In a new role, teachers move to run schools

At a school in Newark, N.J., the teaching staff is the administration, reports the New York Times—raising teacher morale but potentially blurring educators’ focus. Dominique D. Lee and five other teachers—all veterans of Teach for America, a corps of college graduates who undergo five weeks of training and make a two-year commitment to teaching—are running a public school called Brick Avon Academy, with 650 children from kindergarten through eighth grade. “This is a fantasy,” Lee said. “It’s six passionate people who came together and said, ‘Enough is enough.’ We’re just tired of seeing failure.” The Newark teacher-leaders are part of a growing experiment around the country to allow teachers to step up from the classroom and lead efforts to turn around struggling urban school systems. Brick Avon is one of the first teacher-run schools in the New York region; others have opened in Boston, Denver, Detroit, and Los Angeles. At Brick Avon, the principal, Charity Haygood, who calls herself the “principal teacher,” teaches every day, as do the two vice principals. While they are in charge of disciplining and evaluating staff members, they plan to defer all decisions about curriculum, policies, hiring, and the budget to a governance committee made up largely of teachers elected by colleagues. Driving the establishment of teacher-run schools is the idea that teachers who have a sense of ownership of their schools will be happier and more motivated. But some educators and parents question whether such schools are the solution for urban districts, which typically have large concentrations of poor students and struggle with low test scores and discipline problems. They say that most teachers have neither the time nor the expertise to deal with the inner workings of a school, like paying bills, conducting fire drills, and refereeing faculty disputes…

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Forget what you know about good study habits

Psychologists have discovered that some of the most hallowed advice on study habits is flat wrong, reports the New York Times. Traditional studying advice is cheap and all too familiar: Clear a quiet work space. Stick to a homework schedule. Set goals. Set boundaries. Such theories have developed in part because of sketchy education research that doesn’t offer clear guidance. Yet there are effective approaches to learning, at least for those who are motivated. In recent years, cognitive scientists have shown that a few simple techniques can reliably improve what matters most: how much a student learns from studying. The findings can help anyone, from a fourth grader doing long division to a retiree taking on a new language. But they directly contradict much of the common wisdom about good study habits, and they have not caught on. For instance, instead of sticking to one study location, simply alternating the room where a person studies improves retention. So does studying distinct but related skills or concepts in one sitting, rather than focusing intensely on a single thing. “We have known these principles for some time, and it’s intriguing that schools don’t pick them up, or that people don’t learn them by trial and error,” said Robert A. Bjork, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Instead, we walk around with all sorts of unexamined beliefs about what works that are mistaken.”

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A strong password isn’t the strongest security

Elaborate requirements for account passwords might sound invincible, but experts say Americans aren’t paying enough attention to other online security threats, reports the New York Times. Make your password strong, with a unique jumble of letters, numbers, and punctuation marks. But memorize it—never write it down. And, oh yes, change it every few months. These instructions are supposed to protect us—but they don’t. Some computer security experts are advancing the heretical thought that passwords might not need to be “strong,” or changed constantly. They say onerous requirements for passwords have given us a false sense of protection against potential attacks. In fact, they say, we aren’t paying enough attention to more potent threats. Here’s one threat to keep you awake at night: Keylogging software, which is deposited on a PC by a virus, records all keystrokes—including the strongest passwords you can concoct—and then sends it surreptitiously to a remote location. “Keeping a keylogger off your machine is about a trillion times more important than the strength of any one of your passwords,” says Cormac Herley, a principal researcher at Microsoft Research who specializes in security-related topics. After investigating password requirements in a variety of settings, Herley is critical not of users but of system administrators who aren’t paying enough attention to the inconvenience of making people comply with arcane rules. Donald A. Norman, a co-founder of the Nielson Norman Group, makes a similar case. In an essay published last year, he noted the password rules of Northwestern University, where he then taught, was a daunting list of 15 requirements. He said unreasonable rules can end up rendering a system less secure: Users end up writing down passwords and storing them in places that can be readily discovered…

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Teens sue Facebook over ‘like’ button

A lawsuit claims that Facebook unlawfully uses minors' images for advertising purposes when they indicate they 'like' a product.

A lawsuit claims that Facebook unlawfully uses minors' images for advertising purposes when they indicate they 'like' a product.

