Review: Nook Tablet is a worthy competitor to Kindle Fire

The Tablet improves on the Nook Color mainly by beefing up the processor and the memory and extending the battery life

The Nook Tablet improves on the Nook Color mainly by beefing up the processor and memory and extending the battery life.

Last week, Associated Press technology writer Peter Svensson reviewed the Kindle Fire, Amazon’s $199 tablet that aims to challenge the iPad. This week, he reviewed the new $249 Nook Tablet from bookseller Barnes & Noble, which he called “a solid product, worthy of duking it out with [the] Kindle Fire.”

Here’s what he had to say about the device…

“Like the new Kindle Fire, the [Nook] Tablet has a 7-inch, touch-sensitive color screen, about half the size of the iPad’s. It’s the same screen as on the Nook Color, the eReader Barnes & Noble launched a year ago. I thought it was the best eReader yet when it launched.

“The Tablet improves on the Nook Color mainly by beefing up the processor and the memory and extending the battery life to 11.5 hours of reading, or 9 hours of video. The Tablet also has improved software, but the Color will be getting the same software through a downloadable update.

“The Tablet is debuting with Netflix and Hulu applications. Coupled with the nice, sharp screen, that makes for a good device for that TV and movie fix—as long as you’re connected to Wi-Fi. The apps actually highlight one of the shortcomings of the Tablet: there’s no way (short of hacking the software) to use it for offline viewing of movies you buy or rent.

“Barnes & Noble promises to provide some sort of movie store next year. Amazon, meanwhile, launched the Kindle Fire with access not just to Netflix and Hulu, but to its own store with downloadable video, plus free streaming content for Amazon Prime subscribers.

“Barnes & Noble is also well behind when it comes to the selection of third-party applications: It has about 1,000 available today. That compares to just under 10,000 at Amazon, and 500,000 on the iPad. However, the Nook has these features over the Fire:

“• Faster processor and more memory for software operations, which means faster web browsing and magazine page-flipping.

“• Longer battery life.

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ED’s new partner in teacher recruitment: Microsoft

Microsoft, through its Partners in Learning division, won the competition to take over the TEACH campaign and website.

The U.S. Education Department (ED) is handing control of its online platform for teacher recruitment and retention, www.teach.gov, to software giant Microsoft Corp., the two organizations announced earlier this month.

ED officials launched the TEACH campaign and website in September 2010 to promote the teaching profession and bring a new generation of educators into the classroom.

The campaign aims to boost the number, quality, and diversity of people seeking to become teachers, particularly in high-need schools and subject areas in greatest demand. Its website connects aspiring teachers with information about the pathways to teaching, including preparation, certification, training, and mentoring, and it helps currently licensed teachers find jobs in districts nationwide.

With a looming teacher shortage creating a “pressing need” to recruit and retain more U.S. teachers, according to a former ED official, this development raises the question: Why turn over such an important campaign to a private company?

In a blog post explaining the move, TEACH Project Director Taryn Benarroch suggested that ED was overwhelmed by the public response to the campaign and was looking for a partner who could help the project continue to expand.

“Interest in the campaign flooded the department from diverse stakeholders within and outside the education sector,” Benarroch wrote. “…It soon became obvious that the potential power of TEACH was great, and that the movement to elevate the teaching profession and recruit the next generation of great teachers could flourish under the management of a private organization.”

ED held a competition in April, inviting both public and private entities to step to the plate and oversee the project. Microsoft, through its Partners in Learning division, won the competition to take over the TEACH campaign and website.

Partners in Learning will be responsible not only for maintaining the TEACH website and its marketing efforts, but for improving and expanding the teacher recruitment campaign going forward. Though ED is an official partner in these efforts, the Microsoft division now will be the sole owner and operator of the project, ED said.

