Amid economic uncertainty, ed-tech leaders do more with less


Educational technology leaders are doing more with less as education budgets face further uncertainty.


Though education budgets might be frozen or face further reductions in school districts from coast to coast, some educational technology leaders have found innovative ways to update their schools’ technology and expand important ed-tech initiatives.

In San Antonio’s Judson Independent School District, Chief Technology Officer Steve Young has saved the district valuable dollars by examining current ed-tech practices and moving toward more “green” computing.

With 22,000 students and 3,000 employees, Judson ISD is facing the likelihood of a 5- or 10-percent cut in state funding next year.

“We know we need to cut more than we have in the past and do things differently,” Young said during a Jan. 18 webinar sponsored by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN). That includes going green by reducing electricity consumption and reducing heat creation to lower building HVAC costs. San Antonio’s local energy provider estimates a 50-percent increase in electricity bills over the next 10 years, Young added.

For more advice on doing more with less, see:

Duncan: Ed tech can help cut costs

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Seven proven ways to save on school budgets

Surviving the school budget crisis

Judson ISD started its money-saving initiatives by examining its ed-tech use, and district leaders ultimately decided to develop a green computing initiative in order to run more efficiently.

Young and his IT team opted to run virtual servers with VMWare to reduce the number of physical servers in the district, along with power consumption, cooling, and data center requirements. The district also purchased Energy Star and EPEAT certified computers.


How Google’s leadership shakeup could affect education

Ed-tech experts expect Gmail to remain popular in K-12 and higher education.

Google Inc.’s announcement last week that co-founder Larry Page would replace CEO Eric Schmidt might be appealing to educators who long for the company’s free-wheeling days, but educational technology leaders said a less structured, more risk-taking approach might make some ed-tech chiefs hesitant to embrace Google’s education services.

School districts, small colleges, and large universities alike have adopted a range of Google education products, primarily the company’s hosted eMail service, Gmail, which has allowed schools and colleges to save money by using Google’s servers instead of their own.

And as the company’s reins are being handed over to Page, 37, educational technology leaders said the change might be welcomed by students, teachers, and professors who have grown skeptical of the massive company since its days as a technology sector upstart with the motto, “Don’t be evil.”

Announcing Page’s new role as CEO “brings the coolness back” to Google, said Bill Edgette, executive director of IT services at Austin College in Texas, where campus officials have considered switching to Gmail in recent years.

For IT’s business side, however, Edgette said that “coolness” doesn’t matter. In fact, if Google returns to its days of introducing products that are in test mode, technologists will be wary of “going whole hog with Google.”

“We don’t want to hitch our horse to something that’s in perpetual beta,” Edgette said. “This is a pivotal moment for how [Google] relates to education. … Now, it really depends on which direction they go in.”

Gmail has proven more reliable than many school-run eMail systems, educational technology officials said, despite occasional outages that haven’t dissuaded schools and colleges from continuing to use Gmail.

K-12 education officials said they don’t anticipate a major shift in how Google approaches educational technology, since the company’s change didn’t introduce a new decision maker into the mix.

“The brain trust is unchanged,” said Marc Liebman, superintendent of the Berryessa Union School District in California. “They are changing chairs, not people.”


For-profit college group sues over regulations

A group representing for-profit colleges and trade schools filed a federal lawsuit Friday against the U.S. Department of Education seeking to block new regulations of the sector, the Associated Press reports. For-profit colleges, which rely heavily on students receiving federal aid, have been criticized for leaving too many students with large debt and questionable job prospects. The lawsuit from the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, challenges new rules issued in October that are scheduled to go into effect July 31. At issue are regulations that prohibit paying recruiters based on how many students they enroll, seek to rein in deceptive advertising and require states to authorize colleges for students to be eligible to receive federal loans…

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LA judge limits seniority-based teacher layoffs

A judge on Friday approved a sweeping overhaul of how teachers are laid off in what education reformers hail as a landmark decision to keep more effective instructors in the classroom, but unions denounce as a step toward dismantling tenure policies, the Associated Press reports. The decision was the outcome of a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California in February, charging that inner-city students’ right to a quality education was being violated by a last-hired, first-fired layoff policy.

“This is a historic decision for the state of California,” said John Deasy, deputy superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District. “The court stood and lifted up the voice of youth. That voice was loud and clear.”

The ruling by Superior Court Judge William Highberger approved a settlement between the ACLU, the state and LAUSD in which the district agreed to shield 45 of its lowest performing schools from layoffs and to ensure that the redistribution of those layoffs will not be sent to a school that will experience greater than the district average of layoffs for that year…

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Google awards $100 million to Eric Schmidt

Google says it has awarded $100 million worth of equity to outgoing CEO Eric Schmidt, the Associated Press reports. Google Inc. said in a filing on Monday the stock and stock options will be granted on Feb. 2 and will vest over four years. The 55-year-old Schmidt is being replaced as Google’s CEO by co-founder Larry Page. Both men, along with Google’s other co-founder Sergey Brin, have limited their salaries to $1 for years. But the three are Google’s controlling shareholders…

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Are Android tablets vapor? Or just not here?

Everyone seems to have proclaimed that this was the “year of the tablet” at the Consumer Electronics Show. But while I certainly saw a whole lot of tablets at the show, what strikes me most, in retrospect, is just how unfinished nearly all the tablets were, reports Michael J. Miller for PC Magazine. I left intrigued by the possibilities, but more skeptical about the market than most of my colleagues. Partly, there were so many tablets because it seems like every vendor thinks they fit into their existing market. Phone makers think of tablets as large smartphones — with or without calling features. TV makers think of tablets just as smaller screens on which to watch video and other content. PC makers think of tablets as laptops without keyboards. Monitor makers think of them as portable monitors. Book sellers think of them as electronic book readers…

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Facebook raises $1.5 billion

If you thought Groupon’s $950 million was big, hold on to your hats. Facebook has announced that it has raised $1.5 billion in funding at a $50 billion valuation, reports ReadWriteWeb. According to the release, the company has received $1 billion from Goldman Sachs Overseas Offering today, which, when combined with the previous $500 million, equals the $1.5 billion investment. Read on for details and a Facebook-led Q&A on the deal…

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If education were a business…

More than a million students are enrolled in highly inefficient districts, says the CAP report.

