Hawaii teachers reject contract in ‘blow’ to Race to the Top

Public school teachers in Hawaii have rejected a contract that called for a move to a performance-based evaluation and compensation system, as required by the Race to the Top grant that the state won from the Obama administration, the Washington Post reports. The rejection comes shortly after Hawaii was warned by the U.S. Department of Education that its $75 million Race to the Top grant had been put on “high-risk status”—the first state to be so sanctioned — because it had not moved quickly enough to implement specific reforms. Sixty-seven percent of about 9,000 teachers, counselors and others represented by the Hawaii State Teachers Association opposed the contract, which was seen as a way to move Race to the Top efforts forward and improve its status with Washington…

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Stress blamed for student tics at New York school

State health officials have determined stress likely caused a dozen female high school students to suddenly experience tics and other neurological symptoms associated with Tourette Syndrome, they said on Friday, Reuters reports. The Le Roy Central School District, about 50 miles east of Buffalo, scrambled to conduct environmental testing for air quality and mold after 12 students developed tics and impulsive verbal behavior over the course of the last three months.

But state health investigators ruled out environmental factors, latent side-effects from drugs or vaccines like Guardasil, trauma or genetic factors. The girls were all treated by doctors and most are improving, school officials said…

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U.S. Department of Education seeks teacher input on education policy

In a joint effort between the U.S. Department of Education and the Close Up Foundation, 50-100 teachers from across the country will meet with the Department’s Teaching Ambassador Fellows nine times between January and May to discuss education-related issues, according to a Jan. 17 press release issued by the U.S. Department of Education, says Yahoo! News Contributer, Laura Sauer. What I want to know is, is it too late to sign up? Our education system is in the midst of radical change, from revisions to No Child Left Behind (NCLB) to funding deficiencies. Who better to consult about education issues than teachers, like me, battling them every day? If I were to attend, I would begin with the problems associated with the current administration’s revisions to NCLB…

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After protest, Congress puts off internet piracy bill

Critics said the bills would result in censorship and could add a major burden to colleges and universities.

Caving to a massive campaign by internet services and their millions of users, which also included universities such as Syracuse and MIT, Congress on Jan. 20 indefinitely postponed legislation to stop the online piracy of movies and music that is costing U.S. companies billions of dollars every year. Critics said the bills would result in censorship and could add a major burden to colleges and universities.

The demise, at least for the time being, of the anti-piracy bills was a clear victory for Silicon Valley over Hollywood, which has campaigned for a tougher response to internet piracy. The legislation also would cover the counterfeiting of drugs and car parts.

Congress’ qualms underscored how internet users can use their collective might to block those who want to change the system.

The battle over the future of the internet also played out on a different front Jan. 19 when a loose affiliation of hackers known as “Anonymous” shut down Justice Department websites for several hours and hacked the site of the Motion Picture Association of America after federal officials issued an indictment against Megaupload.com, one of the world’s biggest file-sharing sites.

The site of the Hong Kong-based company was shut down, and the founder and three employees were arrested in New Zealand on U.S. accusations that they facilitated millions of illegal downloads of films, music, and other content, costing copyright holders at least $500 million in lost revenue. New Zealand police raided homes and businesses linked to the founder, Kim Dotcom, on Jan. 20 and seized guns, millions of dollars, and nearly $5 million in luxury cars, officials there said.

In the U.S., momentum against the Senate’s Protect Intellectual Property Act and the House’s Stop Online Piracy Act, known popularly as PIPA and SOPA, grew quickly on Jan. 18 when the online encyclopedia Wikipedia and other web giants staged a one-day blackout and Google organized a petition drive that attracted more than 7 million participants.

Syracuse and MIT joined the protest after higher-education groups, such as the educational technology advocacy group EDUCAUSE, said the bills would limit internet freedom on campus and expose schools to frivolous litigation. Campus librarians and IT staffers could be legally required to comb through digital traffic for signs of copyright violations if Congress enacted the legislation, higher-ed groups said.

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Wolfram Alpha launches free portal with tools for math instruction

A free resource helps teachers locate interactive tools for math instruction.

Numerous studies have highlighted the importance of U.S. students’ math achievement, and now math teachers have a new resource, aligned with the Common Core standards and available free of charge, that might help them teach abstract math lessons.

