The Journey through Hallowed Ground

Of the Student, By the Student, For the Student, a service learning project created by students of the Harpers Ferry Middle School to present the story of the John Brown Raid to other youths during the 150th anniversary of the event that lit the fuse that touched off the Civil War, is presented to the public for the first time.

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Oregon House passes bill limiting online charter schools

A bill that puts the brakes on online public charter schools in Oregon narrowly won approval in the state House of Representatives, reports the Statesman Journal of Salem. After 90 minutes of contentious debate, the House voted 31-28 to pass Senate Bill 767. The bill now heads to a conference committee before returning to state lawmakers for final approval. The bill creates a task force to study virtual charter schools. It also places a two-year moratorium on new virtual charter schools and limits enrollment at existing virtual charters. Supporters of the bill say online schools were not even considered when the state wrote its charter school law 10 years ago. Oregon currently has about 4,000 students enrolled in nine virtual charter schools. The bill is necessary to make sure virtual charter schools are financially accountable and provide equal access to all students, they say. But opponents say the bill’s real intent is to kill the state’s largest online charter school, Oregon Connections Academy, which has 2,700 students this year. Most of those students do not live in the Scio School District, which sponsors the charter. They accused the bill’s supporters of bowing to the demands of the Oregon Education Association, which backed the bill…

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Pearson acquires stake in two more education companies

Educational publisher Pearson announced on June 24 that it is partnering with an Indian education company and an internet tutoring firm as it increases its focus on the huge Indian market, the New York Times reports. Pearson is buying half of the vocational training business of Educomp Solutions, a New Delhi education company that creates software and training systems for 23,000 schools. Pearson also is buying a 17.2 percent stake in TutorVista, an online tutoring company that brings together Indian tutors and American students. Together, the deals are valued at $30 million, Pearson said, but the company did not provide more financial details. Pearson has been building its education business in China and Latin America in recent years and hopes to broaden its focus to include India. Educomp makes classroom plans, trains teachers, audits schools, and sells information technology plans to computerize classrooms. TutorVista provides online math, English, and science tutors for students from kindergarten through 12th grade. The online tutors, who are based in India, cost about one-fifth of those based in the United States, Pearson said…

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Cheaper eBook reader challenges Kindle

With the popularity of electronic reading devices on the rise, and a handful of colleges set to pilot Amazon.com’s Kindle DX this fall, a new eBook reading device from New York-based Interead, called the COOL-ER, offers a less expensive alternative that its creator, Neil Jones, says educators could find appealing.

"I thought about what readers need from an eBook. The COOL-ER is 45 to 50 percent lighter than our closest competitors. So it’s light in [students’] hands," said Jones, founder and chief executive officer of Interead.

The COOL-ER weighs 6.3 ounces, is 8.6 millimeters thick, and comes in eight colors, such as sky blue, vivid violet, and cool pink. Jones said the freedom to choose the COOL-ER’s color could make the device more appealing to a child. He said school leaders could choose to provide COOL-ERs to their students in the school’s colors.

"The use of technology is a great stimulus to children, and it especially seems to have a big impact on boys. … Many 14-year-old boys think reading is uncool, and they start losing interest," he said.

The COOL-ER costs $249–that’s $240 less than the Kindle DX, $110 less than the Kindle 2, and $50 less than the Sony Reader, according to Interead. It uses e-Ink display technology, which replicates the experience of reading a book more faithfully than an LCD screen, although–as with the Kindle–its images cannot display in color.

Liz Pape, president and chief executive officer of Virtual High School (VHS), said her company recently began using an Advanced Placement biology textbook in eBook format and plans to expand the use of eBooks next school year.

Pape said she had no data on how VHS students were accessing their electronic texts, but having an affordable eBook reader could be helpful for students.

"Any time we can digitize resources for our students and make [them available] 24-7, it has a place in education," she said.

The COOL-ER can read any JPEG, PDF, or TXT document or any ePub-formatted eBook. It also supports eight languages, which could enable the device to aid in learning new languages.

"The operating system runs in eight languages, so this is the first time an eReader can be used in education in another language," Jones said. "So, for example, in the Hispanic community, a user can improve [his or her] English by using the operating system in Spanish and reading a book in both English and Spanish at the same time to help with learning."

