Mount St. Mary’s University will be making some dramatic changes to its student laptop program, reports the Mountain Echo, the campus newspaper. Incoming students will no longer pay the $1,400 for the required Dell laptops to access the campus network, because the school will be discontinuing the program starting in the 2009-10 school year. An eMail announcement sent on Feb. 20 stated that the Dell laptop program, which was created five years ago, will be discontinued. The university’s IT department cited the poor economy and changing student needs as reasons for the change. "For financial concerns, this has allowed us to realign our Information Technology services and put our money to better use for student technology," stated Bobby Flack, chief information officer, via eMail. Incoming freshmen will have the option of bringing their own laptops to school and connecting them to the network. However, their personal laptops will have to meet with some of the system requirements to connect with the network. As for the students who’ve already bought Dell laptops through the university, their warranty is still effective, and the campus help desk will continue to help them with any problems that might occur…
An undercover investigation shows Craigslist is not protecting children from online predators, reports the Detroit News. In a Feb. 26 letter to the web site’s CEO, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox said that when investigators posing as children, parents, and teachers wrote to Craigslist complaining about suspected child predators encountered on the web site, their eMails were either ignored or received only an automated response. "This is unacceptable," Cox wrote to Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster, requesting that Craigslist forward all such complaints to law enforcement. Cox said Craigslist, which features online classified and personal ads, also has ignored repeated requests to provide a link to his office on the web site’s law-enforcement contacts page. "During the past two years, my office has arrested seven predators who used Craigslist to meet or solicit a child for sex," Cox wrote Buckmaster. "All of these cases, which in Michigan are 20-year felonies, arise from our agents posing as minor boys in your ‘men-seeking-men’ personals section…"
Facebook is trying its hand at democracy: The fast-growing online hangout, whose more than 175 million worldwide users could form the world’s sixth-largest country, said Feb. 26 that those users will play a "meaningful role" in deciding the site’s policies and voting on changes, reports the Associated Press. Facebook is trying to recover from last week’s policy-change blunder, which prompted tens of thousands to join online protests. At issue was who controls the information, like photos, posts, and messages, that people share with their friends on the site. On Feb. 26, founder Mark Zuckerberg sought to reassure users that they own their information, not Facebook. And in a broader step, the company also said its users will get a hand in determining the various policies–such as privacy, ownership, and sharing–by reviewing, commenting, and voting on them before they are put in place. If more than 7,000 users comment on any proposed change, it would go to a vote. The result of that vote would be binding to Facebook if more than 30 percent of active users vote…
Utah will use some of its federal stimulus money to pay for high-tech teaching software and new computer labs in the state’s poorest schools as part of an effort to use new technologies to boost test scores, reports the Salt Lake Tribune. Utah schools superintendent Patti Harrington and Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. are still working out the details of how the state will spend its $500 million in emergency education funding. But after a White House meeting Feb. 25 with education leaders from each state, Harrington promised big changes. "We are virtually reinventing the schools with the stimulus money," she said. The school superintendents met throughout the day to discuss the stimulus and education reforms supported by President Barack Obama, culminating in a speech by Vice President Joe Biden, who told them: "I came to make a plea with you to help us, help us use this money wisely." Biden called the stimulus cash "a down payment" and promised that if schools use it wisely, they would not want for resources while Barack Obama is president. "This is going to be the education administration. That is not hyperbole," Biden said…
According to a new study, college students who watch their lectures from their dorm room via podcast might do better on their next exam than those who attend the lecture in person, reports the Industry Standard. Researchers at the State University of New York, Fredonia, measured the performance of 64 students, half of whom watched a lecture via podcast and the other half attended the live lecture. Students who used the podcast averaged a 71 out of 100 on the follow-up test, whereas those who actually went to the lecture averaged a 62. Apple’s iTunes University hosts podcasts from major universities, such as MIT, Stanford, and Berkeley. Some professors limit downloads of their lectures for fear of attendance dropping. But not all professors are afraid of the new method of teaching; some believe it’s an excellent tool that allows students to go back and review what they’ve missed–and helps universities cater to different learning styles. "Some learn better by attending lectures in person, and others by watching them offline," said Andrew Ng, a Stanford University computer science professor whose lectures are on iTunes. "Providing videos to students lets them pick whatever works best for them."