Two Los Angeles County teenagers are suing Facebook, claiming the social networking giant effectively sold their names and images to advertisers without parental permission.

The lawsuit, filed Aug. 26 in Los Angeles, challenges a Facebook feature that allows members to note that they like an advertised service or product. Facebook broadcasts those endorsements to the user’s friends.

The lawsuit also claims minors unwittingly endorse Facebook when people typing their names in a search engine are steered to a Facebook sign-up page.

The plaintiffs say Palo Alto, Calif.-based Facebook is violating a California law that requires parental consent for children to make commercial endorsements. The teens seek unspecified damages.

Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes said the lawsuit is meritless. He noted that Facebook doesn’t allow users under 18 to let their profiles appear on public search engines.

University of Minnesota law professor Bill McGeveran, who has much experience in social media and legal issues, told Online Media Daily that “the borderline between conversation and advertising is really blurry in social networking.”

McGeveran referenced a 1971 California law that prohibits companies from using people’s names or photos in ads without their consent, or if the person is a minor, without parental consent, and pointed out that the law was enacted before the internet or social networking existed.

The class-action lawsuit is filed on behalf of all California residents who are or were under the age of 18 and members of Facebook from Aug. 26, 2007, to Aug. 26, 2010, and whose likenesses or names were used in a Facebook advertisement or landing page.

“When a teenager sees that their Facebook friends ‘like’ an ad, it piques their curiosity, making them more likely to click the ad or visit the page,” said Los Angeles plaintiff attorney John Torjesen of John C. Torjesen & Associates. “We believe it is a clear case of exploitation of children for the sake of profits.”

“The consent of the minor for this commercial use of his or her name and likeness is not obtained by Facebook,” said plaintiff attorney and co-counsel Antony Stuart of Stuart Law Firm. “Under California law, the minor’s consent cannot be obtained without the consent of the parent or guardian. Facebook makes no effort to obtain parental consent.”

Under California law, minors can’t give legal consent, and the lawsuit claims that Facebook should seek parental or guardian permission before underage members say they “like” advertised items.

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3D equipment helps school lessons take on a whole new dimension

Vera Johnson’s fifth-graders barely noticed as visitors walked into their classroom this week, reports the Dallas Morning News: They were far too focused on the disembodied head that seemed to float in the front of the room. Suddenly a human ear, with all its innards exposed, jumped out at them. “Whoa!” The kids were responding to a relatively new kind of technology just starting to filter into North Texas classrooms: a 3D projection system, coupled with interactive, computer-driven content. In her class at Richardson ISD’s Hamilton Park Pacesetter Magnet elementary school, Johnson was teaching a lesson about the human senses. Down the hall, Brittany Russo gave her third-grade class a tour of the solar system. The sun, planets, and asteroids spun gently like an animated chandelier. Russo “grabbed” a comet and took the class on a virtual ride though an orbit, all the while engaging her students in a spirited question-and-answer session. Both teachers were part of a pilot program coordinated last school year by DLP, a division of Texas Instruments that produces hardware for this kind of 3D projection. This week, both teachers welcomed the technology back into their classrooms. “My struggling students don’t give up,” Russo said. “It’s almost impossible for them to stop paying attention.”

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IETF: AT&T’s net neutrality claim is ‘misleading’

The head of the internet’s leading standards body said Sept. 2 that it is “misleading” for AT&T to claim that its push to charge customers for high-priority service is technically justified, CNET reports. Internet Engineering Task Force chairman Russ Housley told CNET that AT&T’s arguments to federal regulators, which cited networking standards to justify “paid prioritization” of network traffic, were invalid. “AT&T in their letter [to the Federal Communications Commission] says the IETF envisioned this,” Housley said. “That’s not my view.” This particular debate began earlier this week, when AT&T sent the FCC a letter arguing that telecommunications providers need the ability to set different prices for different forms of internet service. Paid prioritization, AT&T said, was a form of network management that was “fully contemplated by the IETF” more than a decade ago. Everyone agrees that, in the late 1990s, the IETF revised its networking standards to allow network operators to assign up to 64 different traffic “classes,” meaning priority levels. That concept of “differentiated services” is referred to today as DiffServ, which allows high-priority communications like videoconferencing to be labeled with a higher priority than bulk file-transfer protocols that aren’t as sensitive to brief slowdowns. The disagreement arises from what happens if Video Site No. 1 and Video Site No. 2 both mark their streams as high priority. “If two sources of video are marking their stuff the same, then that’s where the ugliness of this debate begins,” Housley says. “The [IETF standard] doesn’t talk about that. … If they put the same tags, they’d expect the same service from the same provider.”

