Ariz. teacher wins national award

Mesa, Ariz. educator Patricia Urdialez has received the 2011 Toyota Family Literacy Teacher of the Year award. Urdialez leads the Longfellow Elementary School’s family literacy program, which will receive $10,000 as part of the award. Together with the parents, Urdialez works to develop a learning strategy to help their child. She listens to the children and makes them feel special — adding her own special touch of enthusiasm to every answer. Her adult students look forward to class because they know every topic will enrich their lives and the lives of their families. As a result, teachers have recognized that children whose parents participate in Urdialez’s class have increased levels of achievement. Families now have library cards and unprecedented access to the school’s media center. They also are starring in their own short film at Family Movie Night — where they recommend their favorite books to others. The success of the Longfellow Elementary families also has been recognized at the district level. Other principals are interested in having the program at their school, and Title I began funding the program when the initial funding ended.

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National Park Service “reporter” tweets coverage of the Civil War

Students who follow celebrities and other personalities on Twitter might think a new feature from the National Park Service is an engaging way to learn about U.S. history: The “Civil War Reporter” offers daily dispatches from reporter Beglan O’Brien, a fictional Civil War-era correspondent. “From politics to eyewitness accounts, O’Brien’s nose for news delivers fascinating updates, reporting on the people and events of the times,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “We hope this ‘real-time’ reporting will give modern-day Americans a unique insight into the war as O’Brien follows the story wherever it takes him, from assignments embedded with Union and Confederate soldiers, to covering President Lincoln at Gettysburg.” Students and educators can follow O’Brien’s updates on a website the National Park Service has created to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, as well as on Twitter or Facebook. The 150th anniversary website also offers a comprehensive calendar of 150th anniversary events at more than 70 national parks and partner sites across the country, as well as historical features and resources that illustrate how the events of 150 years ago continue to be reflected in America today. http://www.nps.gov/civilwar150

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iPads take a place next to crayons in kindergarten

Some critics question whether iPads are worth the cost of giving them to kindergarten students.

Kindergarten classes are supplementing crayons, finger paints, and flashcards with iPads, a development that excites supporters but that detractors worry is wasted on pupils too young to appreciate the expense.

Next fall, nearly 300 kindergartners in the central Maine city of Auburn will become the latest batch of youngsters around the country to get iPad 2 touchpad tablets to learn the basics about ABCs, 1-2-3s, drawing, and even music.

“It’s definitely an adventure, and it’ll be a journey of learning for teachers and students,” said Auburn kindergarten teacher Amy Heimerl, who received an iPad on April 12, ahead of the full deployment in the fall. “I’m looking forward to seeing where this can take us and our students.”

But the $200,000 that Superintendent Tom Morrill is proposing to spend on iPads—which retail for around $500—might be better spent on some other school program, said Sue Millard of Auburn, who has children in the fourth grade and high school. She also questions whether kindergartners are old enough to appreciate the effort.

“I understand you have to keep up with technology, but I think a 5-year old is a little too young to understand,” she said.

More news about iPads in education:

Mobile learning: Not just laptops any more

Ten of the best apps for education

Virginia using iPads to teach social studies

Maine was the first state to equip students statewide with computers when it distributed Apple laptops to all seventh- and eighth-graders in 2002 and 2003. The program has since expanded, with laptops parceled out to about 50 percent of high school students.

The state Department of Education says it believes Auburn is the first school district in Maine that will give iPads to kindergartners. The school board last week unanimously approved the plan to give all kindergartners iPads next fall.

The iPad is a powerful education tool with hundreds of teaching applications, Morrill said. With its touchpad screen, it’s simple to use and can bring learning to life with imagery and sounds, he said.

“It’s a revolution in education,” Morrill said.

Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller declined to comment on how iPads are being used in schools, but dozens of school districts around the country have been giving iPads to students. Schools in Omaha, Neb.; Columbiana, Ohio; Huntington, W. Va.; Paducah, Ky.; Charleston, S.C.; and Scottsdale, Ariz., are among the places where kindergarten pupils are using them.

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Educators disappointed with Cisco’s camera flip

The Flip's features have been copied by other manufacturers, but it's still the most popular pocket-sized video camera.

Cisco Systems Inc., one of the titans of the technology industry, on April 12 said it is killing the Flip Video, the most popular video camera in the U.S., just two years after it bought the startup company that created it.

It appears to be a case of a large company proving to be a poor custodian of a small one, even one that makes a hit product. Cisco never meaningfully integrated the Flip Video into its main business of making computer networking gear.

