Ohio bill would allow snow days to be made up online

Lawmakers are considering a bill in the Ohio House that would allow school districts to make up calamity days by having students complete their work from home using the internet, WLWT of Cincinnati reports. Some local school officials say the plan sounds promising, but questions remain. “One question that comes to my mind is the work that would be provided to do online or pick up at the district to complete, how relevant will that work be?” said Maureen Meyer, elementary curriculum coordinator for Fairfield Schools. Under the proposed bill, teachers would be required to submit calamity day lesson plans at the beginning of the school year. The bill is a response to the wild winter weather that has forced many area schools to use their allotment of calamity days already, with more snow on the way…

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Survey: Educators aren’t discussing STEM careers with students

Students say they aren't getting the STEM guidance they need.

Teachers say they don't have the time or the resources to discuss STEM career options with their students.

In a recent survey, a majority of students said that while their science and math teachers seem knowledgeable and keep class interesting, they aren’t teaching about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) career options. High school students also said they don’t believe STEM knowledge is integral to getting a good job, which doesn’t bode well for leaders counting on STEM education to keep the nation at the forefront of the global economy.

Spurred by the Obama administration’s “Educate to Innovate” campaign—a nationwide effort by U.S. companies, foundations, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations to help move America to the top of the pack in math and science education—the American Society for Quality (ASQ) commissioned market research firm Harris Interactive to conduct an online survey to uncover how well teachers transfer their knowledge and passion for science and math to their students and inspire them to pursue STEM careers.

The survey, conducted in December, asked more than a thousand students in grades 3-12 to provide a scaled report card (with grades ranging from A-F) on their science teachers’ classroom skills and activities.

Although 85 percent of students said their teachers deserve at least a “B” when it comes to knowledge about science topics (55 percent of students gave their teachers an “A”), 63 percent of high school students said their teachers are not doing a good job of talking to them about engineering careers (“C” or lower), and 42 percent of high school students said their teachers don’t ably demonstrate how science can be used in a career (“C” or lower).

Also, students in grades 7-12 are less likely than third through sixth graders to believe a person needs to be skilled science and math to get a good paying job (66 percent vs. 80 percent).

“We believe that as students get older and begin to diversify their studies and become more aware of the wide range of available career opportunities, they start to think that math and science aren’t necessarily critical to their job hunt,” said Maurice Ghysels, chair of ASQ’s Education Advisory Council.

“In some cases, a contributing factor is that some teachers aren’t doing all they can to connect the dots between the math [and] science work that students are doing on a daily basis and how it relates to the real world and their future careers.”

Why the disconnect?

Teachers who make math and science interesting but fail to discuss STEM career options might feel limited by the time constraints placed on them.

“Good teachers in many cases are doing their best to cover a wide range of topics and required curriculum in science classes, but because of time and budget constraints, career discussions are often left out,” said Ghysels. “So, any support that teachers can receive from parents and local community members [in terms of] volunteer career speakers and programs is really valued.”

One former math teacher said teachers often don’t have time to discuss STEM career options because they’re too busy having to teach to high-stakes tests.

“A teacher’s primary responsibility is instruction that will provide all students with the math skills necessary to demonstrate proficiency on state-mandated assessments or exit exams,” said Judy Brown, math program manager for Sylvan Learning.

“Unfortunately, many high school students come into classes without essential prerequisite skills. This is particularly difficult in the math classroom, because higher-level skills are built on a foundation of basic skills. Finding additional time to incorporate STEM careers into high school math classrooms may not become a priority until state-mandated assessments include items assessing this topic.”

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Experts: Schools can track laptops less intrusively

Webcam pictures may not be useful in tracking down culprits.

There are better ways to find lost or stolen laptops than webcam images, experts say.

School officials in Pennsylvania who admit remotely activating webcams to locate missing laptops could have used far less intrusive methods of finding the machines, such as GPS tracking or “call home” systems, technology and privacy experts say.

Instead, the Lower Merion School District finds itself defending a potential class-action lawsuit after a student complained of being photographed inside his home and accused of selling drugs.

The FBI also is investigating the school district for possible wiretap and computer-use violations.

