Safe passages

DAREChicago has had major problems with gangs attacking people throughout the city, including school kids going to and from school each day. I’m sure many of us remember the terrible online video that showed…

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Lawmaker to push for open online textbooks

College students pay more than $900 annually for textbooks.

College students pay more than $900 annually for textbooks.

Every semester, a few students in Steven White’s business and marketing courses ask to borrow the professor’s copy of the course textbook. They can’t afford one for themselves, White said, and their sub-par exam scores show it.

That’s why White, a University of Massachusetts Dartmouth professor since 1998, supports a federal law that aims to lower skyrocketing college textbook costs by making students privy to a class’s book prices before they register for the course, requires publishers to disclose book prices to professors, and rids textbooks of “bundles” like CDs and access to web sites that raise prices.

The law, known as the College Textbook Affordability Act, was included in the Higher Education Opportunity Act passed by Congress in 2008. The textbook provisions—championed by Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill.—kicked in July 1.

While colleges and universities are now required to monitor professors and book publishers to ensure they’re abiding by the new rules, Durbin said he would push for passage of another bill that would award competitive one-year grants to colleges, professors, and publishers to create open textbooks available for free on the internet.

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Update: Google touts encrypted search fix

Google has changed its encrypted search domain name.

Google has changed the domain name for its new encrypted search feature.

Responding to concerns from education technology officials, internet search giant Google Inc. has moved its encrypted search feature to a new domain name, from https://www.google.com to https://encrypted.google.com. The move is intended to let schools block Google’s encrypted search feature without having to block the company’s other services, too—but some ed-tech officials say it’s not a viable solution to the problem.

Google in May released a new encrypted search feature, which lets internet users hide their search queries from third parties. The service uses Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) connections to encrypt information that travels between a user’s computer and Google’s search engine, meaning that a user’s search terms and search results pages cannot be intercepted by any third-party software on the network. Searches also are not archived in the web browser’s history and won’t appear in the auto fill during a subsequent search.

Educators in school systems using Google services, such as Gmail and Google Apps for Education, worried that the new encrypted search feature would keep them from complying with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) and put their federal e-Rate funding at risk. They said the service forced them to make a difficult choice: Block access to all of Google’s features, including Google Apps, or risk forfeiting CIPA compliance. (See “Google’s encrypted search creates problems for schools.”)

To address these concerns, Google has moved the domain name for its encrypted search to https://encrypted.google.com. On the Official Google Enterprise Blog, a post titled “An update on encrypted web search in schools” stated that Google moved its encrypted search “to a new hostname in order to better serve school partners and users.”

“The site functions in the same way,” according to the post. “However, if school network administrators decide to block encrypted searches on https://encrypted.google.com, the blocking will no longer affect Google authenticated services like Google Apps for Education.”

That’s not entirely true, said Jerry Jones, director of computer, network, and telecommunications support for the Sacramento County, Calif., Office of Education.

“Encrypted.google.com appears to use the same IP addresses as the rest of the Google services, so just having a different domain name will not meet our needs,” Jones said. “We need the IP addresses of their encrypted search to be different as well.”

Google says schools can simply “block the DNS [Domain Name System] resolutions of the encrypted.google.com hostname, and not attempt to inspect HTTPS packets. … Before a browser even tries to make a connection to https://encrypted.google.com, it has to resolve the IP address of that hostname. We expect schools to block that initial resolution.”

But Jones and some other ed-tech officials say they prefer to filter inappropriate web sites based on IP addresses instead of domain names. As long as Google’s encrypted search shares the same IP addresses as the company’s other services, the new domain name won’t matter, they say.

Andrea Bennett, executive director of the California Educational Technology Professional Association, agreed with Jones.

Though Bennett said she’s impressed with Google’s attention to the problems its encrypted search has created for schools, and said that Google has “responded well to the education community’s concerns,” she noted that the domain name change is not very helpful.

“While this is an improvement, it is not perfect,” Bennett said. “Using DNS to block is not secure enough, because students know how to get around it by using the actual IP address. We have been told that Google continues to work with the vendor community to develop a more stringent solution, and we appreciate that.”