Christopher Dawson, technology director for the Athol-Royalston School District in Massachusetts, said many of the complaints he’s heard about the COOL-ER center on the fact that it doesn’t have built-in wireless capability.

"In educational settings, though, the wireless piece actually isn’t an asset," Dawson wrote in a review of the COOL-ER for the technology web site ZDNet. "Since it supports PDF and the e-Pub standards, … getting content to kids actually becomes fairly easy. The anti-Kindle-ness of the whole thing, as well as the $249 price tag, suddenly starts making the COOL-ER a very tempting option."

Still, the emergence of netbooks, or low-cost laptops, is the "elephant in the room" for eBook reader devices, according to Dawson. For nearly the same price, "you can get a fully functioning computer that can also display eBooks in color," he explained.
 
Jones said Interead is in contact with schools in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Spain to see if they would like to test the COOL-ER as a study aid this fall.

The COOL-ER can store up to 700 books. A few classic texts, such as Pride and Prejudice and Don Quixote, come with the device.

Books can be purchased for the COOL-ER from any web site that offers eBooks, Jones said, and Interead also operates an eBook store of its own.

Links:

COOL-ER readers

COOL-ER books

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Feds simplify financial aid form

The Obama administration on June 24 announced its first steps toward making it easier to apply for federal college aid, and technology is playing a key role in the simplification process.

President Barack Obama wants to make the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA–which, at 153 questions, drives millions of families to give up before they finish it–much more user-friendly as part of a sweeping plan to put higher education within reach of more students.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who announced the changes at the White House, said the goal is to boost college enrollment among low- and middle-income students.

"We have to educate our way to a better economy," Duncan said in a statement.

The proposed changes come as demand for aid is rising. Last year, after the recession had begun, the number of applications rose by 12 percent to more than 16 million, according to the Education Department (ED). Detailed estimates are not yet available for last year, but of all full-time college undergraduates in 2007, 58 percent applied for aid, and 47 percent received it.

Still, many who are eligible do not apply. The American Council on Education, in a 2004 report, estimated that 1.5 million students probably would have been awarded Pell Grants had they applied for them. That was up from 850,000 such cases in 2000.

Students and their families must fill out the FAFSA to get any type of federal aid or loan. The form also is used for state and college aid programs.

The administration is taking three steps to simplify the form, which some consider more complicated than a tax return:

• Shortening and streamlining the online application, reducing the number of screens by about two-thirds;

• Creating a web application to use tax data that families already have submitted to the IRS, helping to eliminate confusion in answering questions; and

• Asking Congress to pass legislation that removes more than half of the financial questions on the form.

The proposal drew warm responses from two of the congressional committee chairmen who will help decide its fate, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.

Since May, ED has provided instant estimates of Pell Grant and student loan eligibility, rather than forcing applicants to wait weeks. And beginning this summer, it says, enhanced skip-logic used in the new web-based FAFSA will reduce user navigation for many applicants by more than half.

The new college aid form likely will become part of a larger student aid bill centered on Obama’s plan to end a massive program of government-subsidized college loans in favor of direct lending.

That program provides an estimated $5 billion a year in subsidies to private banks, and Obama needs the money to pay for his massive expansion of federal aid. Obama wants to increase the Pell Grant program for low-income students by 75 percent over the next decade.

Lenders are gearing up for a fight over the administration’s direct-lending plan, however. (See "Duncan: Students, not banks, on ED’s agenda.")

Links:

Free Application for Federal Student Aid

American Council on Education

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Kids cheating with tech, but are schools cheating kids?

The results of a survey suggesting that 35 percent of middle and high school students with cell phones have used them to cheat at school is indeed alarming, writes technology columnist Larry Magid for CNET, but “I’m just as appalled at how schools are cheating kids when it comes to technology.” Magid continues: “…In addition to admonishing kids about why it’s wrong to cheat, perhaps it’s also time to rethink what it means to evaluate students in the age of the internet and omnipresent mobile devices. This survey might also present an opportunity for educators to re-evaluate the type of tests they’re giving. I think there is a role for tests that measure a student’s ability to quickly acquire and interpret information through mobile devices, even if they know nothing about the subject prior to sitting down for the test. … As Peggy Sheehy, a library media specialist from Suffern, N.Y., put it: ‘We can’t teach 21st-century literacy and assess with 19th-century methodology. We have to look at what we really need students to be able to do when they leave us.’ …”

