Student loan write-offs hit $3 billion in first two months of year

Banks wrote off $3 billion of student loan debt in the first two months of 2013, up more than 36 percent from the year-ago period, as many graduates remain jobless, underemployed or cash-strapped in a slow U.S. economic recovery, an Equifax study showed, Reuters reports. The credit reporting agency also said Monday that student lending has grown from last year because more people are going back to school and the cost of higher education has risen.

“Continued weakness in labor markets is limiting work options once people graduate or quit their programs, leading to a steady rise in delinquencies and loan write-offs,” Equifax Chief Economist Amy Crews Cutts said in a statement.

Equifax analyzes data from more than 500 million consumers to track financial trends…

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Christie takes over troubled Camden Schools

The state of New Jersey moved to take over the Camden school district Monday, seeking to fix what officials said is a broken system that allows thousands of students in one of the nation’s poorest cities to fail each year, the Associated Press reports. Gov. Chris Christie’s administration filed the first legal paperwork necessary to assume control of a district in which 90 percent of the schools are among the bottom 5 percent in performance statewide. The district has 20 days to respond. Christie said the intervention could be complete as quickly as six to eight weeks, but it could be challenged in court.

“We’re taking the lead because for too long the public school system in Camden has failed its children,” Christie said, flanked by the mayor and some school officials at a news conference held at a high school…

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New report sheds light on open educational resources

A new resource aims to help educators learn how to use open educational resources (OERs) most effectively, as it dives into proper implementation, costs, and other important factors.

The “Guide on the Use of Open Educational Resources in K-12 and Postsecondary Education,” from the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA), explains what OERs are and spells out various copyright and licensing considerations that are involved with using such resources.

A commonly-accepted definition of open educational resources, as provided by the Hewlett Foundation, is “teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others.”

Those using OERs are able to abide by the “4Rs” when using the resources:

  • Revise: Adapt and improve open educational resources so they better meet your needs;
  • Reuse: Use the original or your new version of the OER in a wide range of contexts;
  • Remix: Combine or “mashup” the resource with other OERs to produce new materials; and
  • Redistribute: Make copies and share the original OER, or your new version, with others.

(Next page: What you should know when using OERs)


Sequester cancels NASA education outreach, STEM programs

Well, it looks like it’s finally happened: the U.S. sequester – a “series of across-the-board cuts to government agencies totaling $1.2 trillion over 10 years” (CNN) — has finally hit NASA… right where it hurts, too: in public outreach and STEM programs, Universe Today reports. In an internal memo issued on the evening of Friday, March 22, the Administration notes that “effective immediately, all education and public outreach activities should be suspended, pending further review. In terms of scope, this includes all public engagement and outreach events, programs, activities, and products developed and implemented by Headquarters, Mission Directorates, and Centers across the Agency, including all education and public outreach efforts conducted by programs and projects.”

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Blind, severely disabled boy forced to take standardized test

There are many distressing stories about high-stakes standardized tests, but this may be the most hideous I have heard, says Valerie Strauss for the Washington Post. This involves the issue of who must take state standardized tests, and whether parents have a right to opt out their children from the testing. In Florida, opting out is extremely hard to do. This post was written by veteran educator Marion Brady, who in 2011 introduced us to Rick Roach, the Orange County school board member who took a version of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. Roach is back in this post. Brady, a classroom teacher for years, has written history and world culture textbooks (Prentice-Hall), professional books, numerous nationally distributed columns (many are available here), and courses of study. His 2011 book, “What’s Worth Learning,” asks and answer this question: What knowledge is absolutely essential for every learner? His course of study for secondary-level students, called Connections: Investigating Reality, is free for downloading here. Brady’s website is

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Chicago Mayor defends action as tough but needed

Mayor Rahm Emanuel responded Saturday to widespread criticism of his plan to close 54 Chicago Public Schools, saying he wasn’t interested in doing what was politically easy and that the pain of the closings doesn’t compare to the anguish of “trapping” kids in failing schools, the Associated Press reports.

“If we don’t make these changes, we haven’t lived up to our responsibility as adults to the children of the city of Chicago,” Emanuel said in his first public statements since Thursday’s announcement. “And I did not run for office to shirk my responsibility.”

Emanuel was out of town when his schools chief, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, announced the closings. It is the largest number of CPS schools to be shuttered in a single year, and officials say it will affect some 30,000 students in the nation’s third-largest school district…

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Bring your own tech to school…and become a hacker!

