Chicago Public Schools crack down on cyber bullies

Digitally placing classmates’ heads onto other people’s bodies, leaving abusive messages on Facebook profiles, eMailing X-rated images, and inciting violence via text message are all part of the modern school bully’s arsenal, Chicago Public School officials say. But now new district rules mean “cyber bullies” caught using cell phones or social networking web sites to pick on classmates face mandatory suspension, possible expulsion, and a police investigation, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. Officials say the tough stance — which regulates student behavior off campus and outside school hours, as well as during the school day — is necessary to tackle a growing trend of cyber bullying. Studies suggest as many as four in 10 kids are targeted by bullies online. Under the new Student Code of Conduct, passed by the Chicago Board of Education on July 28, cyber bullying will be considered as serious an offense as burglary, aggravated assault, gang activity, drug use, or more traditional forms of bullying. Students who use computers or phones to “stalk, harass, bully, or otherwise intimidate others” will be suspended for five to 10 days and could be referred for expulsion. The details automatically will be referred to Chicago Police, who could hit students with criminal charges. Students caught using district computers to harass others also could lose their computer privileges…

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Learning a language from an expert, on the web

The internet, with its unparalleled ability to connect people throughout the world, is changing the way that many people learn languages, reports the New York Times. There is no still way to avoid the hard slog through vocabulary lists and grammar rules, but the books, tapes, and even CDs of yesteryear are being replaced by eMail, video chats, and social networks. Livemocha, a Seattle company with $14 million in venture capital financing, mixes a social network with lessons for more than 38 of the world’s more common languages. The initial lessons are free, but unlocking some of the additional features requires a fee to Livemocha (starting at $10 for a set of lessons) or an agreement to correct the work of othersThe lessons, whether they are flashcards, quizzes, audio recordings, or written and spoken essays, are delivered through a web browser. Michael Schutzler, Livemocha’s chief executive, says the web site’s advantage is the ability to practice with a real person. “The great irony is that even if you have years of classroom Spanish, you don’t have a lot of confidence to go into a bar and have a conversation,” he said. The casual connections with real people throughout the world, however brief, are not just fun and surprising but reveal more about how the language is really used…

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IT officials: Only one in 10 campuses have ‘cutting edge’ technology

Fourteen percent of students said their professors simply 'won’t use' technology that is available to them.

Fourteen percent of students said their professors simply 'won’t use' technology that is available to them.

Most college students say their schools understand how to use education technology in the lecture hall, but only 9 percent of campus IT officials describe their institution’s technology adoption as “cutting edge,” according to a survey released July 19.

The survey of more than 1,000 IT staff members, faculty, and college students, conducted by CDW Government Inc. (CDW-G), shows that three out of four students surveyed approved of their college’s use of technology, while highlighting two findings that concerned some technologists: only a sliver of respondents defined their campus technology as “cutting edge,” and far more IT staffers push for education technology than do instructors.

According to CDW-G’s report, 47 percent of respondents said their college campus uses hardware that is “no more than three years old,” and 38 percent said their campus’s technology infrastructure is “adequate, but could be refreshed.” Only 9 percent said their education technology is “cutting edge,” and 5 percent described their computer systems as “aging.”

One percent of respondents said their institution’s technology is “in the dark ages.”

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Study questions digital-divide efforts

Technology can have a detrimental effect on student performance if not coupled with educational programs. Copyright: Nevit Dilmen.

Technology can have a detrimental effect on student performance if not coupled with educational programs. Copyright: Nevit Dilmen.

Two researchers at Duke University have published a draft study that raises questions about the academic value of giving students home computers and broadband internet access. Their study has led to a flurry of media coverage, with some reports trumpeting the study’s findings as evidence that efforts to close the digital divide are counterproductive. But is that what their research really says?

The study, “Scaling the Digital Divide: Home Computer Technology and Student Achievement,” is the work of researchers Jacob Vigdor and Helen Ladd of Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. It was published last month by the National Bureau of Economic Research as a working paper that was not peer-reviewed.

The study examined the reading and math test scores of more than 500,000 North Carolina public school students in grades five through eight from 2000-05. It sought to determine if differential access to computer technology at home compounds the educational disparities among students from various socio-economic backgrounds, and whether government provision of computers to middle school students would reduce those disparities.