At the Texas Computer Education Association’s 29th annual conference earlier this month, educators heard an impassioned plea to open their students’ eyes to the world around them–and were urged to change their approach to instruction to take full advantage of 21st-century learning tools.
Despite the gloomy economy, TCEA reported a record attendance of 8,500 educators from all over the country. Hundreds of exhibitors also showcased their latest ed-tech products and services in an exhibit hall that boasted more than 900 individual booths.
The conference opened Feb. 4 with a dynamic, student-produced video demonstrating how technology is transforming education and empowering kids at Klein Independent School District’s Krimmel Intermediate School.
Set to pulsating music (used with permission under the Creative Commons license), the video captured students using tablet PCs to record themselves speaking in foreign-language classes, so they can replay the audio and practice their pronunciation. It also showed them collaborating on projects, doing research online, and presenting what they’ve learned.
"We’re plugged in," the video concluded. "Are you?"
After screening the video for the thousands of educators attending the three-day conference in Austin, Candace Threadgill, vice president of the convention, went live to Krimmel students through a real-time videoconferencing feed.
The students said they use tablet PCs every day in their classes and at home. "It’s truly a 24-7 learning experience," said one student. "We’re able to customize our learning."
The theme of TCEA’s conference was "Accelerate Technology," and that’s what a partnership between TCEA and the Verizon Foundation aims to do for Texas educators. The two organizations have teamed up for a program that trains the state’s teachers how to use Verizon’s free learning and literacy platform, Thinkfinity.org.
The site contains a wealth of free digital resources that teachers can use in their classrooms. During the opening general session, a Verizon Foundation executive presented Threadgill with a check for $70,500 to expand Thinkfinity training to more of the state’s teachers.
Ling to educators: Tell the world’s stories
TCEA’s opening keynote speaker, Journalist Lisa Ling, had strong words of rebuke for the current state of the U.S. news media–and an inspiring message of hope for the thousands of conference attendees.
"There aren’t enough people telling the world’s stories," said Ling, who has traveled the globe as a correspondent for National Geographic and the Oprah Winfrey Show. She urged conference attendees to help open their students’ eyes to the world around them.
Ling got her start in journalism at age 18 working for Channel One, the student-targeted news network that sparked controversy because it showed ads to students during school hours. To help overcome this stigma, the program began taking on more serious assignments.
Working for Channel One in the mid-80s, Ling covered the civil war in Afghanistan as a 21-year-old student at USC. She said she was struck by how many 10-year-old boys she met in that war-torn country who knew little else except how to fire a bazooka.
When the former Soviet Union pulled out of Afghanistan in the late 80s, leaving behind a nation with billions of dollars of high-tech weaponry supplied by the U.S. to help fight our Cold War enemy at the time, "I wondered if we thought of the consequences of arming a country that knew nothing except war," Ling told a hushed audience.
Back then, she said, there were few media outlets covering events around the globe. And now, even though we have more news coverage with the advent of cable TV news and 24-hour news channels, "we’re still not any more informed about our world," Ling said.
She added: "Somehow we’ve empowered these people to discuss and debate and pontificate" on the key issues of our time–when most don’t have any firsthand knowledge of what they’re talking about.
After seven years at Channel One, Ling was deemed too old to appeal to that medium’s youthful demographic. Eventually, she ended up on The View–the multi-generational talk show aimed at women.
As the show’s resident Generation Xer, it was Ling’s job to represent the youth culture. But "I’d just had this global experience" covering events such as the refugee crisis in Kosovo, she said, "and I wanted to show that we could be multidimensional." She also wanted to use the show’s platform to raise awareness of larger issues.
"The producers said, ‘That’s nice–but no one in America cares about what’s going on in the rest of the world,’" she said.