The issue is important not only for schools, but also for Google, which is competing with Microsoft in supplying free, cloud-based software to schools for communicating and collaborating online.

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India unveils prototype of $35 tablet computer

India's Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal displays a low-cost tablet at its launch in New Delhi, India. (AP)

India's Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal displays a low-cost tablet at its launch in New Delhi, India. (AP)

It looks like an iPad, only it’s one-fourteenth the cost: India has unveiled the prototype of a $35 basic touch-screen tablet aimed at students, which it hopes to bring into production by 2011.

If the government can find a manufacturer, the Linux operating system-based computer would be the latest in a string of “world’s cheapest” innovations to hit the market out of India, which is home to the 100,000-rupee ($2,127) compact Nano car, the 749-rupee ($16) water purifier, and the $2,000 open-heart surgery.

The tablet can be used for functions like word processing, web browsing, and video conferencing. It has a solar-power option, too—important for India’s energy-starved hinterlands—although that add-on feature costs extra.

“This is our answer to MIT’s $100 computer,” Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal told the Economic Times when he unveiled the education technology device on July 22.

In 2005, Nicholas Negroponte—co-founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab—unveiled a prototype of a $100 laptop for children in the developing world. India rejected that as too expensive and embarked on a multi-year effort to develop a cheaper option of its own.

Negroponte’s laptop ended up costing about $200, but in May his nonprofit association, One Laptop Per Child, said it plans to launch a basic tablet computer for $99.

Sibal turned to students and professors at India’s elite technical universities to develop the $35 tablet after receiving a “lukewarm” response from private-sector players. He hopes to get the cost down to $10 eventually.

Critics pointed out that the tablet’s cost largely depends on companies actually being able to manufacture at the $35 price point.

Christopher Dawson, an education blogger for ZDNet, discussed the tablet in a July 23 post, and he posted a follow-up entry on July 26 in which he wondered exactly how India would achieve that $35 price tag.

“The prototype only lays out the specifications for the tablet, but [its] cost estimates rely on predictions of massive economies of scale and local government large-scale purchases,” he wrote.

Dawson noted that “devices like these have the potential to leverage extraordinary advances in cloud computing and be part of both modern, connected classrooms as well as bridging the digital divide.” He pointed out, however, that many schools—in the U.S. and across the globe—are still struggling with connectivity and might not be ready for devices such as this.

Mamta Varma, a ministry spokeswoman, said falling hardware costs and intelligent design make the price tag plausible. The tablet doesn’t have a hard disk, but instead uses a memory card, much like a mobile phone. The tablet design cuts hardware costs, and the use of open-source software also adds to savings, she said.

Varma said several global manufacturers, including at least one from Taiwan, have shown interest in making the low-cost device, but no manufacturing or distribution deals have been finalized. She declined to name any of the companies.

India plans to subsidize the cost of the tablet for its students, bringing the purchase price down to around $20.

“Depending on the quality of material they are using, certainly it’s plausible,” said Sarah Rotman Epps, an analyst at Forrester Research. “The question is, is it good enough for students?”

Profitability is also a question for the $35 machine.

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Once a leader, U.S. lags in college degrees

Adding to a drumbeat of concern about the nation’s dismal college-completion rates, the College Board warned July 22 that the growing gap between the United States and other countries threatens to undermine American economic competitiveness, reports the New York Times. The United States used to lead the world in the number of 25- to 34-year-olds with college degrees. Now it ranks 12th among 36 developed nations. “The growing education deficit is no less a threat to our nation’s long-term well-being than the current fiscal crisis,” Gaston Caperton, the president of the College Board, warned at a meeting on Capitol Hill of education leaders and policy makers, where he released a report detailing the problem and recommending how to fix it. “To improve our college completion rates, we must think ‘P-16’ and improve education from preschool through higher education.” William Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, who hosted the Washington discussion along with Caperton, said the United States has fallen behind other countries over several decades. Canada now leads the world in educational attainment, with about 56 percent of its young adults having earned at least associate’s degrees in 2007, compared with only 40 percent of those in the United States…

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Civil rights groups skewer Obama education policy