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Robotics program a FIRST step toward technology careers

Throughout the region, high schools are adding FIRST robotics programs to encourage the study of engineering and related fields, while teaching collaboration and other 21st-century skills, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. FIRST means "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology." This school year, the program was offered in 29 area high schools, up from 25 in 2006. A nonprofit based in Manchester, N.H., FIRST simultaneously encourages competition and collaboration. The Chestnut Hill Academy-Springside School robotics program, which began seven years ago in a closet, now has its own facility, a 1,600-square-foot laboratory in Chestnut Hill’s new Rorer Center for Science & Technology. That is where the 24-student team constructed Taz, the cylindrical sweeper that took third place among 350 teams at April’s national championship in Atlanta. The youngest member of the Chestnut Hill Academy-Springside School robotics team shares common ground with internationally renowned physicists. Jeffrey Ng, 15, the team’s programmer, works with the same tools used by scientists to study the effects of the Big Bang and the origins of the universe. "The programming software they use . . . is the same language that powers our robot," said Peter Randall, Chestnut Hill Academy’s director of technology and robotics program mentor. "Our students are learning real-life skills as they apply to the subjects they’re learning in the classrooms…"

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Carnegie Corporation: ‘Do school differently’

Urging the nation to “do school differently,” a new report recommends a set of concrete actions for federal, state, and local education leaders to take to transform math and science instruction and bring the United States back to the forefront of global competition.

“The Opportunity Equation: Transforming Mathematics and Science Education for Citizenship and the Global Economy,” released by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and its Institute for Advanced Study Commission on Mathematics and Science Education, advocates for several changes among American schools and colleges.

(See this summary of the report’s recommended actions: http://www.opportunityequation.org/report/executive-summary/)

Specifically, the report calls for common standards in math and science that are fewer, clearer, more rigorous, and accompanied by closely aligned assessments; improving teacher preparation and recruitment so that every child has an effective teacher for math and science, regardless of his or her socio-economic status; redesigning school systems so they deliver math and science instruction more effectively; and initiating a public-awareness campaign to boost understanding of the link between effective math and science instruction and the current job market.

The U.S. needs better math and science education for all students and should place math and science at the center of educational innovation, improvement, and accountability, the report says.

“The president has issued a call to action for American students to move from the middle to the top of the pack in science and math over the next decade,” said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who was present at the report’s release earlier this month.

Duncan praised the efforts of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) advocacy groups and urged stakeholders to explore education reform at a time when the nation’s administration has made deep commitments to educational excellence.

“The report released today offers a plan for our students to get there,” Duncan said.

The Carnegie report is the latest in a series of studies calling for dramatic changes to math and science education in the United States.

Nearly a decade ago, the Glenn Commission issued a report titled “Before It’s Too Late,” which also called for better math and science teaching in American schools (see “Glenn Commission: Math, science ed crisis threatens U.S. “). And in 2006, the National Academies of Science came out with a report called “Rising Above the Gathering Storm,” which prompted legislative action but no corresponding funding (see “Summit: Save STEM or watch America fail“).

But observers say the climate in Washington, D.C., and in state capitals around the nation is different this time around, and the Carnegie report’s recommendations could stand a better chance of being acted upon.

“We have a public perception that science education is more important now than in the past, states are focusing on STEM [education], and our president has spoken very loudly about science education,” said Francis Eberle, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association.

“What’s really terrific about this report is that [it shows] we need to move science and math more squarely into focus,” he said.

One of the report’s biggest strengths is that it includes a good amount of detail on how the federal government and other players might help bring about a change in STEM education, said Elena Silva, a senior policy analyst with Education Sector, a Washington, D.C., think tank.

Although not all of its recommendations are new–people have been advocating for better STEM education and the need to be globally competitive for a number of years, Silva said–its timing is well-planned.

The report “takes advantage of the fact that we have big pots of stimulus money to be spent,” Silva said. “People are looking for roadmaps.”

She added: “While there have been other reports [urging this action], the combination of this report being thorough and timely is meaningful, so it’s different in that regard. The common standards movement is an opportunity for this report to have impact, and it’s asking that essential question of what students should be learning.”

As Silva suggests, the idea of establishing rigorous, common standards is beginning to take hold, as 46 states and the District of Columbia have signed on to a voluntary effort to draft common, internationally benchmarked standards in reading and math (see “Stimulus funds to advance national standards“).