Later, to loud applause, Ling said: "Don’t you wish our media would spend a fraction of their time covering substantive news?"
Ling found the opportunity to do that for National Geographic and as a special correspondent for the Oprah Winfrey Show.
"Every time I start on a project, I have a preconceived idea of what the people will be like, what the culture will be like"–and it’s never quite that simple, she said.
One powerful example was when Ling went to China to report on how Chinese families are abandoning their young daughters or giving them up for adoption by the thousands as a result of that nation’s one-child-only policy for controlling its exploding population.
Ling said she couldn’t understand how Chinese mothers could be so callous toward their little girls–until she interviewed several families and realized there’s a clear economic reason for choosing to keep sons over daughters: Chinese parents worry that if they have a baby girl and keep her, she’ll eventually marry and move in with her husband’s family, leaving no one to care for them when they get old.
"It hit me like a ton of bricks," Ling said of this simple explanation. Her point was that understanding different cultures changes our perception of them profoundly.
"My hope is that, when viewers are able to live vicariously through our reports, it will be enlightening" for them, too, she said.
The understanding that comes from learning about others offers hope for our planet’s future, Ling said, as she urged TCEA attendees to awaken this understanding within their students.
And though Ling didn’t mention this herself, it was obvious to those attending an ed-tech conference that technology provides a key means of doing this, as tools such as eMail, video, and the internet can help connect students to the world around them.
Ling ended with a quote from Oprah that served as a strong call to action for educators to raise their students’ awareness of how others live and inspire them to seek change:
"Now that you know, you can’t pretend that you don’t."
Web 2.0: What does the future hold?
Another conference session included a spirited panel discussion of Web 2.0 technologies and their role in schools.
In Web 2.0 technologies, schools finally have the optimum tools for learning, said the panel’s speakers–but educators must learn to change their approach to instruction to take full advantage of these tools.
Jim Bower, CEO of the student-focused virtual world Whyville, explained the difference between first-generation online tools and the new tools of today–and why Web 2.0 holds so much promise for education.
"Web 1.0 was largely a ‘push’ operation, taking already existing content and posting it online," said Bower. "Web 2.0 is driven by ‘pull,’ not push. … Kids can create their own content and interact."
But, he added: "The question is, are we inventing a new way for students to learn using this technology?"
Bower, who’s also a neurobiologist at the University of Texas, said the way we learn hasn’t really changed over the years; what has changed has been the medium for this instruction.
We tend to learn best through hands-on experiences, he explained–by trying things ourselves and taking ownership of our own learning, rather than passively receiving information from another source. But until the internet came along, we haven’t had a scalable way to deliver this kind of experience to every student.
Before the internet, Bower said, the two most important developments from an educational perspective were the invention of the printing press and the creation of a university system. But both of these developments were "push" operations, he said–meaning they pushed information out to students, rather than letting students experience learning for themselves.
"We’ve been saddled with bad technology to teach for the last 500 years, with predictable consequences," Bower said. But now, with Web 2.0 tools, "we finally have a technology that will let us better match our learning process" with what goes on in schools.
Now that we have the right medium, Bower said, we have to figure out how to take advantage of it. When any new technology comes out, he explained, we typically superimpose our old ways of doing things on this new medium–and education has been no different.
"We haven’t figured out how to leverage Web 2.0 yet" in schools, Bower said. Instead of pushers and producers of content knowledge, he added, teachers must become pullers and directors.
Bower gave an example that illustrates the potential for Web 2.0 technologies to empower students.
Whyville is an online virtual community for students, with a reported 4.2 million members worldwide. Students create their own avatars, and–as in the virtual environment Second Life–they can buy and sell virtual goods using the site’s currency (clams) and even operate virtual businesses.
Shortly after the site launched a few years ago, Bower got an eMail message from a child saying, in effect, "Your [avatars’] face parts are lame." So Whyville’s programmers created a virtual factory in which students could design their own face parts. That, in turn, has led to the creation of several start-up virtual businesses in which kids design and "sell" face parts to other Whyville members.
