Editorial: Wags and Dogs

Default Lines for eSchool News, print edition, June 2009—"I’m so poor I can’t even pay attention," said White Sox outfielder Ron Kittle a few years back.

Our own hard times give added poignancy to his lament. In fact, recent declarations around Washington have me wondering who else is suffering from Kittle’s brand of attention-deficit disorder.

Johnny-come-lately fiscal conservatives, on the one hand, are lambasting President Barack Obama for allegedly swallowing federal provisions like an interloper at a wedding party. He’s squandering our children’s birthright, they complain.

Meanwhile, four leading ed-tech organizations have issued just the opposite objection. The president doesn’t want to spend enough to safeguard our children’s future, they say–at least not insofar as education technology is concerned.

The very day the administration released its 2010 budget proposals, the Consortium for School Networking, the International Society for Technology in Education, the Software and Information Industry Association, and the State Education Technology Directors Association issued a statement expressing their dismay . . . in unison, like the chorus in a Greek tragedy:

"The Obama administration has highlighted the nation’s need to advance rigorous college- and career-ready standards and high-quality assessments; P-20 data systems that foster continuous improvement; reforms that enhance teacher effectiveness; and effective interventions that improve student performance and increase classroom engagement. This cannot be done without leadership and expertise in technology.  

"We urge Congress to reject the administration’s dramatic cut to the Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) program (NCLB, Title II, Part D). Instead, we believe that Congress should invest in EETT at levels higher than last year’s appropriation of $269 million. The EETT program spurs innovation as well as provides teacher training and expertise in the use of technology to improve student achievement.

"With the historic level of funding provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), it appeared that the administration was prepared to invest significantly in educational technology, viewing it as an engine of change to modernize our education system. Instead, this cut stalls momentum, ignores demonstrated results, and undermines the progress being made in our nation’s classrooms through effective uses of technology to engage students, improve teacher quality, and individualize instruction for all kids."

But hold on there. As our recent story by Senior Editor Laura Devaney points out, the president’s 2010 EETT budget request doesn’t stand in isolation. It comes accompanied by the $650 million for fiscal years 2009 and 2010 contained in ARRA. So–assuming ARRA funding disbursements come in equal annual portions–the total EETT funding for 2009 would amount to $594 million. For 2010, the total would be $425 million. In other words, a two-year total of more than $1 billion would be committed to education technology under just this program.

Associations such as the four just quoted try to win for the nation’s schools the maximum support it’s possible to obtain. Squawking for more funding is part of their core mission. And that’s entirely understandable, because compared to the mountain of problems technology could help educators excavate, even $1 billion can seem like a molehill.

Nonetheless, it’s useful to recall that EETT isn’t the only deep pocket in town. eSchool News recently highlighted two other significant sources of ed-tech funding. One is the eRate. Another is the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

First, the eRate: as Managing Editor Dennis Pierce details in his eye-opening report, approximately $5 billion has gone aglimmering in this program since 1998, the victim of telecom givebacks, changing rules, fluctuating project prices, and shifting district priorities.

This has got to stop.

Making sure schools and libraries get every penny of the eRate funding they’re entitled to would be a worthy objective for the Obama administration as well as for education advocates at large. Reclaiming even a fraction of those unspent eRate funds might smartly shore up EETT funding levels, with no new funding required–especially if accompanied by more inclusive eRate-eligibility rules.

Second, BTOP: Another promising source of ed-tech funding may be found in this program’s allocations for broadband grants. Although not education-specific, more than $7 billion is available via ARRA for increasing broadband access, reports Assistant Editor Maya T. Prabhu. If educators write their grant proposals effectively, schools and colleges should be prime contenders for a major share of those new billions. (For expert advice on writing federal proposals, by the way, check out this recent Grants & Funding column by Deborah Ward.

Altogether, programs such as EETT, eRate, and BTOP amount to several billions of dollars that could become available for ed-tech projects. That’s not enough to bring state-of-the-art technology to bear on all the myriad challenges facing education, but it’s too much to overlook. So pay attention, please.

Of course, funding isn’t everything–a fact underscored by 19th century humorist Josh Billings (Henry Wheeler Shaw), who once observed: "Money will buy you a pretty good dog, but it won’t buy the wag of his tail."

