Is Google preparing to challenge iTunes in the cloud?

CNET reports that as the four biggest record companies wait to hear more about a proposed iTunes cloud music service, word comes now that Google has kicked the tires on a start-up specializing in cloud media. Google has showed interest in possibly acquiring Los Angeles-based Catch Media, a company that intends to help make it simple for consumers to enjoy their digital movies, music, and books across numerous different hardware and service platforms, according to sources with knowledge of the negotiations. It’s unclear whether talks between Google and Catch have gone beyond informal discussions. If Google did acquire the company, it could help the search giant keep pace with Apple’s expected efforts to take iTunes to cloud computing. Last month, CNET reported that Apple has spoken to the top labels about plans to offer a streaming music service free of charge to consumers. Before agreeing to any new licensing deals, the labels are waiting for Apple to supply more information…

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MSU starts online ed technology doctorate option

Michigan State University is starting an online option in its Ph.D. program in educational technology, the Chicago Tribune reports. The program is designed for working professionals. The school says the online track in its Educational Psychology and Educational Technology will take four to five years, combining online coursework with summer classes on campus. Michigan State says the system is designed for people who wish to continue working while pursuing their doctorates. It says the students will come from those working in schools, universities and research institutions. The College of Education is accepting applications for the first students, with classes set to start in June…

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Are unions blocking school reform?

The issue of school reform has been heavily debated in recent months.

The issue of school reform has been heavily debated in recent months.

In a new film called Waiting for Superman, there is a scene in which hidden-camera video shows a teacher reading a newspaper and looking at his watch while his students fool around. Another scene shows slow-motion footage of teacher union leaders giving speeches opposing school reform.

Directed by the same filmmaker who made An Inconvenient Truth, the documentary could do for public education what the latter did for global warming, some observers say: Push the issue into the national consciousness as a dire problem in need of fixing.

Superman investigates student achievement, teacher quality, and assessment as it attempts to explain why U.S. students are falling behind their peers from other industrialized countries on international benchmark exams. But in exploring the troubles of American public education, the film ends up pointing to one culprit above all others, those who have seen it say: teacher unions, which are portrayed as blocking much-needed reform.

It’s the latest in a string of union criticism that has only intensified recently.

Last year, Hoover Institute affiliates and education reform proponents Terry Moe and John Chubb released a book called Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education, which explored technology’s potential to revolutionize education through online learning. The book argues that unions are hampering this potential progress to protect their members.

And some local union chapters have come under fire for their hesitation or refusal to sign onto districts’ Race to the Top applications. Created with federal stimulus funds, this $4.35 billion competitive grant program awards money to states based on how their school-reform plans align with the Obama administration’s goals, which promote charter schools and using student achievement data to influence classroom instruction and teacher pay.

But how much of the criticism is really justified?

The issue is not a simple one. Critics say unions hold too much political power and block important reforms out of self-preservation, putting their members’ interests ahead of students. Others say unions support many reforms but have valid concerns over how those ideas are implemented.

Paul Heckman, associate dean of the School of Education at the University of California, Davis, said teachers have come to represent both the unit of change and the unit of blame in education.

“Children are educated and learn over a period of time, but we have this notion that children are to make a year’s growth for every year they’re in school,” Heckman said. “This is … a problem, because children do not develop in nine-month chunks except during gestation.”

It’s much easier to put the blame on teachers, Heckman said, than it is to suggest that a school’s entire structure plays a role in student success. That’s not to say unions are blameless, he said–but reformers should spend more time re-evaluating education as a whole, and how schools can better support and encourage high-quality teaching.

“Teachers work alone, and they have infrequent opportunities during the workday to come together, talk about what they’re doing, and find out that other people are struggling or succeeding,” Heckman said. “They don’t [have a chance to] share what they’re doing, or challenge what they’re doing.”

Heckman sees stagnant results by U.S. students on international exams as a systemic failure, suggesting that U.S. schools aren’t doing a good enough job of keeping up with the times.

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Commentary: Data undermining

Districts need more guidance on using school and student data.

Districts need more guidance on using school and student data.

School data systems are getting more sophisticated–but are their users?