Over the last few years, Bower said, Whyville’s residents have created and sold more than 2.5 million face parts. Some 12-year-old girls run entire virtual companies around this industry, he said, with 30 to 40 employees handling sales, marketing, and graphic design.
"That is the power of this medium when it actually opens up and lets kids contribute," he said.
Much of the rest of the discussion focused on how to overcome resistance to this paradigm shift in education, which is notorious for its aversion to change.
One session participant, a district technology director, said she’s had trouble integrating Web 2.0 technologies in her schools, because it’s often hard to convince administrators and teachers of their value. How do you get this buy-in from stakeholders, she asked?
"When an administrator says, ‘Show me the proof,’ just point at the current state of schools," Bower said. "If we’re not engaging these kids, they’re not learning."
Ed-tech best practices
During the TCEA conference, eSchool News hosted its annual "Ed-Tech Best Practices Summit," which featured informative sessions on data management, digital media management, interactive whiteboard technologies, "green" technologies, best-in-class instructional solutions, video distribution technology, smart textbook management, and more.
Videos of these Summit sessions can be found at www.eSchoolNews.tv under the "Video Marketplace" category or by clicking on the following links…
Elmo USA: Bob Crellin, regional manager for Elmo USA, talks about safer, greener technology for students.
Follett: Sherri Daniels, senior project manager of best practices for Follett, discusses textbook management best practices.
JDL: New York City’s PS376 uses JDL’s Learning Symphony.
mimio: A mimio master trainer explains the advantages of using a mimio whiteboard.
Pearson: Paul Smith from Pearson’s School System Group explains how to achieve increased parental participation with online resources.
SAFARI Montage: Tim Beekman, president of SAFARI Montage, discusses video-on-demand and digital media management.
Skyward: Ray Ackerlund, director of marketing for Skyward, gives some best-practice examples of moving from data management to data analysis.
News from the exhibit hall
Adobe Systems has teamed with Certiport to create two levels of certification in the use of its software: Adobe Certified Associate for validating entry-level digital media skills (creating and communicating information using Adobe’s multimedia, video, graphic, or web design software), and Adobe Certified Expert for validating expert-level skills.
The certification program "will help educators effectively teach and validate digital communication skills while providing students with credentials that demonstrate real-world prowess to prospective employers," Adobe said.
Britannica showcased SmartMath, an online formative assessment and math practice system for elementary students. Students can practice math at their own pace inside or outside of class with 35,000 math problems covering 91 topics, and teachers can check their students’ progress (including success rates and time on task) at the touch of a button, Britannica said.
Century Consultants demonstrated its Star_Base School Suite for student information management, which includes a Parent Portal to include parents in the education process. The portal gives parents access to their children’s grades, attendance, assignments, test scores, discipline records, homework, course requests, transcripts, and graduation requirements from anywhere with internet access, Century said–including a cell phone.
EBSCO introduced NoveList Plus, a comprehensive database of information on youth and adult books–including summaries of 163,000 fiction titles and 60,000 nonfiction titles that support school curricula, as well as more than 500 book discussion guides and recommended reading lists for students of all ages on more than 1,200 topics. The database also can link directly to a school’s or district’s own library catalog, EBSCO said.
NoveList also comes in a version made specifically for K-8 students, called K-8 Plus. This smaller database has information on 63,000 fiction and 21,000 nonfiction titles (including Lexile scores), as well as other features designed to get kids interested in reading.
EdOptions highlighted its Stars Suite adaptive online courses, which the company said can be used to replace traditional summer school for students who need credit recovery for about $50 per student.
Educational Resources promoted Sunburst’s Type to Learn 4: Agents of Information. This typing software includes age-appropriate exercises built around the concept of a secret society called the Agents of Information, and students can rise through the organization’s ranks as they complete each exercise.
