Indiana students get online tutoring in math

At least 35,000 Indiana middle school and high school students will get online math tutoring as part of a state Department of Education pilot program, according to an Associated Press report. The after-school program links students with online tutors who help with math lessons. Students can earn gift cards or other prizes by participating in the one-on-one tutoring sessions. The Indiana Department of Education is spending about $1 million for the one-year program through the private company Apangea Learning. If officials see results, the state could renew the contract…

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House OKs more degrees for community colleges

Community colleges could offer four-year degrees in nursing, under legislation passed by the House and now headed to the Senate, where the state’s 15 universities hope to block it, the Detroit Free Press reports. Four-year degrees also could be obtained at community colleges in culinary arts and maritime and cement technology. The proposed expansion has sparked an intense turf war between community colleges that say it would make four-year degrees more accessible, especially to older students, and four-year universities that view it as an expensive encroachment on their academic realm. About 10 of Michigan’s 28 community colleges probably would take advantage of the expansion to four-year degrees, said Mike Hansen, president of the Michigan Association of Community Colleges…

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Value of college degree is growing, study says

Despite rising tuition and student-loan debt levels, the long-term payoff from earning a college degree is growing, according to a forthcoming study from College Board, reports the New York Times. Workers with a college degree earned much more and were much less likely to be unemployed than those with only a high school diploma, according to the report, “Education Pays: the Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society.” According to the report, the median earnings of full-time workers with bachelor’s degrees were $55,700 in 2008–$21,900 more than those of workers who finished only high school. And the pay premium for those with bachelor’s degrees has grown substantially in recent years. Among those ages 25 to 34, women with college degrees earned 79 percent more than those with high school diplomas, and men, 74 percent more. A decade ago, women with college degrees had a 60 percent pay premium and men 54 percent…

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Google reports on government requests and censorship

Google has lately found itself on the receiving end of criticism from privacy and transparency advocates. But with two new tools, Google is trying to convince them that the company is on their side, the New York Times reports. Google will introduce a new tool called the Transparency Report, at It publishes where and when internet traffic to Google sites is blocked, and the blockages are annotated with details when possible. For instance, the tool shows that YouTube has been blocked in Iran since the disputed presidential election in June 2009. The Transparency Report will also be the home for Google’s government requests tool, a map that shows every time a government has asked Google to take down or hand over information, and what percentage of the time Google has complied. Google introduced it in April and updates it every six months. Government requests could be court orders to remove hateful content or a subpoena to pass along information about a Google user…

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Study: Teacher bonuses failed to boost test scores

Students whose teachers were offered bonuses of up to $15,000 a year for improved test scores fared no better than those whose teachers were given no such incentives.

Students whose teachers were offered bonuses of up to $15,000 a year for improved test scores fared no better than their peers.

Offering big bonuses to teachers failed to raise students’ test scores in a three-year study released Sept. 21 that calls into question the Obama administration’s push for merit pay to improve education.

The study, conducted in the metropolitan Nashville school system by Vanderbilt University’s National Center on Performance Incentives, was described by the researchers as the nation’s first scientifically rigorous look at the effects of merit pay for teachers.

It found that students whose teachers were offered bonuses of up to $15,000 a year for improved test scores registered the same gains on standardized exams as those whose teachers were given no such incentives.

“I think most people agree today that the current way in which we compensate teachers is broken,” said Matthew Springer, executive director of the Vanderbilt center and lead researcher on the study. “But we don’t know what the better way is yet.”

The study comes as the Obama administration is encouraging school systems to link teacher pay and tenure to how students perform on tests and other measures of achievement.

The researchers looked at fifth- through eighth-grade math teachers from 2007 to 2009. A group of about 300 teachers started out in the study; half were eligible for the bonuses, the other half were not.

The bonuses were given out based on improvements in scores on Tennessee’s standardized exam, which is used by the state as part of the federal No Child Left Behind requirements.

Springer was quick to point out that his study looked only at individual bonuses, not extra pay doled out to teams of teachers or an entire school. He said more research is needed before policy makers draw any definitive conclusions.

“Some people were initially disappointed when they saw the results, but quickly turned around and said, ‘Well, at least we finally have an answer,'” he said. “It means pay can’t do it alone.”

The federal Education Department called the study too narrowly focused.

“It only looked at the narrow question of whether more pay motivates teachers to try harder,” said spokeswoman Sandra Abrevaya. “What we are trying to do is change the culture of teaching by giving all educators the feedback they need to get better while rewarding and incentivizing the best to teach in high-need schools [and] hard-to-staff subjects.”

The American Federation of Teachers praised the study and argued that teachers need other resources, including better training and more supportive administrators.

“Merit pay is not the panacea that some would like it to be. There are no quick fixes in education,” said union president Randi Weingarten. “Providing individual bonuses for teachers standing alone does not work.”

Teachers unions have historically opposed merit pay, arguing that test scores are not an accurate measure of student achievement, that financial rewards could pit teachers against each other, and that administrators could use bonuses to reward favorites and punish others.

Jennifer Conboy, a high school social studies teacher in Miami, called merit pay a “baseless fad.”

“Merit pay is an excuse to resist the attempt of teachers to get fair pay in the first place,” the 37-year-old Conboy said. “On a personal level, merit pay would do nothing to me. I took this job because I think education is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and if I cared about democracy—which I do—then I had a responsibility to do whatever I could to strengthen education.”

Only a few schools and districts across the country have merit pay, and in some states the idea is effectively illegal. The Obama administration hoped to encourage more states to pass merit pay laws with its $4.35 billion “Race to the Top” grant competition.


