L.A. Unified makes computer science accessible

With President Obama calling math and science education the key to good jobs in our future economy, Congress was told May 20 that a pilot program in Los Angeles schools has started to show promising results in computer science, reports the Los Angeles Times. Over the last five years, the program — which was established in six schools and focused on persuading more students to enroll in computer technology classes — doubled the number of African American students taking Advanced Placement computer science and tripled the numbers of Latinos and females. Although only a handful of schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District were involved, researchers said the results were so promising that the program would soon be expanded into 20 more schools. Joanna Goode, assistant professor of education at the University of Oregon and a co-leader of the program, said the key to changing student attitudes was demonstrating that what seemed like a distant subject was already at the center of their lives. "Computer science is the iPhone. It is social networking and downloading MP3s," she said. If schools approach the subject as a way to study how technology powers "the things they already do for fun, it is much more effective."

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UN agency seeks protection for children online

The UN telecommunications agency is drawing up guidelines to protect children from sexual predators operating on the internet, cyber bullying, and the temptations of online commerce, AFP reports. "We must do everything in our power to create a healthy online environment for our children," said Hamadoun Toure, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunications Union. Recent surveys have indicated that more than 60 percent of youngsters online talk in chat rooms, three-quarters are willing to share personal information for commerce, and one in five could be targeted by a predator, the ITU said. The first drafts of the guidelines released May 20 are aimed policy makers, industry leaders, parents, and children. Youngsters are advised to be smart by setting limits, being cautious about accepting online invitations, and telling someone about their concerns. But they also need to be educated as "digital citizens in an online world that has no borders or frontiers," the ITU underlined, including by installing firewalls, anti-virus software, and spotting unusual communications…

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Sixth grader wins Google logo contest

Technology prizes for you and your school, worldwide exposure, and the Google empire at your beck and call, if only for 24 hours — not a bad day for a sixth grader, PC Magazine reports. Top honors in the second annual Doodle 4 Google competition went to budding artist Christin Engelberth, 12, who attends Bernard Harris Middle School in San Antonio, Texas. Her logo doodle, "A New Beginning," will top the Google home page all day May 21. Google’s charming logo doodles have become a signature feature of the search engine’s home page, and the Doodle 4 Google contest placed the logo into the eager and imaginative hands of K-12 students across the nation, inviting them to explore the theme, "What I Wish for the World." Engelberth’s creation, which is based on her hope that "out of current crisis, discoveries will be found to help Earth prosper once more," bested a pool of 28,000 entrants…

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California considers open digital textbooks

In what could be a first-of-its-kind statewide initiative, California education leaders are working together to compile a list of free, open digital textbooks that meet state-approved standards and will be available to high school math and science classes this fall.

At the request of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Secretary of Education Glen Thomas will work with State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell and State Board of Education President Ted Mitchell to develop the list of standards-aligned, open educational resources. The advisory report is scheduled to be released by Aug. 10.

Currently, there is no statewide review of ninth- through 12th-grade instructional materials in California, said Tom Adams, director of the curriculum frameworks and instructional resources division of the California Department of Education. There is, however, a textbook adoption process in place for kindergarten through eighth grade.

"[High schools] can use [open] textbooks anyway right now, but the question is whether they’re going to invest any time and energy in them. So we’re determining if the materials are aligned to California state standards," he said.

Jessica Hsiang, spokeswoman for the secretary of education, said the initiative aims to bring state and school leaders together in a unified call to developers of digital textbook technology.

"There’s an obvious movement [toward] integrating technology in education. This initiative is exciting, because we’re bringing the top three people in California education to work together toward providing the state with digital materials," she said.

The initiative comes as California faces a $21.3 billion deficit for the fiscal year that starts July 1, and state officials are looking for solutions that can cut costs without sacrificing educational programs. On May 19, California voters shot down five of six ballot measures that would have put the state at a deficit of $15.4 billion.

Schwarzenegger and lawmakers will have to reach a new budget agreement quickly, with tax revenue coming in far below projections. Unless a compromise is struck by the end of June, the state could have trouble paying its bills by the end of July.

Political observers say state officials will have little choice but to go after even politically sacred programs, such as schools.

Last week, the governor said he will consider shortening the school year by seven days, laying off up to 5,000 state employees, and taking money from local governments, which likely would translate into cuts to police and firefighting services. Tens of thousands of teachers also face the prospect of layoffs.