It’s a fair question to ask, in light of a recent Education Department (ED) report suggesting that school leaders are making progress in using data to improve student achievement–but they’re still looking for examples of how best to do this.

Using data to improve instruction is a key focal point of the Obama administration’s school-reform efforts. And the tools that educators have at their disposal are getting better: A perusal of exhibitors at this year’s Florida Education Technology Conference, for example, revealed at least two companies now offering systems that can give teachers the full history of their students’ test scores. That means teachers can begin a new school year knowing their students’ strengths and weaknesses immediately, without wasting valuable class time early in the year.

But while teachers see the obvious value of using data systems to track the achievement of their students and target their instruction accordingly, it’s a different story when it comes to using data to measure their own effectiveness.

In Houston, the school board voted last week to use student test scores as part of its teacher evaluation system; these are now one of 34 reasons a teacher’s contract might not be renewed. District leaders have promised to offer training and support to struggling teachers and to use termination only as a last resort. The district’s two largest teacher groups oppose the policy, however.

“We deal with children in poverty. We deal with lack of parental support. We do the best with what we can,” middle school special-education teacher Tuesday Neal reportedly told the board. “I do not want to suffer and lose my job, because I love what I do.”

Houston might be the largest school system to link student test data with teacher evaluations, but thanks to the federal Race to the Top program, it won’t be the only one. This same controversy is playing out in districts across the nation as their leaders vie for a share of $4.35 billion in funding–and tying teacher evaluation to student achievement is a key criterion for receiving Race to the Top money.

In her story Are unions blocking school reform?,” Managing Editor Laura Devaney reports on the criticism that teacher unions are taking for their wariness of this approach, and she explains the concerns the unions have. As Laura’s story notes, 54 percent of a child’s time is spent outside of school, under influences beyond a teacher’s control. When designing their metrics to measure a teacher’s effectiveness, are districts taking these influences into account?

Teachers are still the single biggest factor in the quality of learning that occurs in the classroom, as Associate Editor Meris Stansbury’s recent story on 1-to-1 computing research affirms. Yet, setting aside the many influences on learning that exist outside of school, there are a number of other in-school factors that also must be brought to bear: Are teachers getting the training and mentoring they need to be effective? Are they getting enough time to plan or collaborate with colleagues? Do they have access to software and other tools that can help them make sure every child succeeds?

Just as 1-to-1 computing programs are only as effective as the teachers who apply them in classrooms, a school district’s data initiative is only as good as the leaders who implement it. Districts need to make sure they’re collecting the right kinds of data–information that goes well beyond test scores. That includes data on their own leadership practices, too, and not just data on students and teachers.

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Duncan pushes back against private lenders

Duncan said he has "a lot of confidence in the Senate leadership to step up" and pass the direct lending bill.

Responding to private lenders’ lobbying efforts against White House plans for direct federal loans, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Feb. 17 that he trusts the U.S. Senate will pass the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) and “end this boondoggle for banks.”

Five months after the U.S. House of Representatives passed SAFRA, senators have not voted on the bill, while private lending companies have organized town-hall style meetings and aired television ads opposing the bill in several states.

In an afternoon conference call with reporters on Feb. 17, Duncan emphasized that there isn’t a “drop dead date” for passage of the direct lending legislation, and he promised that education officials are “in this for the long haul.”

“The banking industry has had a free ride for too long,” Duncan said. “Now, the banks are lobbying Congress to protect their scheme.”

He continued: “To me, it’s a simple choice: Subsidize banks or invest in children.”

Read the full story at eCampus News

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NAACP launches multimedia history site with funding from the Verizon Foundation

021710siteofweekThe NACCP has launched a new web site called the NAACP Interactive Historical Timeline, a multimedia site that tells the story of the 101-year-old organization and documents the civil-rights movement in general through words, pictures, and video. Funded through a $500,000 grant from the Verizon Foundation, the site’s many multimedia resources also will be made available to teachers, students, and parents through Verizon Thinkfinity (www.thinkfinity.org), a free educational web site from the foundation. Each point on the timeline includes a written narrative, historic video or photos, and an audio narrative read by a celebrity, such as actor Lawrence Fishburne. http://www.naacphistory.org

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CoSN 2010: Innovation, ingenuity, and insight

Karen Cator will attend CoSN's 2010 conference and share her thoughts on technology in schools.

