Teachers give a gold star to a free-for-all education camp

For many teachers, the phrase professional development conjures up mandatory, snooze-inducing, school-sponsored lectures, says the Philadelphia Enquirer. EdCamp, an “unconference” for educators that was conceived in the Philadelphia region last year, was designed to be the exact opposite: the free events are participant-driven and attendance is strictly voluntary…

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Pennsylvania likely to put school tax increases in the hands of voters

Pennsylvania school districts that might get hammered once the state budget becomes finalized might be forced to justify high tax increases if the state government has anything to say about it, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Legislation is speeding through the state house and senate that would eliminate exceptions to a law that allows school districts to raise taxes higher than the state inflationary index. The bills, known as House Bill 1326 and Senate Bill 911, reflect public displeasure with rising taxes in a troubling economy and come with a lot of questions…

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Fire rips through West Philadelphia charter school

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, a five-alarm fire that raged for more than an hour and a half early Sunday caused “substantial” damage to the 400-student Global Leadership Academy in West Philadelphia, Deputy Fire Chief Michael Wahl reported. The cause of the fire, which started in the basement of the three-story building at 5151 Warren St., near 52d Street and Lancaster Avenue, is under investigation, Wahl said…

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Pa., N.J. legislators blast loss of charter aid

New Jersey and Pennsylvania legislators criticized the Christie and Rendell administrations on Monday for their states’ failures to win federal aid for charter school start-ups, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. New Jersey’s rejected grant application, reported Monday in The Inquirer, “is beyond disappointing and another major setback for [the] education system under Gov. Christie,” said state Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver (D., Essex). Oliver and Assembly Education Chairman Patrick J. Diegnan Jr. (D., Middlesex) have demanded an accounting from the administration. In Pennsylvania, Jeffrey E. Piccola (R., Dauphin), chair of the Senate Education Committee, said the failure of his state’s application showed Gov. Rendell had not made school choice a priority. Also on Monday, the Center for Education Reform released its annual report card on charter-school laws. New Jersey received a grade of C, falling from 17th to 19th place in a ranking of 41 states and Washington, D.C. Pennsylvania scored a B. Its rank dropped from 11th to 12th place. Deficiencies such as having only the state Department of Education authorized to approve charter applications hurt the Garden State’s chance for the federal money, said Carlos Perez, chief officer of the New Jersey Charter Schools Association. It also was a factor in the state’s C rating, according to the report…

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District in webcam spying lawsuit adopts new laptop-tracking policies

Pennsylvania’s Lower Merion School District has adopted a new set of policies to govern the use and tracking of student laptops and other technology, its latest step to get past the furor of remote webcam monitoring, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. The measures, passed unanimously by the school board at its monthly meeting Aug. 16, spell out in detail when, how, and for what reasons school officials can access or monitor the laptops they will give to each of the district’s nearly 2,300 high school students next month. The measures require students and their parents to acknowledge the policies and consent in writing to any tracking, or give them an option not to participate in the laptop program. They also mandate expanded training about privacy and technology for teachers and staff and will include information sessions for parents. The new policies, recommended by a task force of students, parents, administrators, and community members, met one of the provisions of a federal court injunction signed in May by U.S. District Judge Jan E. DuBois. Besides banning any unauthorized webcam monitoring, the judge ordered the district to enact expansive, transparent policies before the school year opens in September…

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IT employees suspended in school webcam spying case

Two information technology employees of the Lower Merion School District have been placed on leave while an investigation continues into the use of remote surveillance software on student laptops, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. The two people authorized to activate the software—Michael Perbix, a network technician, and Carol Cafiero, information systems coordinator—reportedly were put on paid leave last week while lawyers and technicians examine how the remote system was used. Lawyers for Cafiero and Perbix said their clients did nothing wrong. Perbix and Cafiero turned on the remote software only when a laptop was reported missing, they said—and administrators knew what they were doing. Their lawyers said the use of the software was no secret. On at least two occasions, the district turned over pictures and other information to Lower Merion police so they could help track stolen laptops. The district’s use of the software touched off a national furor when the parents of Harriton High School sophomore Blake Robbins, 15, filed a federal lawsuit on Feb. 16  saying that school officials used the remote-control software to invade his privacy…

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Web not yet the answer to college textbook costs

Most students still prefer print to digital textbooks, and even if they didn’t, college campuses so far have made very few titles available online, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. At the University of Pennsylvania, for example, only 31 of the 1,578 course titles registered with the bookstore were available digitally, eight of which were sold by the bookstore. That could change with the advent of the tablet-style Apple iPad and with students throughout the region buckling under heavy book expenses on top of pricey tuition. A small but growing number already are buying digital texts, many of which are half the price of books. Experts expect students to have more choices as campuses, professors, and companies look for new ways to make texts available and more affordable. But for now, textbook publishers and book authors are grappling to find a fair method that makes use of technology and satisfies students. “It’s like the Wild West. Everybody’s trying something new,” said Steven Bell, associate university librarian at Temple. “What’s the pricing model that’s going to work?” Don’t look yet for a groundswell toward digital books. According to the national Student Public Interest Research Groups, 75 percent of students still prefer print. “The critical mass just isn’t there yet,” said Bell, who added that it’s also not clear whether students will buy the e-reading devices to make digital books more palatable…

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