Teens honored for their science prowess

The Washington, D.C.-based Society for Science and the Public honored the 2009 winners of the Intel Science Talent Search on March 10, recognizing 40 high school seniors for their original research projects–all of which make a profound contribution to society’s understanding of science.

Students entered a variety of project topics, including designing and synthesizing a tumor-targeting drug for cancer treatment, studying underage drinking behavior and how it is tied to teen perceptions of parental drinking and parenting behaviors, and formulating a set of hydrodynamic equations that might provide a method to better understand the first movements of the universe and could aid in the development of a quantum theory of gravity.

The top 10 finalists were announced at an awards gala in Washington, D.C., and received four-year scholarships ranging from $20,000 to $100,000. Eric Larson, a 17-year-old from Eugene, Ore., won the top award. His research project classified mathematical objects called fusion categories, which he described in certain dimensions for the first time.

Retired Army Gen. and former Secretary of State Colin Powell told the students the successes they’ve achieved at such a young age require them to give back to their peers and others.

"One of your responsibilities is that you make sure that, as you become adults you don’t turn away from citizens who are in need," he said "As you come to the top … give kindness and help the people down below, because they need you more than you’ll ever know."

U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu encouraged the finalists to continue to challenge what they know.

"Most of the great discoveries have not been discovered," he said. "[Science] is a wonderful profession to be in. There is nobility in finding out how the world works."

The 40 finalists came from 35 schools in 17 states and were chosen from more than 1,600 entries. Each finalist received an Intel Core2 Duo processor laptop computer and a scholarship. Along with Larson’s first-place $100,000 scholarship, the second-place winner received a $75,000 scholarship, the third-place winner received a $50,000 scholarship, fourth through sixth places received $25,000, and seventh through 10th places received $20,000. The remaining 30 finalists received $5,000 each.

While in Washington, students met with scientists as well as President Barack Obama, something many of the students said was the highlight of their trip.

"He asked us all to go around the room and say our names and where we were from, and when it was my turn I said, ‘I’m Liz Rao and I’m from Chicago,’ and he was like, ‘I was waiting for someone to be from Chicago,’" said Elizabeth Rao, 17.

Intel Chairman Craig Barrett, who is scheduled to retire in June, stressed the importance of education overall.

"We need to redouble our efforts as a society to make sure all people have the educational opportunities that these 40 students have had," he said.

The Intel Science Talent Search encourages students to tackle challenging scientific questions and develop the skills necessary to solve the problems of tomorrow. Over the past 67 years, Science Talent Search finalists have gone on to win seven Nobel Prizes, a Fields Medal, the National Medal of Science, and a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.


Intel Corp.

Society for Science and the Public

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


New campus safety issue: Cell phone stalking

The college student had endured months of online and cell-phone harassment from her ex-boyfriend. She ignored the barrage of eMails, changed her phone number, and dismantled online profiles to cut him off.

Then one evening, her cell phone signaled a new text message. It was him again.

"You should keep to yourself and stay away from other people," the message said, according to the student, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she feared for her safety. Her ex had found her photo online and attached it.

As text messaging has boomed in recent years, it has also given rise to so-called "textual harassment." Text messages antagonize recipients in a way that is not easily ignored: Most people are never far from their cell phones, and the gadgets tend to blink and chirp until unopened messages are acknowledged. Adding another sting, the victims are often charged by their cell-phone companies for receiving the messages.

A study of stalking by the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics released last month confirmed that stalking by texting has become a pervasive problem.

The report found 23 percent of stalking or harassment victims reported in 2006 that the stalker had used some form of cyber stalking, such as cell phone texting or eMail, to harass them. It was the agency’s first measure of the emerging practice, said Katrina Baum, one of the study’s authors.

"Technology has become a quick and easy way for stalkers to monitor and harass their victims," the report said.

And unless calling plans include unlimited texting, recipients are charged an average of 20 cents for each message sent or received, wanted or not.

"I was paying to be harassed, which is a lot of fun," the victimized college student said.

Providers such as Verizon Wireless, AT&T, and Sprint say they are willing to work with customers who are charged for unwanted messages.

