Fact finder recommends raise for Chicago teachers

An independent fact finder has recommended that Chicago teachers receive a 14.85 percent raise to “compensate teachers for working a longer school day and year,” a union official union said Monday, the Associated Press reports. The announcement is the latest turn in acrimonious negotiations that prompted teachers in the nation’s third-largest school district to authorize their leaders to call a strike this fall. However, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis did say whether the report would make a strike more or less likely.

“We are not making that kind of judgment,” Lewis told The Associated Press after a news conference. “Now we will start talking to our members.”

Lewis declined to release the report. But she said a key finding supports what teachers have been complaining about throughout an acrimonious negotiating process that led them last month to overwhelmingly authorize a strike. She said the fact finder, Edwin Benn, not only found that teachers are being asked to work an average of 19.4 percent more thanks to a longer school day, but that it is unrealistic to expect teachers to work that much longer without additional compensation…

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Microsoft unveils Office 2013, announces free consumer preview

Microsoft is touting the social, connected and tactile features of the next version of its desktop publishing software, Microsoft Office 2013, RelaxNews reports. The new Office is designed to work on desktop PCs as well as on tablets running the company’s Windows 8 operating system. The software has been enhanced with social and cloud features and supports touch (but not as well as it should says Ars Technica), stylus, mouse and keyboard input.

“We are taking bold steps at Microsoft,” Ballmer said at the press conference in San Francisco on July 16. “The new, modern Office will deliver unparalleled productivity and flexibility for both consumers and business customers. It is a cloud service and will fully light-up when paired with Windows 8.”

Office 2013 has been redesigned to incorporate elements of Microsoft’s Windows 8 Metro design aesthetic — OneNote and Lync are the first two apps to get the full “touch-first” Windows 8 Metro-look experience — and automatically saves documents in the cloud with SkyDrive…

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Rumor: Apple developing smaller iPad while Amazon works on a bigger kindle

Apple is working on a smaller version of its iPad tablet, cheaper than the current model, the New York Times reports citing several people with knowledge of the project, says Mashable. The new, smaller iPad will have a 7.85-inch screen diagonal and will cost “significantly less” than the “regular” iPad, which starts at $499. Meanwhile, Amazon is working on a bigger version of the 7-inch Kindle Fire in order to compete with the iPad, claims a developer briefed on Amazon’s plans. Steve Jobs has famously claimed that the iPad has just the perfect screen size, and Apple hasn’t even hinted at a smaller version of the tablet yet, so the “iPad mini” stays deep within rumor territory. We’ll find out the truth soon enough, though, as NYT’s sources claim Apple is slated to announce the new, smaller iPad sometime this year…

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High schools may underutilize student feedback on teachers

A student survey system known as the Tripod Project is helping districts harness student feedback on teachers in an effort to improve academic achievement, according to U.S. News & World Report. Developed by a Harvard professor, Tripod presents students with statements such as, “My teacher knows when the class understands, and when we do not,” and “My teacher has several good ways to explain each topic that we cover in this class.” The survey has three versions tailored for students in grades K-2, 3-5, and 6-12. Surveys administered to high schoolers feature five response options ranging from totally untrue to totally true. According to U.S. News, more than 3,000 K-12 teachers in six districts utilized the survey in 2009-10 as part of the Measures of Effective Teaching Project, which is sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They have also been administered in China and Canada. Cambridge Education, a consulting group, distributes the survey and analyzes the results, which are reported back to schools…

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School district’s new approach to summer learning

Today 2,300 Pittsburgh Public Schools K-8 graders will board a bus and head back to school. Why? Because educators and parents in Pittsburgh, like the rest of the nation, know that without learning opportunities during the summer months, the persistent achievement gap between higher- and lower-income kids will continue to grow, says Linda S. Lane, superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools, for the Washington Post. According to the National Summer Learning Association, every year, most youth lose about two months of grade-level equivalency in math skills over the summer. Low-income youth also lose more than two months in reading achievement. A recent RAND Corporation report found that quality summer learning programs can help boost student achievement, and our firsthand experience tells us the same. My own light bulb moment came in April 2009 at NSLA’s annual conference for summer learning advocates and providers. While our district offered summer school, attendance was low and the program was ineffective at stemming summer learning loss. We needed a new summer experience that parents and kids would seek out, that would deliver engaging activities leading to academic gains.

