Conn. mom pleads not guilty over school enrollment

McDowell's supporters say her son attended preschool in Norwalk and therefore qualifies to attend its public schools.

A homeless single mother who lives in her van pleaded not guilty Wednesday to stealing nearly $16,000 worth of education for her son by enrolling the kindergartener in her baby sitter’s school district.

Tanya McDowell, 33, was arraigned in Norwalk, where she was arrested April 14 on felony charges of committing and attempting to commit first-degree larceny.

Prosecutors say McDowell used her baby sitter’s address to enroll her son in Norwalk schools in the fall but should have registered the boy in nearby Bridgeport, a significantly poorer urban district and the location of her last permanent address.

Officials call it the first known case of its type in Connecticut, although similar conflicts have played out elsewhere in the U.S. as districts try to ensure their scarce local tax dollars are used for local students.

“He’s only 5 years old and it’s hard like to explain to a 5-year-old kid, you know, ‘You got kicked out because we don’t have a steady address yet,'” said McDowell, an unemployed cook.

McDowell, who is black, has drawn the support of civil rights leaders and parents’ groups and is being represented by a lawyer provided by the Connecticut chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She faces up to 20 years in prison and up to $15,000 in fines if convicted of the felony larceny charge.

She said before Wednesday’s arraignment that her bewildered son, A.J., repeatedly asks why he was kicked out of his school. The boy was removed from Norwalk’s Brookside Elementary School in January and now lives with relatives in Bridgeport, where he attends kindergarten.


Indiana lawmakers OK broadest voucher plan in US


Families of four making up to about $60,000 a year would get some type of scholarship.


Indiana will create the nation’s broadest private school voucher system and enact other sweeping education changes, making the state a showcase of conservative ideas just as Gov. Mitch Daniels nears an announcement on whether he will make a 2012 presidential run.

The Republican-controlled state Legislature handed Daniels a huge victory Wednesday when the House voted 55-43 to give final approval to a bill creating the voucher program that would allow even middle-class families to use taxpayer money to send their children to private schools.

Unlike other systems that are limited to lower-income households, children with special needs or those in failing schools, Indiana’s voucher program will be open to a much larger pool of students, including those already in excellent schools. Families would have to meet certain income limits to qualify, with families of four making up to about $60,000 a year getting some type of scholarship.

Daniels’ agenda mirrors ideas being pushed nationwide by Republicans empowered by 2010 election victories. But Daniels has successfully led Indiana–a conservative state not known for going out on a limb–into uncharted education territory.

“Other states are going to be taking notice about how far Indiana’s going,” said Robert Enlow, president of the Foundation for Educational Choice.

The successes couldn’t come at a better time for the two-term governor, who has said he’ll announce his intentions on a possible White House run sometime after the legislative session ends Friday.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said Daniels is thinking of what’s best for kids, not his own political ambitions, when advocating the education overhaul.


Gates gives $20M for digital learning, Common Core curriculum

$3M will go to the Pearson Foundation to create 24 online courses supporting the Common Core standards; four of these courses will be free to schools.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced April 27 that it will be investing more than $20 million in game-based learning and other digital tools to help usher the new Common Core standards into the classroom.

The foundation wants to help teachers engage students in learning the challenging new standards being adopted by more than 40 states. It says some of the web-based games, social-networking platforms, and online courses will be available for any teacher to use free of charge.

The new tools will include video games that build proficiency in math, reading, and science, as well as a new game platform that can be used for various subjects. The grants also include money for web-based classes aligned with the new common standards.

Game developers and curriculum writers from around the world are involved in the project, including the Pearson Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Pearson PLC, which has announced the development of a complete digital curriculum to support the common standards. The Gates Foundation is providing research and $3 million in funding to help make these digital courses widely available.

Besides the Pearson Foundation, the Gates Foundation also is teaming up with Educurious Partners, Florida Virtual School, Institute of Play, Reasoning Mind, Quest Atlantis, Digital Youth Network, and EDUCAUSE to develop and promote new applications for learning and new assessments aligned with the Common Core standards.