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Free digital book plan is costly, educators say

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger believes schools can save hundreds of millions of dollars by using free digital textbooks, but educators are disputing that notion, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. The idea of free digital textbooks is nice, but given the associated technology costs and teacher training, they won’t save schools much money now or anytime soon, critics of the plan say. San Francisco schools Superintendent Carlos Garcia said the governor’s comments about efficiency were a "smokescreen," obscuring the fact that the proposed budget cuts will put California at the bottom when it comes to education spending nationwide. In addition, "technology is expensive," Garcia said, adding that the district has one technician for every 3,000 computers. The governor’s office acknowledged that "hundreds of millions of dollars" in savings isn’t going to happen this year. Yet, the governor’s initiative will give schools and teachers more flexibility and options, allowing them to print, download, or project on a screen the content that’s available digitally, said Jessica Hsiang, spokeswoman for State Secretary of Education Glen Thomas. "We are finding efficiencies and it is a way for schools to stretch their dollars," she said…

Click here for the full story

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Official: Some Pakistan students still captive

More than 40 students from a military school whose convoy was ambushed by Taliban militants in Pakistan’s lawless tribal region are still being held captive, a school official said June 3, contradicting the military’s claim the entire group had been freed.

A string of buses ferrying students and staff out of the restive territory was ambushed on Monday night, but the chief military spokesman said all those seized were rescued hours later. The spokesman did not immediately return calls on Wednesday.

The ambush was one example of increasing militant attacks in recent weeks in South and North Waziristan–along the Afghan border–in what authorities say is an attempt to distract the military from its offensive against the Taliban in the nearby Swat Valley region.

Javed Alam, the director of studies at Cadet College Razmak, told The Associated Press on June 3 that 42 students and three teachers from the school had not been rescued, and some had been allowed to call home.

"Two or three of the abducted students were allowed by their captors to talk to their parents," Alam said. "During their brief phone conversation, they said that they were being treated well, they were being given food, but we have no idea exactly where they are being held."

No ransom or other demands were made, and the captors did not identify themselves, he said.

The details of Monday’s raid remained murky, with different officials giving differing accounts–some claiming that up to 500 people had been taken.

Alam said 113 students and five teachers were abducted in the initial ambush, and all but one busload of people was recovered when the army challenged the kidnappers at a checkpoint. Shots were fired, but no one was injured in the rescue, the military has said.

The ambush also came as thousands of residents fled North and South Waziristan because they expect the military to launch a new phase in the campaign against militants. The military says it is responding to militant attacks there, but has not started a broader campaign.

The area is a longtime stronghold of the Taliban and al-Qaida, and U.S. and other officials say the militants are using it as a base to plan and launch attacks on international forces in Afghanistan.

Richard Holbrooke, U.S. President Barack Obama’s special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, was due in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad on Wednesday for talks on the offensive against the Taliban and the refugee crisis it has triggered.

Some 3 million people have fled the Swat region in the past weeks, with hundreds of thousands living in sweltering camps just south of the conflict zone and the rest renting or staying with family or friends.

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Online school implements game-based course

Florida Virtual School (FLVS) is set to launch what it describes as the first complete online game-based course for high school students. School officials and the game’s creators hope the course will help engage students who struggle in traditional classroom settings.

The game is called Conspiracy Code, and it’s the first in a series of online game-based courses created by 360Ed Inc., an educational game development company, and FLVS. The first Conspiracy Code course fulfills a full credit of history and is aligned with state and national standards.

The project began in 2005 when Ben Noel, chief executive of 360Ed, met Julie Young, president and CEO of FLVS. Noel had been working with the University of Central Florida to get more involved with education, and FLVS had been looking at gaming and its potential as a learning tool for a few years.

"We’re always asking, ‘What’s next?’" said Andy Ross, vice president of global service for FLVS, in an interview with eSchool News. "We’ve always been thought leaders, and with Ben’s help, we knew we could create something great for students."

Although FLVS had never implemented gaming into its curriculum before, Ross said school leaders recognized that "there are many different types of learners, not just one. And for those students who are not traditional classrooms learners, perhaps this could help."

Noel, his development team, and FLVS decided to form a partnership, each funding the research and development needed to create a successful educational program. 360Ed would create the game, but FLVS assigned a curriculum specialist and other personnel to guide the company in creating a game that teachers, students, and state education officials would approve of.

"Altogether, it was a 14-month development process and a four-month beta process cycle," said Noel.

In this first course, students adopt the roles of fictional characters in an espionage-themed adventure game set in the fictional metropolis of Coverton City. In the 3D game, students must build their knowledge and understanding of American history to stop a vast conspiracy that is threatening to erase and change the course of history.

