Oregon panel votes to add restrictions to online schools

A bill to increase restrictions on online public schools was approved by a key committee in the Oregon Legislature on Feb. 3, despite pleas from parents for exceptions to the proposal, reports the Statesman Journal. House Bill 3660 now goes to the full House for a vote, with a subsequent referral to Ways and Means. The bill makes some changes to the state’s virtual charter school laws, while extending an enrollment freeze enacted by the 2009 Legislature. It calls for more study of virtual schooling, with further legislation in the 2011 session. Backers of the schools say parents should have the right to choose the educational program that’s right for their children. They say they fear the real goal of legislation is to shut the schools down. Legislators say they want to make the schools—many of which are operated in part by for-profit corporations—more accountable. The proposal requires virtual charter schools in Oregon to use the same accounting systems as other public schools. It requires virtual-school teachers and administrators to hold appropriate Oregon licenses. And it requires teachers and students to meet twice a week, either in person or through the use of conference calls or other technology…

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Electronic books now come in snack sizes

Who has time to read a whole book anymore? That’s the thinking behind a new publishing venture by the FT Press, a unit of Pearson, which has introduced two series of short, digital-only titles for professionals who want quick snippets of advice for $2.99 or less, reports the New York Times. The publisher, through a new imprint named FT Press Delivers, has quietly begun selling what it is calling Elements and Shorts through the Kindle electronic bookstore on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble’s e-bookstore. The Elements, which the publisher has priced at $1.99, are stripped-down, 1,000- to 2,000-word versions of already-published books, while the Shorts are newly written essays of about 5,000 words, priced at $2.99. Titles include “Reengineering the Rules of Management,” by James Champy, the co-author, with Michael Hammer, of “Reengineering the Corporation,” one of the biggest business best sellers of the 1990s, and “Keeping It Honest, From Kitchen to Coca-Cola,” by Seth Goldman, co-founder and chief of Honest Tea, the maker of organic drinks. “It’s a good idea to be able to provide people with shorter, more expedient, more time-sensitive” content, said Timothy C. Moore, publisher of the FT Press…

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Web not yet the answer to college textbook costs

Most students still prefer print to digital textbooks, and even if they didn’t, college campuses so far have made very few titles available online, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. At the University of Pennsylvania, for example, only 31 of the 1,578 course titles registered with the bookstore were available digitally, eight of which were sold by the bookstore. That could change with the advent of the tablet-style Apple iPad and with students throughout the region buckling under heavy book expenses on top of pricey tuition. A small but growing number already are buying digital texts, many of which are half the price of books. Experts expect students to have more choices as campuses, professors, and companies look for new ways to make texts available and more affordable. But for now, textbook publishers and book authors are grappling to find a fair method that makes use of technology and satisfies students. “It’s like the Wild West. Everybody’s trying something new,” said Steven Bell, associate university librarian at Temple. “What’s the pricing model that’s going to work?” Don’t look yet for a groundswell toward digital books. According to the national Student Public Interest Research Groups, 75 percent of students still prefer print. “The critical mass just isn’t there yet,” said Bell, who added that it’s also not clear whether students will buy the e-reading devices to make digital books more palatable…

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A federal effort to push junk food out of schools

The Obama administration will begin a drive this week to expel Pepsi, French fries, and Snickers bars from the nation’s schools in hopes of reducing the number of children who get fat during their school years, reports the New York Times. In legislation soon to be introduced, candy and sugary beverages would be banned and many schools would be required to offer more nutritious fare. To that end, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will deliver a speech Feb. 8 at the National Press Club in which he will insist, according to excerpts provided to the Times, that any vending machines that remain in schools be “filled with nutritious offerings to make the healthy choice the easy choice for our nation’s children.” But Republican support for the initiative is far from certain, with many Republicans saying they will wait to see legislation before signaling whether they would put aside long-held views that local school boards should control food offerings…

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Four things every student should learn … but not every school is teaching

Schools are missing out on important opportunities if they fail to teach these lessons, says ed-tech consultant Alan November.

Schools are missing out on important opportunities if they fail to teach these lessons, says ed-tech consultant Alan November.

An awareness of the views of those in other countries, an understanding of how Google ranks the results of a web search, a knowledge of the permanence of information posted online: These are some of the lessons that every student should be learning in today’s schools, says education technology consultant Alan November—but not every middle or high school is teaching these lessons.

November was the featured speaker at a Jan. 14 luncheon session during the Florida Education Technology Conference (FETC) in Orlando. Although the session focused on how to balance safety and learning in the digital age, during the course of the discussion November also revealed several topics that he said every member of the Net Generation should learn:

1. Global empathy.

November said he was talking with a senior executive at a global investment bank recently, and he asked the executive: What is the most important skill for today’s students to learn so they are prepared to succeed in the new global economy?

“Empathy,” the executive replied—the ability to understand and respect different points of view.