Verizon Wireless handled 90 billion text messages in the last quarter of 2008 alone, more than double the number during the same period a year earlier. AT&T customers sent nearly 80 billion texts in the quarter. Sprint customers sent 41 billion in the 3rd quarter of 2008.

Having a device deliver a message tends to embolden people and provides a sense of anonymity, even when the messages can be tracked to a sender, said Jayne Hitchcock, president of the volunteer organization WHOA, Working to Halt Online Abuse.

"They would never do this to someone in person," Hitchcock said, "yet they use the faceless avenue of cell phones, their computers, or home or office phones to perpetrate the harassment."

States have scrambled to react to the new threat. Forty-six states now have anti-stalking laws that refer to electronic forms of communication, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Only four states–Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Washington–explicitly name text messaging, but laws that are less specific may also be applied to text harassment.

Last year in New York’s Kings County Court, a defendant was accused of sending six threatening text messages to a woman during a 17-hour period. The messages said the defendant was outside the woman’s house and that she would end up in the hospital.

The defendant tried to get aggravated harassment charges thrown out by arguing that text messages were not as serious as phone calls or letters and were not covered by state law, but the court disagreed.

Technological developments, "along with their many benefits, bring with them ever greater potential for abuse," the court wrote.

The college student said she walked the rest of the way home that first night her ex texted her with the uncomfortable feeling he might be crouched in the bushes, even though she knew he lived several states away.

The texts and eMails kept coming for more than a year and ranged from innocuous appeals for contact to disturbing insinuations of violence. The contact stopped in December, when the man messaged her that he had found someone else.

Customers who do feel threatened are advised to call law enforcement officials, who can then contact the provider to identify the sender.

A web site sponsored by the Family Violence Prevention Fund, Ad Council, and Office of Violence Against Women offers a textual harassment forum where teenagers and 20-somethings trade advice and experiences with overzealous or unwanted texting.

The site, http://www.thatsnotcool.com, also has eMailable reply "callout cards" that offer a lighter approach to resolve what could be a serious problem, with messages including "You’re much more attractive when you’re not textually harassing me," and "Thanks for helping me exceed my text message limit."


State laws on cyber stalking

Working to Halt Online Abuse


School scraps cell phone jammer program

Just days after testing a cell phone jammer designed to block students from calling and texting during class, a Spokane, Wash., area school has scrapped the program, MSNBC reports. Administrators at Mt. Spokane High School used the jammer during class periods last week to prevent students from texting. The jammer blocked all cell phone service within about a 30-foot radius. Administrators at Mt. Spokane tested the device, and then waited for clarification from the district as to whether the device was legal. District officials said their technology department reviewed FCC code and decided the jammer was probably not legal. They also said they were concerned about a block in communication during a potential campus emergency…

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School shooter warned of attack, in chat room

The 17-year-old gunman who went on a rampage at his former school and killed 15 people before taking his own life gave a warning in an Internet chatroom only hours earlier and said he was "sick of this life," officials said Thursday. Suspect Tim K. told others in the chat room he planned to attack his school in Winnenden, said Baden Wuerttemburg state Interior Minister Heribert Rech. Rech said the suspect wrote, "You will hear from me tomorrow, remember the name of a place called Winnenden." In the first indication of a motive in the shooting, Rech said the teenager told others in the German-language chat room that: "Everyone laughs at me, nobody recognizes my potential." "I’m serious. … I have a weapon here," Rech said the youth wrote. "Early tomorrow morning I will go to my former school." Rech said the chat had occurred the night before the attack, but a police official, Erwin Hetger, later said it was in the early morning Wednesday, about six hours before the 9:30 a.m. shooting. The youth ended the chat saying, "No reports to the police now, don’t worry, I’m just baiting you…"

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New fed funding for ed tech nears $1 billion

Nearly $1 billion — $920 million, to be more precise — in new federal funding has been appropriated specifically for education technology since February. Via the Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) program, ed-tech will receive nearly $270 million more for fiscal year 2009, thanks to the $410 billion omnibus spending measure signed by President Obama on March 11. This latest appropriation is on top of the $650 million designated in February under EETT for FY09 and FY10 as part of the economic stimulus package.

