure its success by not only what technology they have, but rather by how easily and how often teachers are using technology in their daily lesson plans.

With the new Calypso Systems solutions, first-grade teacher Shannon Smith can now focus on teaching her students and not worry about how to manage and control the different technologies in her classroom.

"I want the best learning experiences for my first-grade students, but fighting with the technologies to make them work together was not something that I had time for," said Smith. "The ezRoom bundle and wireless microphone solutions allow me to forget about how the technology works, and focus on actually using it to teach the students."

As the glue that holds the pieces together and drives the easy integration of instructional technology in classrooms, Calypso Systems’ ezRoom-1000 Classroom Bundle and Wireless Classroom Microphone have provided the return on investment that the district wanted.

"In the end, the success of a project like this is measured by how often the technology is used by teachers to improve their instruction and ultimately student achievement," said Smith. "In our district, we now use technology to shape lesson plans everyday."

Wayne E. Buse, RCDD, is the senior technology consultant with Hallberg Engineering, Inc., located in St. Paul, Minn.  He has an extensive background in technology systems design and integration, and using detailed plans and specifications for clients within and outside the Twin Cities metro area.

Link:

Calypso Systems.

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Obama backs merit pay, early childhood education

With an emphasis on 21st-century education, President Obama called for better early childhood education programs, tougher teaching standards, and increased pay for outstanding educators and desperately-needed math and science teachers.

Obama stressed the danger in letting U.S. education fall behind, saying the nation’s place as a global economic leader will be put at risk if the U.S. does not do a better job of educating students.

“Economic progress and educational achievement have always gone hand-in-hand in America,” he said.  “Education is a prerequisite for success.”

The U.S. education system is in dire need of an overhaul, he said, and the nation’s ability to compete globally will be severely compromised if education is not reformed.

“Despite resources that are unmatched anywhere in the world, we have let our grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall short, and other nations outpace us,” Obama said. “The relative decline of American education is untenable for our economy. … What is at stake is nothing less than the American dream.”

The president outlined four major areas of education reform: early childhood education programs; tougher standards, assessments, and accountability; recruiting, rewarding, and supporting outstanding teachers; and promoting excellence and innovation in U.S. schools.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan will examine and evaluate education programs based on their effectiveness, he said, and funds from ineffective programs will instead be directed to early childhood initiatives.

Studies have shown that children in early childhood education programs are more likely to perform well in school, attend college, hold a job, and earn more in that job. Obama’s education stimulus package allots $5 billion for federal Early Head Start programs.

Under Obama’s reforms, states would be eligible for an “early learning grant” that Obama will ask Congress to approve, provided they develop cutting-edge programs and outline plans to raise the quality of their early education programs and prepare children for kindergarten.

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Obama decision on stem cells cheers scientists

President Barack Obama’s decision to lift the contentious Bush-era restraints on stem-cell research came with a larger message for all scientists: Follow the data, not political ideology, reports the Associated Press. "Our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values," Obama declared as he signed documents changing U.S. science policy and removing what some researchers have said were shackles on their work. "It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda–and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology." Researchers said the new president’s message was clear: Science, which once propelled men to the moon, again matters in American life. In a crowded East Room, there were more scientists in the White House than Alan Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, had seen in his 30 years in Washington. "More happy scientists than I’ve seen," he added…

Click here for the full story

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Teachers say they might tape-record students

Teachers in El Paso County, Texas, say they might begin tape-recording students in their classrooms as a means of self-protection, reports the El Paso Times. The idea arose after an El Dorado High School teenager secretly recorded an algebra teacher who went on a profanity-laced rant in the classroom. The exasperated teacher, who was recorded on a cell phone in late February, told students that they were "constantly whining." Of school, the El Dorado teacher said, "If you don’t like it, get the (expletive) out." The teacher resigned last week before a disciplinary proceeding could begin against him. Now a pair of teacher unions, in the Socorro and Ysleta districts, will seek tougher rules that forbid the use of cell phones in the classroom. They point to the El Dorado case as the reason. In addition, some teachers advocate the use of recording devices of their own to show what they face in dealing with unruly students…

Click here for the full story

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Lawsuit tackles school sports webcasts

The association that oversees high school sports in Wisconsin is suing the Wisconsin Newspaper Association and one of its papers, the Post-Crescent of Appleton, Wis., in a dispute about who has the right to broadcast high school sports contests online.

