Study: On average, charter schools do no better than public schools

More evidence is in that charter schools – at least on average – do no better than regular public schools, reports the Christian Science Monitor. Middle-school students who were selected by lottery to attend charter schools performed no better than their peers who lost out in the lottery and attended nearby public schools, according to a study funded by the federal government and released Tuesday. This is the first large-scale randomized study to be conducted across multiple states, and it lends some fuel to those who say there is little evidence to back the drive for more charters. But the study also found more nuanced evidence that the charters that work best are those serving lower-income students, especially in urban areas…

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Can legislation fix America’s science and technology gender gap?

A slew of recent studies show that the problem for women in math and science is related to something both larger and more nuanced: culture, Newsweek reports. In 1972, when Mae Jemison was just 16 years old, she arrived at Stanford University, where she intended to pursue a degree in engineering. But it wasn’t long after arriving in Palo Alto that she learned that the university’s science departments weren’t nearly as enthusiastic about her as she was about them. In one of her freshman science classes, she recalls, the professor looked at her like she was “bonkers.” “I would ask a question, and he would look at me like it was the dumbest question and then move on,” she says. “Then a white guy down the row asks the same question, and he says, ‘Astute observation.’ It makes you start to really question yourself.” In the nearly four decades since, Jemison has proved repeatedly that she deserves a place at the table. She graduated from Stanford with a double major in chemical engineering and African and African-American studies, got a medical degree, and eventually became the world’s first woman of color to go to space. She is, without a doubt, exceptional…

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Hulu launches $10 video subscription service

Online video site Hulu, under pressure from its media company parents to generate a bigger profit, launched a subscription service Tuesday with complete access to back episodes of popular television shows, the Associated Press reports. For $9.99 a month, subscribers can get the entire current season of “Glee,” “The Office,” “House” and other shows from broadcasters ABC, Fox and NBC, as well as all the past seasons of several series. The popular, ad-supported web site will continue to have a few recent episodes for free online. In a surprise move, however, paying subscribers will get the same number of ads as users of the free website. Hulu Chief Executive Jason Kilar said keeping ads was necessary to help keep the subscription price low…

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Stores see Google as ally in e-book market

Independent bookstores were battered first by discount chains like Barnes & Noble, then by super-efficient web retailers like Now the electronic book age is dawning. With this latest challenge, these stores will soon have a new ally: the search giant Google, The New York Times reports. Later this summer, Google plans to introduce its long-awaited push into electronic books, called Google Editions. The company has revealed little about the venture thus far, describing it generally as an effort to sell digital books that will be readable within a Web browser and accessible from any internet-connected computing device. Now one element of Google Editions is coming into sharper focus. Google is on the verge of completing a deal with the American Booksellers Association, the trade group for independent bookstores, to make Google Editions the primary source of e-books on the web sites of hundreds of independent booksellers around the country, according to representatives of Google and the association…

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Financial aid rising faster than tuition

An annual survey of independent colleges, released Tuesday, finds that students may pay a little less to attend college this fall, even as colleges charge more, The Washington Post reports. Student aid spending will rise by 7 percent in the coming academic year, according to a survey by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. Published tuition and fees will rise 4.5 percent. Tuition inflation has slowed during the downturn: this is the second consecutive year of tuition increases in the 4-percent range. During the 10 years prior to the recession, sticker prices rose an average 6 percent a year. But the average student actually spends a bit less now than before the recession, because of unusually large bumps in student aid budgets. Institutional aid rose 9 percent in the 2009-10 academic year…

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SafetyWeb helps parents monitor their children’s online activity

SiteofWeek063010A new site that launched last month,, aims to simplify online safety by helping parents guard their children’s online safety, identity, and reputation. The fee-based service monitors the web to deliver reports and immediate alerts on irregularities and dangers associated with kids’ and teens’ online activity, giving parents an opportunity to intervene if they suspect their kids’ safety, identity, or online reputation is at risk. With children using cell phones, laptops, iPads, and friends’ computers to go online, the service monitors what social networks children are using, rather than the device itself. By delivering reports informing parents what their kids are doing online (such as posting comments, videos, and pictures), as well as what is being said about them online, the service gives parents the ability to define acceptable online behavior for their family. SafetyWeb was founded by Michael Clark and Geoffrey Arone, who have worked on web sites that service more than 200 million register users combined; as an entrepreneurial engineer behind Photobucket, Clark prevented millions of questionable photos and videos from being posted online.


Feds: Make eReaders accessible to all students

Some colleges have agreed to abandon Kindle pilot programs because of accessibility issues.

Some colleges have agreed to abandon Kindle pilot programs because of accessibility issues.

The federal government will help schools and colleges using eReaders such as the Amazon Kindle to comply with laws giving students with disabilities equal access to emerging education technologies, officials announced.

The Departments of Education and Justice stressed the responsibility of colleges and universities to use accessible eReaders in a letter published June 29, after more than a year of complaints from low-sighted and blind students attending colleges that have piloted eReader programs.

