$3,000 for principals to initiate a community-engaging a project

The Sharing the Dream grant is awarded to principals who wish to initiate a project that actively engages their communities. Projects should distribute leadership and decision-making, encourage parents to become involved in the school, and ensure that students and families are connected to the health, human, and social services they need to stay focused on learning. Proposals must be implemented during the 2009-2010 school year. Winners will receive $3,000, a toolkit of resources focused on engaging families and communities, and inclusion in the "spotlight" publication that describes the Sharing the Dream projects.


Layoffs mean LA schools lose new breed of teachers

Thousands teachers in Los Angeles will receive pink slips. By next school year, 2,100 city teachers are slated to lose their jobs — a 5 percent hit to the nation’s second-largest school district, reports the Associated Press. Worse still, is that the layoffs are concentrated in some of the city’s grittiest neighborhoods. Los Angeles Unified’s inner-city schools have higher turnover and tend to hire more new teachers, and state education code mandates that layoffs be issued based on seniority.
School districts across the nation are facing similar financial crunches, but many have avoided painful layoffs with the help of federal stimulus funds. California, however, is mired in a budget crisis and, despite the influx of federal money, is still moving to lay off thousands.
The National Education Association estimates that some 34,000 teaching jobs will be eliminated this year. California — with Los Angeles Unified in the lead — faces the largest loss of nearly 18,000 teachers. The city’s schools have roughly 40,000 teachers.
Some inner-city middle and high schools could lose up to 40 percent of their teachers, according to an analysis by the Institute for Democracy, Education and Access at the University of California, Los Angeles.
By contrast, many schools in the district’s more affluent areas, such as the San Fernando Valley suburbs, will be less affected because only up to 10 percent of their teachers are new, the analysis found…

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Duncan: Students, not banks, on ED’s agenda

U.S. Education (ED) Secretary Arne Duncan told eCampus News on June 12 he will work with private lending companies as the Obama Administration pushes for a direct federal student loan system, adding that he will not compromise in extending college money to low-income students or in bolstering the nation’s college-completion rate.

“I just think we should be in the business of investing in students and not in subsidizing banks,” said Duncan, who added that the federal government underwrites about 97 percent of student loans every year, with most of that money coming from private lenders.

Duncan’s remarks came during a wide-ranging interview at department headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Duncan has led the charge in the Obama Administration’s proposal to have student loans come directly from the federal government and save tax payers more than $90 billion by doing away with the lender-based program in coming years.

Extending loans to students who may not qualify under the current system would not just help teenagers finishing high school, Duncan said, but would also aid low-income grade-school children whose parents have been laid off in a down economy and now see higher education as an expensive luxury for middle-and-upper-class families.

“I worry about smart kids whose dreams start to die at a young age,” he said. “So I would love to be able to say to the country, ‘It doesn’t matter what’s going on at home. … If you work hard, we’re going to have money there.’ … So we can tell not just [high school] juniors and seniors, but 9, 10 11 year olds, ‘Work hard and you’re going to be ok,’ and be able to mean it.”

***See page 3 for audio of the eCampus News interview with Arne Duncan***

President Obama’s 2010 budget — for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 — includes a major shift in the Pell grant program, which would increase by 13 percent, making more money available while expanding student 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 while the financial markets have been in flux. 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.

Increasing the number of students who can afford college, Duncan said, would not just advance education, but would also train a 21st century workforce that could help the country out of its current recession.

“I think this is one of the most important things we can do,” he said.

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, higher-education officials have told eCampus News.


Duncan: Use tech to leverage change

To avoid being caught short when stimulus money runs out, school officials should use the short-term federal funding to upgrade technology and improve the tracking of student data, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told eSchool News in a wide-ranging interview on June 12.

Duncan, at the U.S. Department of Education (ED) headquarters in Washington, D.C., said federal school officials would continue to push for data-driven learning programs — based on analyses of individual students’ academic strengths and weaknesses. As the federal government pours $100 billion into the schools, he said, administrators should consider implementing technology upgrades.

Adopting innovative technology now could pay dividends for school systems in coming fiscal years, the secretary explained. ED has $10 billion in discretionary dollars that will be awarded to schools that meet goals set in the education stimulus.

“There are a number of one-time technology investments that make tremendous sense,” Duncan said. Using technology to improve student achievement makes teachers feel almost as if “they’re cracking a code,” he explained. With adequate student data, teachers come to realize that effective instruction is not based on “just a guess or an assumption or a hunch, and all that is being driven by technology.”

On his recent “listening tour” of school systems nationwide, Duncan said, he spoke with young teachers who were able to adjust lesson plans for students after electronically tracking classroom progress.

“In a real-time way, [teachers] know what’s going on,” he said. “That only happens with technology.”