The program’s lessons and exercises span grades K-12 and can be used for classroom teaching or independent practice, the company said. Type to Learn 4 includes a diagnostic pre-test; formative assessments of student progress; personalized remediation; teacher, parent, and student reports; English as a Second Language content; and a web-enabled version that allows students to practice from anywhere they have an internet connection.
ePals highlighted SchoolBlog, a free–and secure–student blogging environment that includes built-in translation tools for helping students connect with their peers around the world, ePals said.
Equus demonstrated its NOBI Convertible, a rugged, mobile computing device designed for K-8 students. The device works as a tablet or laptop computer, and students can control applications with their finger or a stylus on the touch-sensitive screen. It includes wireless connectivity and a built-in webcam, offers four hours of battery life, uses Intel’s Atom processor, offers a 60-gigabyte hard drive, and runs on either Windows XP or Linux.
LearningExpress promoted eFolio, an online writing system that enables students to practice their writing skills from any internet-connected computer. The system includes a computer-based scoring engine that provides instant feedback on students’ writing assignments, reducing the burden of grading essays and allowing students to practice their writing more frequently, LearningExpress says.
Teachers can create and manage assignments for the whole class or for individual students, and an online annotation feature allows teachers to add their own comments to students’ essays.
PASCO Scientific introduced the SPARK Science Learning System, a mobile science discovery system that includes a rugged, touch-sensitive tablet device, temperature and voltage sensors, and 62 pre-installed SPARKlabs, which are standards-based guided inquiry labs in an electronic notebook format. Students can connect up to two additional sensors that are sold separately. The tablet’s full-color, high-resolution display can show graphs, tables, and other data in the same view, PASCO said. The system sells for $329.
SANAKO, which used to be known as Tandberg, highlighted its Study Mobile Module. This solution includes Nokia N810 Internet Tablet devices with SANAKO Study software installed and 12 months of remote support. Study is software that helps teachers keep their students on task–and off web sites they shouldn’t be browsing during class. It allows teachers to monitor their students’ screens and includes voice and text communication, so teachers can guide students and provide instant feedback during instruction.
Siboney Learning Group highlighted case studies showing how schools have used the company’s Orchard software for the reading practice, assessment, and intervention that occurs during Response to Intervention (RTI) strategies.
Skyward Inc. showcased its School Management System, which it calls the industry’s first fully integrated student, finance, and human resources software package for school districts. The system enables district leaders to manage student progress, annual budgets, employee pay and benefits, and even food service from a single, centralized system.
A key component of the solution is the Family Access module, which lets students and their parents access grades, homework, and class assignments online. "We’re focused heavily on expanding this tool and giving families increased access to what goes on in the school from home," said Skyward’s Ray Ackerlund. The company plans to roll out a digital student locker component soon.
Study Island introduced a new online program that helps students earn their General Education Diploma (GED). The company also previewed an online graphic novel for reading intervention that will debut near the end of March. Called "The World As You Know It," it’s a three-book series aimed at middle and high school students who are behind on their reading skills.
"Once you get to a certain level and you can’t read well, you’re often written off," said Becky Wofford, vice president of marketing. "The way to reach that audience is to give them something interesting to read, something that captures their enthusiasm."
The graphic novel will be an add-on feature for Study Island’s existing subscribers; the GED program will be sold as a separate product.
SunGard Public Sector, the division of SunGard Data Systems that sells to schools, promoted its eSchoolPLUS web-based student management software, which allows parents to access information about their child from home. The system also includes dashboards for building- and district-level administrators to monitor attendance, discipline, test score, and NCLB progress data from their own customized home page, SunGard said.
Vulocity showcased the wide range of transportation technologies and services it sells to schools, including bus-routing software integration, security cameras, and GPS and video monitoring systems.
Wireless Generation demonstrated its mCLASS:RTI solution, an approach to managing Response to Intervention that includes DIBELS assessment software, handheld data collection, and RTI analysis and reporting tools. Using the solution, school leaders can accurately track and document K-6 students’ response to intervention in early reading and math, the company said.
