Cuts imminent, Senate rejects stopgap efforts

Squabbling away the hours, the Senate last night swatted aside last-ditch plans to block $85 billion in federal spending reductions as President Barack Obama and Republicans blamed each other for the gridlock and the administration readied plans to put the sequestration cuts into effect, reports the Associated Press.

So entrenched were the two parties that the Senate chaplain, Barry Black, opened the day’s session with a prayer that beseeched a higher power to intervene. “Rise up, O God, and save us from ourselves,” he said of cuts due to take effect sometime on March 1.

On the Senate floor, a Republican proposal requiring Obama to propose alternative cuts that would cause less disruption in essential government services fell to overwhelming Democratic opposition, 62-38. Moments later, a Democratic alternative to spread the cuts over a decade and replace half with higher taxes on millionaires and corporations won a bare majority, 51-49, but that was well shy of the 60 needed to advance. Republicans opposed it without exception.

So it appears that school leaders will have to brace for what could be devastating cuts to services that affect mostly poor and minority students…

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Feds’ loan changes hamper black college enrollment

Thousands of students this year unexpectedly had to stay at home, transfer to a less expensive school, or find new money after the U.S. Department of Education quietly changed how it evaluated the credit of parents applying for a federal PLUS loan, reports the Associated Press. The greater scrutiny affected families and schools everywhere, but historically black colleges were hit particularly hard, because so many of their students come from low-income families dependent on PLUS loans. In recent years, as many as a third of all black college graduates had used PLUS loans, a proportion twice as high as the rate for all schools, according to one estimate. The Education Department said the changes were made as part of an effort to more closely align government lending programs with industry standards and decrease default rates. Before the changes, the loan program looked at whether an applicant had an adverse credit history for an account in the past 90 days. Now, the program looks for delinquent accounts during the last five years. While many colleges worried about the denials, others said the changes prevented lower-income families from being saddled with debt they can’t afford…

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Chicago public schools will start sex education in kindergarten

The dismally low graduation rate for students who attend Chicago Public Schools is barely over 60 percent – substantially lower than the national rate of roughly 75 percent, the Daily Caller reports. Nevertheless, citizens of the Second City will surely take heart, because the Chicago Board of Education just passed a new policy that requires sex education to begin in kindergarten. The new policy, which was passed on Wednesday, according to ABC News, is part of a broader makeover of the school district’s sexual health program. Sometime within the next two years, students in every grade, including kindergarten, will be required to spend a certain amount of time on the birds and the bees. Mandated sex-ed for Chicago kindergartners will include instruction about male and female anatomy and reproduction. It’s not clear exactly how much detail five- and six-year-olds will be taught concerning the more sophisticated uses for their genitals…

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‘Bully’ documentary gets its own documentary on ‘Anderson Cooper 360’

A bully’s worst fear is revenge, so it’s special when a victim of bullying can turn those slurs and taunts into nationwide popularity, the Huffington Post reports. Alex Libby was 12 years old when director Lee Hirsch included him in a documentary entitled “Bully.” The film, which was released in 2011 and acquired shortly thereafter by the Weinstein Company, gave the boy his chance to change things — for himself and others. Ever since, he’s lent his face, time and energy to a worldwide movement against bullying. CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” will feature Libby’s story Thursday night in a documentary, called “The Bully Effect,” about the children featured in “Bully.”

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How teachers are using technology at home and school

73 percent of AP and NWP teachers say they or their students use cell phones in the classroom or to complete assignments.

A survey of U.S. middle and high school teachers finds that ed tech has become central to their profession. At the same time, the internet, mobile phones, and social media have brought new challenges to teachers—and they report striking differences in access between lower and higher-income students and schools.

The survey comes from the Pew Research Center, which polled more than 2,400 Advanced Placement (AP) and National Writing Project (NWP) teachers last spring. When asked about the impact of the internet and ed-tech tools on their profession…

• 92 percent of these teachers said the internet has a “major impact” on their ability to access content, resources, and materials.

• 69 percent said the internet has a “major impact” on their ability to share ideas with other teachers.

