ACLU cautions school officials on student use of web, phones

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio has sent letters to school administrators throughout the state as a preemptive strike against harsh punishments and criminal charges against students for non-threatening internet postings and cell-phone use, reports the Youngstown Vindicator. Instead, the civil-liberties group is urging school officials to consider ways to educate teens about safe and respectful use of new communications technologies and to refrain from issuing discipline when students’ actions are conducted after school and away from classrooms. “What a student does on his or her own time in the context of speech isn’t something that the school can touch, under the First Amendment,” said Brian Laliberte, a former deputy attorney general and attorney in Columbus. In the letters, the ACLU acknowledges schools’ authority to restrict computer, internet, and cell-phone usage on school property and during classes. Schools also can limit student speech in school-sponsored publications, such as newspapers, and they can discipline students who disrupt school activities. However, the group says, schools cannot discipline students for online activities or speech occurring away from school, unless those activities involve threats. “For example, a student complaining about or making fun of a teacher on a public web site—if it’s done on the student’s time, using a non-school computer—may not be disciplined by the school,” according to the ACLU, citing related court decisions…

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Schools gear up for swine flu shots

Schools will be the site of swine flu vaccinations this fall.

Schools will be the site of swine flu vaccinations this fall.

Hundreds of schools are heeding the government’s call to set up flu-shot clinics this fall, preparing for what could be the most widespread school vaccinations since the days of polio.

An Associated Press review of swine flu planning suggests there are nearly 3 million students in districts where officials want to offer the vaccine once federal health officials begin shipping it in mid-October.

Many more may get involved: The National Schools Boards Association said three-quarters of the districts in a recent survey agreed to allow vaccinations in school buildings.

In South Carolina, “there will be a massive attempt to use schools as vaccination centers,” said state Superintendent Jim Rex. He plans at least one vaccination clinic in each of the state’s 85 school districts.

South Dakota started offering free children’s vaccination against regular winter flu in 2007, and this year it plans to offer both kinds in many schools, said state Health Secretary Doneen Hollingsworth.

Now come the difficult details: figuring out all the logistics in giving squirmy youngsters a shot in the arm or a squirt in the nose.

That’s in addition to measures being taken to keep the swine flu virus from spreading inside schools and to keep sick kids at home.

Already, Lee County, Miss., schools have reported a few cases of swine flu the first week of school, and a Louisiana high school football team reported 20 players sick or recovering from it.

District Preparations

To make sure students wash their hands, Minneapolis schools have outfitted every restroom with tamperproof soap dispensers, so students don’t horse around with soap. And the district has a no-excuses policy to keep them filled.

“It sounds so simple, but it works,” district emergency management director Craig Vana said.

Bismarck, N.D., is insisting that parents keep feverish children home. “We’re going to have to be a little firmer on that this year than in the past,” Superintendent Paul Johnson said.

It can be hard to tell if a child has a bad cold or flu–and swine flu and regular flu share the same symptoms. For many schools, a 100-degree temperature automatically means sending a child home.

The goal is to keep schools open; federal officials said schools should close only as a last resort. The emergence of the never-before-seen flu strain last spring prompted more than 700 schools to temporarily close, giving students an unexpected vacation as parents scrambled to find child care.

Some big states, like California, Ohio, and Massachusetts, are focusing on those steps and not on vaccinations, because they don’t know how much vaccine the federal government will send or when it will arrive. Boston has decided against in-school vaccinations because an attempt at regular winter flu inoculations at a middle school last year flopped, and Dallas officials also have decided against school shots.

But hundreds of districts are preparing for vaccinations. At least 700 health and school officials joined an online seminar last week by the National Association of County and City Health Officials on how to run school flu vaccinations.

The government is awaiting results of vaccine studies that began last week before making a final decision on whether and how to offer swine-flu inoculations. If vaccinations go forward, children are to be among the first in line. They could get vaccine at a variety of places, but federal officials want schools to play a starring role.


Site spurs debate over required courses assigns each institution a grade from "A" to "F."

Should American colleges and universities require students to take courses in certain core subjects considered important to a 21st-century education, such as science, economics, history, and foreign languages? It’s a question that has taken on added significance in light of a new web site that grades higher-education institutions according to whether they require these core courses in their general-education curricula.

Launched Aug. 19 by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), looks at the required curriculum of 100 leading colleges and universities. The site’s launch coincides with the release of U.S. News & World Report’s annual college rankings–and like this annual list, ACTA’s own assessment has sparked a debate. assigns each institution a grade from “A” to “F” based on how many of the following seven core subjects it requires: Composition, Mathematics, Science, Economics, Foreign Language, Literature, and American Government or History. Only a handful of schools get A’s, according to the council’s assessment–and several top-notch institutions, such as Yale University (No. 3 in the U.S. News rankings of national universities), Williams College (No. 1 in U.S. News’ rankings of liberal-arts colleges), and Amherst College (No. 2 on the publication’s liberal-arts college list) received an F.

