Proposed federal rules crack down on for-profit schools

For-profit colleges are bringing in record amounts of federal aid money, according to government officials.

For-profit colleges are bringing in record amounts of federal aid money, according to government officials.

The Education Department proposed much-anticipated regulations July 23 that would cut off federal aid to for-profit college programs—including many of the nation’s largest online schools— if too many of their students default on loans or don’t earn enough after graduation to repay them.

“Some proprietary schools have profited and prospered but their students haven’t, and this is a disservice to students and to taxpayers,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a briefing with reporters. “And it undermines the valuable work, the extraordinarily important work, being done by the for-profit industry as a whole.”

To qualify for federal student aid programs, career college programs must prepare students for “gainful employment.”

The Obama administration, amid intense lobbying from both for-profit college officials and consumer and student advocates, is proposing a complicated formula that would weigh both the debt-to-income ratio of recent graduates and whether all enrolled students repay their loans on time, regardless of whether they finish their studies.

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Obama defends education policies to critics

Challenging civil rights organizations and teachers’ unions that have criticized his education policies, President Barack Obama said that minority students have the most to gain from overhauling the nation’s schools, reports the Associated Press. “We have an obligation to lift up every child in every school in this country, especially those who are starting out furthest behind,” Obama told the centennial convention of the National Urban League. The Urban League has been a vocal critic of Obama’s education policies, most notably the $4.35 billion “Race to the Top” program that awards grants to states based on their plans for innovative education reforms. Obama pushed back July 29, arguing that minority students are the ones who have been hurt the most by the status quo. Obama’s reforms also have drawn criticism from education advocates, including prominent teachers’ unions like the American Federation of Teachers, who have argued that the reforms set unfair standards for teacher performance. Obama said the goal isn’t to fire or admonish teachers, but to create a culture of accountability. He pinned some of the criticism on a resistance to change. Seeking to ease his strained relationship with the powerful teacher’s unions, Obama hailed teachers as “the single most important factor in a classroom,” calling for higher pay, better training, and additional resources to help teachers succeed. “Instead of a culture where we’re always idolizing sports stars or celebrities, I want us to build a culture where we idolize the people who shape our children’s future,” he said…

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Why the iPad is not ready for college this fall

School is starting in late August, and already a few universities are touting their decision to make the iPad a part of the classroom. But these universities might run into problems in making the device’s functions work for the average college student, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. Unless instructors are willing to switch to digital copies of readings, students will crowd their bookbags with their precious iPad screens and large, bulky textbooks. The lack of a USB port limits the iPad’s ability to become a useful group tool in class. Transferring files from iPad to iPad heavily relies on eMail and networking and can cause problems when sharing work files. In a setting where students are sharing iPads, splitting up work to take home can be a pain. Printing is another issue students might face; although Steve Jobs says that printing will come soon, the inability to print documents from the iPad keeps it from being a well-rounded classroom tool. Other limitations include battery life–no matter how good a 10-hour battery is, remembering to charge the device is key–and the lack of multi-tasking, which can be a problem when moving between apps…

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Justice Dept. joins suit accusing Oracle of overcharging U.S.

The Justice Department has joined a whistle-blower in accusing business software giant Oracle Inc. of defrauding the federal government by overcharging for software, reports the New York Times. In a civil suit filed in federal court on July 29, the Justice Department said that Oracle had failed to give the government the same discounts on software that it provided to commercial customers. A contract in place with Oracle from 1998 to 2006 required that Oracle notify the government of fluctuations in the price of its products and to match discounts made to commercial clients, according to the complaint. The software in question was valued at hundreds of millions of dollars, the Justice Department said. Oracle declined to comment. Paul Frascella, a former Oracle employee, acted as a whistle-blower in May 2007 by lodging his own complaint against Oracle on similar grounds. In April, the government provided notice that it would look into the matter. Now it has joined Frascella’s complaint. According to the complaint, Oracle sold $1.08 billion of software under the contract in question to a wide range of government agencies, including the Defense, Education, and Justice Departments and the military…

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IBM to open infrastructure lab at Carnegie Mellon

Computer giant IBM is teaming up with Carnegie Mellon University on a research lab to develop technologies to help governments better manage their infrastructure, BusinessWeek reports. The collaborative lab announced July 29 is part of the Pennsylvania Smart Infrastructure Incubator and is expected to open in the fall at the Pittsburgh school’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. IBM Vice President Wayne Balta said university researchers and graduate students will work with IBM experts and “be at the cutting edge of the way people are going to run their infrastructures.” The goal is to develop technologies, including real-time digital sensors and advanced computer systems, that government officials can use to more efficiently maintain and manage infrastructure, like road and sewer systems, Balta said. A sewer system, for example, might be equipped with sensors and computers that can analyze patterns of sewage flow, so that the system could be maintained more intelligently to avoid costly repairs or renovations…

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Last-minute funding for education jobs looks grim

A bill that could have saved thousands of teachers' jobs failed to pass in Congress.

A bill that could have saved thousands of teachers' jobs failed to pass in Congress.