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Are open textbooks gaining momentum in higher ed?

Flat World Knowledge will expand its book offerings this school year.

Flat World Knowledge will expand its book offerings this school year.

Officials from open-license textbook publisher Flat World Knowledge say more than 1,300 instructors at 800 colleges and universities will use their books this fall semester—doubling the 400 institutions that used Flat World texts a year ago.

New York-based Flat World Knowledge also announced a partnership with Virginia State University that could prove to be a model for how institutions can provide affordable textbooks for students who often decide not to buy expensive books that can add as much as $1,000 to an annual college bill, according to national estimates.

The proliferation of Flat World’s low-cost online books owes in large part to word of mouth in the halls of academia, said Eric Frank, the company’s founder and president.

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To boost security, Facebook adds remote logout

The social-networking giant Facebook is rolling out a new security feature that lets users see which computers and devices are logged into their Facebook accounts, then remove the ones that they don’t want to have access, PC World reports. The move addresses a growing problem on Facebook: Spammers use fake phishing sites to trick Facebook users into entering their usernames and passwords, and then they use those credentials to send spam messages to as many Facebook friends as possible. This type of spam is often very effective because it looks like it’s coming from a trusted source (a Facebook friend), and security experts say that many spammers have now developed automated programs that log into stolen Facebook accounts and send spam. Besides knocking out spammers, the new feature also gives users a way of logging out of machines that they’ve recently used—a school library computer or a friend’s mobile phone, for instance. Not everyone will be able to use this new feature immediately, as it’s being rolled out “gradually,” Facebook said in an eMail message. Users who have been granted the login control feature can see it by going to Account Settings and then looking for it in the Account Security Section. There, they can see the different computers currently logged into Facebook, which browser and operating system they use, and—based on Internet Protocol information—a guess at where they are located. With the click of a button, the user can “end activity” on any of these sessions…

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Report: 72 percent of adults now send text messages

Texting among adults is on the rise, with more than 72 percent of those over 18 using the technology—but their usage still pales in comparison to texting among teenagers, who send an average of five times as many texts as their adult counterparts, PC Magazine reports. Of the 2,252 people surveyed by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, about 72 percent of adults said they sent text messages in May 2010, compared with 65 percent of adults surveyed in September 2009. Adult texters are sending an average of 10 texts per day, while those ages 12 to 17 are sending about 50 texts per day. There are some prolific adult texters—about 5 percent of adults send 200 texts per day or more; about 15 percent of teens do the same. Gender is not a major factor when it comes to texting; men and women send and receive the same number of texts on a daily basis. The report also found that if you text often, it’s likely that you also make a lot of voice calls. The reverse also was true: A small number of texts also translated into a small number of calls. Broken down by race, Pew found that African Americans and Hispanics are “more intense and frequent” users of a phone’s capabilities than whites. Parents with children under 18 in the home are also more likely to own a phone than those without kids, Pew said…

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Education’s less-than-certain windfall

There’s $10 billion for schools in the state aid bill Congress passed last month, but some school systems have reason to wonder whether they are going to see the money, Stateline.org reports. It sounded at first like the best of news for South Carolina. The $26 billion jobs bill passed by Congress earlier this month would send $143.7 million to the state, which has lost between 2,800 and 3,900 teaching jobs over the past two years. Instead, after taking a look at the bill’s fine print, state education officials found a flaw that could deprive them of that money. A set of provisions in the bill requires states to have kept up their level of higher education spending this year, something South Carolina did not do. “It appears to us that the only fix is going to be possible through Congress,” says Jim Foster, of the South Carolina Department of Education. Three weeks after the bill’s passage, several states are grappling with its ramifications. Sparking the confusion is language wedged into the U.S. Department of Education’s rules for allocating the money. While the provisions that could harm South Carolina were also present—and stricter—in the 2009 Recovery Act, the stimulus bill made it possible for states to ask Washington to waive those requirements. But last month’s jobs bill does not offer waivers, which means that those states that have made drastic cuts to higher education could miss out on the windfall…

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