“Employers are increasingly dissatisfied with college graduates who lack the basic knowledge and skills expected of any educated person,” said ACTA president Anne D. Neal. “If our students are to compete successfully in the global marketplace, we simply can’t leave their learning up to chance. As it is, thousands are paying dearly for a thin and patchy education.”

According to ACTA’s grading system, 42 of the top 100 institutions get a “D” or an “F” for requiring two or fewer of the seven subjects it has identified as critical to students’ success. Only five institutions earn an “A” for requiring six of the seven subjects: Brooklyn College, Texas A&M, the University of Texas-Austin, University of Arkansas, and West Point. No institution requires all seven, ACTA says.

Only two of the 100 schools–the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and West Point–require economics, and just 11 require American government or history. Barely half–53 out of 100–require mathematics.

“This study demonstrates that our colleges and universities have abdicated their responsibility to direct their students to the most important subjects,” said Neal. “No 18-year-old, even the brightest, should have to determine which combination of courses comprises a comprehensive education. But most colleges are offering nothing more than a ‘do-it-yourself’ education.”

Paul Woodruff, dean of undergraduate studies for UT-Austin, said he was pleased to see that ACTA “took the trouble to look at what our students are actually expected to learn.” Woodruff said Texas state law requires his institution to maintain core requirements–but “we do this with enthusiasm.”

“We believe we are educating students not merely for specific jobs, but for a life of learning as active citizens who will face a variety of challenges in the years ahead,” he said. “We are in the process of adding requirements in ethics, independent inquiry, quantitative reasoning, global cultures, and ethnic diversity, along with beefing up our requirements in oral and written communication skills.”

Some campus officials take exception to ACTA’s grading system, however.

Mark Montgomery, a former college professor and associate dean who is now an independent college planning consultant, noted that reflects a particular point of view espoused by its creator, “an educationally conservative organization that promotes a ‘back to basics’ sort of approach to higher education,” he said. As such, its usefulness depends on whether you agree with its premise.

“One of the great strengths of the American higher-education system is its variety and level of choice,” Montgomery said. “Further, to be educated in the 21st century is very different from what it meant in the 19th century.  As Daniel Pink or Thomas Friedman might point out, what matters today is creativity and nimbleness of mind. The substance of what one is taught may be less important than the habits and processes of learning.”

An Amherst College spokesman said one of the school’s defining characteristics is its open curriculum, which encourages intellectual curiosity. The spokesman would not comment on ACTA’s new web site further. Neither Yale nor Williams responded to requests for comment before press time.


American Council of Trustees and Alumni


$650M in new grants target innovation


Duncan said grants will fund sustainable programs that create educational change.

U.S. schools will have a chance this fall to compete for part of $650 million in new “innovation” funds that are intended to reward districts that have designed and tested effective, scalable systems for boosting student achievement, improving failing schools, retaining top-notch teachers, and increasing graduation rates.

The Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) is intended to expand programs that advance the goals of the U.S. Department of Education (ED), while at the same time investing in programs that show promise.

ED’s programs to promote innovation have been “modest at best,” said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan at an Aug. 20 press conference to discuss the i3 program.

Duncan said he wants ED to become “an engine of motivation, not a compliance machine.”

This fall, the public will be invited to comment on the i3 program. Applications will be available following the comment period, and awards will be made in early 2010.

Although not all program details are available yet, Duncan did disclose some of the main requirements:

• Boost student achievement, increase graduation rates, and retain teachers;

• Be scalable;

• Offer sustainable innovation, not flash-in-the-pan ideas that will burn out; and

• Attract some matching funds along with ED’s grant dollars.

Grants will be awarded to school districts, nonprofits that work with educators, colleges and universities, charter schools, and school turnaround specialists.

Grants for proven programs most likely will be more substantial than grants for untested programs, Duncan added. Currently, ED estimates that funding amounts will include up to $5 million per award for Pure Innovation grants to explore interesting ideas; up to $30 million per award for Strategic Investment grants for programs that need additional research in order to succeed on a larger scale; and up to $50 million per award for Grow What Works grants, for proven programs that are ready to expand.

President Obama has called for the United States to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world–an ambitious but attainable goal, Duncan said.

“To reach that finish line, we need transformational change–the islands of excellence that exist in school districts have to become the norm,” he said.

Many curricular reforms over the years have had little impact and little staying power. Some, such as Advanced Placement programs, caught on and have had a positive impact on education.

“But school reform failed to rigorously assess what worked, and what didn’t, and it followed fads instead,” Duncan said. He added: “Gaps in knowledge of effective practices hamper the education system.”

Duncan pointed to virtual schools as one tool that can help students succeed where they otherwise might have fallen behind.

“Online courses and supplementation are catching on fast, but we’ve made only limited investments in understanding online instruction,” he said.

Online courses can expand access to high-level courses, especially in rural areas where 21st-century learning opportunities might be limited owing to distance, lack of funds, or lack of qualified instructors to teach specialized subjects.

“An effective teacher is the single biggest factor in determining student progress,” Duncan said. Tools are available today that weren’t available just a decade ago, he added–including formative assessment and real-time data to inform instruction.