The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) filed its lawsuit in a district court in December. News of the lawsuit first emerged last week when the Post-Crescent, which is owned by Gannett Co., wrote about the case.

The complaint contends the Post-Crescent produced a live webcast of a high school football playoff game in Stevens Point Nov. 8 without the WIAA’s permission.

"We’re concerned with the WIAA’s efforts to commercialize hometown high school sports for its own purposes," Peter Fox, executive director of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, told the Post-Crescent. The association represents about 240 daily and weekly newspapers in the state.

Most WIAA members are public schools and athletic tournaments are public events, and as such, the association has no right to control news media, Fox said, adding: "It has no legal basis to enter into restrictive agreements with private businesses."

The athletic association defended itself March 6 in its legal skirmish over the rights to media coverage of the postseason tournaments it runs.

A statement issued by the WIAA said its lawsuit is motivated by principle, not money. The group said it needs to protect its ability to contract with media partners for exclusive coverage and charge "reasonable" fees for online streaming of tournament events.

The WIAA claims it owns the rights to an array of ways that media organizations cover the tournaments, including writing, sounds, and images.

The court filing said the WIAA wants the court to rule it owns any "transmission, internet stream, photo, image, film, videotape, audiotape, writing, drawing, or other depiction or description of any game action, information, or commercial use" of athletic events it sponsors.

Eric E. Breisach, an attorney with the law firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge and Rice PLLC, which counts many school systems as its clients, said the law might be on the athletic association’s side.

"For decades, owners of athletic events have controlled television and radio broadcast rights, as well as the commercial use of recordings made at the event," Breisach said. "At the high school level, these rights are typically not enforced against parents or legitimate news gathering efforts, including photographs published in newspapers or video highlights telecast on the eleven o’clock news.  Those activities are usually considered ‘fair use’ and thus would not constitute infringement."

But webcasting a game amounts to putting on a public performance of that contest, he said–a right that the association claims to hold.

"Putting content on a web page is considered ‘publishing’ or ‘performing’ the work, which–absent a license from the owner–might constitute copyright infringement," Breisach said. And though the newspaper might think it’s providing a community service, that doesn’t necessarily make it legal, he said–even if the game weren’t otherwise broadcast online.

"These issues are not unique to Wisconsin," said Breisach. With the growing influence and ease of posting content on the internet, state high school athletic associations are more aggressively trying to perfect and preserve the right to control distribution, he said, citing cost savings as a justification. 

For example, the Illinois High School Association recently tried to stop news organizations from reselling on the internet photographs originally taken as part of their news-gathering activities. Repurposing these photos for commercial gain undercut the value of the exclusive rights the association gave to the photographer, Breisach said–a photographer who was providing services for free that used to cost the Illinois association $50,000 per year.

Links:

Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association

Wisconsin Newspaper Association

 

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Measuring 21st-century skills resource center. Graduates who enter the workplace with a solid grasp of 21st-century skills bring value to both the workplace and global marketplace. Go to: Measuring 21st-century skills

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Teachers pair up for March 11 space shot

Two science teachers who have spent the past five years under NASA’s tutelage are about to graduate with high-flying honors.

The space shuttle flight of Joseph Acaba and Richard Arnold II, scheduled for March 11, will mark the first time two former teachers have rocketed into space together. And during the two-week construction mission to the international space station, both will attempt multiple spacewalks–the most dangerous job in orbit.