The researchers found that students who had home computers for all five years of the period examined had better test scores overall than students who did not have home computers during this time. But the scores of students who reported getting a computer during this period showed a moderate decline in their first three years of home computer access. This effect was most pronounced for students who received free or reduced-price lunches and/or who were black.

“The introduction of home computer technology is associated with modest but statistically significant and persistent negative impacts on student math and reading test scores,” the researchers write in the abstract to their report. “Further evidence suggests that providing universal access to home computers and high-speed internet access would broaden, rather than narrow, math and reading achievement gaps.”

The researchers attribute the lower test scores to a lack of parental supervision and time management skills—that is, they theorize that students from lower-income households (those whose parents are less likely to be educated, and who either cannot or do not monitor their children’s use of computers at home) are more prone to use their computers for games or other non-educational uses than for homework.

However, the researchers make it clear that this is only a hypothesis.

“It is a hypothesis—an explanation that is consistent with the evidence,” said Vigdor in an interview with eSchool News. “It’s the most plausible explanation we can think of for the differential impacts noted [in our study].”

The study used a method called within-student comparison, which examined individual children before and after they obtained a computer in their household. Researchers took note of elements such as how long students reported having access to a home computer, students’ gender and ethnicity, whether they took part in the National School Lunch Program, and their scores on a state exam testing reading and math skills.

The researchers used a state database of reading and math test scores for all grade levels. For each student, researchers observed test performance as many as four times.

“This was critical to the analysis, as we are comparing the performance of the same children before and after they receive a home computer and/or broadband service in their ZIP code,” Vigdor said.

When public school students in North Carolina take the state’s required end-of-grade tests in math and reading, they fill out a brief questionnaire regarding their time use outside of school. The questionnaire asks about time spent on homework, time spent reading for leisure, time spent watching television, and the frequency of home computer use for schoolwork.

It’s this last question, asked of nearly one million students in fifth through eighth grade between 2000 and 2005, that served as the basis for the researchers’ analysis, as one of the possible responses is “I do not have a computer at home.” The researchers were able to hone in on the data for students whose answer to this question changed during the period studied.

The researchers also analyzed the test scores of students across various socio-economic groups according to whether there was broadband access available in their ZIP code, and they found similar minor but statistically significant negative effects on the test scores of students whose ZIP codes attained broadband access during the period studied—effects that were more pronounced among low-income and black students.

It’s important to note that the researchers had no way of correlating for sure whether students whose families owned computers also had broadband access during the period; instead, the researchers relied only on the availability of broadband service in the students’ communities.

It’s also important to note that Vigdor and Ladd did not base their analysis on observations of school laptop programs or other school-based efforts to close the digital divide. In these more structured programs, where teachers are assigning computer-based homework and parents receive computer training as well—often signing a contract promising to monitor their children’s computer activity at home—it’s entirely possible that researchers would see different results. And that’s something Vigdor acknowledges, too.

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Don’t ‘pass the trash’

DeniedStampAn investigation in 2008 by the state of Oregon found that 47 schools in the state had made a “pass the trash” deal over the previous five years. “Pass the trash” is a dangerous…

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Ten awards of $1M each for higher education

The objective of this program is to provide grants to institutions of higher education (IHEs) for pilot programs that expand the services of bookstores to provide the option for students to rent course materials in order to achieve savings for students.

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$650,000 for individuals with disabilities

This program aims to improve the effectiveness of services authorized under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, by developing methods, procedures, and rehabilitation technologies that advance a wide range of independent living and employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities, especially individuals with the most severe disabilities.  Projects carry out one or more of the following types of activities: Research, training, demonstration, development, dissemination, utilization, and technical assistance.

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$65,000 for literacy programs

The Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy’s grant-making program seeks to develop or expand projects designed to support the development of literacy skills for adult primary care givers and their children.

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Recognition for the nation’s top school counselor

The American School Counselor Association School Counselor of the Year program honors the best of the best–school counselors who are running top-notch, comprehensive school counseling programs at either the elementary, middle, or high school level.

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Funding for music programs and instrument repair

Mr. Holland’s Opus Music Foundation Grants have two programs, the Melody Program that targets qualified school music programs in need of assistance, and the Special Projects Program that targets community schools of the arts, after school programs, and youth orchestras in need of assistance.

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