Many eReaders have a text-to-speech function that reads words aloud, but the devices lack menus that people who are blind or have low vision can navigate.

Russlyn Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights at the Education Department (ED), said ED officials would watch for eReader programs cropping up in K-12 schools and higher-education institutions. Technical assistance will be provided on a “case-by-case basis,” she said, and the government will be “responsive” to any IT decision makers bringing eReaders to their school or campus.

Most of the complaints have come from colleges and universities that have launched pilot programs using the Amazon Kindle and Kindle DX, including Pace University, Princeton University, Case Western University, and the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, Ali said.

Ali said ED officials “were not in the business of endorsing any product,” and there are no plans to publish a list of acceptable eReaders because the technology is evolving so rapidly.

“I can imagine a list becoming obsolete very quickly,” said Ali, who added that federal officials have not received any complaints about the Apple iPad since its introduction in April. “While these devices are changing, the principles and the laws do not.”

Ali said, “It is our understanding [that Amazon] will be coming out with a fully accessible” eReader, although she wasn’t aware of a time frame. Amazon did not respond to an interview request by press time, but a March 2009 post on the company’s official blog declared the company is working on a more accessible Kindle and looks “forward to making it available in the future.”

Pace, Case Western, and Reed College in Portland, Ore., announced in January that they would not use the Kindle DX eReader under terms of an agreement reached early this year with the Justice Department.

Arizona State University ended its Kindle pilot this spring after the National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind filed a discrimination lawsuit. The settlement did not involve payment, but ASU pledged that it would “strive to use devices that are accessible to the blind” in future eReader programs, according to a university statement.

“Technology can be a driving force in making equal educational opportunity a reality,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement. “Given what technology now makes possible, no student should be the denied the opportunity to benefit from an enhanced educational experience based simply on a visual disability.”

Chris Danielsen, a spokesman for the National Federation of the Blind, said the organization was pleased with the federal government’s focus on the accessibility issue, adding that NFB officials will keep close watch as eReaders become more common on college campuses.

“We feel very strongly that eBooks are going to catch on very fast in higher education, and if we’re not vigilant about it, blind students will be left behind,” he said. “There’s no good reason eBooks should be inaccessible to blind people. … This technology has the potential to benefit everybody, but it won’t benefit everybody if it’s not properly designed.”

Danielson said there’s a good reason that federal education officials haven’t logged complaints about Apple’s iPad: the large menu screen is far more accessible than other eReaders.

“The iPad is considerably closer to an eReading solution that will be effective for blind students than other products are out there,” Danielson said. “I don’t know whether it’s perfect or not, but Apple has clearly thought about accessibility and made and effort to improve it.”


School libraries pummeled as budget crisis worsens

librarians say few people understand how involved they are in classroom learning and school technology.

librarians say few people understand how involved they are in classroom learning and school technology.

School librarians fear another round of budget cuts in districts across the nation could severely impair students’ development of information literacy and other key 21st-century skills.

As the school budget crisis deepens, administrators have started to view school libraries as luxuries that can be axed, rather than places where kids learn to love reading and do research.

No one will know exactly how many jobs are lost until fall, but the American Association of School Administrators projects 19 percent of the nation’s school districts will have fewer librarians next year, based on a survey this spring. Ten percent said they cut library staff for the 2009-10 school year.

A trip to the school library might be a weekly highlight for children who love to read, but for kids from low-income families, it’s more of the necessity than a treat, according to literacy experts and the librarians who help kids struggling in high school without a home computer.

Unlike the overflowing bookshelves of wealthier families, 61 percent of low-income families own no age-appropriate books, according to a 2009 study commissioned by Jumpstart on “America’s Early Childhood Literacy Gap.” They depend on libraries to keep them from falling behind in school.

While the American Association of School Librarians says some states like California, Michigan, and Arizona have been hit especially hard, a map of cutbacks on the organization’s web site shows jobs are disappearing across the nation.

“We’re doing a disservice to our kids, especially those in poverty, if we don’t have the resources they need,” said association president Cassandra Barnett, who is also the school librarian at the Fayetteville, Ark., High School library.

Because few state or federal laws mandate school libraries or librarians, and their job losses are small compared with classroom teacher layoffs, library layoffs might seem minor to some observers. But librarians say few administrators or parents understand how involved they are in classroom learning and school technology.

“We have really cut off our noses to spite our face, because we are denying access to the very resources we say our kids need,” Barnett said.

Rosemarie Bernier, president of the California School Library Association, says she doesn’t know how students doing complex online research projects could complete their assignments without the guidance they get in school libraries.

“The people who control the purse strings are out of touch. They don’t understand what the kids really need,” said Bernier, who is the librarian at Hamilton High School in Los Angeles.

She spoke of a student with a first-period English class who came to her in tears because she didn’t have enough time to transfer and reformat the essay she had written on her cell phone. Because she doesn’t have a computer at home, the student’s cell phone is her only hope of completing assignments that need to be typed.