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Poor students with poorly educated parents fare worse in U.S. than other countries

Intuitively, a child’s academic performance is likely higher if he or she has highly educated parents, and lower if the child has less educated parents. A new report confirms that’s true, but reveals that American children of poorly educated parents do a lot worse than their counterparts in other countries, reports the Huffington Post. Income mobility just within the U.S. has significantly declined since the mid-90s, according to the Boston Federal Reserve. But the Pew Economic Mobility Project takes this a step further by asking, “Does America promote mobility as well as other nations?” Researchers in 10 countries took to analyzing socioeconomic advantage as a function of parental education. They found that a child’s economic and educational status is more affected by parental education in the U.S. than in any other country studied. Using a basic metric, researchers studied performance gaps on vocabulary tests among five-year-olds with highly educated parents, moderately educated parents, and poorly educated parents. Among the English-speaking countries studied, the American gap between children with highly educated parents and poorly educated parents was the widest, while the Canadian gap proved to be the most narrow…

Click here for the full report

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Illinois principal who ‘sexted’ resigns

A Lake Forest, Ill., middle school principal resigned Nov. 21 in response to controversy over how the district handled his use of a work-issued cell phone to send vulgar text messages to a 22-year-old college student, reports the Chicago Tribune. Parents only recently became aware that Deer Path Middle School Principal John Steinert, 40, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor harassment through electronic communications in May 2009, after a Tribune report described police and court records. As a result, Lake Forest School District 67 officials re-examined the case by viewing a completed police report that they said they had not seen before. The report showed that Steinert repeatedly sent sexually explicit messages, as well as a photograph of his penis, to the young woman after she ignored him or told him to stop. At the time, the district wrote a letter admonishing the principal, ordered him to counseling, confiscated his cell phone, and temporarily froze his salary. But the district expanded his job duties and gave him a bonus within the next year, officials said. On Nov. 18, Superintendent Harry Griffith announced that he planned to recommend Steinert’s dismissal during a special closed-door school board meeting today. Steinert instead offered his resignation, which was accepted by the board at its meeting…

Click here for the full story

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Police investigate cases of school computers being sold on Craigslist

Indianapolis Public School property has been posted for sale online, according to IPS Police—and Indianapolis detectives are looking into the matter, WXIN Fox59 reports. This month, detectives were told about two computers posted for sale on Craigslist. Fox59 found an advertisement, which said: “I have a MacBook for sale. I got the computer from school and no longer need it but it does have a IPS stamp on it. Feel Free 2 call or text (317) XXX-XXXX.” According to the school system, IPS MacBooks are assigned to a school and are supposed to stay there, not end up for sale online for $200. “As soon as they were contacted by your news station, it’s our understanding, they’ve shut the site down,” said Steve Garner, IPS Police Chief. Garner said police are trying to track down who is behind that posting and another similar Craigslist post. He said he has spoken with the IT department and other divisions to address the issue and to hold staff members and students accountable…

Click here for the full story

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Oklahoma rescinds rules for online classes

Following opposition from school administrators and concern from lawmakers, the Oklahoma Education Board has rescinded emergency rules that the board approved last month requiring school districts to provide online courses, the Oklahoman reports. The rules were passed to come into compliance with a law that took affect in 2010. The law requires school districts to offer supplemental online courses, when requested by students or parents, for subjects that aren’t offered in the schools. Board Member Phil Lakin said he heard from many school districts that were concerned about the emergency rules the board had passed. “They’re affecting the school districts midstream, and there were not financial plans for that,” Lakin said. The board voted unanimously to rescind the emergency rules and instead wait for the formal rule-making process that begins with the legislative session in February. That process will include public input and multiple votes from the board…

Click here for the full story

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Steep education cuts loom as debt-panel deadline approaches

Failure to reach an agreement on $1.3 trillion in budget cuts would leave education, agriculture, and environmental programs exposed to cuts of around 8 percent in 2013, CBO says.

Federal education spending could be slashed up to 8 percent in 2013 if lawmakers can’t agree on debt-reducing measures soon, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

Failure by Congress’ debt-cutting supercommittee to recommend $1.2 trillion in savings by Nov. 23 is supposed to automatically trigger spending cuts in the same amount to accomplish that job. Still, the same legislators who concocted that budgetary booby trap just four months ago could end up spending the 2012 election year and beyond battling to defuse it.

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., say they are writing legislation to prevent what they say would be devastating cuts to the military. House Republicans are exploring a similar move. Democrats maintain they won’t let domestic programs be the sole source of budget savings.