"We decided to create our first game around American history, because when looking at the state standards in other subjects like math and science, we realized that the humanities are more liberal in structure and more flexible in the curriculum," said Noel.

"Plus," said Ross, "we wanted to base this on one of our most popular courses, and American History at FLVS is in the top 10."

The game is built on a foundation of challenges and missions that allow students to learn progressively, says the company. Based on each student’s understanding of content and the use of clues, students self-select their path and pace through the course.

As they follow a sequential learning path, they master complex ideas before moving on to the next level, or mission.

Along with the story, Conspiracy Code also offers what the company describes as "educational technologies to improve retention and increase comprehension." These technologies include a Data Map–a 3D visual mind map, with tags and keywords for each piece of historical information collected–that students populate with associations and complex relationships, a tagging system, a note-taking system, and the ability to conduct character interrogations.

The course is a full-year course, but because FLVS is an online school, students can proceed at their own pace. However, teachers are always there to monitor students’ progress and make sure they do the work, school officials said.

FLVS and 360Ed say the course offers a learning environment that promotes many 21st-century skills, such as problem solving, communication, and collaboration, through activities such as playing concept-practice games; responding to various types of questions; writing assignments and essays; completing authentic, game-based assessments; and participating in discussion-based assessments.

Certified teachers participate alongside students to encourage them, offer instant feedback (using the information and tools embedded in the web-based communication system), and challenge their comprehension of content through a variety of assessments.

Student work is tracked and documented using a web-based Student/Teacher interface. This system collects information about the amount of time a student spends on assessments and evaluations, student-to-student collaborations, and time on task with each mission.

Teachers also use written and verbal assessments embedded in the course to determine how well a student is progressing and to monitor their mastery of content and comprehension of concepts. Teachers use authentic game-based assessments to assign grades.

"We wanted this to be scalable for the future," said Noel. "That means we made sure to control the cost, and now that we have all of the content management systems … created, it will only take about six months to develop a new course in the future."

Noel said 360Ed created the game to cater to a broad range of students. "While your PC does have to have a 3D video card, we created the game with low specs to make it more usable, and we’ve added many tools to help the potential student use the game," he said. "For example, before you even access the game, you can run a test to see if your computer is compatible."

So far, though the course is still in beta testing, 65 students have signed up and have completed the first part–and they’ll continue with the course this fall. Two teachers, both certified in American history, are in charge of the course.

"Conspiracy Code is everything I would have liked to do in my brick-and-mortar classroom but didn’t have the time or resources to accomplish. It engages kids through game play, but challenges them to interact with history in the most creative, research-based methods available," said David Wilson, FLVS American History teacher. "There is a higher level of critical thinking involved, project-based learning, student collaboration, authentic assessment, and plenty of reading and writing. At the end of the day, I know my students are becoming excited about history, and I know that this course will inspire many students."

According to Ross, participating students are learning differently, too.

"The teachers are coming back and saying that when [students] talk about history, it’s not just reciting facts. They talk about history as a storyteller–like they’ve actually experienced the history. That’s how this game is changing learning," he said.

Ross said the most common response he hears from students who have played the game is, "I wish all my other courses were like this one."

Noel said the project’s next step is to look at the research after the beta test and fine-tune the game. Also, he plans to add multi-player capability in the next version, as well as other tools to help student collaboration.

"The University of Central Florida is also going to study the effects of this type of learning through gaming on the brain," said Noel. "In the near future, they will be using fMRI data … to look at this game and its effects on students."

Links:

Florida Virtual School

360Ed

Conspiracy Code

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Empowering Education Through Technology resource center. Integrating technology into the classroom can be a challenge without the right guidance. Go to: Empowering Education Through Technology

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WebNotes allows users to annotate web pages

To help students with online research, Boston-based company WebNotes created a web-based highlighting and "sticky note" tool that allows users to compile information from multiple web pages to organize and share their findings.

"Users can capture information that’s important and share it with other people," said Ryan Damico, chief executive officer and co-founder of WebNotes. "We’ve been able to create a robust tool for academics and professionals to use for research."

Damico and his partner Alex King began developing WebNotes about two years ago after seeing a need for a product that allowed students to annotate web pages for research purposes–and especially group research.

Damico said he has seen other web-based annotation services, but most are based within social networking tools and create problems with productivity.