Flip Video users—including many educators—are now lamenting the demise of a camera that broke new ground. It was inexpensive, pocketable, and very easy to use, from shooting to editing and online sharing—features that made the camera extremely popular among teachers and students. These features have been copied by many other manufacturers, but the Flip Video still outsells them.

“Yet another loss to teachers! Very sad. This is such a useful tool. Sorry so many will lose their jobs as well,” one eSchool News reader tweeted in response to the news.

“It’s a shame, those ‘camcorders’ really helped make movie making easier,” another tweeted.

Nicole Bremer Nash, a freelance writer in Louisville, Ky., calls the Flip Video “the little camera that could.”

“I was hoping they’d continue the line and expand the accessories for it, instead of getting rid of it altogether,” she told the Associated Press.

The Flip Video is named after an arm that flips out of the camera body and lets the user connect it directly to a computer. The camera even contains video-editing software that fires up on the computer.

“I just find it a really easy process to use, and that’s why I really enjoy my Flip camera,” said Courtney Sandora, another Louisville resident. She’s been using Flip cameras for three years, and said she was “saddened and shocked” by Cisco’s decision.

“There were many opportunities for Cisco to integrate Flip more into its vision of a networked world,” said Ross Rubin, an electronics industry analyst at NPD Group. “The camcorders, for example, never even had Wi-Fi built into them.”

Rubin added: “It was a brand the company had invested heavily in and could have leveraged for all kinds of consumer video experiences—video conferencing, security applications, et cetera.”

Cisco didn’t explain why it’s shutting down the Flip Video unit rather than selling it. But the decision is part of a larger shakeup at the world’s largest maker of computer networking gear. After several quarters of disappointing results and challenges in its core business, the company is reversing years of efforts at diversifying into consumer products.

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FY11 budget details: a mixed bag for education

A major federal educational technology program for states was eliminated in the FY11 budget deal.

Although Congress reached a budget deal for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year—avoiding a government shutdown in the process—the federal education budget did not escape unscathed, and some programs suffered notable cuts, including the elimination of the Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) program.

President Obama originally wanted to eliminate EETT in his 2011 budget, but he also proposed a new initiative that would focus on improving teaching and learning within three areas: literacy, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), and well-rounded education (arts, foreign languages, civics and government, history, geography, economics, financial literacy, and other subjects).

According to education officials, the new initiative was supposed to “include a focus on integrating technology into instruction and using technology to drive improvements in teaching and learning” throughout all three curricular areas. This new initiative didn’t make it into the final budget deal for the remainder of FY11, however.

Last month, educational technology advocates, including the International Society for Technology in Education, the Consortium for School Networking, the Software and Information Industry Association, and the State Educational Technology Directors Association, urged Congress to continue to fund EETT.

“We are deeply disappointed that despite many members’ understanding of the vital role technology plays in K-12 education in their states and districts, Congress is on the verge of eliminating funding for this critical program,” the groups said in a joint statement in March.

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For-profit regulations, Pell Grants survive budget compromise

Experts expect lawmakers to keep Pell Grant funding at its current level.

Washington’s last-minute budget deal did not include a provision that would have killed a stringent for-profit college regulation, and Pell Grants remained intact despite deep cuts in education spending over the next six months.

The for-profit regulations pushed by the Obama administration for more than two years would impact some of the nation’s largest online colleges, such as the University of Phoenix and Kaplan University, by stripping schools of federal loan money if too many of their students maintain high loan debt-to-income ratios, among other provisions.

Although the anti-regulation provision was pushed primarily by Congressional Republicans, a bipartisan letter was submitted April 4 that would have barred the U.S. Department of Education (ED) from implementing the new regulations on for-profit programs.

The provision – or “rider” – to the budget compromise was left out of the final agreement, however, paving the way for gainful employment rules to take effect July 1, 2012, as ED outlined last fall.

The austere federal budget also left Pell Grants at the current maximum of $5,550 per student. Pell Grants are awarded to college students based on their financial need and are not paid back to the government…

Read the full story on eCampus News.

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Speech therapy moves online

Online speech therapy gives some schools a much-needed solution.

Offering speech therapy to students can be a challenge for school districts: Speech therapists are in short supply; it can be expensive to hire a speech therapist, particularly if a district uses a contractor who must drive from school to school and charges for driving time; and rural schools might have a hard time finding a speech therapist in their area, while urban schools might struggle with retaining speech therapists.