“We want to provide powerful incentives to districts and nonprofits to build the next generation of education reform,” Duncan said. “Successful innovations, we know, are disruptive–we not only understand that, we welcome it.”

And ED will be looking–though not exclusively, Duncan noted–for proposals that advance its own four key reforms: college-and career-ready standards, data systems, teacher and principal quality, and turning around underperforming schools. (See “Duncan outlines school reform agenda.”)

“We hope to do this in a way that not only produces innovative solutions, but changes the way we think about the process,” said Jim Shelton, ED’s assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement.

Shelton said the department is expecting thousands of applications once i3 program details are released.


ED’s i3 fact sheet

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Google rivals to fight book-scanning settlement

The fight against a legal settlement that would give Google Inc. the digital rights to millions of copyrighted books is starting to resemble a heavyweight brawl in the library.

Microsoft Corp., Yahoo Inc., and Inc. are joining a coalition that hopes to rally opposition to Google’s digital book ambitions and ultimately persuade a federal judge to block or revise the internet search leader’s plans.

The group, to be called the Open Book Alliance, is being put together by the Internet Archive, a longtime critic of Google’s crusade to make digital copies of as many printed books as possible. A growing number of critics already have filed objections to Google’s book settlement, but none have the clout that the Open Book Alliance figures to wield with three of the world’s best-known technology companies on board.

Peter Brantley, the Internet Archive’s director of access, provided some of the details about the alliance’s members and objectives in an Aug. 20 interview. Both Microsoft and Yahoo have confirmed their intention to join the alliance. Amazon declined to comment because the group hasn’t been formally announced yet. The Open Book Alliance also will include an assortment of nonprofit groups.

Among other things, the alliance will try to persuade the U.S. Justice Department that Google’s broad settlement with authors and publishers could undermine competition in the digital book market, just as more consumers are gravitating toward electronic readers like’s Kindle.
In a bit of irony, the alliance is working closely with Gary Reback, a Silicon Valley lawyer who helped convince the Justice Department to file an antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft that tormented the software maker during the late 1990s. Reback didn’t respond to a message left late Aug. 20.

The Justice Department already is assessing the possible fallout from Google’s book settlement, which is scheduled to be reviewed by U.S. District Judge Denny Chin in an Oct. 7 court hearing in New York.

Microsoft, Yahoo, and Amazon all have financial reasons for objecting to the class-action lawsuit settlement that Google reached with authors and publishers 10 months ago. Amazon might have the most at stake, given that it’s a major book seller and is mining the Kindle for even more sales.
Google plans to offer free access to some books through its search engine and sell others as part of a registry that will share revenue with authors and publishers if the class-action settlement is approved. (See "Google settles book-scanning lawsuit.")

Opponents of the deal–which include some universities and library groups–believe it will give Google too much pricing power, and they have raised concerns about the company’s ability to stockpile more personal data about the users of its search engines by tracking what they’re reading. (See "Google’s book scanning faces scrutiny.")

"We see many disadvantages in this settlement," the Internet Archive’s Brantley said.

Others see tremendous benefits. A wide cross-section of libraries, colleges, and authors have endorsed Google’s book settlement.

Mountain View, Calif.-based Google argues that the settlement will be a boon for consumers, who will have easier access to potentially valuable information now gathering dust in remote library shelves. And, Google says, authors and publishers will be able to make more money from out-of-print books.

"The Google Books settlement is injecting more competition into the digital books space, so it’s understandable why our competitors might fight hard to prevent more competition," Google spokesman Gabriel Stricker said. "That said, it’s ironic that some of these complaints are coming from a company that abandoned its book digitization effort because it lacked ‘commercial intent.’"

Stricker was taking a stab at Microsoft, which abandoned its efforts to make digital book copies to focus on more profitable online opportunities.
Microsoft and Yahoo could be hurt if Google’s expanded index of digital books propels even more traffic to its search engine. If that were to happen, Google might process even more search requests than it already does, allowing the company to show more of the text ads alongside search results that generate most of its revenue.

Hoping to siphon advertising away from Google, Microsoft and Yahoo last month announced a planned partnership in search. The proposal, which still must be approved by the Justice Department, calls for Microsoft to run its search engine on Yahoo’s web site in return for 12 percent of the revenue generated by accompanying ad sales.


Google Book Search

Internet Archive


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A gift they’ll love or hate

Who would have thought that a high vitamin protein spread,which is effectively a by-product of beer brewing, could stir up such contention in the kitchen? Indeed, since 1902 when it first went into production, the distinctive taste of Marmite has been provoking the question ‘love it or hate it’ ever since?

Those who respond ‘my mate marmite’will no doubt find themselves attracted to jars of famously branded sticky, distinctive, healthy brown goo and love finding yummy food to combine with it; whilst others who scrunch their noses up and run a mile from sandwiches made with the stuff are pretty self explanatory in their answer.

Well for all those who ‘love it’or hate it’,GettingPersonal have just added a fantastic Marmite branded product to our unusual gifts range, that is sure to appeal to both sides of the fence.

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