***See page 3 for audio of the eSchool News interview with Arne Duncan***

Regarding technology leadership at the department itself, Jim Shelton, ED’s assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement, refused to comment on when ED officials would fill the department’s top tech position. He also declined to say who is being considered for the job. The department’s Office of Educational Technology (OET) has been without a leader since former director Timothy Magner left the post earlier this year.

The OET director position is considered key by many observers. Reason: A central objective of this office is to identify and then advocate for the most effective ways to use technology to improve teacher performance and bolster student scores. The office has most recently released a study on the climbing enrollment in online courses and strategies for educators in online forums. Shelton said a national education technology plan would be released in early 2010.

In the meantime, Duncan said, schools should incorporate digital content into everyday classes and consider open-source learning management systems, which have proven cost effective in school districts and colleges nationwide.

Responding to recent reports that some states are using stimulus dollars simply to supplant funding normally provided from state budgets, Duncan said federal education officials could use a “carrot and stick” approach to ensure that stimulus spending represents worthwhile investments, not stopgap measures during a down economy.

“Where we see folks acting in bad faith, where we see folks not acting in children’s best interest, we have a couple options,” said Duncan, adding that ED can “sit on” the next installment of stimulus money if states or school districts are misusing the funds. “I’m not looking for a fight, but we’re prepared to do that if the situation were to warrant that.”

“If they do the right thing, they will have access to unprecedented discretionary money to drive change in a time of tremendous economic hardship,” Duncan added. “If they don’t, then they do their state and their children a great disservice. … This is really a test of creativity and innovation.”


Data-Driven Schools See Rising Scores

Last fall, high-school senior Duane Wilson started getting D’s on assignments in his Advanced Placement history, psychology and literature classes. Like a smoke detector sensing fire, a school computer sounded an alarm.
The Edline system used by the Montgomery County, Md., Public Schools emailed each poor grade to his mother as soon as teachers logged it in. Coretta Brunton, Duane’s mother, sat her son down for a stern talk. Duane hit the books and began earning B’s. He is headed to Atlanta’s Morehouse College in the fall.
If it hadn’t been for the tracking system, says the 17-year-old, "I might have failed and I wouldn’t be going to college next year…"

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Colo. governor’s education plan includes increasing technology

Gov. Bill Ritter says his administration is working on a master plan to change the face of education in Colorado and that he’ll present his proposals to lawmakers in two years, reports the Associated Press.
Ritter says too much money is being wasted without substantial improvement in education. He told the Lumina Foundation’s "Making Opportunities Affordable" luncheon on Thursday he was disturbed by statistics suggesting that 37 percent of people aged 50-65 have college educations but that 35 percent of those aged 22-35 have college degrees…

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Stations Turn Off Analog Signals as Digital TV Deadline Arrives

The New York Times reports that across the United States today, television stations will power down the analog signals that have sent TV shows into homes for six decades.
Friday represents the deadline for the country’s transition to fully digital television broadcasting. Throughout the day, TV stations are switching off analog and in many cases moving to new positions on the channel dial…

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Schwarzenegger: Printed texts are old school

In the state that gave the world Facebook, Google, and the iPod, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says forcing California’s students to rely on printed textbooks is so yesterday.

The governor recently launched an initiative to see if the state’s 6 million public school students could use more online learning materials, including open courseware–perhaps saving millions of dollars a year in textbook purchases. (See “California considers open textbooks.”) Now, other states will be watching to see how the initiative fares.

“California is home to software giants, bioscience research pioneers, and first-class university systems known around the world. But our students still learn from instructional materials in formats made possible by Gutenberg’s printing press,” Schwarzenegger wrote in a recent op-ed in the San Jose Mercury News. (See “Schwarzenegger: Digital textbooks can save money, improve learning.”)

In a state with a projected $24 billion budget deficit, Schwarzenegger has asked education officials to review a wealth of sources that already are on the internet, many of which are free, and determine whether they meet California’s curriculum standards.

The governor is starting with math and sciences and has asked providers to submit their online postings to state officials by next week. The materials that survive state review will be made available to school districts by Aug. 10.

Last week, Schwarzenegger promoted his initiative to lawmakers as the first step toward a learning revolution.

“We expect the first science and math books to be digital by this fall,” Schwarzenegger said. “If we expand this to more textbooks, schools could save hundreds of millions of dollars a year, and that’s hundreds of millions of dollars that could be used to hire more teachers and to reduce class sizes.”

Kathy Christie, chief of staff at the Education Commission of the States, said Schwarzenegger’s plan appears to be the most ambitious of its kind in the nation, although Illinois is also studying digital textbooks.

“It is unusual, certainly, for a state to be looking at it statewide,” she said.

But Schwarzenegger’s plan probably will not produce the budget bonanza he envisions–at least not anytime soon.

The online material would supplement textbooks that teachers already use, meaning California will continue buying traditional books.