Connections Academy, a provider of nationally certified K-12 online curriculum, is addressing these problems by offering an online speech therapy option for school districts. The program, beginning in the 2011-12 school year, will let students—equipped with a computer with high-speed internet access, along with a webcam and headset—interact online with state and nationally certified speech therapists via web conferencing software.

The conferencing software, Live Lesson, lets the therapist and child work together in real time online. The program also uses a variety of other tools. Traditional worksheets are available from a number of publishers in PDF form for the student and therapist to complete together.

“There’s also a whiteboard program, which allows for writing and drawing together,” said Robyn Guerrasio, speech services program manager for Connections Academy. “And the internet is very rich with educational activities that can be turned into activities for speech therapy.”

While the program being offered next school year is new to brick-and-mortar school districts, Connections Academy has offered speech therapy to many of its online public schools for the last two years.

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Idaho law favors tech over teacher salaries

The measure won lawmakers' approval despite opposition from schools and the teachers union.

The governor signed into law Friday the centerpiece of a major education reform plan that shifts money from salaries to fund new technology and teacher merit pay.

The final piece of the plan authored by schools chief Tom Luna also bumps up the minimum salary of teachers from $29,655 to $30,000 a year. Read “Ed tech vs. larger class sizes: Worth the trade-off?

Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter hailed Republican lawmakers who helped secure passage of the biggest piece of the reform effort.

“I just want to thank everybody that has worked so hard, withstood the onslaught of misinformation that got out there, and kept their eye on the ball,” said Otter, also a Republican.

The sweeping changes were surrounded by contentious debate during the 2011 session, with teachers and students protesting in and around the Capitol. The reforms are now the target of a referendum campaign led by parents and representatives from the statewide teachers union who want to overturn the changes.

“There are a lot of people that still need to be convinced and still need to understand why this reform is so important,” Otter said. “There are those that want us to fail. We’re not going to fail. We’re going to push this education package, this reform, until it meets the needs of our future work force.”

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The reform measure won lawmakers’ approval despite opposition from school trustees, administrators and the teachers union over the provision that shifts money from salaries.

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Eleventh-hour budget deal cuts $13B from health, education, labor

Though a federal government shutdown would have been more of an inconvenience than a disaster for education, some schools and students would have been affected.

A last minute budget deal for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year, forged amid bluster and tough bargaining, averted an embarrassing government shutdown and cut billions of dollars in federal spending, including $13 billion from the health, education, and labor budget—the first major test of the divided government voters ushered in five months ago.

Working late into the evening April 8, congressional and White House negotiators struck an agreement to pay for government operations through the end of September while cutting $38.5 billion in federal spending overall. Lawmakers then approved a days-long stopgap measure to keep the government running while the details of the new spending plan were written into legislation.

Actual approval of the deal is expected to come later this week.

As of press time, details about the final budget deal were still sketchy. But among the compromises struck in the deal, Republicans backed off on their plans to cut nearly 25 percent from the budget of the Head Start program, which provides a range of services for early childhood care and education. The National Head Start Association estimated the proposed cuts would have resulted in more than 200,000 children losing services and more than 50,000 Head Start employees losing their jobs.

Democrats, in turn, agreed to fund a federal voucher program for students in the District of Columbia Public Schools, a program that Republicans had pushed for.

“Today, Americans of different beliefs came together again,” President Barack Obama said from the White House Blue Room, a setting chosen to offer a clear view of the Washington Monument over his right shoulder.

The agreement—negotiated by the new Republican speaker of the House, John Boehner, the president, and the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid—came as the administration was poised to shutter federal services, from national parks to tax-season help centers, and to send furlough notices to hundreds of thousands of federal workers. It was a prospect that all sides insisted they wanted to avoid but that at times seemed all but inevitable.

A government shutdown would have been an inconvenience, but not a huge disaster, for K-12 schools—although college students might have fared worse.

Most K-12 programs are forward-funded, said Noelle Ellerson, assistant director for policy analysis and advocacy at the American Association of School Administrators, meaning that FY11 dollars aren’t yet flowing in districts, so they wouldn’t have seen a funding interruption.

“One K-12 program that would [have been] impacted is Impact Aid,” she said, because that program is not forward-funded. Other major education programs that would have felt a pinch are work-study and Perkins loans for low-income college students, she added.

Even though most K-12 programs might not have been directly affected by a government shutdown, such a prospect still would have made it difficult for schools to plan their budgets for the 2011-12 school year, because of the uncertainty in federal funding, Ellerson said. And schools on American Indian reservations might have felt the effects of a shutdown quicker, because the federal government plays a critical role in most day-to-day operations on reservations.

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