WebNotes is the free, basic version of the tool, which allows users to highlight text and attach virtual "sticky notes" to web pages as they browse the web. WebNotes Pro, which costs $10 a month, allows users to highlight in multiple colors and to annotate PDF files as well as web pages. The WebNotes tools can be installed as a toolbar or as a bookmarklet (a small computer application stored as a URL in a web browser) if a user doesn’t want to download software to his or her computer, Damico said.

While viewing a web page, WebNotes Pro allows users to make annotations by either highlighting passages in different colors or adding sticky notes to the document.

"All of the annotations are automatically saved to the WebNotes account. And it’s web-based, so you can see your annotations from any computer," Damico said.

WebNotes not only allows users to save and share annotated web pages more easily, but it helps cut down on printing costs, Damico said.

"We’re not just improving research, but we can help the environment and save people money at the same time," he said, adding that most employees say they print so many web pages because they need to physically annotate the document and place it on someone’s desk to share. Damico said WebNotes addresses both of those needs.

Users were able to participate in an invitation-only beta version of WebNotes beginning in December 2008. Dan Morrill, program director of computer science and information systems at City University of Seattle, said about 10 students in his department used WebNotes on a trial basis for two quarters beginning in January. The school already plans to purchase the tool July 1 with the new fiscal year.

"I was looking for a product that would make writing papers easier for students and make our lives easier from a research perspective," he said.

Morrill said students used the tool for group projects, papers, and presentations.

"It’s an easier way to share information," he said. "We [faculty] even used it when we were applying for grants. We found the information on the web, annotated the pages, and sent them to our grant writer."

WebNotes also has organizing, sharing, and reporting capabilities, with which users can organize annotated web pages in searchable folders, eMail annotated pages, and  produce automatically generated reports in PDF or HTML format, Damico said.

In the future, Damico hopes to expand the software’s ability to generate citation lists, something he said was requested by beta users.

"The future will depend on the feedback we get from the users," he said.

Link:

WebNotes

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46 states, D.C. plan to draft common education standards

Forty-six states and the District of Columbia have announced an effort to craft a single vision for what children should learn each year from kindergarten through high school graduation — an unprecedented step toward a uniform definition of success in American schools, reports the Washington Post. The push for common reading and math standards marks a turning point in a movement to judge U.S. children using one yardstick that reflects expectations set for students in countries around the world at a time of increasing global competition. Today, each state decides what to teach at each grade level, but critics think some states set the bar so students can pass tests but ultimately are ill prepared. Led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the effort aims to define a framework of content and skills that would be "internationally competitive." Once the organizers of the effort agree to a proposal, each state would decide individually whether to adopt it. The nearly complete support of governors for the effort — leaders in Texas, Alaska, Missouri, and South Carolina are the only ones who have not signed on — is key. Many Republicans oppose nationally mandated standards, but there is broad support for a voluntary effort that bubbles up from the states…

Click here for the full story

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Effort to reshape U.S. schools faces challenges

As chief executive of the Chicago Public Schools, Arne Duncan closed more than a dozen of the city’s worst schools, reopening them with new principals and teachers. Now Duncan, President Obama’s education secretary, wants to take school turnaround efforts nationwide on a scale never tried before, though he faces many obstacles, reports the New York Times. In speeches and interviews, Duncan said he would press local authorities to close thousands of the country’s worst schools, the dropout factories where only a tiny fraction of students are reading at grade level, and reopen them with new staff members. Duncan appears to have the money to drive the effort. Experts estimate the cost of overhauling a failing school at $3 million to $6 million. Duncan controls $3 billion in the economic stimulus law that could go to school turnarounds, and the administration’s 2010 budget requests $1.5 billion more. Still, "closing a school is the most difficult task any superintendent or school board can attempt, and not many succeed," said Terry Mazany, who watched Duncan’s school makeovers as chief executive at the Chicago Community Trust. Duncan wants to see 250 schools closed and reconstituted next year. That would mean dismissing thousands of teachers next spring, hiring replacements, and opening newly reconstituted schools in fall 2010…

Click here for the full story

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Communication is even more important during tough times

Times are tough. More students are homeless and hungry. More school employees are getting laid off. People who normally don’t worry much about their personal finances are worried now.

With anxiety and stress rampant, school leaders need to focus more time and attention on communications.

Simple things, such as stopping by classrooms and offices more frequently to check in with staff about how they’re doing and offering a pat on the back or a sympathetic shoulder, often mean the most. Students need to know they’re more than just a test score; staff members need to know they’re more than just another line item on the budget.