A controversial new study published by the Center for American Progress (CAP) analyzes K-12 school districts based on their productivity: the academic achievement a district produces relative to its education spending.

CAP researchers call their new index for evaluating school systems “educational productivity,” and according to the study, low efficiency costs the nation’s school systems as much as $175 billion a year in unproductive spending. Released last week, the report was blasted by many critics who argued that the success of a school system cannot be measured like that of a business.

“At a time when states are projecting more than $100 billion in budget shortfalls, educators need to be able to show that education dollars produce significant outcomes—or taxpayers might begin to see schools as a weak investment,” says the report.

Called “Return on Educational Investment: A district-by-district evaluation of U.S. educational productivity,” the report was written by Ulrich Boser, a senior fellow at CAP and research director of “Leaders and Laggards”—a joint project of the CAP, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute that evaluates systems of education.

The study is not meant to undermine the need for education spending, or limit schools’ resources, CAP says; but rather, to explore whether education systems can be evaluated like companies: If public education were a business, with school districts as its franchises, would the business remain open? Would its customers ultimately be happy, or would they demand refunds?

For more school reform news:

School Reform Center at eSN Online

For more research news:

Report shows high school graduates enter college unprepared

Should student test scores be used to evaluate teachers?

According to the study, a year-long effort that analyzed more than 9,000 school districts in more than 45 states, after adjusting for inflation, education spending per student has nearly tripled over the past four decades. “But while some states and districts have spent their additional dollars wisely—and thus shown significant increases in student outcomes—overall student achievement has largely remained flat,” the report says.

Besides Luxembourg, the U.S. spends more per student than any of the 65 countries that participated in the recent international reading exam from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the report says—and while Estonia and Poland scored at the same level as the U.S. on the exam, the U.S. spent roughly $60,000 more to educate each student to age 15 than either nation.

Boser and a panel of experts relied on education spending data from the 2008 school year, the most recent available, as well as on the results of 2008 state reading and math assessments in fourth grade, eighth grade, and high school.

Educational productivity was measured based on a district’s return on investment (ROI), controlling for differences in special education, low-income students, and living costs. This measure rates districts on how much academic achievement they get for each dollar spent, relative to other districts in their state.

The report’s main finding is that many school districts could “boost student achievement without increasing spending if they used their money more productively.”


Verizon challenges new net-neutrality rules in court

Verizon's court challenge puts the idea of an open internet to the test.

In a case with important implications for schools as well as consumers, Verizon Communications Inc. on Jan. 20 filed a legal challenge to new federal regulations that prohibit broadband providers from interfering with internet traffic flowing over their networks.

In a filing in federal appeals court in the District of Columbia, Verizon argues that the Federal Communications Commission overstepped its authority in adopting the new “net neutrality” rules last month.

The rules prohibit phone and cable companies from favoring or discriminating against certain types of internet content and services—including online calling services such as Skype and internet video services such as Netflix, which in many cases compete with services sold by companies like Verizon.

The FCC’s three Democrats voted to adopt the rules over the opposition of the agency’s two Republicans just before Christmas. Republicans in Congress, who now control the House, have vowed to try to block the rules from taking effect. They argue that the new rules amount to unnecessary regulation that will discourage phone and cable companies from investing in their networks.

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Several key House Republicans, including newly designated House Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton of Michigan, welcomed Verizon’s actions as “a check on an FCC that is acting beyond the authority granted to it by Congress.” The court challenge had been widely expected.

In a statement, Verizon said that while it is “committed to preserving an open internet,” it remains “deeply concerned by the FCC’s assertion of broad authority for sweeping new regulation of broadband networks and the internet itself.”


Panel: How to improve special ed


About 6.6 million students with disabilities are learning alongside their peers at a neighborhood school, up from 1.7 million in 1975.


As the push for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) increases, leaders in the field of special education recently debated whether the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) should be reworked to further align with ESEA, and how else the law might be improved to better meet the needs of students with disabilities.

“The 2004 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act has changed priorities for special-needs students. It’s been credited with improving outcomes for students but criticized for generating bureaucracy and rules and regulations that some believe stand in the way of providing more effective services,” said Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies for the Brookings Institution. West moderated a Jan. 18 panel discussion on how to improve special ed.

Alexa Posny, assistant secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services with the U.S. Department of Education (ED), argued that IDEA has been very successful in meeting the needs of students with disabilities—and aligning it with ESEA would increase its strength even further.

Other recent special-ed news and information…

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“I’m advocating for greater alignment between ESEA and IDEA. Alignment does not mean the merger of IDEA and ESEA. Nor does it represent any intention whatsoever to diminish or weaken IDEA as a unique and freestanding civil rights statute. … The reauthorization of ESEA and IDEA will create an opportunity for a paradigm shift that will allow us to define one educational system, while also refining our policies and practices to make certain that we educate all students to the highest possible standards,” said Posny.

Better alignment of IDEA and ESEA would allow policy makers to use the same definitions for what makes a highly effective teacher; use the same data-collection system for both general and special ed; coordinate initiatives within schools districts and education agencies; and concentrate on results rather than enforcement, she argued.

But others weren’t so sure that aligning the laws’ policies would have the best outcome.