$200 minigrants for school libraries

Educators are asked to answer the question, “What would $200 help you do with your school’s library?” The 10 ideas that garner the most votes through an open voting system will win a $200 grant, as well as a Flip Video camcorder or an Apple iPod nano with video to share the implementation of their project with the WeAreTeachers community. The idea that receives the most votes will win an Apple iPad.


The strange media coverage of Obama’s education policies

NBC News president Steve Capus said his network’s Education Nation summit this week would be a fair, serious look at public education today—but it wasn’t even close, writes Washington Post education blogger Valerie Strauss. The events, panels, and discussions were sharply tilted toward Obama’s school reform agenda—focused in part on closing failing schools, expanding charter schools, and using standardized test scores to evaluate teachers. It gave short shrift to the enormous backlash against the plan from educators and parents around the country who say that Obama’s education priorities won’t improve schools but will narrow curriculum and drive good teachers out of the profession. NBC seemed to take for granted that Obama’s education policies are sound and will be effective. Seasoned journalists failed to ask hard questions and fell all over their subjects to be sympathetic. It was a forum for people to repeatedly misstate the positions of their opponents. The one school district that was the subject of a panel was New Orleans, which was remade after Hurricane Katrina with public charter schools. (Never mind that charter schools educate less than five percent of the school children in the country and can never be a systemic solution to the troubles that ail urban districts.) A panel on innovation was packed with charter school folks, sending a message that only charter schools are innovative, which they, by and large, are not…

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In Schmidt’s vision, Google will search before you even ask

In the not-so-distant future, you’ll be walking down the street and your phone will beep and offer you a few lunch suggestions just around the corner, or it might tell you that the museum across the street is having an exhibit of that artist you once Googled: That’s Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s vision of the future, Computerworld reports. In a keynote address at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco, Schmidt said that at some point in the future, Google’s search technology will be autonomous, meaning it will offer users search results even before they’ve looked for them. “While it sounds like science fiction to suggest that technology can help search for things you don’t even yet know you need, the opportunities to improve human discovery are very real in the future,” said Augie Ray, an analyst at Forrester Research. “Combining a person’s context — where they are, who they’re with — with their past opinions and actions, and the opinions and actions of others, can create tremendous value for people.” Autonomous search would take your past experiences, likes and dislikes and use them, along with geolocation information, to give you information about things that might interest you wherever you might be. Analysts say this kind of technology could be a reality within five years. However, it could be a big drain on the battery life of mobile devices.
But the bigger issue could be privacy. For this type of search technology to work, your phone and Google would need to know where you are all the time. And many people might have a big problem with that…

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Study finds first evidence that ADHD is genetic

British scientists have found the first direct evidence that attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a genetic disorder, and they say their research eventually could lead to better treatments for the condition, Reuters reports. Researchers who scanned the gene maps of more than 1,400 children found those with ADHD were more likely than others to have small chunks of their DNA duplicated or missing. Anita Thapar, a professor psychiatry at Cardiff University who led the study, said the findings should help dispel the myths that ADHD is caused by bad parenting or high-sugar diets. “This is really exciting, because it gives us the first direct genetic link to ADHD. Now we can say with confidence that ADHD is a genetic disease and that the brains of children with this condition develop differently to those of other children,” she told reporters at a briefing about the findings. ADHD is one of the most common child mental disorders and is estimated to affect around 3 to 5 percent of children globally. It is seen far more often in boys than in girls. Children with ADHD are excessively restless, impulsive, and easily distracted, and often experience difficulties at home and in school. There is no cure, but the symptoms can be kept in check by a combination of medication and behavioral therapy. Thapar said the findings would help unravel ADHD’s biological basis, “and that’s going to be really important in the future to develop new and much more effective treatments.” But experts stressed that the DNA findings were unlikely to lead the development of a genetic test for ADHD, because a complex mix of genes and environment are likely to be the cause…

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Texting ban report met with anger, skepticism

Are texting-while-driving bans working? In a controversial report released Sept. 28, the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), an affiliate of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, found that texting bans are not reducing crashes, MSNBC reports. The claims that anti-texting laws do not reduce crashes touched a nerve with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, who responded harshly to the report, calling it misleading and flawed. “Last Thursday, I blogged about misleading claims from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) disparaging the effectiveness of good laws and good enforcement in our campaign to end distracted driving,” LaHood wrote in his blog “The Fast Lane.” “Unfortunately, they’re at it again today with another misleading ‘study.’ There are numerous flaws with this ‘study,’ but the most obvious is that they have created a cause and effect that simply doesn’t exist.” The results of the HLDI study, released at the Governors Highway Safety Association Annual Meeting in Kansas City, found that as a result of texting bans, not only was there not a reduction in crashes, there was a slight increase in crash frequency, especially for young drivers, who are most likely to text and drive. Currently, 30 states and the District of Columbia have anti-texting laws. “You can’t say laws don’t work,” said David Strickland, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Administrator. “It’s too early to make an assessment.” He said strong enforcement and public awareness was needed, but these take time to take hold. When there are high visibility, education, and good laws, “it works,” he said, referring to the success of new Department of Transportation campaigns…

