Student loan company: Data on 3.3M people stolen

A company that guarantees federal student loans said March 26 that personal data on about 3.3 million people nationwide have been stolen from its headquarters in Minnesota, reports the Associated Press. Educational Credit Management Corp. (ECMC) said the data included names, addresses, Social Security numbers, and dates of birth of borrowers, but no financial or bank account information. The data were on “portable media” that were stolen sometime last weekend, ECMC said in a statement. Company spokesman Paul Kelash wouldn’t specify what was taken but said there were no indications of any misuse of the data. The St. Paul-based nonprofit said it discovered the theft March 21 and immediately contacted law-enforcement officials, making the theft public when it received permission from authorities. ECMC said it has arranged with credit protection agency Experian to provide affected borrowers with free credit monitoring and protection services. Borrowers will be receiving letters from ECMC soon on how to sign up, gain access to fraud resolution representatives, and receive identity theft insurance coverage. ECMC is a contractor for the U.S. Department of Education to provide collection and document management services. It guarantees student loans through the Federal Family Education Loan program and provides support services for student loans that are in default or bankruptcy…

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Oregon educators look to create single hub for cyber classes

Students across Oregon might be able to take online classes as soon as this fall if the state’s Education Service Districts can pull together a plan for a statewide cyber-school hub, reports the Oregonian. Superintendents from nearly all of Oregon’s 20 Educational Service Districts (ESDs) converged in Salem on March 11 to consider strategies for offering a broad range of online classes. If the plan works, it will be a giant step into 21st-century learning for most of Oregon’s 197 school districts. Students would access the statewide system of courses through their local ESD. Oregon’s ESDs offer school districts services such as special education, technology, early education, and teacher training. They receive state funds and can provide services on a broader scale for less money than schools could alone. Districts pay for some ESD services; access to the online classes might fall into that category. The cyber courses will give parents another option to Oregon’s three online charter schools, said Jim Mabbott, superintendent of the Northwest Regional ESD. “The online situation is out of control in Oregon,” Mabbott said. “There should be one online school for the state, and the cost would drop substantially.” He believes the ESD virtual classes would keep more students—and the money the state provides to educate each student—in their home district schools…

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Google: 600 communities aim to be high-speed networking test sites

Planning to build a local high-speed broadband network as a test project, Google Inc. has received more than 600 responses from communities interested in the effort, BusinessWeek reports. More than 190,000 individuals also have requested information, Google said on its blog. The company announced plans last month to build a fiber-optic network that would serve between 50,000 and 500,000 people, providing connections that are 100 times faster than current networks. “As we narrow down our choices, we’ll be conducting site visits, meeting with local officials, and consulting with third-party organizations,” James Kelly, a product manager, said in the blog posting. “Based on a rigorous review of the data, we will announce our target community or communities by the end of the year.” The proposed network set off a frenzy of lobbying by cities and towns across the U.S., with some holding rallies and sending gifts to Google’s headquarters. Several universities have teamed up with their local communities in support of their applications…

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Study shows problems, promise for hybrid school buses

An Iowa State University (ISU) researcher says a study of hybrid school buses shows some promise for decreasing fuel costs and pollution, if mechanical problems with the buses can be fixed, Radio Iowa reports. Two hyrbid-electric school buses were purchased for the Nevada and Sigourney school districts and run alongside regular buses. Shauna Hallmark of the ISU Institute for Transportation says there were problems with the batteries on the buses holding a charge. But the hybrid buses got 30 percent better mileage in Nevada and 36 percent better in Sigourney. Hallmark says the savings could help offset the increased cost of buying the specialized buses. While she hasn’t done a cost estimate analysis, she believes districts could recoup the cost of the bus in fuel savings. Hallmark says other hybrid systems used in cars and transit buses use only the engine to charge the battery. She says if they put the same technology in school buses that’s used in transit buses, then she thinks it would work. Researchers received grants that paid for most of the $217,000 cost of each bus. The districts each paid about $70,000 themselves—which is about the cost of a conventional bus…

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HISD’s online radio plans make some waves

A new internet-based radio station could generate more than $500,000 a year for the Houston Independent School District, reports the Houston Chronicle. K12RadioHouston is expected to launch in July as the first streaming station for a public school system. HISD and a media company plan to split the profits, which are estimated to reach $1 million in the first year. “You don’t need a transmitter. You don’t need a tower,” said Pat Fant, co-founder of RFC Media. “There’s not a public school district in the county that has its own full-time internet radio station.” Listeners will tune in through the HISD web site, a link in the KHOU (Channel 11) site, or via an iPhone application. While the station will be professionally run, students will have a role in producing content. Music will dominate the waves, but school performances, athletic events, and news announcements also will be broadcast. Formatting and commercials will target families of the district’s 202,000 students and 30,000 employees. While it’s an innovative revenue stream, some worry that the profit-sharing model could make children the aim of marketing at school…

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Web slurs target teen suicide victim

Residents of a New York town are angry about the cyber bullying they believe led a teen to commit suicide.