Hilary Goldmann, director of government affairs for the International Society for Technology in Education, noted in a blog entry that this level of EETT funding "for the first time in many years puts the program on an upward funding path."

Overall, federal increases in education spending totaled 7 percent in the omnibus measure compared to the year before, amounting to a $66.5 billion rise.

The 2009 federal budget appropriates $5.36 billion for school technology and other initiatives under a "School Improvement Programs" category, and this includes the EETT funding.

Also included under the School Improvement Programs is $7.5 million for Education Secretary Arne Duncan to administer in the form of national teacher and principal quality activities, as well as $5 million for a school leadership partnership initiative.

Of that $5.36 billion, $3.49 billion will be available as of July 1 and will remain available until Sept. 30, 2010, according to the legislation; and $1.68 billion will be available from Oct. 1, 2009 through Sept. 30, 2010, for the 2009-2010 academic year.

Special education funding through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act will receive $12.5 billion this fiscal year, a nearly 5-percent increase from the previous year, and that’s in addition to the $12 billion for IDEA included in the stimulus funding for FY09 and FY10.

State grants for the federal Reading First program are zeroed out in the omnibus spending bill, but in all, Title I will receive $15.7 billion this year–that’s in addition to the $10 billion in stimulus funding for FY09 and FY10.

21st-Century Learning Opportunities will receive $1.1 billion from the omnibus legislation, a 4.6-percent increase from last year. Roughly $179 million is set aside for Math and Science Partnerships in the spending measure. Rural education will receive $173 million, and state grants for Improving Teacher Quality amount to $2.9 billion.

Funding for Pell Grants jumps 19.2 percent from 2008, to about $19.4 billion.

In addition to school improvement, funding for education and ed tech also is available under an "Innovation and Improvement" category.

Within this category is $97.2 million for the Teacher Incentive Fund and $43.7 million for the Transition to Teaching program. Charter schools will receive $216 million.

Obama agreed to sign the spending bill, although aides said he was "troubled" by the so-called earmarks in the bill that Republicans and some Democrats have criticized as unworthy "pork-barrel spending." The president spoke about the need for earmark reforms on March 11.

White House officials in recent weeks have dismissed criticism of the earmarks in the bill, saying the omnibus spending measure was a remnant of last year and that the president planned to turn his attention to future spending instead of looking backward.

On March 10, Obama expanded on his ideas for education reform and emphasized the importance of ensuring that U.S. education keeps pace with other nations. In that speech, he called for better early childhood education programs, tougher teaching standards, and increased pay for outstanding educators and desperately needed math and science teachers (see story http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/top-news/index.cfm?i=57670).


U.S. Department of Education: FY2009 Budget Table


Forum calls for better data use in education

Speakers at a forum about the use of longitudinal data in education stressed the importance of comprehensive data systems that follow students throughout their educational careers–from kindergarten to college–while also protecting students’ privacy.

Participants in the Data Quality Campaign’s March 10 forum in Washington, D.C., called “Leveraging the Power of Data to Improve Education,” said that if educators are to get the most out of using data to improve instruction, information must follow students from the time they enter the education system to when they ultimately leave.

“In order to achieve success, we need comprehensive data systems that begin in preschool and last through higher education,” said Reggie Robinson, president and CEO of the Kansas Board of Regents and chair of the State Higher Education Executive Officers. “We all need to be in this together.”

Robinson said most K-12 and higher-education data systems are set up independently from one another, and information flow between them is limited. But that needs to change, he said, adding that educators can ensure the success of their students much more easily if they have access to students’ entire educational history.

“We can find out what things suggest success in transferring students, not only from K-12 to higher ed, but also from a two-year school to a four-year school,” he said.

Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, agreed there needs to be more collaboration between K-12 and higher education on data systems development.

“We need to track students through college and use those data [to make informed decisions],” he said. “There is a lot of data collection that is merely being used to create data warehouses, without there being a coherent theory of action as to what we’re doing with the data.”

Dane Linn, director of the education division at the National Governors Association’s Center for Best Practices, said data systems can capture student achievement and identify achievement gaps.