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Bush Institute launches initiative for principals

The first initiative of the George W. Bush Institute will focus on improving the performance of school principals, reports the Associated Press. “We know the teachers have a direct and enormous impact on student performance—and school principals shape the environment in which teachers are able to operate successfully,” former first lady Laura Bush told a group assembled at a Dallas high school for the announcement. The institute’s Alliance to Reform Education Leadership, or AREL, will consist of school districts, universities, and foundations offering educational programs to current and future school leaders, Bush said. “A well-trained, energetic teacher can be stifled under lackluster or discouraging administrators,” said Bush, a former school teacher. The Bush Institute hopes to certify at least half the nation’s public school principals by 2020. James W. Guthrie, senior fellow and director of education policy studies at the institute, said those who participate will be better trained on how to manage schools. He said school districts in the alliance must expand the roles of principals to make them more like chief executives. So far, organizations in six cities are participating, including school districts in Dallas, Fort Worth, and Plano, Texas; Marian University in Indianapolis; the business schools at Saint Louis University in Missouri and the University of Denver; and SMU’s school of education in Dallas…

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House Democrats punt on net neutrality

Net neutrality was the Obama administration's top campaign pledge to the technology industry and a major priority of the current FCC chairman, Julius Genachowski.

Net neutrality was the Obama administration's top campaign pledge to the technology industry and a major priority of the current FCC chairman, Julius Genachowski.

In the latest development in the fight over so-called “net neutrality” regulations, House Democrats have shelved a last-ditch effort to broker a compromise between phone, cable, and internet companies on rules that would prohibit broadband providers from blocking or degrading online traffic flowing over their networks.

House Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., abandoned the effort late on Sept. 29 in the face of Republican opposition to his proposed net-neutrality rules. Those rules were intended to prevent broadband providers from becoming online gatekeepers by playing favorites with traffic.

The battle over net neutrality has pitted public interest groups and internet companies such as Google Inc. and Skype against the nation’s big phone and cable companies, including AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc., and Comcast Corp.

Public interest groups and internet companies say regulations are needed to prevent phone and cable operators from slowing or blocking internet phone calls, online video, and other web services that compete with their core businesses. They also want rules to ensure that broadband companies cannot favor their own online traffic or the traffic of business partners that can pay for priority access.

Many higher-education technology officials also support net-neutrality rules to ensure that smaller institutions without massive technology budgets are on a level playing field with their larger counterparts in being able to deliver online content to students.

But the phone and cable companies insist they need flexibility to manage network traffic so that high-bandwidth applications don’t hog capacity and slow down their systems. They say this is particularly true for wireless networks, which have more bandwidth constraints than wired systems. The communications companies also argue that after spending billions to upgrade their networks for broadband, they need to be able earn a healthy return by offering premium services. Burdensome net-neutrality rules, they say, would discourage future investments.

Waxman’s proposal, the product of weeks of negotiations, attempted to carve out a middle ground by prohibiting internet traffic discrimination over wireline networks while giving broadband providers more leeway when it comes to managing traffic on wireless networks. The plan would have allowed the Federal Communications Commission to impose fines of up to $2 million for net-neutrality violations, but it would not have given the FCC the authority to make new rules regarding broadband providers.

If that sounds familiar, it should: It bears a strong resemblance to a compromise plan on net neutrality released by Google and Verizon in August, to great dismay from public interest groups.

For the broadband companies, Waxman’s retreat is a setback. They fear the issue could now go back to the FCC, which deadlocked over the matter in August. The commission could impose more restrictive rules on the industry than a House compromise would have.

“If Congress can’t act, the FCC must,” Waxman said in a statement. He added that “this development is a loss for consumers.”

Net neutrality was the Obama administration’s top campaign pledge to the technology industry and a major priority of the current FCC chairman, Julius Genachowski, a key architect of Obama’s technology platform. But frustration is growing—particularly among public interest groups—as the debate has dragged on over the past year without resolution either at the FCC or in Congress.

Waxman’s proposal, in part, fell victim to today’s political climate, with Republicans hoping to rack up gains in the upcoming midterm elections apparently unwilling to help Democrats make progress on such a contentious issue. With an anti-government, anti-regulation sentiment sweeping the nation—and boosting Tea Party candidates—Republicans also were reluctant to support a proposal that opponents equate to regulating the internet.