"As California’s budget crisis continues, we must find such innovative ways to save money and improve services," Schwarzenegger said in a press release. "California was built on innovation, and I’m proud of our state’s continued leadership in developing education technology. This first-in-the-nation initiative will reduce education costs, help encourage collaboration among school districts, and help ensure every California student has access to a world-class education."

Officials say it’s too soon to speculate how much money using open digital textbooks could save, because use of the books will not be required.

"The local high school district has the responsibility for adopting a textbook," Hsiang said. "After the advisory report is released, the local school districts will retain the responsibility for providing textbooks. But they’ll have the ability to look at that report and decide how and if they want to adopt those books."

Even if teachers begin to use the open digital resources, Adams said there is no way of knowing if the digital books will replace current textbooks.

The digital textbooks will be "another resource at their disposal. There are some students who do not respond to certain materials and may respond better to these materials," he said.

California is asking content developers to submit digital material for review.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Links:

California Department of Education

Office of California Secretary of Education

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New device saves money on color printing

A new Xerox Corp. printer that uses solid-ink technology and a sliding price scale might be good news for schools and colleges that are trying to cut costs without taking away from administrative or classroom functions.

The ColorQube 9200 series multi-function printer family uses a waxy substance resembling a huge crayon instead of ink or toner cartridges. The technology previously had been used in smaller Xerox printers.

Xerox also said that instead of the common setup of charging enterprise customers 2 cents for black and white pages or 8 cents for color, the company will charge based on how much color a given printing job requires. Only 15 percent of the 2.25 trillion pages printed worldwide each year are in color.

That will mean a 62-percent drop in the price of color printing, according to Xerox.

"There is a fundamental barrier that we were trying to break," says Ursula Burns, the company’s president. "The world is in color; that’s what our customers want."

Teachers and staff at Old Orchard Junior High in Skokie, Ill., have been piloting the ColorQube since the end of February.

"We love it," said Joan Gerage, the principal’s secretary. "We’re using it for everything, and we weren’t prepared for how vivid the color is and how easy it is to use."

Gerage said school staff started using the printer for newsletters, and each day a teacher found a new use for the machine. The printer is now used to make pamphlets advertising school functions, for art lessons, grammar lessons in language-arts classes, and in special-education classes.

It also has saved the school time and money for various administrative functions. Gerage said the 625-student school previously had to send out its envelopes to have the school’s logo printed on them, but now envelopes are formatted in-house.

And while the school’s business manager handles the cost aspect, "from what I understand, it is a significant savings," Gerage said.

Xerox has been producing solid ink printers since 1991, but company executives say advancements in the technology–including upgrades to printer heads and speed increases–have moved the printers to the forefront.

Three features that make the ColorQube stand out are its tiered price scale, its ease of use for busy school staff, and the longevity of most of the parts, which translates to environmental consciousness, Xerox says. 

"When you think about what schools and school administrators do, it’s a pretty paper-intensive environment," said David Bates, vice president of product marketing for Xerox Office Group. 

The ColorQube uses a hybrid billing plan based on three tiers of color consumption: "useful" color costs 1 cent, "everyday" color is 3 cents, and high color coverage will cost the same as market price, Bates said.

Bates estimated that schools and colleges will rely most on "useful" and "everyday" color.

The machine creates images by printing pixels–tiny spots–of black and color on the page. It automatically counts how many color pixels are used to produce each printed page. Individual pages are tallied on three separate meters in the machine based on how many color pixels are on the particular page.

The printer has fewer moving parts, holds nearly 60,000 pages of ink at a time, and features a user video on the front panel for easy reference.

Coming out with such a printer carries risks for the Norwalk, Conn.-based company. After all, many of the color machines Xerox is looking to render obsolete are Xerox machines.

"The trick is to make sure that it doesn’t just displace the laser jets," said Angele Boyd, an analyst with the research firm IDC. Xerox will have to try to appeal to a wider market and steal share from competitors, perhaps by touting its green credentials, she said.

The company says its ColorQube produces less waste and uses less power than average laser printers.

Because the printer is cartridge-free and because other parts are lifelong parts, Bates said, it produces 90 percent less waste.

Hewlett-Packard Co., one of Xerox’s main rivals, is skeptical. Tom Codd, an HP vice president, said the solid ink printers already on the market have produced images of lesser quality than standard laser printers; colors fade and leave a waxy residue on the page that’s hard to write over, he said. And because solid ink machines have to keep the ink heated, they have tended to use more power.

Xerox concedes that quality and power use have been problems in the past. But the company says it has smoothed out the kinks.