In the face of those efforts, President Barack Obama has told the debt panel’s co-chairmen that he “will not accept any measure that attempts to turn off the automatic cut trigger,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters last week. The leaders of both parties in the House and Senate have expressed similar sentiments—seemingly making any attempt to restore the money futile.

“Yes, I would feel bound by it,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said recently of the automatic cuts. “It was part of the agreement.”

But that doesn’t mean rank-and-file lawmakers won’t try to block the cuts, or that viewpoints might not change if the right deal is offered—especially in the hothouse atmosphere of next year’s presidential and congressional campaign or its aftermath.

With nearly $500 billion in defense spending and an equal amount of domestic dollars at stake, plenty of lawmakers are ready to try blocking all or parts of those automatic cuts, if only to win favor from backers of programs whose funds are on the chopping block.

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Tougher teacher evaluation system prompts schools to ban student teachers

Williamson County Schools spokeswoman Carol Birdsong said schools can’t risk interference for teachers when 35 percent of their evaluations are based on student learning gains on standardized tests.

Tennessee’s new teacher evaluation system has prompted some school districts to ban student teachers from working in core high school subjects, college education officials say. The reason: So much of a teacher’s evaluation is now based on student test scores that some teachers don’t want to cede control of their classroom to a student teacher.

“It’s nothing but the teacher evaluation system that’s got them tied up in knots,” James Stamper, director of student teaching for Belmont University, told The Tennessean. “We all had to have somewhere to start.”

Recent changes in state law—including teacher evaluations and toughening the curriculum—allowed Tennessee to win $500 million in the national Race to the Top education grant competition.

At the end of this school year, principals will compile assessments on every Tennessee teacher: 35 percent from learning gains, 15 percent from other student-selected data, and 50 percent from classroom observations. Teachers can lose tenure if they score in the two lowest ratings for two consecutive years, and they can gain tenure only if they score in the top two ratings for two consecutive years.

Williamson County Schools spokeswoman Carol Birdsong said schools can’t risk interference for teachers when 35 percent of their evaluations are based on student learning gains on standardized tests.

“It’s your classroom, and you are being evaluated based on your students’ performance,” she said.

Middle Tennessee State University student Starla Weatherell, who will get her master’s in business education in May, is uncertain about where she’ll student teach.

“It’s a huge problem for me, when I live in Williamson County, to not be able to student teach where I want to work,” she said. “Right now, they are telling us we may have to drive two hours.”

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States strengthening teacher evaluation standards

In one state, 35% of a teacher's evaluation is based on student growth on the state standardized test over time.

Teachers and principals’ own report cards are getting a lot more attention.

The way educators are evaluated is changing across the country, with a switch from routine “satisfactory” ratings to actual proof that students are learning.

President Barack Obama’s recent use of executive authority to revise the No Child Left Behind education law is one of several factors driving a trend toward using student test scores, classroom observation and potentially even input from students, among other measures, to determine just how effective educators are.

A growing number of states are using these evaluations to decide critical issues such as pay, tenure, firings and the awarding of teaching licenses.

Two years ago, only four states used student achievement as a predominant influence in how teacher performance is assessed. Today, the number is 13, according to a recent report from the National Council on Teacher Quality. Ten other states count student achievement in a lesser but still significant way in teacher evaluations. In 19 states and the District of Columbia, teachers can be fired based on the results, the report said.

Even more changes are anticipated in coming months.

For more school-reform news, see our School Reform Center at eSN Online.

Obama said in September that states wanting relief from the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law could apply for a waiver from the law’s tough-to-meet requirements for student achievement in reading and math. To get a waiver, one thing states must do is come up with ways to use teacher and principal evaluations to make personnel decisions.

This week, 11 states applied for waivers, and an additional 28 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico say they will be seeking waivers, too.

In addition to Obama’s waivers, a major driver has been the administration’s high-profile “Race to the Top” competition, which had states competing for billions in prize dollars if they adopted stronger evaluation systems. Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, said another factor is a growing body of research showing that teachers matter in how much students learn and an influential 2009 report by the New Teacher Project revealing that fewer than 1 percent of teachers surveyed receive unsatisfactory ratings — even in failing schools.

Historically, states have considered teacher evaluations to be untouchable, in part because of teachers unions.

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