Launched on Jan. 18, Wolfram Alpha’s Wolfram Education Portal is a free website, currently in beta testing, that offers teaching tools and materials such as an interactive textbook, lesson plans aligned with the Common Core State Standards, and supplemental materials that include demonstrations, widgets, and videos.

Wolfram Alpha, created by noted scientist Stephen Wolfram, is a free research website powered by a computational knowledge engine that generates answers to questions in real time by doing calculations on its own vast internal knowledge base. The site’s Education Portal contains full materials for algebra and selected materials for calculus, but it will continue to grow and include more materials. Wolfram plans to expand the Education Portal to include community features, problem generators, web-based course apps, and the ability to create personalized content.

Crystal Fantry, senior education specialist at Wolfram, said the resource offers “some of the most dynamic teaching and learning tools available.”

Wolfram worked with the nonprofit CK-12 Foundation to develop the interactive textbook. The CK-12 Foundation aims to produce free and open-source K-12 materials aligned with state curriculum standards and customized to meet students’ and teachers’ needs.

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Homophobia starts in elementary school; teachers do little

Clare Davidson-Sherman, the adopted daughter of Karen Davidson-Fisher, has “several mommies”–her biological one, her adoptive mother’s former partner who has joint custody, and now Davidson-Fisher’s legal wife, ABC News reports. The 8-year-old has come face-to-face with bullying in her Omaha, Neb., public school. One of her third-grade classmates used a derogatory and “sing-songy” tone as she taunted, “Clare has lesbian moms!”

“She was upset,” said Davidson-Fisher, a 39-year-old former mental health therapist. “But the teacher talked to the kid. There are at least three kids in my daughter’s class who have same-sex parents. It’s something that needs to be taken care of.”

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Opinion: We’re smart enough for Darwin debate

During my 20 years as a local reporter and columnist, I have noticed our schools deal with all of the big national education issues—student assessment, budget cuts, teacher quality, disabilities, misbehavior, test manipulation, instructional time and many more, says Washington Post Columnist Jay Mathews. There is one exception, however. While the rest of the country struggles with how to teach evolution, our educators approach the subject without fear. Nobody threatens them for contradicting the Bible. That is why I think my suggestion last week that high schools teach alternative theories of evolution would work here even if it might create difficulties elsewhere. I raised the issue of challenges to Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection because Republican presidential candidate and former senator Rick Santorum has advocated teaching alternative theories such as intelligent design, the view that some supernatural force influenced the development of life on Earth. Santorum and I differ on Darwin…

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Public school, private donations: The money debate

School foundations and PTAs used to raise money for the extras – high-tech projectors and special field trips. But these days, private donations to schools have grown dramatically and are being used to prevent teacher layoffs, keep libraries open, and save music and foreign-language classes, California Watch reports. California K-12 foundations, PTAs and booster clubs raised about $1.3 billion in 2007, according to the most recent tax filings analyzed by the Public Policy Institute of California. That’s up from $70 million in 1989, according to the institute…

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A free legal clinic that opens when class is over

Soon after Dennis Kass started teaching history at a small high school in Little Village four years ago, he put his law degree to use, dispensing free legal advice to students and their families after school, the New York Times reports. That modest beginning has evolved into the Chicago Law and Education Foundation, a free clinic that has now expanded to eight additional city high schools. Mr. Kass, 35, estimated that he handled about 100 legal cases last year and said the foundation had helped thousands of people by distributing brochures and answering questions at open houses. The foundation is based at Mr. Kass’s own school, Infinity Math, Science and Technology High School, one of four high schools that are part of the Little Village Lawndale High School campus. The location makes sense, Mr. Kass said, because public schools were an ideal place to provide legal services to low-income families…

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What the 1% majored in

There are a lot of factors to weigh when picking your college major. Like, for example, will this major land me in the top 1% of earners? Despite the statistical rarity of such an ambition, there are majors that lead far more often to 1% status than others, the Huffington Post reports.  The New York Times recently endeavored to find what the top 1% of earners majored in while in college. Using information from the Census Bureau’s 2010 American Community Survey, they found being a pre-med gave you the best chance of joining the financial cream of the crop. Economics came in second. In a surprise twist, zoology cracked the top 5. Funnily, this is a somewhat different list than 2011’s best paying majors, in which petroleum engineering took the top spot…

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