During a crisis–and make no mistake, this is a crisis–visible leadership is critical. School board members, superintendents, and other district-level administrators need to get out of the central office and into the schools, cafeterias, maintenance facilities, and transportation depots.

Technology can help. North Carolina’s Guilford County Schools (GCS), for example, has created a special Employee Support Center online to help staff cope with job loss and stress.

The site puts information regarding benefits, reduction-in-force policies, job openings, and the employee assistance program in one place to make access easier. Links to services, from human resources to local food banks, support groups, and crisis assistance programs, are included as well.

GCS also has devoted a special section on its web site to keep employees, parents, and the public informed about the district’s budget. Updated frequently, this site includes spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations, press releases, public hearing dates and times, and answers to frequently-asked questions, as well as information about state budget cuts and federal stimulus dollars.

With North Carolina’s budget outlook worsening daily, GCS Superintendent Maurice "Mo" Green also sends weekly, sometimes daily, eMail messages about budget issues to staff members, so they hear it first from him, rather than the news.

While facts are important, school administrators should take the time to outline what they’re doing to support employees and how they’re trying to soften the blow by placing staff as positions become available through attrition.

Often, the tone matters more than the message. "As we continue to work through the economic crisis facing our nation, state, and community, I encourage each of you to take a moment or two to reflect on the good work you are doing, and the good work your colleagues are doing," wrote Green. "Then tell someone about it. While we can’t choose the situation we’re in, we can choose how we respond to it."

The district also eMailed a toolkit to principals and senior staff members that included information and tips about recognizing and managing anxiety, stress, and depression in students and staff. The information came from the National Association of School Psychologists and other credible mental health resources.

Empathy is important. Employees need to know their bosses care. Reeling from wave after wave of bad news, employees are going to feel frightened and frustrated. After receiving Green’s eMail message, an employee responded with the following:

"I don’t want much of your time; I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for the eMail below. I am one of those employees whose future is uncertain due to the budget-driven reductions. I was starting to feel as though I was just a ‘line item’ and dollar amount for GCS (the media will make you feel that way). However, the timing of your eMail was just right; it made me feel hopeful. I appreciate you keeping us updated, and it is good to know the district is working diligently to find homes for us."

Employees who are being laid off now, or next school year, are going to feel hurt, angry, embarrassed, and a host of other emotions as they work through the pain and uncertainty of job loss and cycle through the grieving process. Others, often the ones employers really need to worry about, are simply going to shut down and go numb.

Students whose families have been caught in the economic tsunami are going to experience the same range of emotions and mental health challenges, and they might be more likely to act out in school. Providing students and staff with a safe place, time, and emotional support as they work through these issues will help them deal with stress in a healthy way and will promote healing.

When times are tough, most experts agree, leaders should try to "over-communicate." Districts also might need to activate their crisis response teams, deploying additional counselors and other supports to schools and departments that are particularly hard hit.

Sadly, when times are tough, mental health concerns escalate. Police and social service agencies in many communities are reporting more suicide attempts, domestic violence, and child abuse and neglect. While most educators rightly focus on student needs, it’s important to note that employees are not immune to these pressures.

As the school year winds down and we head into summer, we need to keep our doors and the lines of communication open, so we can continue to support the people who matter most: our students, their families, and our employees.

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Obama budget could expand college enrollment

As Congress begins hearings on the federal budget for fiscal 2010, officials at traditional universities and online colleges alike said President Obama’s budget proposal would make grants available to more college students and encourage adults to earn degrees and bolster their resumes during an economic downturn that has seen the job market stagnate.

The Obama administration’s federal education budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 includes a major shift in the Pell grant program, which would increase by 13 percent–making more money available while expanding eligibility. The maximum Pell grant under the new plan would be $5,500.

The federal government would continue to offer direct lending as college applicants struggle to find lending companies willing to loan tens of thousands of dollars every school year. Obama’s 2010 budget proposal also alters the federal Perkins loan program to encourage more opportunity for low-income applicants. Universities and colleges that provide need-based aid for students would be rewarded with Perkins funds, which would increase from the current $1 billion annually to $6 billion in the newest budget plan.

Excelsior College, a 33,000-student online institution based in Albany, N.Y., saw the number of students using Pell grants double from January 2008 to January 2009, especially among adult learners returning to higher education.