(Editor’s note: For more coverage of this year’s TCEA conference in Austin Feb. 4-6, including video interviews with conference attendees and company representatives, visit the TCEA Conference Information Center page at eSN Online: http://www.eschoolnews.com/conference-info/tcea.)
The legions of fundraisers colleges hired during the boom years have a new mission for these tough economic times: Go easy on the hard sell. Talk about financial aid, not shiny new buildings. If prospects can’t give now, lay the groundwork for when the economy recovers.
Victoria Gorrell, the head fundraiser at Kalamazoo College in Michigan, recently visited a Chicago attorney who’d been a generous supporter, hoping to persuade him to keep up his $5,000 annual gifts. He cut back to $1,000 instead.
"But I know he cares, and he’ll continue to give as he’s able, and someday when things improve that will (go up) again," Gorrell said.
She’s optimistic but admits more people are telling her, "Gosh, you must have a really hard job."
A survey released Wednesday shows colleges raised a record $31.6 billion in the fiscal year ending last June 30 — an apparent sign the massive fundraising engine of American higher education was revving even as the economy slowed.
But nearly 27 percent of that went to just 20 institutions, led by Stanford ($785 million), Harvard ($650 million) and Columbia ($495 million). Taking out those 20, fundraising fell 4 percent last year.
And now, to many colleges trying to replenish drained endowments, even that modest decline feels like a painfully out-of-date postcard from a now-departed golden era of college philanthropy. This year’s numbers will almost certainly be worse, as colleges postpone big campaigns to avoid watching them fall short, and renegotiate some pledges to spread them over more years.
One sign of the drop: In the last six months of calendar 2008, Indiana University’s Center on Philanthropy identified 444 announced gifts of $1 million or more to higher education — 14 percent fewer than the same period in 2007. The combined value of those gift was $3.5 billion — down 40 percent from the year before.
"There’s no sugarcoating the fact that it’s not going to be a good period," said Ann Kaplan, who directs the annual Voluntary Support of Education (VSE) survey for the New York-based Council for Aid to Education. Informally, colleges have reported to her that donations "hit a wall" last month.
Historically, college giving holds up well when recessions last under eight months. But this one is 15 months and counting. And long bear markets not only hurt donors’ wealth but lessen the tax incentive to donate appreciated securities. Stocks were at six-year lows this week.
For college fundraisers — a profession that has grown exponentially — the economic meltdown means a delicate balancing act. Their institutions are facing urgent budget shortfalls. But long-term, they can’t afford to alienate donors by looking greedy.
"The first thing we do when we sit down with people is we acknowledge we know times are tough," said Michael Stitsworth, vice president for advancement and college relations at St. Olaf College in Minnesota. These days, his pitch is, "I’d like to have dinner with you, and I promise I won’t ask you for any money.’"
St. Olaf’s annual fund is down a modest 5 percent compared to last year, Stitsworth said. Luckily, the school is between campaigns. It’s focused on engaging more alumni in college life, hoping they’ll donate later. One project brings alumni in business to campus to work with students in a finance club. While visiting, they have lunch with the president and meet faculty.
The Indiana University Foundation, which took in $408.6 million last year, was one of eight at public universities to make VSE’s Top 20. This year, its sights are lower: President and CEO Gene Tempel is hoping the number of donors will decline by no more than 10 percent. (Indiana alumni will be among those finding the annual fundraising phone call less pushy this year; the foundation recently changed the script callers read to start with an acknowledgment times are tough).
Still, the news isn’t all bad. After nearly completing a $1 billion campaign, Indiana recently announced plans to raise another $100 million in the next 18 months. Earlier this month the business school there received $15 million.
Although stock gifts are down, charitable annuities — which offers donors reliable income — have become relatively more appealing. Donors give up front, take a tax deduction, and receive interest income for the rest of their lives. After their deaths, the university keeps the principal. The pace of such gifts at Indiana has doubled compared to last year.
Bucknell University in Pennsylvania may lengthen a $400 million campaign now scheduled to finish in 2014, said Sam Lundquist, vice president for development and alumni relations. But pledges this year are up 48 percent.