Yet, in what would have been a big victory for the phone and cable companies, Waxman’s proposal would have headed off an effort by Genachowski to redefine broadband as a telecommunications service subject to “common carrier” obligations to treat all traffic equally.


Setting students on the path to high school graduation

A software program helped ninth graders stay on track.

A software program helped ninth graders stay on track.

On the road to graduation, ninth grade is the place where many students lose their way. To help all students cross the finish line with a diploma in hand, it is vital that we make sure incoming freshmen get off to a successful start in high school.

After graduating from Vero Beach High School and beginning my teaching career there, I worked in a neighboring county for 10 years before returning to my alma mater as principal in 2009. Although the suburban school was high performing, I noticed a growing achievement gap:  While students were proficient as eighth graders, their achievement levels dropped as they progressed through high school.

We knew we couldn’t wait for results from district benchmarks or quarterly assessments to help pinpoint the problems. That first semester we implemented an online educational program that is built directly from state standards and, with real-time reporting, gives teachers the ability to monitor student mastery daily and quickly identify learning gaps as they relate to the state standards. Called Study Island, the program combines self-paced instruction with games and rewards to reinforce student accomplishments as they master grade-level content and help students take control of their learning.

Monitoring student progress

Nearly all ninth graders work on the software in math, reading, writing, and science. In addition, targeted tenth graders work on the program to address achievement gaps. With the reporting data, teachers are able to differentiate instruction and provide targeted interventions to narrow achievement gaps in the classroom and help students prepare for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT). Teachers also use the data to affirm students’ successes, which boosts their confidence.

To ensure all students make the most of their high school education, I also regularly monitor student progress and disaggregate data by student subgroups. Plus, I created a subgroup for student athletes to track their mastery of state standards and evaluate their performance as a whole.

On our campus of 2,700 students, we have nearly 700 athletes. Almost all the athletes who used Study Island improved their performance on our benchmark exams. The football players, who had the lowest averages in class and the lowest success rate on our exams, made substantial increases. We also saw significant gains among other athletes, including members of our baseball, tennis, and swim teams.

To strengthen the school-to-home connection, we also use the online program’s parent notification system to automatically eMail reports to parents about their child’s performance. With the reports, parents can chart their child’s progress and see how their child is likely to perform on the FCAT.

Strengthening writing skills

To help students stay on track throughout high school, I also believe it is critical to focus on writing as early as possible. If students are not involved in writing every day, they do not perform as well on their state tests.

So, in addition to working on math, reading, and science in the online educational program, students and teachers also use a Writing Assignment module, which provides a paperless way to develop writing skills across the curriculum. Using this module, teachers choose from grade-specific writing prompts or create their own writing assignments for students. Students use online graphic organizers to plan their written responses, and create and submit their compositions online. Teachers then electronically send grades and comments back to students, or ask for revisions.


Rutgers student kills self after sex act broadcast online

Two Rutgers students have been charged with invasion of privacy for the acts that reportedly led to a classmate's death.

Two Rutgers students have been charged with invasion of privacy for the acts that reportedly led to a classmate's death.

A Rutgers University student jumped to his death off a bridge a day after authorities say two classmates surreptitiously recorded him having sex with a man in his dorm room and broadcast it over the internet.

Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi jumped from the George Washington Bridge last week, said his family’s attorney, Paul Mainardi. Police recovered a man’s body on Sept. 29 in the Hudson River just north of the bridge, and authorities were trying to determine if it was Clementi’s.

ABC News and the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., reported that Clementi left on his Facebook page on Sept. 22 a note that read: “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.” On Sept. 29, his Facebook page was accessible only to friends.

Two Rutgers freshmen have been charged with illegally taping the 18-year-old Clementi having sex and broadcasting the images via an internet chat program.

Steven Goldstein, chairman of the gay rights group Garden State Equality, said in a statement that his group considers Clementi’s death a hate crime.

“We are heartbroken over the tragic loss of a young man who, by all accounts, was brilliant, talented, and kind,” Goldstein said. “And we are sickened that anyone in our society, such as the students allegedly responsible for making the surreptitious video, might consider destroying others’ lives as a sport.”

On the Rutgers campus, there was dismay over Clementi’s death and the circumstances that led to it.

Freshman Jonathan Pena said he was in a dorm lounge on Sept. 19 when someone came in and mentioned the sex webcast happening that night. “I knew him as a nice kid,” Pena said. “I didn’t know why anyone was bothering him with that.”

Rutgers president Richard McCormick sent a letter to the campus community, saying school officials were “profoundly saddened by this report.”

“If the charges are true, these actions gravely violate the university’s standards of decency and humanity,” McCormick wrote.