Your professor, your computer, and you

Can students possibly learn more sitting alone, staring at a computer screen for hours on end than they could sitting amongst peers and interacting directly with an expert well versed in the subject at hand? Surprisingly, several studies, including one by the U.S. Department of Education, suggest that students are able to retain more and perform slightly better in an online setting than in a traditional one, according to U.S. News and World Report. Anthony Adornato, director of communications at Syracuse University’s Burton Blatt Institute, who has had experience as a traditional and online student, has been pleasantly surprised by his experiences learning online at the graduate level at the University of Missouri. “I have found the program, which is predominantly online, to be far more rewarding and fulfilling than I ever imagined,” he says. “Having said that, I think there is a big difference between getting a master’s degree online versus an undergraduate degree online. I don’t think there is anything that could replace the ‘traditional’ college experience.”

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Ohio mom jailed for lying about kids’ school residency

How far would you go to get your children into a better public school? The best intentions of one Ohio woman landed her in jail, AOL News reports. In a highly unusual case, Kelley Williams-Bolar, a single mother who lived in Akron, Ohio public housing, was convicted of lying about her residency in order to send her two daughters to a highly ranked school. Her sentence, which inflamed emotions in the community, was 10 days in jail, according to reports, and is due to end this week. “It’s overwhelming. I’m exhausted,” she told ABC News. “I did this for them, so there it is. I did this for them.” Four years ago, Williams-Bolar, 40, sent her girls, now 12 and 16, to the Copley-Fairlawn school district that was outside her Akron district of residence, reports said. Her father lives in the Copley-Fairlawn district, and she said she lived with him part-time after her home was burglarized and she wanted her children safe…

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Senators pledge bipartisan effort to revamp NCLB

Stakeholders support an NCLB overhaul to reflect realistic goals for schools.

Less than a day after President Obama asked Congress to overhaul No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in his Jan. 25 State of the Union address, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators said they would work together to revamp the nation’s education law—and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said he hopes to have a bill on Obama’s desk by the end of the summer.

“Last night, President Obama clearly stated his desire to help education and his desire to fix No Child Left Behind,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan told reporters in a Jan. 26 phone conference. “No one likes how No Child Left Behind labels schools as failures even when they are making significant gains.”

Duncan was joined on the call by Harkin, who is chairman of the Senate education committee; Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., ranking minority member of the committee; Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.; and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.

In overhauling NCLB, Duncan said the focus should be on rewarding schools that have made large improvements rather than penalizing them for still not reaching a higher standard.

Alexander, himself a former education secretary under President George H.W. Bush, said the problem lies with imposing federal regulations instead of allowing states to control their own education systems.

“Federal doesn’t equal national. For example, I believe in national standards on education, but I don’t believe Washington ought to set them,” said Alexander, adding that Duncan has worked hard to encourage states to create their own common standards.  “I don’t want us to become a national school board.”

Duncan said NCLB is far too rigid to allow states to enact their own policies.

“Washington shouldn’t provide one-size-fits-all mandates. We need a law that provides most schools with flexibility to decide how to improve and accelerate student achievement,” he said.

Without this flexibility, many school stakeholders say, too many schools are left facing sanctions for not reaching standards that they don’t have the resources to reach in the first place.

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How to keep tabs on mobile computers … without being sued for ‘spying’

Brick Township schools doubled their laptop return rate with help from Absolute Software.

A Pennsylvania school district was sued last year for remotely activating the webcams on student laptops to find missing machines. In nearby New Jersey, the Brick Township Public Schools had a problem with missing mobile computers, too—but not any more. And it won’t be in any legal danger from spying on students, either.

This district of 13 schools manages some 4,000 computers in all, about 1,000 of which are mobile computers such as laptops and netbooks. To keep track of the devices they loaned out to students and staff members, district officials used to use a binder and a paper sign-out sheet—a solution that was “not always up to date, and definitely not searchable,” says IT Director Leonard Niebo.

That was a problem, because “students seem to lose or misplace devices all the time,” Niebo says. The result was “bedlam,” he says, with district officials having to scramble to find as many as half of the devices they loaned out.

By taking advantage of an asset-tracking program called Computrace, from Absolute Software, Brick Township now has “a 100-percent return rate” on its mobile computers, Niebo says.

Like a “Lojack” for laptops, the software is loaded onto the mobile computers the district buys right at the factory, so district officials don’t have to install anything themselves. What’s more, the program also includes a data protection feature to keep sensitive information from getting into the wrong hands.

With help from this software, Niebo and his staff have satisfied a request from board members and other stakeholders “to know where all mobile devices are at all times,” he says—and they don’t have to worry about unauthorized users accessing personal files on machines that are lost or stolen.