The ColorQube does, indeed, have to keep its ink heated, said Jim Rise, Xerox vice president in charge of solid ink. Some is kept in a "molten" state, which means using more power than a laser machine when it’s idle.

But Rice says the printer more than makes up the difference by using less power while it’s running.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Link:

Xerox ColorQube 9200

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Google CEO to grads: ‘Turn off your computer’

The head of the world’s most popular search engine urged college graduates on May 18 to step away from the virtual world and make human connections.

Speaking at the University of Pennsylvania’s commencement, Google chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt told about 6,000 graduates that they need to find out what is most important to them–by living analog for a while.

"Turn off your computer. You’re actually going to have to turn off your phone and discover all that is human around us," Schmidt said. "Nothing beats holding the hand of your grandchild as he walks his first steps."

Schmidt, who holds a doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley, also received an honorary doctor of science degree at the ceremony. Penn President Amy Gutmann cited Schmidt’s "manifold contributions to putting the world at humanity’s fingertips."

"You have devoted your career to heralding a new age of learning empowered by technology," Gutmann said.

It was Schmidt’s second honorary degree in as many days. On May 17, he received one at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where he delivered a similar speech.

At Penn, Schmidt noted the Ivy League school played a key role in the technological industry by creating ENIAC, one of the world’s first electronic computers, in 1946.

"Literally everything that you see–every computer, every mobile phone, every device–descends from the principles that were invented right here," Schmidt said.

In the next 10 years, he predicted, technology will advance to the point where it will be possible to have 85 years worth of video on the equivalent of iPod.

He also urged graduates not to lay out a rigid path for themselves. Rewards will gravitate to those who make mistakes and learn from them, Schmidt said.

"You can’t plan innovation or inspiration, but you can be ready for it, and when you see it you can jump on it and you can make a difference," he said.

The Class of 2009 is graduating in a tough economic climate, but such downturns can be a time for innovation, Schmidt said. He noted that Rice Krispies, Twinkies, and beer cans were all products of the Great Depression–not to mention staples of college life.

He playfully compared today’s "Google and Facebook generation" to his own: cell phones vs. phone booths, Wii vs. Pong, blogs vs. newspapers, Red Bull vs. Tang.

Perhaps most notably, Schmidt said, members of his generation spent all their time trying to hide their most embarrassing moments. Today’s generation records and posts all those moments on YouTube, he said, drawing laughter from the crowd.

"And I am looking forward to watching these for the next 30 or 40 years," Schmidt said.

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North Carolina lawmakers want kids out of Google images

North Carolina Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton and legislators from Charlotte and Raleigh on May 19 joined a child internet safety group as one of its leaders called for Google to remove photos from its popular "Street View" service if they include children, reports the Charlotte Observer. The photos could help predators identify their targets, said Stacie Rumenap, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based web site StopChildPredators.org. The "Street View" service allows anyone on the internet to type in a physical address and get photographs showing a 360-degree view of the neighborhood. "In some instances, children have been photographed playing in the yard or walking down the street," Rumenap said. "It memorializes a child with a physical address." Privacy advocates have raised complaints about the Google service before, but skeptics contend that deleting photos is an overreaction. They argue that a predator can get in a car and drive around a neighborhood or school to find children just as easily…

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New web site prepares Colorado students for life after school

The U.S. ranks 15th out of 29 developed countries in the percentage of college students who complete their degrees, and 10th in the world in the percentage of young adults who have college degrees. To help turn those statistics around and better prepare students for the 21st century workforce, legislation passed this year requires that every Colorado ninth-grader sign up for a state-run web site that helps them plan their post-secondary life both academically and financially, reports the Denver Post. The web site, collegeincolorado.org, gets kids to identify careers they would like and shows them courses they would need for such a career in high school and beyond. Jefferson County this year began requiring its seventh- and eighth-graders to register for the site, and Denver Public Schools piloted the program a few years ago. "We are trying to get more kids prepared for post-secondary [education] and tell them that they need more education after high school," said Scott Springer, director of DPS’ post-secondary pathways…

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ACLU sues over blocked web sites

The American Civil Liberties Union and its Tennessee branch sued two Tennessee school districts in federal court May 19, claiming that the districts are unconstitutionally blocking students from accessing online information about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues.

Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, Knox County Schools, and as many as 105 other school districts in Tennessee use internet filtering software provided by Education Networks of America (ENA), which operates a statewide network connecting the state’s schools, to block web sites containing pro-LGBT speech–but not web sites touting "reparative therapy" and "ex-gay" ministries, the ACLU says.