It is most politely written, but a 17-page framework for education reform being released July 26 by a coalition of civil rights groups amounts to a thrashing of President Obama’s education policies and offers a prescription for how to set things right, reports the Washington Post. You won’t see these sentences in the piece: “Dear President Obama, you say you believe in an equal education for all students, but you are embarking on education policies that will never achieve that goal and that can do harm to America’s school children, especially its neediest. Stop before it is too late.” But that, in other nicer words, is exactly what it says. The courteous gloss on this framework can’t cover up its angry, challenging substance. The framework’s authors start as conciliatory, applauding Obama’s goal for the United States to become a global leader in post-secondary education attainment by 2020. But quickly their intent is clear. They take apart the thinking behind the administration’s education policies, and note a number of times the differences between what Obama and Duncan say about education and what they do…

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U.S. looks to improve disabled access to internet

The Obama administration on July 23 offered a series of proposals aimed at enhancing access to web sites for people with disabilities, Reuters reports. Most of the proposals are aimed primarily at improved access for the deaf and the blind. With the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act on July 26, the Justice Department issued four proposals for public comment aimed at finding ways to keep up with advancing technologies so people with disabilities are not left behind. “Just as these quantum leaps can help all of us, they can also set us back—if regulations are not updated or compliance codes become too confusing to implement,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. However, the proposals could draw criticism from the business community, which already has a rocky relationship with the Obama administration over issues including new regulations on the financial industry. One key proposal focused on improving access for people with disabilities to the web sites of state and local governments, as well as the sites of private businesses such as restaurants and hotels. Noting that the internet has evolved substantially since the 1990 law went into effect, the department asked for comment on what resources are available to help those with disabilities access existing web sites, as well as what the costs would be for making them accessible…

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Oregon school computer labs overwhelmed by demands

It used to be students needed only a No. 2 pencil to take the Oregon state assessment, but now it requires a computer. At the same time, the federal government requires students to be “technologically literate” by the end of eighth grade. The competing demands have created a logjam for local schools, reports the Oregonian, as educators try to teach students about search engines, digital presentations, and internet safety—but find computer labs consumed for days or weeks at a time throughout the year for state testing. With little money to comply with the state and federal requirements, districts are trying out smaller, less expensive laptops and looking to their students for additional help. “Kids are powering down for the most part when they come to school,” said Carla Wade,  a technology specialist for the Oregon Department of Education. “In a classroom of 30, if 10 bring in laptops, you only need 20 more laptops. How can you use what kids are already coming to school with?” This school year, Oregon had roughly one computer for every 4.6 students. That number is virtually unchanged from 2005. Ten years ago, Oregon received about $6 million in federal funding for technology, but it has declined every year since, Wade said. Last year, it was $1.4 million, and this coming school year it drops to about $800,000…

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K12 Inc. announces acquisition of KC Distance Learning

K12 Inc., one of the nation’s largest providers of proprietary curriculum and online school programs for students in kindergarten through high school, has announced an all-stock acquisition of KC Distance Learning Inc. (KCDL), a privately held provider of distance learning programs for middle and high school students, BusinessWire reports. The acquisition bolsters K12’s position as a leader in K-12 online education and a provider of virtual school solutions. The move adds a new line of products and services to K12’s offerings for public and private schools, international schools, and individual consumers. Additionally, K12 significantly increases the size of its online private school offering through the acquisition of KCDL. Headquartered in Portland, Ore., KCDL has three brands that provide education services to districts, public and private schools, and directly to families: Aventa Learning, The Keystone School, and iQ Academies. Aventa Learning, which is accredited by the Northwest Association of Accredited Schools, offers more than 140 core, elective, and AP courses in grades 6-12 that provide schools with cost-effective online learning solutions, from credit recovery courses to full-scale virtual school programs. The Keystone School is a leading online private school for middle and high school students, while iQ Academies operates statewide online public schools in partnership with school districts or public charter schools in six states: Kansas, Minnesota, Nevada, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin…

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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.

Early reaction was mixed, with a Republican senator and a for-profit college lobbying group panning it and advocates for tougher regulation questioning whether it does enough to protect students and taxpayers…

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