"Everyone understands why we’re coming, and they’re not refusing appointments," he said. "But they ask us for signals we’re sensitive to the situation, and we signal right away we absolutely are."
Gorrell, from Kalamazoo, says some donors have cut back, but others have given more, such as a Philadelphia businessman who recently offered $20,000 on top of his regular gift.
For colleges, development offices are tempting targets for budget cuts (Indiana’s foundation employs 200 people in fundraising and endowment management). But that could hurt in the long run. Kalamazoo is cutting its college magazine from three issues a year to two to help avoid cutting staffers.
"If you ignore donors during this time, they’ll become disengaged," Indiana’s Tempel said. "They’ll see that and notice you don’t care."
Here are the top 20 college and universities, ranked by dollars received in fiscal 2008:
1. Stanford University — $785.04 million
2. Harvard University — $650.63 million
3. Columbia University — $495.11 million
4. Yale University — $486.61 million
5. University of Pennsylvania — $475.96 million
6. University of California, Los Angeles — $456.65 million
7. Johns Hopkins University — $448.96 million
8. University of Wisconsin-Madison — $410.23 million
9. Cornell University — $409.42 million
10. University of Southern California — $409.18 million
11. Indiana University — $408.62 million
12. New York University — $387.61 million
13. Duke University — $385.67 million
14. University of California, San Francisco — $366.07 million
15. University of Michigan — $333.45 million
16. Massachusetts Institute of Technology — $311.90 million
17. University of Minnesota — $307.61 million
18. University of Washington — $302.77 million
19. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — $292.39 million
20. University of California, Berkeley — $285.35 million
Source: Council for Aid to Education, Voluntary Support of Education Survey
Education–and especially higher education for all students–is a critical area of focus in President Obama’s proposed budget for next year, which he outlined for Congress in a 146-page plan on Feb. 26.
The full text and figures will be released in April, but a preliminary look at the budget outline reveals $500 million in education spending increases from 2009 to 2010, for a total of $46.7 billion in fiscal year 2010 discretionary grant spending through the federal Education Department.
Those figures don’t include an additional $81.1 billion in education funding provided by the Recovery Act (the stimulus package) for FY 09 and FY10, and they don’t include another $15.6 billion in Pell Grants.
"In a global economy, where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge, a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity–it is a prerequisite," Obama said.
The spending proposal follows through on Obama’s comments to Congress Feb. 24, when he said he wants every child to be able to pursue some form of higher education. (See "Obama to Congress: Education is key.")
Although three-quarters of the fastest-growing jobs require applicants to have some level of post-secondary education, Obama said, only slightly more than half of U.S. citizens currently possess that level of education.
"This is a prescription for economic decline, because we know the countries that out-teach us today will out-compete us tomorrow," he said. "That is why it will be the goal of this administration to ensure that every child has access to a complete and competitive education–from the day they are born to the day they begin a career."
Saying that assessments must accurately measure student ability, the budget outline indicates that the federal government will help states "increase the rigor of their standards so they prepare students for success in college and a career. … Such reforms will lay the groundwork for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act."
Teacher and principal preparation programs, including alternative certification programs, residency programs, and programs in schools of education, also would receive funding.
The 2010 budget would stabilize postsecondary student loan programs and save taxpayers $4 billion annually by originating all new loans in the direct lending program, the administration said.
Translation: Obama is seeking an end to government-guaranteed loans, an idea sure to upset the nation’s lenders. Instead, the government would increase its own direct lending to students in an effort to protect them from turmoil in financial markets.
The administration also hopes to simplify the student aid application process, aiming not only to enroll more students in college, but also to support students and help them complete school. The 2010 request includes a new, five-year $2.5 billion Access and Completion Incentive Fund that would support innovative state efforts to improve college completion rates for low-income students.
"I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training," Obama said.
"This can be community college or a four-year school, vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma. And dropping out of high school is no longer an option."
