Google gives $40 million to various causes

In its biggest single-day contribution ever, Google on Wednesday announced it has handed out $40 million to battle slavery, promote education and make technology more accessible worldwide, with nearly a fourth of the money going to Bay Area organizations, reports.

“The causes we are supporting are issues we’ve been committed to for a long time, particularly education,” said company spokeswoman Kate Hurowitz, noting that about $9 million is being awarded to a dozen Bay Area groups. “It’s really something the company cares a lot about from the top level.”

Altogether, she said, the search giant has contributed $115 million this year. Part of the $40 million is to promote the teaching of science, technology, engineering and math, and especially to improve the educational levels of girls in developing nations. The rest is designed to empower people through technology and curb slavery or other forms of human trafficking…

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Report busts myth that U.S. class time is much lower than that of high-performing nations

A new report concludes that contrary to popular perception—including that of Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s — most U.S. public schools require at least as much or even more instructional time for students than countries touted for their high performance on international tests, including Finland, Japan and South Korea, the Washington Post reports.The report was issued by the National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education, which measured time based on the minimum number of hours of instruction per year countries require their public schools to provide in a formal classroom setting. The amount of instructional time students receive has become a popular issue for school reformers, some of whom point out that the public charter schools that perform best have extended school days…

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YouTube grants schools special access to 400,000 educational videos

YouTube has an enormous collection of educational clips that could be used by teachers, but many schools choose to block the site so that kids won’t be able to access unsavory videos, Yahoo! News reports. Even if the site can be accessed, teachers still don’t use YouTube inside the classroom, as they’re worried about students getting distracted by music videos or cute clips of cats and fish slamming clams. To circumvent the issue, the site recently launched a YouTube for Schools program separate from the rest of the site. This means school administrators can allow access to it on their wireless networks, while keeping the rest of the site blocked. The program puts approximately 400,000 YouTube Education videos (including ones from trusted institutions like the Smithsonian) in the hands of teachers, who can use them to capture the interest of even those with incredibly short attention spans…

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Safety violations found at Head Start centers

It’s the kind of stuff that gives moms nightmares: a machete near a play area, household chemicals accessible to preschoolers, and instructors teaching without a criminal background check, the Associated Press reports. These violations and others were found at Head Start centers across the country, according to a report released Tuesday by the inspector general of the Health and Human Services Department. Head Start, the federal program with roots in President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, provides early education services to nearly 1 million low-income kids nationwide. The federal government gives grant dollars to public, nonprofit and for-profit programs to provide the services. Among the violations found: a screw protruding from a bookcase at child-height level in Longmont, Colo.; a children’s bathroom in Edna, Texas, without lighting for months; and expired infant formula in the refrigerator of a center in the District of Columbia…

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Opinion: Quality teachers have nothing to fear from performance-based pay

Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s administration on Dec. 13 will release a report detailing teacher perceptions on performance based pay, says a columnist for Yahoo! News. According to a review of the report by the Columbus Dispatch, most teachers who responded to the administration’s query feel that student progress if the best indication of teacher effectiveness but are still fearful of merit based pay. It is saddening that only 1,400 Ohio public school educators took advantage of the opportunity to be a part of the Kasich administration’s invitation to become involved in the process of improving education in the state. Quality teachers have nothing to fear and everything to gain from a performance based pay system. Even though Ohio Issue 2 failed at the ballot box, a streamlined approach to teacher evaluations must be in place by the 2013-14 school year. The Ohio Department of Education has developed a model that public school districts can adopt, but they may also establish their own performance review policy, according to the Dispatch. The new rating system will label teachers proficient, accomplished, developing or ineffective…

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Watch: Pledge of Allegiance in Spanish sparks controversy

For elementary schoolers in California’s Lamont School District, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance everyday is a bilingual task, KGET-TV reports.  For the city, which is 97 percent Hispanic, doing so has been a tradition since 2002, but not everyone has been happy about it.

“One of the issues with it being in Spanish is that not everyone got a chance to voice their opinion doing it that way,” teacher Barry Champagne told NBC affiliate KGET-TV. “Every time it was brought up for discussion, it was set aside and we never got a chance to vote for it or even discuss it any further.”