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Former college QB battles video game maker

A former college quarterback is suing video game company EA Sports and the NCAA for using his image in a popular video game without his consent in a case that legal experts say could affect the long-brewing argument over using athletes’ digital likenesses.

Sam Keller, who played for Arizona State and Nebraska universities from 2003-07, filed a lawsuit this spring arguing that student athletes should be compensated when their likenesses are used in video games, even if their names are not printed on their jersey. The case’s initial motion won’t wrap up until late July, and the case likely won’t reach a courtroom until late 2010, said Leonard Aragon, one of Keller’s attorneys.  

Keller’s argument for student compensation came just weeks before the NFL Players Association agreed to pay retired players for using their names and images in video games. The NFLPA agreed to dole out $26 million to the more than 2,000 players named in the suit–meaning each NFL retiree should receive about $13,000.

EA Sports and the NCAA did not return several inquires from eCampus News.

Law professors interviewed by eCampus News said the issue of student-athlete compensation has lingered for more than a decade now, and cases have been complicated by superior video game graphics in recent years. Gamers now can control players whose bodies, equipment, and even facial hair have been copied to offer a better virtual experience.

"Not until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on a similar case will we see a final resolution to this issue," said Jeff Spurlock, associate director of Troy University’s Hall School of Journalism & Communication.

Darryl Wilson, a law professor at Stetson University in Tampa Bay, Fla., said college athletes have a more difficult task in arguing for compensation from video-game makers because colleges pay for their higher education.

"That’s why athletes in the NCAA have weaker ground to stand on than professional athletes," Wilson said. "The athletes are just tools [who] are supposed to believe the ultimate benefit is [a] free education. … If [colleges] shared money with players, it might be resolved."

Keller is the only one-time collegiate athlete named in the lawsuit, but Aragon, his attorney, said a former basketball player might be included in the court case soon. Aragon acknowledged that student athletes are given scholarships worth tens of thousands of dollars, but he said players still should receive a piece of the massive profits companies reap from popular sports games.

"Everybody is making money off of these young men expect for the young men," he said. "They are getting a college education, but they’re more than compensating the school for that college education."

Improving video-game graphics over the past decade, Aragon said, has created a digital duplicate of every player on college and professional sports teams. For example, Roy Hibbert, a former Georgetown University basketball standout drafted into the NBA last year, wears a distinctive band that covers most of his left arm–a detail copied in NCAA basketball video games.

"They do match up every idiosyncratic trait of the players," he said. "You know exactly who it is. It makes a big difference. They’re clearly violating the likeness of these players."

Wilson said players in video games of the 1980s and 1990s had generic body types and almost none of the unique qualities found in today’s games. The more athletes’ images are copied, he said, the better argument they can bring to a courtroom.

"That’ll help them go a long way toward winning the case," Wilson said.

Eldon Ham, an adjunct professor who teaches the course "Sports, Law, and Society" at Chicago Kent College of Law, said the issue of using players’ likenesses likely won’t reach the Supreme Court, but rather will be decided in lower courts. 

"If we get different decisions in different places, the Supreme Court might clear it up, but [decisions at lower courts] generally end up sticking," he said.

Links:

EA Sports

NCAA

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A technology setback for Pennsylvania schools?

Over the last three years, Pennsylvania’s Classrooms for the Future program has provided $155 million to the state’s public schools for laptops and interactive teaching tools. Now, as teachers continue to train on how to use the new technology, the money is drying up, reports the Morning Call. Classrooms for the Future, Gov. Ed Rendell’s much-touted effort to put laptop computers on the desks of every high school student, is slated to be cut in the governor’s most recent plan to shave $212 million in education spending from the budget. ‘Programs like Classrooms for the Future, though valuable, simply cannot be accommodated in a tough budget year when we are trying to fully fund basic education,’ said Michael Race, a spokesman for the Department of Education, who expects federal stimulus funds to help support technology needs. Classrooms for the Future is a three-year investment to provide laptop computers, high-speed internet access, and software to schools. It also enabled 90 percent of the state’s districts to replace traditional blackboards in some classrooms with interactive whiteboards. Mark Wescott, director for education services for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, said cash-strapped school districts that just received their equipment this year may be ‘left in the lurch…’

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