Fewer than half of students proficient in science

Only 1 percent of high school seniors demonstrated advanced science skills in the 2009 NAEP.

The nation’s students are still struggling in science, with fewer than half considered proficient and just a tiny fraction showing the advanced skills that could lead to careers in science and technology, according to results from a national exam released Jan. 25.

Only 1 percent of fourth-grade and 12th-grade students, and 2 percent of eighth-graders, scored in the highest group on the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a federal test known as the Nation’s Report Card.

“Our ability to create the next generation of U.S. leaders in science and technology is seriously in danger,” said Alan Friedman, former director of the New York Hall of Science, and a member of the board that oversees the test.

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The results also show a stark achievement gap, with only 10 percent of black students proficient in science in the fourth grade, compared to 46 percent of whites. At the high school level, results were even more bleak, with 71 percent of black students scoring below the basic knowledge level, and just 4 percent proficient.

Fifty-eight percent of Hispanic 12th-grade students scored below basic, as did 21 percent of whites.

“These are really stunning and concerning numbers,” said Amy Wilkins, vice president for government affairs and communications at the Education Trust. She noted that minority and low-income students are the fastest growing parts of the youth population, making the need to increase their achievement levels all the more urgent.

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Google makes ed-tech splash with apps marketplace

Google's education app marketplace begins with 20 options.

Google opened an Apps Marketplace for educators Jan. 25, creating an online repository filled with learning management system (LMS) software, web-based grade books, and other content that can be shared among an entire school district or college campus with the click of a button.

The Apps Marketplace’s education category will start with 20 applications from 19 companies, according to Google’s official blog, and the applications can be integrated with existing app accounts, such as Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google docs.

Using free applications from Google’s new selection—which includes spelling and grammar tutorials and bibliographical management tools—could help educational technology officials avoid installing and updating software on dozens or hundreds of computers in a school or on a college campus.

Instead, ed-tech officials in K-12 schools and universities now can offer access to online grade books, for example, to every person on the institution’s network with the click of a mouse.

Opening an ed-tech apps market could help quell lingering anxiety among school and campus technologists about Google’s leadership change, which the company announced Jan. 20.

The initial selection of educational technology apps are “just the beginning,” according to Google’s blog. The company soon will make available applications from LMS industry giant Blackboard and test preparation company Knewton.

Claiming a spot on Google’s education apps menu could prove a boon to companies that once relied on word-of-mouth advertising. With 10 million people, Google Apps for Education provides an expansive market of technology-savvy customers, educators and business experts said.

Google’s application evangelism made headlines in October when New York state education officials deployed Google Apps for Education to any of its nearly-700 schools that wanted to use the tools.

Zach Posner, CEO of Engrade, a free web-based grade book accessible for teachers, students, and parents, said making it into the Apps Marketplace’s education category has transformed the way educators will hear about Engrade.

The company, Posner said, will now be heard about from “the top down,” as school system and university IT officials make the application available via Google’s online marketplace.

“Top date, we’ve really relied on teachers telling teachers [about Engrade],” said Posner, adding that Engrade has more than 275,000 educators among its 2.3 million members. “Now there’s a whole other way for people to hear about us.”

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Free online course helps educators teach about ocean exploration

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is offering a free online workshop for teachers and the general public, called “How Do We Explore?” The course is based on the voyages of the NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer, which most recently completed a joint expedition with an Indonesian vessel and scientists in Indonesian waters. The workshop is accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from now through Feb. 11, allowing participants to work on their own time and at their own pace. Topics will include searching for ocean anomalies, selecting sites for exploration, communication tools, telepresence technology, ocean mapping techniques, water column study, and operating underwater robots called remotely-operated vehicles, or ROVs. Participants will engage with ocean explorers and will receive a variety of downloadable supporting materials. For educators, the course contains inquiry-based lesson plans for all grade levels and the option to receive either one graduate extension credit ($100) from California State University at Fullerton or a certificate of completion. “All life on Earth relies on the ocean, and yet the ocean is 95 percent unexplored, unknown and unseen by human eyes,” said Paula Keener, director of education programs for NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research. “To better understand, manage, and protect the ocean and its resources, NOAA believes it is critical to use the best technology to explore, discover, inform, educate, and motivate.” http://www.coexploration.org/oe-hdwe

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New site offers college essays, sans plagiarism

There is one counselor for every 500 students in U.S. public schools.

Being the first in his family to graduate from high school, Paris Wallace said he sympathizes with teenagers who find themselves alone in the circuitous college application process, and he hopes a new online service called the Essay Exchange can help those students get an acceptance letter this spring.

The Essay Exchange, launched last August, has a repository of about 700 essays written by current students and college graduates who shared their successful written works for $2 apiece.