Fred Molina, principal of Alicante School, told the station that it’s an important way to include all cultures…

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Facebook aims to help prevent suicide

The Lifeline currently responds to dozens of users on Facebook each day.

Facebook is making it easier for people who express suicidal thoughts on the social networking site to get help.

A program launching December 13th enables users to instantly connect with a crisis counselor through Facebook’s “chat” messaging system.

The service is the latest tool from Facebook aimed at improving safety on its site, which has more than 800 million users. Earlier this year, Facebook announced changes to how users report bullying, offensive content and fake profiles.

“One of the big goals here is to get the person in distress into the right help as soon as possible,” Fred Wolens, public policy manager at Facebook, told the Associated Press.

Google and Yahoo have long provided the phone number to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline as the first result when someone searches for “suicide” using their sites. Through email, Facebook also directed users to the hotline or encouraged friends to call law enforcement if they perceived someone was about to do harm.

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“Police: No charges in gay teen’s bullycide.”

The new service goes a step further by enabling an instant chat session that experts say can make all the difference with someone seeking help.

“The science shows that people experience reductions in suicidal thinking when there is quick intervention,” said Lidia Bernik, associate project director of Lifeline. “We’ve heard from many people who say they want to talk to someone but don’t want to call. Instant message is perfect for that.”

How the service works is if a friend spots a suicidal thought on someone’s page, he can report it to Facebook by clicking a link next to the comment. Facebook then sends an email to the person who posted the suicidal comment encouraging them to call the hotline or click on a link to begin a confidential chat.

Facebook on its own doesn’t troll the site for suicidal expressions, Wolens said. Logistically it would be far too difficult with so many users and so many comments that could be misinterpreted by a computer algorithm.

“The only people who will have a really good idea of what’s going on is your friends so we’re encouraging them to speak up and giving them an easy and quick way to get help,” Wolens said.

There have been high profile incidents of suicidal expressions on Facebook.


Principals share secrets to positive school culture

Positive school culture is key to student and teacher success, principals say.

Turning around low-performing schools and improving educator morale might seem daunting as school leaders are being asked to do more with less, but some leaders have made marked improvements in their schools with determination and dedication to maintaining a positive school culture.

In a Dec. 8 Education Trust webinar, two school principals detailed how they transformed their schools into positive places where students, teachers, and staff enjoyed their learning and teaching experiences.

In 2001, Ware Elementary School in Fort Riley, Kan., was designated “On Improvement” owing to its low student achievement. Deb Gustafson, who became the school’s principal that year, described the school culture and climate as “toxic.”

There were a significant number of student behavioral issues, nearly half of the school’s staff requested transfers annually, and most parents did not want their children attending the school.

“But the most telling sign of the toxic culture was certainly the achievement—about 70 percent of students annually were not on grade level in reading, and about 60 percent of them were not on grade level in math,” Gustafson said.

Tasked with changing the school environment and doing whatever it took to boost student achievement, Gustafson said she knew she would not be able to make any significant strides in achievement until she improved the culture that existed inside the school building.

Gustafson knew a small number of like-minded educators at Ware Elementary before she assumed the role of principal, and the summer before she took the reins, she assembled a team that would focus on collaborating and identifying what they perceived as the biggest issues that prevented a culture change.


Judge declares Colorado public school funding unconstitutional

According to the Denver Post, a court ruling against Colorado over its funding of public schools could have multibillion-dollar consequences for the state’s budget, Yahoo! News reports. In a 183-page ruling on the Lobato vs. State of Colorado case, District Judge Sheila Rappaport called the state’s school funding system “unconscionable.” Here are some of the highlights of the ruling.

* The state’s new educational goals linking school readiness and postsecondary and workforce readiness were mandated, and sanctions against failures were implemented against school districts, Rappaport’s ruling stated. However, there was not enough money in the system to permit school districts to properly implement the standards and meet the requirements of state law and regulation. These changes have occurred during a time when Colorado has faced demographic changes that have resulted in higher numbers and concentrations of English language learners, ethnic minorities and children of poverty…

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