Most of today’s companies do business with customers all over the world, and several also have branches in multiple countries. Chances are good that when students enter the workforce, they’ll be working with—or doing business with—someone from another nation, with its own culture and its own unique perspective, at some point in their career.

It’s not hard to find people who are smart, the executive said. What is hard to find are employees who have to ability to empathize with, and be sensitive to the needs of, people from other countries.

Fortunately, November said, technology makes it easy for today’s students to learn global empathy. Students can discover the current social and political conditions of other nations online, and they can interact with their peers from abroad and learn their perspectives on issues firsthand through web conferencing or eMail.

2. Social and ethical responsibility on the web.

Topics such as cyber bullying and sexting have made frequent headlines in recent years, and often with tragic consequences. The latest example occurred in western Massachusetts last month, when a 15-year-old freshman at South Hadley High School committed suicide after being harassed online.

With several states passing laws to address cyber bullying, and a new federal law requiring schools to teach internet safety in order to receive e-Rate funding, many schools now highlight the dangers of inappropriate online behavior as part of their lessons.

November weighed in on the importance of these lessons, calling out schools that neglect to teach online responsibility.


District makes classroom Web 2.0 access a priority

Web 2.0 is becoming more prevalent in classrooms.

Web 2.0 is becoming more prevalent in classrooms.

Bandwidth-heavy applications can impact the performance of other academic and educational network traffic. Exinda solved this problem for Andover Public Schools in Essex County, Mass., by allowing Web 2.0 and more traditional academic and education traffic to co-exist on the school network without any degradation in service.

Web 2.0 technology aims to enhance creativity, information sharing and, most notably, collaboration among users. The educators at Andover Public Schools chose to seize the power of Web 2.0 technology to enrich their learning environment. Media rich and bandwidth hungry, the IT Department for Andover Public Schools had to facilitate the use of Web 2.0 technology in the classroom without degrading the performance of other academic and administrative traffic on the network.

Like most public school districts, Andover Public Schools leverage a SaaS model for many of their academic and administrative technology needs. As subscribers to the E-SpED Series of secure web-based applications, Andover Public Schools leverage applications in individualized special education and general education programs.

These applications are critical to the administrative and educational success of the schools. X2 Aspen Sims Applications are also being leveraged by these schools. These are critical for the district, providing attendance tracking, report card generation, and other critical functions.

Because educators, administrators, parents, and students leverage these applications, their performance and speed is crucial. Adding to these high-demand applications, innovative Web 2.0 network traffic like streaming video and radio had Andover Public Schools see its network performance slow to a crawl. Andover Public Schools is comprised of 11 K-12 public schools and the network supports 7,000 users who access the network from 2,300 computers.

“There was an immediate impact on the network when the teachers began streaming video,” said Ray Tode, director of information systems and educational technology for Andover Public Schools. “The performance of our critical applications like the student information system and special education suffered greatly.”

Recognizing that restoring reliable performance for critical applications was crucial, Tode and his team began looking at possible solutions. Through the course of this research it became clear that the Andover Schools required an enterprise grade solution that would scale with the district’s needs.

“We wanted a solution that specialized in bandwidth management, visibility, control, and is scalable. We looked at a couple options but quickly found that Exinda solved our problem, was very easy to manage and would grow with us. The value was there and we went with it,” said Tode.

CELT, an Exinda reseller specializing in IT strategies and systems for K-12 schools and districts, was active in demonstrating the value of Exinda during the selection process.

“We saw the fit with Exinda and Andover Public Schools. IT management in public schools doesn’t have time to tinker with products. They needed to identify an enterprise solution to solve their problem quickly and for the long-term. Scalability is a critical aspect that ensures longevity in product life and value. Additionally, Exinda offers an intuitive GUI, making set-up and policy-setting very straightforward,” comments Carole Schuster, VP Business Development at CELT.

Tode installed Exinda and saw immediate improvements to network performance. Not looking to eliminate access to applications, Tode looked instead to shape and prioritize network traffic.

“The goal was to allow educators to bring new web-based technology into the classroom and leverage it as a learning tool,” he said. “But this couldn’t occur at the cost of performance for our critical applications.”

Exinda’s Layer 7 technology differentiates between types of traffic and prioritizes the application traffic that is critical to the operations of the schools. Web 2.0, including streaming audio and video, is leveraged in the classroom, but the bandwidth demands of these activities are no longer permitted to interfere with other critical application traffic on the network.

With Exinda, the educators of Andover Public Schools continue to provide exceptional and innovative education to their students by offering an open environment to access information through both onsite resources and those on the internet. Exinda provides visibility into network traffic and control through policy-setting to ensure that critical applications have enough bandwidth.