The flight on shuttle Discovery was delayed a month because of concerns about hydrogen-gas valves in the engine compartment. After extra tests, NASA deemed the spacecraft safe to fly.

The teachers and their five crewmates–the usual assortment of military pilots and rocket scientists–will deliver and install a final set of solar wings for the space station. With just over a year remaining until the orbiting complex is completed, the framework holding the solar wings is the last major American-made building block left to fly.

The flight comes a year and a half after the last teacher-astronaut, Barbara Morgan, went into space after a two-decade wait. Morgan was the backup in the mid-1980s for schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe, who was killed when space shuttle Challenger exploded after takeoff.

Acaba was a freshman at the University of California at Santa Barbara when McAuliffe died on Jan. 28, 1986. Arnold was fresh out of college and living in Washington, and his wife-to-be was a student-teacher.

"It definitely had an impact when you look at the sacrifices that she [McAuliffe] made and the importance that NASA put on it," Acaba said.

NASA didn’t pair the two space rookies–Joe and Ricky to their friends–because they were teachers. Each had skills that were deemed essential for this flight. For instance, both worked in the space station branch at Johnson Space Center in Houston, dealing with hardware and technical issues.

Besides setting up the new solar wings, the astronauts will deliver a spare urine processor for the space station’s balky water recycling system, tackle some maintenance work, and drop off astronaut Koichi Wakata. The Japanese Space Agency astronaut will live there for at least three months.

The mission will be so busy that NASA is keeping education-related events to a minimum. Channel One News, a newscast for teenagers, will interview Acaba and Arnold during the flight with questions coming from students’ submissions.

Acaba, 41, who’s from Anaheim, Calif., is a one-time geologist and Peace Corps volunteer who served in the Marine Corps Reserves. The first person of Puerto Rican heritage to go into space, he’ll carry that territory’s flag with him.

Arnold, 45, originally from Bowie, Md., is a trained marine and environmental scientist. Both were part of NASA’s first educator-astronaut group chosen in 2004, a year after the shuttle Columbia tragedy that killed seven astronauts.

More teachers with math or science backgrounds are expected in the next class of astronauts this spring and will receive the same training as everyone else. NASA made that the practice in 1998, when Morgan was invited to became a full-fledged astronaut. She finally made it to space in 2007.

In the mid-1980s, McAuliffe and Morgan–who has returned to education and is no longer with NASA–had minimal astronaut training.

The two professions are more alike than one might think, according to Acaba.

"Teachers have to think on their feet. They have to adjust all the time, and I think that’s part of what we do" as astronauts, Acaba said. "We train for specific things, but you never really know what’s going to happen."

Arnold still sees himself more as a teacher than an astronaut. He’s taught around the world from Morocco to Indonesia.

"I guess if you look at it mathematically, I spent 15 years teaching and I’m coming up on five years as an astronaut," Arnold said. "I haven’t morphed into an engineer yet, and I’m probably not going to."

For Jane Ashman, principal at central Florida’s Dunnellon Middle School, where Acaba taught math and science for four years, the teachers’ presence on the flight sends a powerful message to students.

"You can achieve your dream, whatever it is," Ashman said. "You can be anything you want."

Links:

NASA

Channel One News

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Measuring 21st-century skills resource center. Graduates who enter the workplace with a solid grasp of 21st-century skills bring value to both the workplace and global marketplace. Go to: Measuring 21st-century skills

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Obama wants to increase federal role in lending

President Obama last week proposed a huge expansion of the government’s role in making college more affordable and putting it within reach of more students. The move — which aims to convert all student lending to direct federal loans — will require colleges and universities to update software designed to aid the landmark transition, Education Department officials said.

Even in tough times, and in a budget full of hard choices, Obama called for a significant spending increase on education, particularly higher education. The president was following through on a campaign promise to give every child the chance to go to college or pursue some form of higher education.

In his budget plan, Obama seeks to link growth of the Pell Grant program to inflation for the first time since the program began. It would grow by more than 75 percent over the next decade.