• 67 percent said the internet has a “major impact” on their ability to interact with parents, and 57 percent said it has had such an impact on their interaction with students.

The survey found that ed-tech tools are widely used in classrooms and assignments, and a majority of teachers are satisfied with the ed-tech support and resources they receive from their schools. However, it also found that teachers of the lowest-income students face more challenges in using ed-tech tools in their classrooms.

Mobile technology has become central to the learning process, with 73 percent of AP and NWP teachers saying they or their students use their cell phones in the classroom or to complete assignments. Nearly half of teachers report using eReader devices (45 percent) or tablet computers (43 percent) in their classrooms or to complete assignments.

Teachers of low-income students, however, are much less likely than teachers of the highest income students to use tablet computers (37 percent versus 56 percent) or eReaders (41 percent versus 55 percent) in their classrooms or assignments.

Similarly, just over half (52 percent) of teachers of upper and upper-middle income students say their students use cell phones to look up information in class, compared with 35 percent of teachers of the lowest income students.

What’s more, just 15 percent of AP and NWP teachers whose students are from upper-income households say their school is “behind the curve” in effectively using ed-tech tools in the learning process—while 39 percent who teach students from low-income households describe their school as “behind the curve.”

And 70 percent of teachers of the highest income students say their school does a “good job” providing the resources needed to bring digital tools into the classroom; the same is true of just 50 percent of teachers working in low-income areas.

Teachers of the lowest income students are more than twice as likely as teachers of the highest income students (56 percent versus 21 percent) to say that students’ lack of access to digital technologies is a “major challenge” to incorporating more ed-tech tools into their teaching.

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Early education in Nordic countries: Can we learn anything?

The comprehensive preschool education plan backed by all Nordic countries is called the New Nordic School.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama called on states to “make high-quality preschool [education] available to every single child in America.”

Nordic countries, built around the welfare-state model, and which score high on international education benchmarking tests, have provided successful preschool education programs for decades—success that has prompted U.S. education leaders to wonder what policies are scalable in the United States.

On Feb. 28, education leaders from Denmark, Sweden, and one of PISA’s top-scoring countries, Finland, met at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., to discuss how their preschool education system works and why they believe that high-quality preschool education keeps their economy going.

The idea that high-quality preschool education will directly influence the economy is partly based on an equation developed by Nobel Prize-winning University of Chicago Economics Professor James Heckman.

The Heckman Equation shows that programs targeted toward the earliest years of child development return dollars to the economy later in life.

The Heckman Equation:

 

“Nordic countries also believe in equality,” said keynote speaker Christine Antorini, minister for children and education in Denmark. “It doesn’t matter whether you have a high income or low income. High-quality education, including preschool, is available to everyone.”

(Next page: A closer look at the Nordic preschool education system)

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Viral ed-tech video pushes for coding in the classroom

will.i.am explains the value of software coding in a new ed-tech public service announcement.

A new video from Code.org is making waves not just in education circles, but with students who say they want more from their school’s curriculum.

As the experts in the video attest, software coding is still thought of more as a “hobby” than as a valuable skill that should be taught in K-12 classrooms.

“Here we are, 2013; we all depend on technology to communicate, to bank, and [for] information, and none of us know how to read and write code,” says Will.i.am, singer/songwriter who’s now taking software coding classes.

Perhaps the most surprising part of the ed-tech video is that all of the innovative programmers interviewed—including Bill Gates and the engineers of Dropbox—say they got into programming when they were children and by taking introductory classes in computer science.

“My parents bought me a Macintosh in 1984 when I was eight years old,” says Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter.

Most of the videos’ participants also say that what sparked their interest in programming was not a need to learn everything about computer science, but an interest in reaching out to others through an online connection.

“You don’t have to be a genius to code,” says a technical artist for Valve. “Do you have to be a genius to read?”

The video also discusses what companies are doing to attract the top programmers in the country, as well as their plea for schools to promote software coding to help fill the nearly one million jobs available today in programming that might go unfulfilled.

According to Code.org, only one in 10 schools today teaches students how to code.

Watch the video here:

 

Follow Associate Editor Meris Stansbury on Twitter at @eSN_Meris.

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