“The issues raised by these allegations are wide-ranging and involve the meeting of the new world of cyberspace with that of physical space. Our focus will … be on whether anyone committed any crimes,” U.S. Attorney Michael Levy said Feb. 22, taking the unusual step of confirming the FBI and Justice Department investigation.

While pledging to cooperate with any criminal probe, lawyers for the district also appeared in court for the first time in the civil case on Feb. 22, negotiating an agreement aimed at preserving computer evidence. The district agreed not to destroy any evidence that might be found on its servers or on the nearly 2,300 laptops issued to students at its two high schools.

Harriton High School student Blake Robbins and his family hope to learn “whether there were systematic violations or whether this is an isolated instance,” according to their lawyer, Mark Haltzman.

The district activated the webcams after 42 laptops disappeared in the past 14 months. Eighteen were located, district spokesman Doug Young said. He did not immediately know whether any were found in students’ homes as a result of the district’s action.

Either way, technology and privacy experts agree that GPS, “call home,” and other location-tracking software offers better results without raising privacy concerns.

“There are less intrusive ways to track stolen laptops, no question about it,” said Marc Rotenberg, a Georgetown University law professor who serves as president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C.

The company that owns the LANrev remote-activation software allegedly used by Lower Merion no longer promotes its use for anti-theft purposes.

“Webcam pictures are not useful in tracking down the culprit,” said Stephen Midgely, vice president of global marketing for Absolute Software, which recently bought the LANrev software. The user in the picture is often not the person who stole the computer, and the photos are usually inadmissible in court, he said.

Nonetheless, a Lower Merion network technician marveled at LANrev’s theft-tracking potential in a May 2008 MacEnterprise.org webcast.

“Fantastic feature—I can’t speak highly enough of it,” network technician Michael Perbix said, describing how the system could not only provide network address data to help police track down a missing machine but also send back screen shots and pictures from the built-in camera at regular intervals.

Perbix said he had once used the feature to try to locate laptops mistakenly thought to be missing. “By the time we found out they were back, I had to turn the tracking off and I had a good 20 snapshots of the teacher and students using the machines in the classroom,” he said.

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How to grow campus technology amid shrinking resources

Baker led CSU Northridge's conversion to Gmail, which saved $160,000 annually.

Baker led CSU Northridge's conversion to Gmail, which saved $160,000 annually.

Being an IT official at a California university today requires a close look at any measures that can save the campus cash. But Hilary Baker, vice president for IT at California State University Northridge, has found ways to maintain—and even improve—technology services despite massive statewide budget cuts.

Baker, who came to the Northridge campus in 2006, said budget planning has taken on new significance during the country’s economic slump as university technology officials brace for a 5-percent budget cut this year and another 5-percent reduction next year.

“They probably are worse than any of us thought they would be,” Baker said, adding that open IT positions will be left unfilled this year as a cost-cutting measure.

California legislators cut the state university system’s budget by $584 million, or 20 percent, for the 2009-10 school year. The Northridge campus has operated this academic year with $41 million in cuts—24 percent of its overall budget.

Baker and her staff responded to the money squeeze in many ways, including the use of Google Gmail for student and faculty eMail accounts—saving $160,000 annually.

Read the full story at eCampus News

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Read.gov encourages students to discover the world of books

SiteofWeek022410 Read.gov, from the Library of Congress, is an online portal of free reading resources for children, teens, and even adults. It features online versions of out-of-copyright books for children, including “Mother Goose,” “The Arabian Nights,” “The Secret Garden,” “A Christmas Carol,” “The Raven,” and other classics. It also provides webcasts of authors, such as “Twilight” author Stephenie Meyer, as well as writing contests, suggested booklists, teaching resources, and more. http://www.read.gov

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Google executives convicted over online bullying video

In a case with huge implications for web site operators, an Italian court on Feb. 24 convicted three Google executives of privacy violations because they did not act quickly enough to pull down an online video that showed bullies abusing an autistic boy, reports the Associated Press. In the first such criminal trial of its kind, Judge Oscar Magi sentenced the three to a six-month suspended sentence and absolved them of defamation charges. Google called the decision “astonishing” and said it would appeal. “The judge has decided I’m primarily responsible for the actions of some teenagers who uploaded a reprehensible video to Google video,” Google’s global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer, who was convicted in absentia, said in a statement. The trial could help define whether the internet in Italy is an open, self-regulating platform or if content must be better monitored for abusive material. Google, based in Mountain View, Calif., had said it considered the trial a threat to freedom on the internet because it could force providers to attempt an impossible task—prescreening the thousands of hours of footage uploaded every day onto sites like YouTube. “We will appeal this astonishing decision,” Google spokesman Bill Echikson said at the courthouse. “We are deeply troubled by this decision. It attacks the principles of freedom on which the internet was built.”