Obama also seeks to overhaul the student loan system by ending a massive program of government-subsidized loans made by private lenders. Instead, he would boost direct lending by the government in an attempt to save money and protect students from turmoil in financial markets.

"Our basic thought is, rather than continue to subsidize banks, we want to help dramatically more students get more access to more aid," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said on a conference call with reporters.

The changes in federal aid, an Obama campaign promise, would transform a long-standing partnership between the government and the private sector.

The higher education software change will be finished before the start of the fall 2009 semester, officials said.

Stephanie Babyak, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, said "software is updated annually" for colleges and universities that participate in the federal government’s Direct Loan Program. Since Obama’s plans will move "all loans to direct loans," the software will be updated once again, Babyak said.

Higher education has seen a marked up-tick in the number of direct federal loans since last year. Through February 2008, almost 3 million student loans at 1,072 colleges were doled out, totaling $13.1 billion, according to ED statistics. As of last month, the 2009 numbers were 4.5 million loans at 1,620 schools. Loans have totaled $20 billion so far during the 2008-09 academic year.

Last year, lenders made $56 billion in loans to more than 6 million students and parents under the subsidized Federal Family Education Loan, or FFEL, program. The government set the terms of and backed the loans, and supporters say it helped students by giving them private-sector capital and good customer service.

But the public-private partnership has begun to crumble under the weight of the recent credit crisis. Hundreds of lenders have stopped making federally backed loans, and hundreds of colleges that had only offered subsidized federal loans have signed up to let their students borrow straight from Washington.

At the same time, the government has bought up tens of billions of dollars’ worth of loans to keep student loans flowing.

Obama’s plan would end subsidized student loans in 2010, though officials said private-sector lenders would still be hired to service direct government loans. Last year, the government made $14 billion in loans to 1.5 million students.

Another $18 billion is borrowed directly from private lenders, usually after students have maxed out on their eligibility for federal loans.

The budget announcement sent shares of student lending companies plummeting. Shares of SLM Corp., better known as Sallie Mae, sank 31 percent; Student Loan Corp. fell 22 percent; and Nelnet Inc. dropped 54 percent in trading Thursday.

Kevin Bruns, a spokesman for the trade group America’s Student Loan Providers, said the subsidized program has given families uninterrupted access to student loans.

"It has been a rare source of stability," Bruns said. "Now is not the time to talk about abolishing it."

The budget plan was embraced by Democrats on Capitol Hill, where House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller of California said the student loan overhaul would save billions of dollars and make student loans more reliable. Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said, "The doors to college will be far more open."

Democrats applauded Obama’s effort to keep Pell Grants growing. Lawmakers have frequently failed to do so, even as college costs zoomed.

In the 1980s, the maximum Pell Grant covered half the average cost of a public four-year college; by 2006, it covered less than a third. Pell Grants mostly support students from families earning under $30,000 a year.

Obama proposes to take Pell Grants out of lawmakers’ hands, giving the program a mandatory stream of dollars like Social Security and Medicare, and to index Pell Grants to the annual inflation rate.

The newly enacted economic stimulus bill will raise the maximum grant, currently $4,731, to $5,350 on July 1 and to $5,550 next year.

Links:

Education Department

Federal student aid web site

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Obama overturns Bush policy on stem cells

Reversing a policy established under George W. Bush, President Barack Obama on March 9 cleared the way for a significant increase in federal dollars for embryonic stem-cell research, with his advisers calling the move a clear signal that science–and not political ideology–will guide the administration.

Obama signed the executive order on the divisive stem-cell issue along with a memo addressing what he called scientific integrity before an East Room audience packed with scientists, promising that no scientific data will be "distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda."

"Promoting science isn’t just about providing resources, it is also about protecting free and open inquiry," Obama said. "It is about letting scientists like those here today do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it’s inconvenient–especially when it’s inconvenient. It is about ensuring that … we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology."