(Editor’s note: For more information about Brick Township’s use of Computrace to keep tabs on its mobile devices and safeguard information, register for this free webinar: http://www.eschoolnews.com/2011/01/06/how-one-school-district-doubled-their-laptop-return-rate.)

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Obama: Spare education from budget cuts

'Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine,' Obama said.

In his State of the Union address on Jan. 25, President Obama called for more investment in education, innovation, and infrastructure—setting up a showdown between his administration and Republicans in Congress who are seeking billions of dollars in cuts to domestic spending.

Addressing a nation still reeling from the tragic shooting rampage in Tucson earlier this month that targeted U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona and left six people dead, including 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, Obama called for a members of both political parties to work together in addressing the challenges facing the nation.

“Each of us is a part of something greater—something more consequential than party or political preference,” the president said. “We are part of the American family.” Breaking with tradition, members of Congress adopted a bipartisan seating arrangement that saw many political adversaries sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in an unusual demonstration of unity.

But the spirit of compromise might be short-lived once lawmakers get back to business, as there are stark differences in how each political party views the solutions to the nation’s challenges—which include steep budget deficits, aging infrastructure, stagnant academic achievement, and competition from other nations for 21st-century jobs.

How these differences play out will have important implications for U.S. schools and colleges, as well as their students.

See what Obama says about teachers on eSN.TV

Recognizing the need to scale back government spending, Obama called for a five-year freeze on domestic discretionary spending. But he wants to exempt spending on education and research from this freeze.

“I recognize that some in this chamber have already proposed deeper cuts, and I’m willing to eliminate whatever we can honestly afford to do without,” he said. “But … cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine. It may feel like you’re flying high at first, but it won’t take long before you’ll feel the impact.”

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Research finds text-messaging improves children’s spelling skills

Teens’ text-messaging habits are legion. They send thousands upon thousands of texts per month, and every once in a while, some unfortunate parents make the headlines when they get a bill in the mail for thousands upon thousands of dollars in texting charges. The increasing use of text-messaging by teens–and increasingly often, by younger children–has given some people cause for concern. They argue that the abbreviations used in texting are detrimental to literacy development. Spelling, grammar, phrasing–these are all somehow poised to suffer, critics of texting contend, because of the use of shortened words and sentences. Soon, they predict, students’ essays will be filled with LOLs and L8Rs. But a new study from Coventry University finds no evidence that having access to mobile phones harms children’s literacy skills, reports ReadWriteWeb. In fact, the research suggests that texting abbreviations or “textisms” may actually aid reading, writing and spelling skills…

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Holocaust historical data goes digital

The world’s largest collection of Holocaust documents is going digital, the Associated Press reports. Israel’s Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, is teaming up with Google to make its photographs and documents interactive and searchable on the Internet. The first 130,000 photos hit the web Wednesday. Although much of Yad Vashem’s archive was already available through its formidable website, the new project enables users to search keywords and data just like a Google search. A social network-like component allows viewers to contribute to the project by adding their own stories, comments and documents about family members who appear in the online archives…

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Rep. Rand Paul unveils $500 billion in federal budget cuts

The freshman Republican congressman, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), would nearly eliminate the Department of Education and do away with the Energy Department, reports the Los Angeles Times. Hours before a State of the Union address expected to focus on government spending, Washington has come down with a case of budget-slash fever. Sen. Paul has unveiled his plan to cut $500 billion from the federal budget in a single year–a path that would transform the federal government and dramatically curb its reach into American life. Paul’s budget cuts more than five times as much as House Republican leaders have advocated and faces little chance of winning support, even from within his own party. Still, the “tea party” favorite’s plan demonstrates one pole in the coming budget debate. His plan would cut in half funding for the Department of Commerce and nearly eliminate the Department of Education. It would eliminate the Department of Energy, which oversees environment regulation and enforcement…

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Education group to push for funding

Higher-education supporters have formed another new group that aims to pressure the Legislature to be more generous with education funding, reports the Seattle Times. Earlier this year, University of Washington alumni formed a group, UW Impact, to push for more funding for the university. Both Washington State University and Western Washington University are following suit with groups of their own. The newest group, the College Promise Coalition, was announced Tuesday. It’s an umbrella group that includes public colleges and universities, faculty and student groups, business leaders and education organizations. “This is a broader statewide coalition that will help play a coordinating role” among all the different groups, said spokesman Sandeep Kaushik…

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Verizon to offer $30/month unlimited data plan for iPhone

Yep, you’ll be able to get unlimited data with the upcoming Verizon iPhone, carrier execs have confirmed. Meanwhile, word has it that Verizon may nix a cheaper, capped 3G data plan, Yahoo News reports. Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam finally confirmed the news to the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, adding that he hoped the all-you-can-eat 3G plan could tempt more current iPhone users who were grandfathered into AT&T’s old unlimited data plan…

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