FTC web site helps students become smarter consumers

SiteofWeek092210‘You Are Here,’ a web site from the Federal Trade Commission, provides lessons on advertising, marketing, recognizing scams, protecting personal information, and other consumer concepts. The site is intended for students in fifth through eighth grade and can be used to complement lessons in critical thinking, writing, language arts, media literacy, business, civics, and social studies. In a virtual mall, students can play games, design ads, chat with customers and store owners, and more. Along the way, they’ll learn about key concepts, such as business competition, supply and demand, mergers and monopolies, and the history and purpose of the FTC. Students also can learn about protecting their privacy (both online and off), then lay a game in which they protect the citizens of Earth against identity-stealing invaders. A “Parents and Teachers” page contains suggested activities and ways to use the site in your classroom.


Panelists: Digital tools expand learning opportunities

Access to digital learning opportunities is critical for U.S. students' success, panelists said.

Access to digital learning opportunities is critical for U.S. students' success, panelists said.

The nation’s director of education technology called on schools to replace textbooks with mobile learning devices, and the head of the Federal Communications Commission said his agency would be voting this week on whether to lift some restrictions on the use of federal e-Rate funds to help deliver broadband access to more students, during a Sept. 21 panel discussion about the implications of digital-age learning.

Investments in broadband access and mobile learning devices are essential to helping students learn the skills they’ll need to compete on a global scale, said panelists during “Back to School: Learning and Growing in a Digital Age,” hosted by Common Sense Media, the Children’s Partnership, PBS Kids, and the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy.

“In some ways, this country is in a serious crisis when it comes to education and the underinvestment in our kids over the last 30 years,” said Jim Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense Media, during his opening remarks.

“We may not have classrooms of the 21st century, but we clearly have technology of the 21st century,” he added, referencing the “warp speed-like” changes in media and technology that enable today’s students to stay constantly connected to the internet and social media.

“Whether we like it or not, [these changes are] starting to affect the schools and classrooms that all of us care about so deeply,” Steyer said, calling this phenomenon “both a crisis and an opportunity” for U.S. education.

Three imperatives face U.S. education today, Steyer said: Every child should be digitally literate before graduating from high school, all parents must be informed about their children’s digital media lives, and every classroom needs to be a 21st-century learning environment.

Technology is making a major difference in the lives of U.S. students every day, said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. Children use multiple digital media devices to consume 11 hours of content a day, and teenagers send an average of one text message every 10 minutes while they are awake.

“It is striking how much technology is a part of kids’ lives today,” Genachowski said.

And while parents and teachers must find practical strategies to mitigate the risks of new technologies, including safeguarding students’ online privacy and security, “the opportunities of new communications technologies for our kids far exceed the risks,” he said. “The risks are real, but the opportunities are even larger.”

To that effect, the FCC launched Parents’ Place, a portal with information on how parents and caregivers can help keep children safe when using technology and the internet.

“Technology can, and must, be a key part of the solution to the problems that technology creates,” Genachowski said.

Major changes in store for the e-Rate

Access to broadband service creates countless opportunities for innovation and workforce development, Genachowski said, adding: “We fail our students if we don’t teach them basic [digital literacy] skills.”

That’s why the federal e-Rate program is so important, he said, noting that his agency plans to vote on Sept. 23 to make much-needed changes that will bring about a “major modernization” of the e-Rate.


Internet service upgrade coming to poor and rural schools

The Federal Communications Commission is expected on Sept. 23 to approve an overhaul of the $2.25 billion eRate program, which subsidizes internet service for schools and public libraries, to give schools more options for faster internet service, allow for community Internet service and to begin pilot programs for digital textbooks, the New York Times reports. The proposed e-Rate order would allow schools and libraries to use federal funds to lease unused local communication lines–known as dark fiber–to connect to the internet, a potentially faster and lower-cost connection than currently offered through many local telecommunications companies. Some schools still do not have broadband connections, the F.C.C. noted in its National Broadband Plan, released this year. The company that administers e-Rate received at least 200 requests in the 2009 fiscal year for money to pay for dial-up internet connections. The program mostly serves schools in poor and rural communities…

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Victims of online bullying may be more likely to be depressed

A study released on Sept. 21 shows that as bullying has moved beyond the schoolyard and on to Facebook pages, online chat groups and cell phone text messages, its victims are feeling more hopeless and depressed, the Washington Post reports. “Traditional bullying is more face-to-face,” said Ronald J. Iannotti, principal investigator for the study, published online in the Journal of Adolescent Health. It says that students targeted by cyber-bullies, who may not always identify themselves, “may be more likely to feel isolated, dehumanized or helpless at the time of the attack.” The study, by the National Institutes of Health, is based on surveys of more than 7,000 American schoolchildren. It offers a troubling portrait of the latest incarnation of an eternal problem. But researchers also say that traditional bullying and cyber-bullying are not necessarily distinct events and that one often flows into the other…

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Google promises Docs editing for iPad

Google said on Sept. 20 that Apple iPad owners would soon be able to edit Google Docs files on their tablets, according to a report in ComputerWorld. The announcement was made the same day as the company added two-factor authentication to its enterprise-oriented Google Apps suite. Google Apps includes Gmail, Google Docs and Google Calendar. “Today we demonstrated new mobile editing capabilities for Google Docs on the Android platform and the iPad,” said David Girouard, president of Google’s enterprise group, in a post to a company blog.” In the next few weeks, co-workers around the world will soon be able to co-edit files simultaneously from an even wider array of devices,” Girouard said. Google did not set a specific date for delivering Google Docs word processor and spreadsheet editing to the iPad…

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