Karen Cator will attend CoSN's 2010 conference and share her thoughts on technology in schools.

The 2010 Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) Conference, which runs Feb. 28-March 3, 2010, will focus on innovation, ingenuity, and insight and will help district technology leaders from the public and private sectors learn how technology can improve and transform school technology.

Web 2.0 collaborative tools in education hold the potential to bridge national and cultural divides and remove barriers created by time and location.  Yet to date, formal education has largely failed to harness the power and promise of these new tools to create greater global awareness and understanding.

The 2010 CoSN International Symposium will explore major efforts to foster global understanding particularly with the use of Web 2.0 tools.  The Symposium will also consider organizational and logistical issues which hamper these efforts.  Presentations by and conversations with policymakers from around the world will highlight ways in which global understanding can become a serious and widespread component in teaching and learning in schools.

The Framework for 21st Century Skills by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills makes the compelling case that global awareness is a core theme which must be woven into the basic curriculum. Learning from and working collaboratively with individuals representing diverse cultures, religions and lifestyles in a spirit of mutual respect and open dialogue in personal, work and community contexts are essential skills.

The time has passed when the vast majority of citizens in any country can be isolated from other countries, cultures and peoples without disadvantage to their personal and national well-being. Students who leave schools without the skills to work and live in a world of different cultures, languages, traditions, and beliefs will be at a serious disadvantage to thrive in the 21st century.

CoSN will facilitate a global conversation about how educators can use ICT/collaborative tools to develop global awareness and understanding in schools, and play a role in defining a compelling educational agenda.

Current members of CoSN are invited to a special conversation with White House Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra and U.S. Department of Education Director of Education Technology Karen Cator at the CTO Forum during the CoSN Annual Conference.

Chopra will share his vision for harnessing technology and innovation to transform the economy, particularly through public policies, interoperability standards, infrastructure, research and development, and the needs of the 21st Century workforce. He’ll talk about his work in Virginia creating open platforms for school learning materials and his vision for eGovernment.

Cator, a longtime friend of CoSN and the education technology community, is the new lead at the U.S. Department of Education on education technology.  Cator will share her views on the pivotal role that education technology leaders must play in transforming education and her predictions about how technology will be considered as Congress reauthorizes the Elementary & Secondary Education Act.

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Privacy group files FTC complaint on Google Buzz

A privacy watchdog group complained to federal regulators on Feb. 16 about Google’s new Buzz social networking service, saying it violates federal consumer protection law, reports the Associated Press. The Electronic Privacy Information Center filed its complaint with the Federal Trade Commission just days after Google Inc. altered the service to address mounting privacy concerns. Since launching Google Buzz as part of Gmail a week ago, the search company has come under fire for automatically creating public circles of friends for users based on their most frequent Gmail contacts. Over the weekend, Google altered the service to merely suggest contacts for its users’ social networks. Despite the changes, EPIC argues that privacy violations remain because Google automatically signs up Gmail users for Buzz, rather than waiting for them to do so themselves. EPIC wants the FTC to require Google to make Buzz a “fully opt-in” service. It also wants the company barred from using Gmail address book contacts to compile social networking lists…

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Google demonstrates phone that translates text

Google Inc. is working on software that translates text captured by a phone camera, reports the Associated Press. At a demonstration Feb. 16 at Mobile World Congress, a cell-phone trade show in Barcelona, an engineer shot a picture of a German dinner menu with a phone running Google’s Android software. An application on the phone sent the shot to Google’s servers, which sent a translation back to the phone. There was no word on when the software would be available. Software that translates text from pictures is already available for some phones, but it generally does the processing on the phone. By sending the image to its servers for processing, Google can apply a lot more computing power for faster, more accurate results. The demonstration was part of Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s keynote speech at the trade show, the largest for the wireless industry. He said phone applications that take advantage of “cloud computing”—servers accessible through the wireless network—will bring powerful changes to the industry…

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