Synching, optimizing, and personalizing is known as configuration management and it’s a thriving technology business, says a writer for the Huffington Post. Tools like Puppet enable professional system administrators to automate the setup of server farms and user’s computers. Tools likes Apple’s Migration Assistant, Google Chrome Sign In, and Dropbox bring configuration management to ordinary mortals. Last week the New York Times published a great story on the issues around kids using their own tech gear in school. It’s a great idea to help with ever shrinking public school budgets but some educators are worried about tech support problems or the lack of research on personal devices and learning. Well, I have an excellent domain expert at home on the whole Bring Your Own Tech (BYOT) issue: My high school-aged son. My son’s high school lets you BYOT. And he has friends at a nearby high school where every student is given an iPad. I don’t know what the official analysis of these programs is but my son gave me the test subject’s perspective and embedded journalist’s analysis…

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Are these five educational technologies really ‘success stories’?

In South Korea, robots like this are helping to teach language skills to young students.

Robots that teach students language skills and free online courses that reach hundreds of thousands of students simultaneously are among the educational technologies touted as “success stories” in a new report from Brookings Institution researchers.

The Washington, D.C.-based public policy group used the release of its report to hold a panel discussion about how educational technologies can benefit students—and what the future holds for ed-tech innovation.

While most people would agree the five technologies cited in the report hold promise, not everyone would characterize them as “success stories” just yet.

Educational technologies can be used poorly or effectively—and those who use them effectively know that a teacher helps students make connections between what the technology shows them and how this relates to learning, said Marcia Linn, professor of development and cognition for UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education, during the panel discussion.

“A good use of technology means that your students aren’t learning just facts anymore,” Linn said. “Students, with the use of technology, can begin to enhance their own learning and become cognizant of the fact that they’re responsible for their learning.”

“The next generation of educational technologies is facilitating substantial change,” said Darrell M. West, vice president and director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution and founding director of the group’s Center for Technology Innovation. “Educational technologies are evolving beyond lecture and group work to games, simulations, and augmented reality. Software is creating environments where students can direct the creation of their own knowledge with nearly invisible prompts from teachers.”

West is the co-author, along with Joshua Bleiberg, of “Education Technology Success Stories,” a Brookings report that says time and cost savings and better assessments are among the reasons ed tech has flourished in the last decade. The report highlights five educational technologies in particular that have “demonstrated the ability to improve efficiency and effectiveness in education systems.”

One of these is Robot Assisted Language Learning (RALL), which holds the potential to keep costs down in resource-intensive language subjects that can strain school budgets, the report argues.

Robots, like those used in some South Korean schools, can aid in language teaching by helping students with repetition and memorization, because grammar and vocabulary is a defined structure, and robots can be programmed with advanced speech recognition software. Along with speech prompts, robots used in South Korea use facial expressions to communicate with students.

Studies suggest that RALL leads to “large improvements in student speaking, but not listening skills,” the report says, adding that RALL will continue to be important because scarcities in qualified secondary language teachers likely will persist into the future.

The report also cites massive open online courses, or MOOCs, as another ed-tech “success story.” It says MOOCs have the potential to “disrupt higher education, improving outcomes for students and expanding learning opportunities,” especially because tuition has increased steeply over the last few decades, and the resulting cuts have hurt students and restricted access by poorer students.

While there’s no denying the explosive growth of MOOCs in the last few years—fueled partly by new MOOC platforms such as CourseraedX, and Udacity—the report makes no mention of common MOOC criticisms. For instance, some worry that MOOCs cannot provide the same intimate experience as a traditional classroom, and MOOCs also have notoriously low retention rates.

Here are the other three ed-tech “success stories” highlighted in the Brookings report:


App of the week: Net Texts

Name: Net Texts

What is it? Net Texts allows students to replace their textbooks with customized multimedia courses delivered to their iPad, Android tablet, or laptop. Teachers can use the Content Management website to select existing courses or to create new courses by mixing and matching items from the library with their own educational material. Students can use the iPad or Android app to download and use these courses, filled with videos, slideshows, eBooks, PDFs, text, audiobooks, and web links.

Best for: High school students

Price: FREE

Requirements: Compatible with iPad; requires iOS 4.3 or later. Android 4.0 and up.

Rated: 4+

Features: Net Texts researchers have built courses using Open Educational Resources covering math, science, language arts, social studies, foreign languages, and more. Courses contain teacher-created material as well as Creative Commons-licensed and other Open Educational Resources from the web. The app allows for enabled background playback of video and audio items, and users can continue viewing items, navigating courses and units, and taking notes while an audio or video item plays. Net Texts also has school-specific collection pages. Schools can add courses used in their classes so students can find and download their course material.

Links: [For Apple]


[For Android]