“We have a number of youngsters who we need to bring up [to speed]. We can only do that by using data to close those equity gaps,” he said. “We need the research to inform policy. That’s critical to the success of all the investments.”


Schools should see stimulus funds next month

School districts should begin receiving billions of dollars in stimulus funding within a few weeks, and administrators are advised to "spend carefully" and keep detailed records of their expenditures, the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) said on March 10.

As part of a weekly series of webinars on the stimulus package and its implications for schools, AASA Associate Executive Director Bruce Hunter described the three kinds of stimulus funding for education and revealed new insights from the federal Education Department (ED) about how the money will be disbursed.

The first pool of money is for established formulas such as Title I, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and the Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) program. Hunter said federal officials will release the first half of these funds to state education departments by the end of March, and school systems should see this money by the end of April.

For IDEA, this first installment will total nearly $6 billion, and districts will qualify based on their eligibility for IDEA funding in fiscal year 2008. The second round of IDEA stimulus funding will be released to states Oct. 1, and schools are obligated to spend all the money by Sept. 10, 2010.

For Title I, the first installment of stimulus funding will be $5 billion. To get the second half of the money, however, states will have to submit a report showing how this first half was used.

"You will have new record-keeping and reporting requirements along with the new money," Hunter told webinar participants. For that reason, he said, AASA recommends spending the money wisely.

"They want this [process] to be as transparent as they can make it," Hunter said of federal officials. He added that the stimulus money is in addition to the education funding contained in the omnibus spending bill for fiscal 2009 that Congress aimed to finish in mid-March.

ED is cautioning school leaders that the stimulus marks a large, one-time increase in federal education funding–and they shouldn’t count on having this much funding every year. Hunter said federal officials are billing these funds as a "unique opportunity to make short-term investments with the potential for long-term benefits."

In other words, he said, these formula-based stimulus grants are intended to fund sustainable projects and activities that will improve teaching, learning, and educational outcomes for all students, and especially those with disabilities.

Suggested uses for IDEA funds include buying assistive technology (AT) devices for students; training students and staff members to use AT devices; and improving data collection and reporting abilities, Hunter said. These recommendations come directly from ED officials.

Suggested uses for Title I funds include purchasing online courseware to supplement traditional school offerings; investing in staff development; and implementing longitudinal data systems to better track and improve student achievement.

The second pool of stimulus money for education consists of $53 billion in state stabilization funds. Of this pool, $39.5 billion is intended to offset cuts to K-12 and higher-education budgets, $5 billion is for a competitive grant program for states to improve education, and nearly $9 billion is for states to spend anywhere in their budgets–including, but not limited to, education.

Sixty-one percent of this money will be allocated to states on the basis of their relative populations between the ages of 5 and 24; the other 39 percent will be allocated based on their relative share of the total population.

Unlike the formula-based stimulus grants, these emergency stabilization dollars can be divvied up at the discretion of each state’s governor, Hunter said. States must submit an initial (brief) application for funding, followed by a more detailed plan for how they will use the money.

States will get two-thirds of their eligible funds within two weeks of applying, Hunter said, and the remaining third is contingent on federal approval of their spending plans. (In dire cases, he said, states might receive up to 90 percent of their share of stabilization funds right away, to prevent widespread layoffs. He cited Oregon as one state that might qualify for this exception.)

States must use these stabilization funds to restore education funding that otherwise would have been cut in their FY09, FY10, or FY11 state budgets. And while the main goal of these funds is to "create and save jobs," Hunter said, local school officials can use these funds for a wide range of uses–such as paying salaries, avoiding layoffs, and repairing or modernizing existing school buildings.

The state stabilization fund includes $5 billion to spur innovation in school reform (see "Duncan wants stimulus to transform schools"). Of this $5 billion, $4.35 billion will be awarded to states this fall through a grant competition that ED is calling "Race to the Top," and the remaining $650 million will go toward "investing in what works," Hunter said.

The final pool of stimulus money for education consists of nearly $25 billion for Qualified Zone Academy Bonds (QZABs) and $22 billion for tax credit bonds for new school construction.