"The economic downturn, combined with the [increase] in financial aid, is triggering a much stronger interest for adult students," said Paul Shiffman, Excelsior’s assistant vice president for strategic and governmental relations. "It is important for us to recognize that we have a burgeoning adult population that is coming back for more education and to revamp their skills so they can remain viable in the workforce. It’s almost become a necessity."

Online colleges and universities are benefiting from the wave of federal dollars alongside their brick-and-mortar counterparts, thanks to a 2005 law that made web-based students eligible for Pell grants and other federal assistance, Shiffman said.

"For the most part, [the federal government] did not recognize part-time adult learners" before the eligibility was altered, he said. "But we’ve seen that … financial aid equals access."

Michigan State University has had a 27-percent increase in Pell-grant recipients over the past year, said Val Meyers, the university’s associate director of financial aid. About 8,900 Michigan State students will receive Pell-grant aid in 2010, a jump from the 7,000 who received the assistance during the 2008-09 school year.

The average amount of aid per student has increased, too. The average Pell-grant recipient at Michigan State received about $3,400 last year. In the coming year, the average student will get $4,300 from the Pell grant program, Meyers said.

"Where I think it has the most use is to let nontraditional students into college," Meyers said, adding that bolstered aid programs have attracted adults who have been laid off or had hours cut back during the current recession. Job-placement officials often tell out-of-work adults about the newest rounds of college financial aid, and universities have seen a corresponding enrollment spike, she said.

"But what I see happening for many institutions is that they will become more selective, because the number of applicants continues to grow," Meyers added.

States nationwide have seen marked increases in college enrollment, with many officials crediting the increased availability of financial aid. The Minnesota State College and Universities system announced this spring that enrollment in all state institutions had jumped by 4 percent since 2008, with the largest increases coming at Minnesota’s two-year colleges.

Some two-year schools have seen double-digit enrollment jumps since last year. Northeast Alabama Community College announced a 13-percent increase, and college officials believe that number could rise to more than 15 percent. The college now has a record-high 2,708 students, according to its web site.

Obama’s 2010 budget proposal also aims to simplify the financial aid application process. The complexity of the applications forms have elicited gripes from students, parents, and college administrators in charge of processing student aid paperwork, officials said.

Applicants have long complained about having to resubmit the same personal and financial information every year when it comes time to renew financial aid. Most of that information remains unchanged, but parents and students must repeat the arduous process to apply for continued aid every school year.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form–complete with more than 100 questions for applicants–has not been changed since the early 1990s. Simplifying the process could mean trimming FAFSA to just a few pages, higher-education officials said.

"There’s a sense that the feds have the same answers to the same questions in five different places," Shiffman from Excelsior College said. "It is overly complex. … To have to repeat the process on an annual basis is just crazy."

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School security breaches on the rise

Increases in physical and network security breaches among K-12 school districts are hampering schools’ efforts to improve their overall security, according to the third annual School Safety Index, a survey of more than 400 K-12 district IT and security directors conducted by CDW-G.

The survey measures 10 indicators and four “contraindicators” and sets a national benchmark that gauges the current state of school security.

It found that in the last 12 months, 55 percent of districts reported experiencing an IT breach, including unauthorized user access, hacking, or a virus. Sixty-seven percent experienced a physical breach, such as an unauthorized person in the school building or vandalism.

Despite increases in the number of reported security breaches, three-quarters of survey respondents rated their cyber and physical security measures as adequate.

Most IT breaches reported in the survey originated internally–41 percent from students and 22 percent from staff or employees. Districts reported that physical security breaches are caused by unidentified persons 42 percent of the time and by students 37 percent of the time.

And remaining unchanged for the third year in a row are districts’ top IT and physical security barriers: lack of funding, too few staff resources, and the need for more security tools.

CDW-G conducted this year’s survey with the goal of understanding not only what tools schools are using, but how they are implementing those tools and how school leaders view the state of school security today, said Bob Kirby, vice president of K-12 education for CDW-G.

“Districts reported gains in important areas such as securing buildings and networks, but many are missing the opportunity to counter increased breaches by sharing best practices with other districts and engaging district administrators regularly on security priorities and investments,” Kirby said.

The 2009 School Safety Index found that, on a scale of zero to 100 (where zero indicates the lowest security level and 100 indicates the highest), the national cyber security average is 22.2. That’s down from 38.6 in last year’s survey. Eighty-eight percent of responding districts are using wireless networks, and 92 percent are using some type of encryption to protect data. Sixty-five percent of schools that do not currently have wireless networks are considering or will implement one within the next year.

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