The "LGBT" filter is not used to block web sites containing pornography, which are filtered under a different category–but it does block the sites of many well-known LGBT organizations, including Parents, Families, And Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN), and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).

"Allowing access to web sites that present one side of an issue while blocking sites that present the other side is illegal viewpoint discrimination," said Catherine Crump, a staff attorney with the ACLU First Amendment Working Group and lead attorney on the case.

"This discriminatory censorship does nothing to make students safe from material that may actually be harmful, but only hurts them by making it impossible to access important educational material."

Last month, the ACLU issued a warning to Tennessee public schools, saying that if they did not allow access to LGBT web sites, the group would file a lawsuit. (See "ACLU to schools: Stop blocking gay sites.")

According to the ACLU, no Tennessee public school has yet to comply with its request.

"We didn’t want to wait any longer to take action," Crump told eSchool News, "because we want this settled before the 2009-10 school year, before more students go through the same treatment."

The school districts block the internet filtering category designated "LGBT," which includes sites that "provide information regarding, support, promote, or cater to one’s sexual orientation or gender identity." They do not, however, block sites that condemn homosexuality or promote "reparative therapy," a practice purporting to "cure" LGBT people–a practice the ACLU says is denounced as dangerous and harmful to young people by such groups as the American Psychological Association and the American Medical Association.

The ACLU sued Metro Nashville and Knox County schools in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee. The group filed its lawsuit on behalf of two high school students in Nashville, one student in Knoxville, and a high school librarian in Knoxville who is the advisor of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA). 

In an interview with eSchool News, Crump said Knox County never replied to the ACLU’s warning, and Metro Nashville "did acknowledge our warning, but declined to formally put in writing that they would stop banning LGBT web sites."

Knox County declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying it does not discuss matters of open litigation. Metro Nashville had not returned messages left by an eSchool News reporter as of press time.

However, Metro Nashville’s response letter from May 6 is posted on the ACLU’s web site.

In its May 6 letter to the ACLU, Metro Nashville ("MNPS") says it "continues to explore the ramifications of your request. Unblocking this particular category of web sites is not a simple task. There are many issues to consider. We are in discussions with ENA … as to available technology and possible extra costs to MNPS. MNPS has not reached a final decision on your request. MNPS remains committed to reaching a resolution in the near future."

Crump said the ACLU would drop its lawsuit if the districts stop filtering what it calls constitutionally protected speech.

"Students need to be able to access information about their legal rights or what to do if they’re being harassed at school," said Keila Franks, a 17-year-old student at Hume-Fogg High School in Nashville and a plaintiff in the case. "It’s completely unfair for schools to keep students in the dark about such important issues and treat web sites that just offer information like they’re something dirty."

The lawsuit charges that blocking LGBT sites violates students’ First Amendment rights by only allowing access to sites that present an anti-gay point of view, while blocking access to sites that support LGBT rights.

According to the plaintiffs, the filtering hinders the ability of GSAs and their members to facilitate club activities and keeps students from accessing important information about scholarships for LGBT students or doing research for school-related assignments.

The ACLU first learned about the filtering from Andrew Emitt, a Knoxville high school student who discovered the problem while trying to search for LGBT scholarships. Internet filtering software is mandated in public schools by Tennessee law, which requires schools to implement software to restrict information that is obscene or harmful to minors. However, the "LGBT" category does not include material that is sexually gratuitous and already included in the "pornography" filtering category, the ACLU says.

"While schools may have an interest in using filters to block material that could be harmful to minors, blocking access to information about LGBT issues while allowing anti-gay information is unlawful and potentially dangerous," said Tricia Herzfeld, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Tennessee. "There is no place for this kind of unconstitutional censorship in our public schools."

Bryanna Shelton, a plaintiff from Fulton High School in Knox County, and a gay student, said her school told her that the sites were banned because they had nudity and inappropriate content.

"There’s no nudity, there’s nothing wrong … there’s nothing like that," said Shelton.

Bryanna’s mother, Angie Wright, said she’s shocked the school would do something like this.

"It’s disturbing as a parent, because I don’t want my child’s liberties being disqualified just because she’s gay."

Eric Breisach, an attorney with Womble Carlyle Sandridge and Rice PLLC, said the lawsuit highlights the difficulty of balancing First Amendment considerations with technological limitations.