U.S. House passes cyber-security scholarship bill

The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a cyber-security bill that calls for beefing up training, education, research, and coordination so the government can better prepare to deal with cyber attacks, CNET reports. The Cyber Security Research and Development Act of 2009, which passed by a vote of 422 to 5, authorizes the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to develop a cyber-security education program that can help consumers, businesses, schools, and government workers keep their computers secure. It also creates cyber-security scholarship programs for college students and research centers, and it asks NIST to boost the development of identity-management systems used to control access to buildings, computer networks, and data. Federal agencies spend $6 billion a year on cyber security to protect the government’s IT infrastructure and $356 million on research, according to the Office of Management and Budget. Despite that funding, a government review of its cyber-security efforts last year concluded that they are not adequate to prepare the country against cyber attacks…

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Industry lobbying imperils overhaul of student loans

Four months ago, it appeared all but certain that the White House and Democrats in Congress would succeed in overhauling the student loan business and ending government subsidies to private lenders. But an aggressive lobbying campaign by the nation’s biggest lenders has now put one of President Obama’s signature plans in peril, reports the New York Times, with lenders using sit-downs with lawmakers, town-hall-style meetings, and petition drives to plead their case and stay in business. Obama called the idea a “no-brainer” last fall, predicting it would take billions of dollars from the profits of private lenders and give it directly to students, and many colleges already have moved to get loans directly from the federal government in anticipation of the next move by Congress. But House and Senate aides say that the administration’s plan faces a far tougher fight than it did last fall, when the House passed its version of the bill. The fierce attacks from the lending industry, the Massachusetts election that cost the Democrats their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, and the fight over a health-care bill have all damaged the chances for the student loan measure, said the aides, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. But they said the administration had recognized the threat and was beginning to push back in an effort to get the plan approved…

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Congressional Democrats challenge Comcast, NBC on merger

Congressional Democrats on Feb. 4 challenged executives from Comcast Corp. and NBC Universal to show that the cable TV operator’s plan to take control of the entertainment company won’t hurt consumers and rivals, reports the Associated Press. In back-to-back hearings, members of House and Senate subcommittees expressed concern that the transaction could lead to such competitive harms as higher cable TV rates and fewer video programming choices. Comcast is seeking federal approval to acquire a 51-percent stake in NBC Universal from General Electric Co. The Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission are expected to sign off, but likely with conditions—and input from Congress could sway the outcome of those regulatory reviews. Comcast CEO Brian Roberts told lawmakers that the combination would produce “a more creative and innovative company that will meet consumer demands” and drive more innovation among competitors. But Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., said he is worried about the dangers of allowing the nation’s largest cable and broadband provider to take control of NBC Universal’s vast media empire. “When the same company produces the programs and runs the pipes that bring us those programs, we have a reason to be nervous,” said Franken, a former comedian who spent nearly two decades as a writer and performer for NBC’s “Saturday Night Live”…

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Feds still troubled by Google Books deal

Federal officials think Google's revised book-scanning settlement still gives the company too much power.

Federal officials think Google's revised book-scanning settlement still gives the company too much power.

The U.S. Justice Department still thinks a proposal to give Google the digital rights to millions of hard-to-find books threatens to stifle competition and undermine copyright laws, despite revisions aimed at easing those concerns.

The opinion filed Feb. 4 in New York federal court is a significant setback in Google’s effort to win approval of a 15-month-old legal settlement that would put the internet search leader in charge of a vast electronic library and store.

A diverse mix of Google rivals, consumer watchdogs, academic experts, literary agents, state governments, and even foreign governments already have urged U.S. District Judge Denny Chin to reject the agreement.

The Justice Department’s perspective presumably will carry more weight with Chin, given its position as the chief U.S. law-enforcement agency.

In its 26-page brief, the Justice Department praised the revised settlement for making “substantial progress” since it objected to the original agreement in September.

But the government advised Chin that the agreement still oversteps the legal boundaries of a class-action settlement, describing the proposal as “a bridge too far.” The Justice Department also raised concerns that Google’s partnership with the participating U.S. publishers could turn into a literary cartel that would wield too much power over book prices.

“The United States believes that the court lacks authority to approve” the settlement in its current form, the government’s lawyers wrote.

The filing also asserted that the modified agreement doesn’t adequately protect the copyrights and financial interests of “orphan works”—out-of-print books whose writers’ whereabouts are unknown.

Despite its misgivings, the Justice Department urged the parties to take another stab at making changes that would eliminate its legal concerns.
The department provided a list of recommendations on how to achieve that.

In a statement, Google spokesman Gabriel Stricker gave no indication whether the company and other settling parties are willing to amend the agreement again.

“The Department of Justice’s filing recognizes the progress made with the revised settlement, and it once again reinforces the value the agreement can provide in unlocking access to millions of books in the U.S.,” Stricker said.

Chin has scheduled a Feb. 18 hearing to consider approving the class-action settlement.

Consumer Watchdog, one of the groups fighting the settlement, applauded the Justice Department for taking a stand against a deal “that unfairly benefits the narrow agenda of one company.”