Residents of a New York town are angry about online slurs made against a local teen that have continued even after she committed suicide.

A community reeling from the suicide of a popular high school senior turned its sorrow to outrage March 26 over a practice known as “trolling,” in which derogatory, hurtful comments are posted online against a person.

In this instance, a tribute site created for Alexis Pilkington, 17, of West Islip High School in New York was the target of insulting messages after her death.

“I think it’s horrible. It’s vicious. It’s cruel. It upsets me as a parent,” Lorraine Kolar said as she left a memorial service for Pilkington.

Classmates, relatives, and friends were incensed over what they called creepy, insensitive messages about Pilkington, many posted anonymously and also appearing on other internet sites since her death.

“It’s a disgrace,” said Cathi Musemeci, a close friend of the family. “I think it’s horrible. Let the girl die in peace.”

“Trolling is part of the dark side of cyberspace,” said Anne Collier, co-director of the Salt Lake City-based Connectsafely.org, a forum about safety issues on the internet and social web sites.

“It’s not necessarily tied to any school activity,” she said. “It’s quite anonymous and random and is usually seen as aggressive, egregious cruelty on the internet. The people who sit behind computers and do this are known as trolls.”

Pilkington received harassing internet messages even before she killed herself March 21. Her parents and other relatives insist she had been troubled for some time. They don’t believe the messages were a major factor in her death.

“It had nothing to do with that,” said Musemeci. “Lexi was in a lot of pain. She was hurting.”

Still, Formspring.me—a social networking site that was flooded with mean-spirited messages and graphic images—has been the target of much of the town’s anger.

About two dozen West Islip High School students sported white T-shirts March 26 painted with neon green and orange lettering declaring “Boycott Formspring and gathered petitions outside the school.

“We just want it off the internet,” said organizer Billy Crawford, a West Islip senior. “If you have anything to say to somebody, there’s no reason you shouldn’t say it to their face.”

A Formspring spokeswoman said the company has changed its service in response to the incident. Users now can decide whether to decline anonymous questions or allow them. They also can opt to allow them only from a user who is logged into the system, said spokeswoman Margit Wennmachers.

Some Facebook postings, which are not anonymous, also came under scrutiny for negative comments posted about the girl after her death. Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes said the company does not condone cyber bullying, and he said Facebook would disable accounts that are found to be intimidating others.

Frank Stallone, deputy chief of detectives for the Suffolk police, said the department’s computer crimes unit was investigating. He said it is often difficult to prosecute such cases, though.

“Sometimes being offensive or crude doesn’t always amount to doing something illegal,” he said. Also, he added, “trolling” is difficult to prosecute, because offenders “could come from any place in the world.”

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$20 billion in ed funding slashed from student aid legislation

Funding for an online course program was cut out of the final student aid bill.

$500 million in proposed funding to create open online courses was cut out of the final student aid bill.

In last-minute maneuvering designed to get the measure to pass, lawmakers eliminated $20 billion in proposed education funding from the student aid overhaul enacted by Congress last week—dampening enthusiasm for legislation that K-12 and higher-education officials had lobbied for over the past year. Of that $20 billion, $12 billion was slated for community colleges to boost graduation rates, partly through the development of open online courses, and $8 billion was pegged for an early-childhood education program.

Community college officials cheered the American Graduation Initiative (AGI) when lawmakers introduced the program last fall, but last-minute compromises and worries over the cost of the student aid bill forced legislators to eliminate the $12 billion set aside for AGI, observers said. The program aimed to help community colleges produce 5 million more graduates over the next decade.

AGI had included $500 million for an online skills laboratory modeled after Carnegie Mellon University’s Open Learning Initiative (OLI). The free, open internet classes were to be created by the Departments of Defense, Education, and Labor, according to a White House announcement.

Carnegie Mellon’s OLI courseware keeps tabs on what concepts students are grasping in their online work, and it lets professors tailor their lectures to help students in areas where they struggle. OLI officials said the program could raise college course completion by 25 percent.

A White House statement released in July said the federal open courseware program would allow students to “learn more in less time than they would with traditional classroom instruction alone.”

Click below to watch Jill Biden’s video on student loan reform

AGI’s proposed 10-year federal investment in community colleges would have provided timely and welcome assistance. Two-year colleges have seen an unprecedented enrollment spike that has stretched their budgets, as more adults return to school in the midst of a recession that has forced states to cut their funding for these schools at the same time.