For between $2 and $5, a prospective student can scroll through the essays and get a feel for the structure and subject matter that helped get another student into a college or university.

The Essay Exchange, Wallace said, isn’t for students whose parents can afford pricey SAT preparation courses or counselors who tell students which classes to take throughout high school. The site was created to help students “compete on a level playing field” with their more affluent counterparts.

Read the full story on eCampus News

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Future murky for virtual classrooms

Kalynn Greer, 16, can see success in her future now, thanks to an alternative education program that lets her learn online and outside of a classroom. But it’s unclear what that program will look like in the future, reports the Battle Creek Enquirer. Greer is one of about 30 Battle Creek Central High School students who learn not in a classroom but at one of three “virtual sites,” places where students take lessons and exams online with the help of teacher mentors. Greer said she couldn’t succeed in a traditional classroom. There were too many distractions in the cliques and rumor mills. At the virtual site, she said, she can work more independently, with fewer students, and can maintain focus…While Michigan now requires some virtual learning experience for all high schoolers and it’s part of Battle Creek schools’ push to graduate every child, questions remain about virtual learning’s effectiveness and how to manage online programs…

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Google and Mozilla announce new privacy features

Add two more internet browser makers to the list of companies planning to offer web users new ways to control how their personal data is collected online, reports the New York Times. On Monday, Mozilla and Google announced features that would allow users of the Firefox and Chrome browsers to opt out of being tracked online by third-party advertisers. The companies made their announcements just weeks after the Federal Trade Commission issued a report that supported a “do not track” mechanism that would let consumers choose whether companies could monitor their online behavior…

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Bill would let ‘sexting’ NJ teens avoid charges

New Jersey teenagers caught texting or posting sexually explicit photos online could avoid prosecution under a measure that would give first-time offenders the chance to complete a diversionary program, the Washington Post reports. State Assemblywoman Pam Lampitt of Camden, who is sponsoring the bill, said it’s important to teach teens the potential consequences of their actions without saddling them with a permanent criminal record…

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Public universities relying more on tuition than state money

For bargain-hunting families, state colleges and universities, supported by tax money, have long been a haven from the high cost of private education. But tuition bargains are fading as the nation’s public universities undergo a profound shift, accelerated by the recession. In most states, it is now tuition payments, not state appropriations, that cover most of the budget, the New York Times reports. The shift has been an unwelcome surprise to Ashley Murphy, a sophomore at the University of South Carolina. When she and her twin sister, Allison, picked their colleges two years ago, costs were definitely an issue, since they are putting themselves through college…

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Florida or Ghana, eReading innovators face the same challenges

Worldreader, an eReader nonprofit with a project in Ghana, and Clearwater High School in Florida, who also have an eReader project, have found they are facing many of the same challenges, reports ReadWriteWeb. The kids each group serves are radically different in income and expectations. But they are quite similar in character. The administrators of both projects have passed out Amazon Kindle eReaders to large groups of students with the intent of piquing interest in reading and providing a library’s worth of access. Among the biggest challenges shared by both? Kids are born hackers. When Susan Moody, the marketing honcho for Worldreader, and John Just, Pinella County School District’s Assistant Superintendent of MIS, compared notes, they found that a substantial minority of eReader users had replaced their official academic Kindle accounts with personal ones, allowing them to download off-canon literature. Adult-oriented, let’s say…

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Feds launch new education data tool

The Dashboard highlights key education data across 16 indicators.

The federal Education Department (ED) has launched a new website that aims to provide easy access to key state and national education data for all school stakeholders.

The United States Education Dashboard, which debuted Jan. 24, highlights the progress being made across the country at every level of public education, and it encourages communities to engage in a conversation about their schools, ED says.

Available at http://dashboard.ed.gov, the site reports on several indicators of whether the country is making progress toward President Obama’s goal that, by 2020, the United States once again will have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

“The Dashboard highlights both our successes and challenges, while providing a new level of transparency [in communicating education data] that is absolutely essential to our efforts to accelerate student achievement,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan in a statement. “We hope communities will use this information to determine where we need to focus on reforms and investments in education.”

Users can view indicators of the nation’s performance in education, gauge their state’s progress, and see how their state is performing compared to others. The initial version of the Dashboard contains a set of 16 indicators, or education data points, that range from participation in early childhood education through completion of postsecondary education.

Most of the indicators that ED holds up as important are data points that few would quibble with, such as the percentage of eighth graders who were judged proficient in reading (30 percent) and math (33 percent) on the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress; the percentage of freshmen who graduate from high school within four years (74.9 percent); and the percentage of the nation’s 18- to 24-year-olds who are enrolled in college (44.7 percent).

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