He said his memorandum is meant to restore "scientific integrity to government decision-making." He called it the beginning of a process of ensuring that his administration bases its decision on sound science; appoints scientific advisers based on their credentials, not their politics; and is honest about the science behind its decisions.

Fulfilling a campaign promise, Obama signed the order on stem-cell research that supporters believe could uncover cures for serious ailments from diabetes to paralysis. Proponents–from former first lady Nancy Reagan to the late actor Christopher Reeve–had pushed for ending the restrictions on research.

Obama paid tribute to Reeve, calling him a tireless advocate who was dedicated to raising awareness of the promise of research.

Obama’s action reverses Bush’s stem-cell policy by undoing his 2001 directive that banned federal funding for research into stem lines created after Aug. 9, 2001.

The president said his administration would work aggressively to make up for the ground he said was lost owing to Bush’s decision, though it can’t be known how much more federal money will be spent on the research until grants are applied for and issued.

"Medical miracles do not happen simply by accident," Obama declared.

Embryonic stem cells are master cells that can morph into any cell of the body. Scientists hope to harness them so they can create replacement tissues to treat a variety of diseases–such as new insulin-producing cells for diabetics, cells that could help those with Parkinson’s disease or maybe even Alzheimer’s, or new nerve connections to restore movement after spinal injury.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, criticized Obama, saying in a statement that the president had "rolled back important protections for innocent life, further dividing our nation at a time when we need greater unity to tackle the challenges before us."

Bush limited the use of taxpayer money to only the 21 stem-cell lines that had been produced before his decision. He argued that he was defending human life because days-old embryos are destroyed to create the stem-cell lines–although these are typically from fertility clinics and are already destined for destruction.

The Obama order reverses that decision without addressing a separate legislative ban, which precludes any federal money for the development of stem-cell lines. The legislation, however, does not prevent researchers from using federal funds to study those lines created without federal funding.

Researchers say the newer lines created with private money during the period of the Bush ban are healthier and better suited to creating treatment for diseases.

Obama called his decision a "difficult and delicate balance," an understatement of the intense emotions generated on both sides of the long, contentious debate. He said he came down on the side of the majority of Americans who support increased federal funding for the research, both because strict oversight would prevent problems and because of the great and lifesaving potential it holds.

"Rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values," Obama said. "In this case, I believe the two are not inconsistent. As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering."

Obama warned against overstating the eventual benefits of the research, but he said his administration "will vigorously support scientists who pursue this research."

"I cannot guarantee that we will find the treatments and cures we seek. No president can promise that. But I can promise that we will seek them actively, responsibly, and with the urgency required to make up for lost ground," he said.

It’s a matter of competitive advantage globally as well, the president argued.

"When government fails to make these investments, opportunities are missed. Promising avenues go unexplored," Obama said.

But the president was insistent that his order would not open the door to human cloning.

"We will develop strict guidelines, which we will rigorously enforce, because we cannot ever tolerate misuse or abuse," Obama said. "And we will ensure that our government never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction. It is dangerous, profoundly wrong, and has no place in our society, or any society."

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Microsoft offers tech training to fill 21st-century jobs

During the National Governors Association conference in Washington, D.C., last month, software giant Microsoft Corp. announced a new initiative, called Elevate America, that aims to provide up to 2 million people over the next three years with the technology training needed to succeed in the 21st-century economy. The initiative includes a new web site that helps students and others understand what kinds of technical skills they’ll need for the jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities of today and tomorrow, and provides resources to help acquire these skills. The web site offers several training programs from Microsoft, including how to use the internet, send eMail, and create a resume, as well as more advanced programs on using specific Microsoft applications. To provide a broader range of training programs and certification exams, Microsoft also said it would partner with state and local governments, which will make these resources available to their citizens. Pamela Passman, corporate vice president of Microsoft Global Corporate Affairs, said Florida, New York, and Washington would be the first states to offer these resources to their residents. http://www.microsoft.com/elevateamerica

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