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NJ lawmakers want tuition aid for immigrants’ kids

Lawmakers are pushing for the state to offer college tuition assistance to citizens — even if their parents are living in the U.S. without permission, the Associated Press reports. A bill was introduced in both chambers of the state Legislature after a U.S.-born high school student sued the state last year claiming she had been denied tuition assistance because her mother is an illegal immigrant. Assemblywoman Marlene Caride, a Democrat from West New York, announced Friday that she had introduced a bill last month to rectify that.

“College is terribly expensive,” Caride said. “We should be looking for ways to make it more affordable for our students, not costlier.”

She called the situation for students born in the United States to parents who are in the country illegally “difficult and unfair.”

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Virtual foreign exchange program will give students global skills

A Michigan district’s virtual exchange program allows Chinese students to take American classes online, and vice versa.

Today’s students need to prepare for a globalized world, business leaders often say—but sending students abroad is usually too expensive for cash-strapped schools or parents. One Michigan school district is taking a unique approach to this challenge by establishing a virtual foreign exchange program so that students can take classes from teachers in other countries.

This fall, Oxford Community Schools will launch a virtual exchange program that allows American and Chinese students to take online classes taught by teachers on the other side of the globe.

The classes will be hosted by Oxford Virtual Academy, a school without walls within the district that already supports more than 500 full-time students and more than 250 part-time students.

Oxford’s launch of the program will begin with three virtual English classes for the students in China: TOEFL preparation, ACT preparation, and English composition.

Official enrollment for the China virtual exchange class will not begin until August, but the district expects class sizes of about 20 students during the pilot year for each of the three courses to be offered.

Many of the students will come from the Northeast Yucai Oxford International High School in Fushan, China. Students at the boarding school, established by Oxford Community Schools in April 2011, fulfill both national Chinese and American curriculum standards and graduate with a dual diploma. Two of Oxford’s sister schools in Beijing will participate in the virtual exchange as well.

Oxford students in Michigan, in turn, will be able to take virtual Mandarin language and Chinese culture classes taught by Chinese teachers, most likely beginning in the spring semester.

As the program grows, the district anticipates establishing similar virtual partnerships with other sister schools in countries such as Mexico and Spain, said William Skilling, superintendent of Oxford Community Schools and a winner of the 2012 Tech-Savvy Superintendent Awards from eSchool Media.

Students will have 24-7 access to course content. The classes will be synchronous despite the 12-hour time difference: American students most likely will attend their classes early in the morning, and Chinese students will log on late at night.

“Prepare our students to write at the college level—that was [the Chinese schools’] request to us,” said Andrew Hulbert, director of the Oxford Virtual Academy.

These initial courses for the Chinese students will focus on composition, because historically, Chinese students learning English have struggled most with expressing themselves in writing.


Dell jumps into lecture capture

Seven in 10 students said using lecture capture helped improve their final course grades.

The proliferation of online courses and the flipped learning model has created demand in higher education for lecture capture systems, and officials at technology giant Dell said July 9 they might be able to meet that need.

Dell will bundle lecture capture hardware and software into its server infrastructure for colleges and universities after partnering with popular lecture-recording company Echo360.

Along with the usual batch of networking equipment, servers, and storage, colleges will now have access to Echo360’s lecture capture system, which is used on more than 500 campuses worldwide.

Officials from the two companies said bundling the lecture capture equipment with Dell’s education technology services would help campus IT officials get lecture recordings up and running faster, and with less fuss.

Students can watch Echo360 lectures live or after class, and professors can use built-in “activity heat maps” to track student viewing trends and which class topics are creating the most discussion among students.

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Lawmakers at odds over cuts in food stamps, school lunch program

A bill to overhaul the nation’s nutrition and farm program, as currently drafted, would cut spending by $35 billion over the next 10 years and make nearly 300,000 children ineligible for free school lunches, reports the New York Times. The fate of the bill appears in jeopardy because of a split in the ranks of House Republicans over the degree of spending cuts in the national school lunch program and other initiatives. The rift pits conservatives who want deeper cuts against moderates and Democrats who think the bill goes far enough at a time of weak economic growth. After a late-night drafting session that ended early on July 12, the House Agriculture Committee easily approved their version of the farm bill, but House Republican leaders, fearing a divisive and messy intraparty floor fight, might hold off a floor vote until after the November elections to avoid being portrayed as the party that wants to virtually gut school lunch and food stamp programs…

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