Also, California’s K-12 standards for core subjects are among the most rigorous and complex in the nation, meaning that much of the material online might not measure up. Textbook publishers that provide most classroom content will not give their work away for free, so it’s unclear how much savings the state ultimately could realize.

Most publishers already offer online content, including study materials, teachers’ guides, and digital versions of books that accompany hardcover texts.

“Many of them are just as happy to produce the material in digital form. But the schools lack the hardware to access the digital materials,” said Jay Diskey, executive director of the school division at the Association of American Publishers.


Report probes gender gap among STEM faculty

A new report from the National Research Council says the underrepresentation of women in the so-called STEM fields in higher education results from fewer applicants, and not any gender discrimination. The report’s findings suggest that research institutions should focus on cultivating young women’s interest in STEM-related subjects and recruiting them to these fields if they want a more gender-diverse faculty.

Although women are still underrepresented in the applicant pool for faculty positions in science, technology, engineering, and math at major research universities, those women who do apply are interviewed and hired at rates equal to or higher than those for men, according to the report, titled “Gender Differences at Critical Transitions in the Careers of Science, Engineering, and Mathematics Faculty.”

The report, with the help of two national surveys, examines how women at research-intensive universities fare compared with men during key transition points in their careers. It was sponsored by the National Science Foundation

Tenure-track and tenured faculty in six areas–biology, chemistry, mathematics, civil engineering, electrical engineering, and physics–at 89 institutions in 2004 and 2005 were surveyed.

In each of those six areas, women who applied for tenure-track positions had a higher chance of being interviewed for and receiving job offers than male applicants. Women made up 20 percent of applicants for positions in mathematics, but accounted for 28 percent of those interviewed and received 32 percent of the jobs offered. The report found this to be true for tenured positions, too, with the exception of biology.

Although women had better chances of receiving interviews and job offers, the report said women are not applying for tenure-track positions at research universities at the same rate at which they are earning Ph.D.s.

For instance, while women received 45 percent of Ph.D.s in biology at research universities from 1999-2003, they accounted for only 26 percent of applicants for tenure-track positions at those schools. The research committee said further research is needed to determine why more women are not applying for those jobs.

Data in the report suggest that, on average, research institutions are becoming more effective in promoting faculty diversity, including hiring and promoting women and providing resources, said committee co-chair Claude Canizares, Bruno Rossi Professor of Physics and vice president for research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Nevertheless, we also find evidence for stubborn and persistent underrepresentation of women at all faculty ranks,” he added.

The national surveys revealed that most institutional strategies to try to increase the proportion of women in the applicant pool–such as targeted advertising and recruiting at conferences–did not show significant effectiveness, the report says. One strategy did appear to make a difference: Having a female chair of the search committee and a high number of women on the committee was associated with a higher number of women in the applicant pool.

The study committee for the report heard testimony and examined data from federal agencies, professional societies, individual university studies, and academic articles.


WHO: Swine flu pandemic has begun

The World Health Organization told its member nations it was declaring a swine flu pandemic on June 11–the first global flu epidemic in 41 years–as infections climbed in the United States, Europe, Australia, South America, and elsewhere.

In a statement sent to member countries, WHO said it decided to raise the pandemic warning level from phase 5 to 6–its highest alert–after holding an emergency meeting on swine flu with its experts.

The long-awaited pandemic decision is scientific confirmation that a new flu virus has emerged and is quickly circling the globe. It will trigger drugmakers to speed up production of a swine flu vaccine and prompt governments to devote more money toward efforts to contain the virus.

“At this early stage, the pandemic can be characterized globally as being moderate in severity,” WHO said in the statement, urging nations not to close borders or restrict travel and trade. “(We) remain in close dialogue with influenza vaccine manufacturers.”

On June 10, WHO said 74 countries had reported nearly 27,737 cases of swine flu, including 141 deaths.

The agency has stressed that most cases are mild and require no treatment, but the fear is that a rash of new infections could overwhelm hospitals and health authorities–especially in poorer countries.

Still, about half of the people who have died from swine flu were previously young and healthy–people who are not usually susceptible to flu.

Swine flu is also continuing to spread during the start of summer in the northern hemisphere. Normally, flu viruses disappear with warm weather, but swine flu is proving to be resilient.

The last pandemic–the Hong Kong flu of 1968–killed about 1 million people. Ordinary flu kills about 250,000 to 500,000 people each year.

Many health experts say WHO’s pandemic declaration could have come weeks earlier but the agency became bogged down by politics. In May, several countries urged WHO not to declare a pandemic, fearing it would cause social and economic turmoil.

“This is WHO finally catching up with the facts,” said Michael Osterholm, a flu expert at the University of Minnesota who has advised the U.S. government on pandemic preparations.

Despite WHO’s hopes, raising the epidemic alert to the highest level will almost certainly spark some panic about spread of swine flu.