“It’s obviously not the ultimately desired solution,” said Jim Hermes, a spokesman for the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). “But it was just one that was really forced by the larger circumstances in terms of how much money there was to put toward these certain [programs].”

Community college enrollment rose by 16.9 percent from fall 2007 to fall 2009, according to an AACC study. Full-time student enrollment jumped 24 percent in that same time, forcing some two-year campuses to hold classes during nights and weekends to accommodate record-size classes.

Two-year college enrollment jumped “more than in any other higher educational sector” between 2000 and 2006, according to research by the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit public policy organization.

Community colleges still will get $2 billion for developing or improving career training programs over the next four years. The final measure authorizes $500 million per year in competitive grants through fiscal 2014, through a program called the Community College and Career Training Grant Program. At least one institution in every state would be guaranteed at least $2.5 million in funding from the program.

The final version of the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) also eliminated $8 billion for early-education initiatives. The funds were to create the Early Learning Challenge Fund, designed to spur competition for early-education providers.

“Obviously, this is a bitter disappointment to all of us who have been working on this bill since last summer,” said Cornelia Grumman, executive director of The First Five Years Fund, a Chicago-based organization that advocates for education programs for one- to five-year-olds. “We are looking forward to working with Congress and the administration to find another vehicle to fully fund this vital initiative. Today, our question to Congress is: What is Plan B for getting it done?”

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Federal CTO calls for ‘student-led innovation’ in developing broadband apps

Aneesh Chopra, chief technology officer for the Obama administration, has posted a blog entry calling for a campus-based initiative to encourage broadband innovation by students. “Students have contributed some of the most important advances in information and communications technologies—including data compression, interactive computer graphics, Ethernet, Berkeley Unix, the spreadsheet, public key cryptography, speech recognition, Mosaic, and Google,” Chopra writes. “Today, with the right kind of support, students can play the role of innovators again—by leading the way in the development of broadband applications.” Chopra envisions universities, companies, and students working together under such an initiative, which would serve as a sort of “Petri dish” where new ideas could incubate and grow. “This initiative could be led by the private sector, … [building] on investments already made in high-speed research networks such as Internet2 and National LambdaRail, and [taking] advantage of a growing number of grants from the Department of Commerce’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program,” he writes. The initiative could have a number of elements, including campus-based incubator programs, courses that encourage multidisciplinary teams of students to develop broadband applications, and competitions that recognize compelling student-designed apps…

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Med students’ cadaver photos under scrutiny after images show up online

In recent months, medical schools around the nation have begun re-examining their ethics codes after a string of disturbing cases in which students photographed or videotaped cadavers and posted the images on Facebook and YouTube, reports the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. Last month, Stony Brook University Medical Center on Long Island announced it was developing a revised ethics policy after a student posted a photo on Facebook of a classmate posing with a “thumbs up” next to a cadaver. The State University of New York Upstate Medical University in Syracuse also is updating its ethics curriculum after a former resident posted a snapshot of an exposed brain on Facebook. Students’ use of social media sites is becoming an increasing concern, according to an anonymous survey of 78 U.S. medical schools published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Nearly 60 percent of schools reported catching students posting unprofessional online content, including several blatant violations of patient confidentiality. “It’s Facebook, Twitter, blogging, MySpace,” said Lauren Hughes, president of the American Medical Student Association, a Virginia-based advocacy group. “Right now, institutions are dealing with this on an individual basis.”

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Student-driven film spotlights young gamblers, online betting

With sports betting at his fingertips and a poker table a mouse click away, it was all too easy for Max Shona to spend hours gambling on the internet. But as hours turned into days and the urge to win bigger began to consume him, the 22-year-old realized he had a problem, reports the Canadian Press. “It was an addiction. I can admit to saying it,” says Shona. “It still haunts me.” The Toronto native is now sharing his experiences in a youth-driven documentary that takes a hard look at the impact and experiences of gambling on his generation—and online betting is an element that features significantly. “Deal Me In” was produced by a group of students out of the Youth Voices Gambling Project at the University of Toronto. Put together last year, the film is rapidly gaining an attentive audience as it appears at film festivals and gambling awareness workshops around the country. While Shona’s gambling began when he was still in high school betting on $5 poker games, the move to cyberspace saw what had begun as a pastime spiral out of control. “I went to online gambling, which is the devil. It’s probably the worst thing in the world,” he says. “It’s so accessible … and you just don’t cash out.” Shona is among a handful of youth who have spoken out on camera as “Deal Me In” tries to bring the story of young gamblers to their peers…

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