Obama’s plan would tie the Pell Grant program to inflation for the first time since the grants began in 1973. It would grow by more than 75 percent over the next decade.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan noted that the budget overview includes a $500 million grant program for a new federal-state-local partnership to improve retention and graduation rates, particularly for low-income college students. Funds would support research into increasing college completion.
"Currently, our young people face too many financial and other hurdles to obtaining a college education," Duncan said. "With the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the proposals announced today, we are taking several major steps to clear those hurdles."
He added: "By ensuring that higher education is affordable and accessible for all our young people, we will make certain that our nation is prepared to compete in an information-age economy."
Some education groups applauded Obama’s commitment to higher education, and his emphasis on the connection between higher education and success in a global economy.
"No president in modern times has used an address to a joint session of Congress to make such a clear case for higher education’s role in providing the solutions America needs to compete in the world economy," Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, said in a Feb. 25 statement.
"If America is to compete economically–if we are to pull ourselves out of this recession–we must have a competitive work force and a new generation of innovators and entrepreneurs. We cannot afford to lose a single citizen, so important is this new investment in human capital."
Detailed funding figures aren’t likely to be known until the budget is released in April, but many ed-tech advocates said that if the stimulus package is any indication, technology programs might receive a boost as well.
The federal budget as a whole is expected to top $3 trillion. It offsets some of the spending increases in areas such as health care and education by raising taxes on those making $250,000 or more a year.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
A prototype thesaurus that offers synonyms based on the context of a word in a sentence, rather than just the word itself, was one of about 40 research projects Microsoft presented Feb. 24 during the first day of its weeklong TechFest in Redmond, Wash., reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Type "financial sector" in a word processor, and the thesaurus suggests "financial system" and "financial industry," instead of synonyms for "financial" and "sector" separately. Or enter an entire sentence, and Word will completely rewrite it.
"Investors are expecting details on the Treasury Department’s plans to fix the financial industry"? Nah. How about, "Investors are awaiting information on the Treasury Department’s program to overhaul the financial sector"? Sponsored annually by Microsoft’s computer research arm, TechFest is the company’s science fair for adults.
Researchers stood in front of poster boards and computers, showing off their latest projects as reporters and colleagues from around the world grilled them. Craig Mundie, Microsoft’s chief research and strategy officer, said research and development are particularly important given the global economic crisis. The projects Microsoft unveiled Feb. 24 ranged from the trivial to the impressive. Researchers from Microsoft Research offices in Beijing, China, demonstrated a method of writing in the air, with the invisible text immediately transferred to a PC. A webcam captures a character when a user traces it in the air with any colored object. The computer recognizes the character and then asks the user whether it has chosen the correct one. Ayman Kahleel of Microsoft’s offices in Egypt showed how a system could string together mobile videos in real time. The vision: At a sports event or political rally, thousands of people could shoot video from their cell phones. The videos could be streamed to a central server. There, the Microsoft technology would mesh it together, creating a live video panorama for others to watch at home…
The Glynn County, Ga., school superintendent, who was fired last week, had used his school system BlackBerry and eMail address to seek sex from people posting classified ads on the internet, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The Glynn County School Board, which fired superintendent Michael Bull on Feb. 20, initially said he used his BlackBerry to look at a pornographic web site. Copies of Bull’s eMails, obtained by the Georgia Times-Union and the Brunswick News, show he was sending eMail messages to advertisers offering sex on the popular site Craigslist. "I apologize for my actions to everyone who’s been impacted, especially to my family, the Glynn County school family, and the community," Bull told the Brunswick News. "I made a mistake. I had a lapse in judgment." Records obtained by the newspapers under the Georgia Open Records Act show that Bull used his school system eMail address to reply to six online ads Feb. 18, when Bull was staying at a Savannah hotel during a business trip. The school board voted to fire Bull for improper used of school property two days after he sent the eMails, after they were flagged by the Glynn County schools’ computer system. Bull will not receive any severance pay or buyout money, because he was fired for violating school system policy…