The number of California school libraries that won’t have teacher librarians next year is changing daily, but she says many students will be surprised next fall when they find their school library closed or staffed by someone who can check out books but not help them with their school work.

Los Angeles eliminated all its elementary school librarians a few years ago and has left next year’s staffing of middle school libraries up to the schools. Of 77 middle schools, about 50 have found the money to pay for a teacher librarian, according to Esther Sinofsky, who is in charge of libraries for the district.

Sinofsky, a former school librarian, says Los Angeles Unified School District recognizes the connection between student achievement and school libraries, but the district is also struggling to close a $640 million budget gap for the 2010-11 school year.

Teacher-librarians have been disappearing from Michigan schools gradually over the past decade, with a drop of nearly 1,500 to not quite 500 since 2000, according to Tim Staal, executive director of the Michigan Association for Media in Education.

Those who remain are doing the jobs done by two or three people a few years ago.

Gigi Lincoln, the librarian at Lakeview High School in Battle Creek, Mich., since 1973, was told she would have to leave the library and start teaching French because the district needed to make drastic cuts in the middle of the school year.


Words that inspire

The panelists provided unique views on global learning.

The panelists provided unique views on global learning.

Live ISTE Blog – One of my favorite quotes comes from Uncle Ben of Spider-Man fame… “With great power, comes great responsibility.” I’m pretty sure that Stan Lee wasn’t thinking about ISTE keynotes when he penned that well-used phrase. However, that’s the quote that comes to my mind when I consider the impact that a well-thought out, well-delivered keynote can provide.

After years of attending conferences, I’ve seen terrible keynotes, great ones, and everything in between. I’ve seen solo keynote presentations, panel discussions, and a plethora of combinations and permutations there of. After all these years at conferences, I’m still amazed and thrilled when I see a keynote speaker or panel that “sings” with its message. What do I mean by that (because I’m definitely not talking about karaoke)? I mean that I appreciate all the keynotes where the message is clear, powerful, and well-delivered, and it resonates with the audience.

Overall, I really like keynotes. It’s the theory of “Educational Amway” to the highest degree. That’s why I became a tech trainer. Instead of teaching 20-30 kids, I could teach 20-30 teachers at a time who each teach 20-30 students. That theory is magnified with keynotes. When you’re doing a huge keynote presentation, the potential base of students that you can affect is even greater… You might be speaking to 200-300 or 2,000-3,000 or more educators, and that’s why I like keynotes. That said, it’s imperative that organizations really consider who they bring in for keynotes because it’s not just the message, it’s the way that information is delivered. Just like how we encourage our teachers to engage all learners, it’s important that all keynote presenters do the same with the audience.

In Tuesday’s keynote, “Innovation and Excellence: Buzzwords or Global Imperative?,” the audience was treated to a panel discussion that included Karen Cator, director of the Office of Education Technology, U.S. Department of Education; Jean-François Rischard, former VP of the World Bank; Shaun Koh, a student from Singapore; and Terry Godwaldt, director of programming with the Centre for Global Education. It’s rare to see panel discussions for a keynote session, but I enjoy that format. The goal of a keynote should be to get audience members to question… It should challenge listeners to think… It should inspire us to action. Panel discussions expand the opportunities for inspiration. With four opinions, often divergent, you can quadruple the potential connections with the audience. With four styles of delivery, you can reach more learners.

Tuesday’s keynote was a powerful panel. Godwaldt brought a global perspective in a charming way. Koh offered enthusiasm and insight of a youthful voice. Cator provided passion and some of the most well-thought-out ideas. Rischard contributed solid ideas as well, albeit in a tone and energy level that brought back memories of multi-hour college lectures. Although I began watching the keynote in the theatre, I ended up going to the Bloggers’ Cafe to watch it on ISTEvision so that I could observe reactions of my peers.

Several of the ideas and thoughts resonated with the audience (me included), and there were just as many nods of the head as smiles and thoughtful expressions. As with the best of keynotes, whether you personally agreed or disagreed with the statements by the panelists, their comments made you think. They made you discuss. I hope that the majority of conference goers who listened in will also be empowered to action as well. The dialogue is open… Now what will we do with it? As Karen Cator said, change can happen quickly with a motivated grassroots movement.

Ted Lai is the director of Technology and Media Services in California’s Fullerton School District.


Win up to $500 toward an outdoor learning center

The Lorrie Otto Seeds for Education Grant Program gives small monetary grants to schools, nature centers, and other nonprofit and not-for-profit places of learning in the United States, including houses of worship, with a site available for a stewardship project.

Project goals should focus on enhancement and development of an appreciation for nature using native plants. Projects must emphasize involvement of students and volunteers in all phases of development, and increase the educational value of the site. Creativity in design is encouraged, but must show complete and thoughtful planning. The use of, and teaching about, native plants and the native-plant community is mandatory, and the native plants must be appropriate to the local ecoregion and the site conditions (soil, water, sunlight).