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Rhode Island town fires all teachers at a failing high school

In one of the first tests of the federal government’s restructuring model for failing schools, the Central Falls, R.I., school board on Feb. 23 approved a recommendation to dismiss the entire faculty and staff of the town’s only public high school, reports the New York Times. The board voted 5 to 2 to accept a plan proposed by Schools Superintendent Frances Gallo to fire the approximately 100 faculty and staff members at the chronically underperforming Central Falls High School on the last day of this school year in June. The plan also will create a new school governance structure and requires the high school’s new teachers to take part in professional development that meets federal standards. Gallo said during the meeting that she chose what she called a “turnaround” plan, one of four offered by the state, after the teachers’ union rejected conditions in another state plan that called for increased hours without the promise of salary increases. “Union leadership went too far because I would not commit to monetary incentives,” Gallo said. She said she’d been instructed by the state education commissioner to choose one of the four state reform plans, which were modeled on federal recommendations and included the school’s closing. Central Falls High is one of Rhode Island’s six lowest achieving schools and has a four-year graduation rate of 48 percent…

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Librarians to colleges: Keep on streaming videos for courses

The Library Copyright Alliance has published a legal analysis of the use of streaming video in higher education, NewTeeVee reports, and the bottom line could be good news for colleges: Instructors are allowed to use streaming videos as part of their courses without obtaining special licenses to do so. The alliance, which counts the American Library Association and the Association of College & Research Libraries as its members, implores educators to “know and exercise their rights” to online video use. This position likely won’t go over well with publishers of educational videos, which have been stepping up their efforts to get universities to obtain special streaming licenses if they want to include videos on course web sites. The Association for Information and Media Equipment (AIME) threatened UCLA with a copyright lawsuit over its video streaming late last year, and the school responded by shutting down its online video platform. AIME has been arguing that displaying a movie on a web site isn’t the same thing as showing it in a classroom, even if there are access controls for the online video in place. But the Library Copyright Alliance believes there is no need to pay for these licenses in many occasions, as amendments to copyright law that include distance education also cover the display of films through class web sites…

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Study: Millennial generation more educated, less employed

The most detailed study to date of the 18- to 29-year-old Millennial generation finds this group probably will be the most educated in American history. But the 50 million Millennials also have the highest share who are unemployed or out of the workforce in nearly four decades, USA Today reports. “It’s a very consequential generation,” says Paul Taylor of the Pew Research Center, the report’s co-editor. “It has made its mark in some fairly dramatic ways.” Overall, Pew says, Millennials are confident, upbeat, and open to change. They’re more ethnically and racially diverse than their elders and also less religious. Although there is no one-size-fits-all description of the individuals within a generation, Pew says its findings show clear, distinctive traits for this group, particularly in certain areas. For instance, they’re more politically active at an earlier age, and 41 percent use just a cell phone and no landline for their telephone communications…

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Experts say U.S. must do more to secure the internet

In a Feb. 23 hearing, industry experts told Congress that the federal government must take a more active role in securing the internet, reports the Associated Press—arguing that as businesses and governments rely more on cyberspace, the prospect of a serious attack grows. Comparing the digital age to the dawn of automobiles, analysts said more government regulations might be the only way to force the public and private sectors to adequately counter cyber threats. They compared the need for new oversight to regulations for seat belts and safety equipment that made the highways safer. At stake is the need to secure the network infrastructure that is vital to national security and daily life without choking off business innovation and competition. President Barack Obama declared cyber security a major priority early last year, but his administration struggled to make progress, not naming a new cyber coordinator until December. “Cyber [security] has become so important to the lives of our citizens and the functioning of our economy that gone are the days when Silicon Valley could say hands off to a government role,” Michael McConnell, former director of national intelligence, told the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee…

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