“Teachers are telling us what they want, and we are listening,” said Vicki L. Phillips, director of education and college-ready programs for the Gates Foundation. “We believe these exciting world-class tools have the potential to fundamentally change the way students and teachers interact in the classroom, and ultimately, how education works in America.”

The Pearson Foundation is developing 24 online math and English language-arts (ELA) courses to help teachers and principals implement the common standards. These courses will be delivered through a combination of technologies, including video, interactive software, games, social media, and print. Funding from the Gates Foundation will support the development of this robust system of courses, including four—two in math and two in ELA—to be available at no cost on an open platform for schools.


Ed Department: Half of community college students need remedial classes

Duncan spoke at Montgomery College in Silver Spring, Md.

Community colleges should tailor remedial curriculum for students who are unprepared for introductory English and math courses, and in some cases, developmental classes “hinder” student progress, according to a report released by the Education Department (ED) during an April 27 virtual symposium.

ED Secretary Arne Duncan and Second Lady Jill Biden spoke to educators and students at a symposium broadcast on the internet from Montgomery College in Silver Spring, Md., a two-year school with more than 60,000 students on three campuses.

ED officials and educators who led sessions at the symposium outlined “bridge programs” for adult learners who want to return to college after many years in the workforce, and customizing those remedial classes that come with high costs to colleges, students, and taxpayers.

ED released the report to coincide with the symposium that said as much as 60 percent of incoming community college students enroll “in at least one developmental education course to bring their reading, writing, and mathematics skills up to college level.”

Developmental classes that help new community college students catch up with their peers can be critical to earning a degree, according to the ED report, but remedial education “may not improve students’ persistence or completion rates and, in some cases, may actually hinder their progress toward educational goals.”

A more flexible slate of remedial class options on two-year campuses would have educators pinpoint precisely where a student needs improvement, said Shanna Smith Jaggars, a senior research associate at the Community College Research Center in New York.

Targeting specific academic vulnerabilities, Smith Jaggars said, would allow a student to move through remedial classes quickly without redundant lessons that lead to high drop-out rates among remedial students.


New online chemistry curriculum targets middle schoolers

During the National Science Teachers Association’s annual meeting in March, the American Chemical Society (ACS) introduced a free, online middle school chemistry curriculum that correlates with national standards. The curriculum is a response to President Obama’s call to strengthen U.S. science education, the ACS said. All of the experiments offer simple activities that teach the most important—and some of the most abstract—concepts of chemistry, such as how molecules attract each other. Veteran eighth-grade science teacher Chris Herald of Eisenhower Middle School in Manhattan, Kan., has tested the curriculum. “I’m anxious to use it,” Herald said in a press release. “I think the visuals are really nice. In a textbook, there’s no motion and no color, and you can’t see the sharing of the covalent bonds. The video shows what happens with the electrons. And each segment is short, so it is very useable. These days, every minute counts in the classroom. It’s easy to navigate the web pages, and it’s free.”


Sony: Credit data risked in PlayStation outage

If the intruder successfully stole credit card data, the heist would rank among the biggest known thefts of financial data.

Sony Corp. said April 26 that the credit card data of PlayStation users around the world—including, presumably, thousands of college students—might have been stolen in a hack that forced it to shut down its PlayStation Network for the past week, disconnecting 77 million user accounts.

Some players brushed off the breach as a common hazard of operating in a connected world, and Sony said some services would be restored in a week. But industry experts said the scale of the breach was staggering and could cost the company billions of dollars.

“Simply put, one of the worst breaches we’ve seen in several years,” said Josh Shaul, chief technology officer for Application Security Inc., a New York-based company that is one of the country’s largest database security software makers.

Sony said it has no direct evidence credit card information was taken, but said “we cannot rule out the possibility.”