The fate of additional funding that might save thousands of teachers’ jobs remains uncertain after a $10 billion education jobs bill failed to pass in Congress, leaving many schools in the lurch as districts determine how many teaching positions their recession-riddled budgets can support. But advocates of education technology are pleased that a Senate subcommittee has added $100 million in ed-tech funding to the Senate version of the 2011 education appropriations bill.

The U.S. House of Representatives approved a war spending bill on July 1 that included $10 billion for teachers’ jobs, which supporters said would help prevent thousands of layoffs across the nation, as well as $5 billion to cover a shortfall in requests for Pell Grant loans for low-income college students.

The measure had trouble passing in the U.S. Senate, however, and the $15 billion for education ultimately was dropped from the bill.

Democrats said they hope to introduce new bills to help save teachers’ jobs.

“At this point, there is no money for education or preserving teachers’ jobs” in the war spending bill, said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia.

Wise said lawmakers still could pass a separate bill to fund education jobs, but at this point the effort just doesn’t have the votes. “It’s tough on school districts because they have to make their decisions now based on how many teachers [to keep],” he added.

“To call this a tragedy is an understatement and merely the latest in a litany of legislative efforts that undermine our education system and throw another roadblock in our children’s future,” wrote Sen. Mike Honda, D-Calif., in an editorial that appeared in the San Jose Mercury News.

“Anyone with an ear to the ground on the education front knows we’re facing an emergency.”

While the future of education jobs is shaky, education technology advocates were encouraged by the inclusion of $100 million for ed-tech funds in the latest round of federal budget negotiations.

Hilary Goldmann, director of government affairs for the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), noted that on July 27, the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee did include $100 million for the Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) program in its version of the 2011 appropriations bill—the same amount that was included in the House subcommittee’s version of the bill.

President Obama’s 2011 budget proposal eliminated the EETT program, although officials noted that technology is funded in other established and new education programs, where it plays a central role in operations. ISTE and other ed-tech groups have argued that EETT is critical in ensuring that states and school systems are adopting 21st-century approaches to teaching and learning.

Goldmann noted that “it is highly unlikely that the education funding bill will be passed and signed into law” by the end of the federal fiscal year on Sept. 30, and she urged ed-tech stakeholders to “remain vigilant in … vocal support of EETT, as there is still a long process before [fiscal year 2011] funding is finalized.”

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Students trust high Google search rankings too much

As seasoned internet veterans know, just because a site shows up high on Google’s search rankings doesn’t mean it’s the most credible source on a topic. But that bit of wisdom apparently has not made it all the way down to the current generation of college students, Ars Technica reports. According to research out of Northwestern University, students barely care about who or what is showing up when they click on that top link—a behavior that undoubtedly affects their quality of research when doing schoolwork. The researchers observed 102 college freshmen performing searches on a computer for specific information. Most students clicked on the first search result no matter what it was, and more than a quarter of respondents said explicitly that they chose it because it was the first result. Only 10 percent of the participants mentioned the author or author’s credentials when performing their research, and according to screen captures of those students, “none actually followed through by verifying either the identification or the qualifications of the authors.” Students did acknowledge that certain web sites—mostly those ending in .gov, .edu—were more credible than others because they weren’t written by “just anybody.” However, some felt the same way about .org sites and were unaware that .org domains could be sold to anyone (and therefore have about the same credibility as any .com out there)…

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Obama to defend education policies to critics

President Barack Obama is defending his administration’s education policies, responding to criticism that so far they have not substantially helped minority students, reports the Associated Press. The president blames some of the criticism of his plan on teachers and others resistant to change. Obama was to speak July 29 at the centennial convention of the National Urban League, one of eight civil rights organizations that released a report this week calling the president’s $4.35 billion education initiative an ineffective approach for failing schools. In excerpts released ahead of the president’s speech, Obama says his program’s goal is to spur innovate education reform in states and turn around failing schools, many in minority communities—and not just label them as troubled and then walk away. Obama will tell the civil-rights group’s convention that some of the criticism of his programs come from those resistant to change and a “comfort with the status quo.” The goal of the initiatives, he says, isn’t to fire or admonish teachers, but to hold them accountable and help “create a better environment for teachers and students alike.” The president will call for schools to provide teachers higher pay and a fulfilling, supportive workplace…

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In price war, new Kindle sells for $139

Amazon.com will introduce two new versions of its Kindle eReader on July 29, and one will sell for $139, reports the New York Times—the lowest price yet for the device. By firing another shot in an eReader price war leading up to the year-end holiday shopping season, the e-commerce giant turned consumer electronics manufacturer is signaling it intends to do battle with Apple and its iPad, as well as the other makers of eReaders like Sony and Barnes & Noble. Unlike previous Kindles, the $139 “Kindle Wi-Fi” will connect to the internet using only Wi-Fi instead of a cell-phone network as other Kindles do. Amazon is also introducing a model to replace the Kindle 2, which it will sell for the same price as that model, $189. Both new Kindles are smaller and lighter, with higher contrast screens and crisper text. Amazon hopes that at $10 less than the least expensive reading devices from Barnes & Noble and Sony, the new $139 Kindle has broken the psychological price barrier for even occasional readers. The new Kindles, which will ship Aug. 27, have the same six-inch reading area as earlier Kindles but weigh about 15 percent less and are 21 percent smaller. The Kindles have twice the storage, up to 3,500 books…

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