QZABs are basically no-interest loans from the federal government, Hunter said; to be eligible, at least 35 percent of a district’s students must qualify for the free or reduced-price lunch program. Forty percent of these bond allocations is reserved for the 100 largest, poorest districts in the nation, he said, and up to 25 additional districts can be designated at the secretary’s discretion.


AASA’s stimulus page

ED’s stimulus page


Police shoot gunman who killed 15 in Germany

A 17-year-old gunman dressed in black opened fire at his former high school in southwestern Germany on Wednesday, killing at least 15 people before police shot him to death, state officials said.

Nine students and three teachers were among the dead, State Interior Minister Heribert Rech said.

Baden Wuerttemburg governor Guenther Oettinger said police shot the suspect after he fled the school.

Helicopters searching for him crisscrossed the area, and police warned area residents not to pick anyone up in their cars. It was Germany’s worst shooting since another teenage gunman killed 16 people and himself in another high school in 2002.

Police said the former student at the school in Winnenden, about 12 miles (20 kilometers) northeast of Stuttgart, entered it at 9:30 a.m. and opened fire, shooting at random.  About 1,000 children attend the school

Witnesses said students jumped from the windows of the school building after the gunman opened fire. Concerned parents quickly swarmed around the school, which was evacuated during the incident.

"He went into the school with a weapon and carried out a bloodbath," said regional police chief Erwin Hetger. "I’ve never seen anything like this in my life."

After the attack, the suspect fled the Albertville high school toward the center of Winnenden, a town of 28,000, Hinderer said. The teenager graduated from the school last year, police said.

In 2002, 19-year-old Robert Steinhaeuser shot and killed 12 teachers, a secretary, two students and a police officer before turning his gun on himself in the Gutenberg high school in Erfurt.

Steinhaeuser, who had been expelled for forging a doctor’s note, was a gun club member licensed to own weapons. The attack led Germany to raise the age for owning recreational firearms from 18 to 21.


Schools try separating boys from girls

Single-sex classes are being tried as an experiment to address sagging test scores and behavioral problems in a growing number of schools nationwide, reports the New York Times. Michael Napolitano speaks to his fifth-grade class in the Morrisania section of the Bronx like a basketball coach. "You–let me see you trying!" he insisted the other day during a math lesson. Across the hall, Larita Hudson’s scolding is more like a therapist’s. "This is so sloppy, honey," she prodded as she reviewed problems in a workbook. "Remember what I spoke to you about? About being the bright shining star that you are?" They aren’t just two teachers with different personalities: Hudson has a room full of 11-year-old girls, while Napolitano faces 23 boys. A third fifth-grade class down the hall is co-ed. The single-sex classes at Public School 140, which started as an experiment last year, are among at least 445 such classrooms nationwide, according to the National Association for Single-Sex Public Education. Most have sprouted since a 2004 federal regulatory change gave public schools freedom to separate girls and boys. The nation’s 95 single-sex public schools, while deemed legal, still have many critics. But separation by a hallway is generally more socially and politically palatable. And unlike other programs aimed at improving student performance, there is no extra cost…

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Montana legislators back K-12 distance learning

State lawmakers in Montana have endorsed a measure to create a new distance-learning program that would give students in every school district virtual access to both basic and advanced classes, reports the Billings Gazette. House Bill 459 was supported on a 63-34 vote March 7. The measure, introduced by Democratic Rep. Wanda Grinde of Billings, would allocate about $4.2 million to establish a virtual academy for Montana schoolkids. One-time startup costs account for about $2.2 million of that amount. "The outcome of this bill is to put high-quality education into every home in this state, no matter where that home is," said Rep. Brady Wiseman, D-Bozeman. Democrats voted as a party in favor of the teacher-endorsed measure, which also picked up 13 Republican votes. "This program is set up basically for one thing, and that’s to comply with the constitution," said Republican Rep. William Glaser of Huntley. "The [state] constitution says that there will be equal opportunity to education for every child in Montana." Under the measure, distance-learning classes would be available in core subjects and advanced areas. The classes, taught by licensed instructors, would be offered for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The bill now goes to the House Appropriations Committee, where its cost will have to be approved. If it passes that test, it would move to the state Senate…

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