It said the intrusion was “malicious” and that the company had hired an outside security firm to investigate. It has taken steps to rebuild its system to provide greater protection for personal information and warned users to contact credit agencies and set up fraud alerts.

“Our teams are working around the clock on this, and services will be restored as soon as possible,” Sony said in an April 26 blog post.

The company shut down the network April 20 after it said account information, including names, birthdates, eMail addresses, and log-in information, was compromised for certain players in the days prior.

Sony says people in 59 nations use the PlayStation network. Of the 77 million user accounts, about 36 million are in the U.S. and elsewhere in the Americas, 32 million in Europe, and 9 million in Asia, mostly in Japan.

Purchase history and credit card billing address information also might have been stolen, but the intruder did not obtain the 3-digit security code on the back of cards, Sony said. Spokesman Satoshi Fukuoka said the company has not received any reports yet of credit card fraud or abuse resulting from the breach.

Shaul said that not having direct proof of credit card information theft should not instill a sense of security, and it could mean Sony just didn’t know what files were touched.


Pearson buys Schoolnet for $230 million

The deal marks the latest in a long line of ed-tech acquisitions for Pearson as it continues its focus on digital learning.

Pearson PLC, publisher of the Financial Times and Penguin books and a major player in the ed-tech market, has agreed to buy the educational technology company Schoolnet for $230 million in cash.

London-based Pearson on April 26 said it expects the acquisition to be broadly neutral to earnings per share in 2011 and to enhance its earnings per share and return on invested capital in 2012.

New York-based Schoolnet, which aligns assessment, curriculum, and other services to help personalize instruction and improve teacher effectiveness, reportedly serves more than 5 million U.S. students from pre-kindergarten through the 12th grade.

Schoolnet’s data-based solutions will complement Pearson’s products and services that help boost student achievement through diagnostic tools and tailored instruction, Pearson said. These products include Waterford, SuccessMaker, and NovaNET.

Schoolnet customers, in turn, will benefit from Pearson content and technology such as PowerSchool for student information, AIMSweb for intervention, America’s Choice for school improvement services, eCollege and Fronter for online learning platforms, TutorVista for online targeted tutoring, Data Solutions and National Transcript Center (NTC) for interoperability and state longitudinal data systems, and the Family Education Network for parent and teacher education.

Schoolnet’s solutions are used by more than a third of the nation’s largest urban school districts, the company says, including Chicago Public Schools and the School District of Philadelphia.

Pearson Chief Executive Marjorie Scardino said, “Being able to offer a connective digital spine for learning has been Pearson’s goal for years. … Together we can make that spine more flexible and powerful for schools, teachers, and students.”


Online law school applications to be accessible for the blind

The Justice Department says online law school applications will be more accessible to blind students in time for fall 2012 admissions.

Online law school applications soon will be useable by the blind under a court settlement obtained by the federal Justice Department.

The National Federation of the Blind had sued the Law School Admission Council, complaining that its online application service used by laws schools across the country wasn’t compatible with screen readers that blind persons use to navigate the internet.

The Justice Department got involved and announced April 26 that a settlement had been reached that will make the applications accessible for fall 2012 admissions.

The department also reached a related agreement with Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School to modify its own website to let applicants know how to apply by telephone before the council’s online application becomes fully accessible.

The department is working with other law schools to reach similar agreements.


Campuses not meeting demand for hybrid classes

The percentage of students who prefer online classes has skyrocketed since 2007.

College students enrolled in entirely-online courses might prefer more face-to-face learning, according to a survey that says higher education is in need of more “hybrid” courses.

Hybrid or “blended” classes, shown by the Education Department (ED) to be more successful than web-based education, include online curriculum mixed with occasional in-person lectures.

Support for classes that involve at least some traditional classroom-based education is shared by prospective college students as well as current students.

Nineteen percent of students surveyed said they are enrolled in a hybrid class, while 33 percent said they would like to take one or more hybrid courses, according to a report on college student preferences published by Eduventures, a Boston-based higher-education consulting company.

Read the full story on eCampus News