“Selectively limiting web site access can be considered the modern-day version of book banning from school libraries—only vastly more complicated,” said Breisach, a communications lawyer who is not connected to the case. “Public school districts typically have had considerable discretion with respect to developing curriculum that instills community values; however, voluntary inquiry in a school library can defy such control. Public school districts generally cannot ban books from school libraries simply because they do not like the ideas contained in those books.”

What’s more, Breisach added, if the filtering blocks only one viewpoint, but allows access to sites expressing the opposing viewpoint, “the limitation is likely to be even more suspect.”

Crump said that if Knox County and Metro Nashville don’t stop blocking LGBT sites before the trial, the ACLU hopes the court will rule that the filtering violates the First Amendment.

"As for the 150 other districts that still block educational LGBT sites, we hope that by winning this lawsuit, it will encourage the other districts to comply with our warning and stop blocking these sites," she added.

Links:

ACLU LGBT site

Metropolitan Nashville Schools

Knox County Schools

ACLU Warning Letter

MNPS Response Letter (dated May 6)

PFLAG

GLSEN

HRC

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Stimulating Achievement resource center. Learn how to make wise spending decisions and keep track of school needs as stimulus funds become available. Go to: Stimulating Achievement

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Bill would limit credit cards for college students

Legislation passed overwhelmingly in the Senate May 19 would make it tougher for college students to sign up for credit cards, which often put young people in debt and subject them to high interest rates before they graduate and start in the workforce.

The bill–which also curbs credit card issuers’ ability to raise interest rates and card holder fees–passed the Senate 90-5, and the House is expected to vote on the legislation later this week. President Obama could sign the bill before Memorial Day, and the law would take effect early in 2010.

People under 21 would have to have parental permission before they signed up for a credit card, unless they could prove financial independence or pass a financial literacy course that demonstrated understanding of payments, interest rates, and other crucial details of obtaining credit.

The new law would affect college campuses that have become primary targets for credit card companies marketing to new customers. Lobbyists for the banking industry wrote a letter to senators this week warning that placing a new series of restrictions on credit cards would worsen the credit crunch the country has suffered through since entering an economic recession last year.

If enacted, the bill would "have a dramatic impact on the ability of consumers, small businesses, students, and others to get credit at a time when our economy can least afford such constraints," the American Bankers Association wrote in its letter.

Curbing young people’s access to credit cards will force creditors to find new ways of marketing to students who are financially dependent on their parents, said Peter Morici, an economist and professor at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.

"I would think this will make it more difficult [for students to apply for credit cards], but I don’t know if that will eliminate it," said Morici, adding that creditors may take advantage of the legislation’s loose definition of financial independence. "I don’t know how well it’ll hold up in the long run. [Creditors] want to put these cards into the hands of young people, and I believe they will find a way to do it."

College students’ increasing debt was made clear in a recent study conducted by Sallie Mae, the country’s biggest college lender. In 2004, the average college graduate had $2,900 in debt; by last year, that number had jumped to more than $4,000, according to the study, which was released in April. Eighty-four percent of U.S. college students had at least one credit card in 2008, up from 76 percent in 2004.

And students aren’t just paying for books and school supplies with their credit cards. About 30 percent of students pay their tuition with a credit card, according to the Sallie Mae study. That’s a 6-percent increase from 2004.

"Too many students are at risk of overpaying for college by pulling out credit cards to pay for textbooks or even part of their tuition bill, instead of using less expensive financial aid to cover these items," said Marie O’Malley, director of consumer research for Sallie Mae and author of the study.

College freshmen have seen a substantial increase in average debt since 2004. Only 15 percent of first-year students had no credit card debt in 2008. In 2004, nearly 70 percent of freshmen did not have any credit card debt, according to the study. Average debt for freshmen tripled from 2004 to 2008, from $373 to $939.

The need for more comprehensive training in accessing credit was made clear in the Sallie Mae research. Eighty-four percent of student surveyed said they "needed more education on financial management topics," and they thought educators should teach more financial planning in high school and the first year of college. Nearly two-thirds of students said they were surprised at how quickly their credit card debt ballooned as interest rates were tacked on to monthly balances.

Morici at the University of Maryland said federal lawmakers should be wary of placing too many restrictions on who can apply for credit cards, because credit plays a critical role in establishing financial stability for many young Americans.

"You don’t want to be too restrictive with this," he said. "A credit card is a useful tool to get through the world."

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Links:

Sallie Mae study

University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business

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