Radical idea: Charge vendors for software deployed in schools

ZDNet blogger Conz offers up a radical yet thought-provoking idea: Instead of paying for software, shouldn’t public schools actually be billing software vendors for the right to place their wares and branding in front of millions of students? "Much like television and radio stations offer up a bidding system to advertisers who want to capture the eyes and ears of the ‘audience,’ schools could operate a bidding process where vendors bid for accessing students’ attention for their software," he writes. The idea not only would reduce the software costs to schools by hundreds of millions of dollars, but also might cover the costs involved for hardware, networking, and support. "Imagine … if a whole generation of school kids was raised on Linux and open-source software," he writes. "Imagine what that would do to the current proprietary vendors who enjoy a stranglehold in certain platform and application market segments. Imagine again how much said vendors would pay to ensure that never happens. And now you can begin to understand the incredible leverage that … school boards and departments of education have. And yet, they do nothing with that power."

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Syracuse, IBM to build one of the world’s most energy-efficient data centers

IBM, Syracuse University, and New York state have entered into a multiyear agreement to build and operate a new computer data center on the university’s campus that will incorporate advanced infrastructure and smarter computing technologies to make it one of the most energy-efficient data centers in the world, PR Newswire reports. The data center is expected to use 50 percent less energy than a typical data center today, making it one of the "greenest" computer centers in operation. A key element will be an on-site electrical co-generation system that will use natural gas-fueled microturbine engines to generate all electricity for the center and provide cooling for the computer servers. The $12.4 million, 6,000-square-foot data center will feature its own electrical tri-generation system and incorporate IBM’s latest energy-efficient computers and computer-cooling technology. Syracuse will manage and analyze the performance of the center, as well as research and develop new data center energy efficiency analysis and modeling tools. IBM will provide more than $5 million in equipment, design services, and support, and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority is contributing $2 million to the project…

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Web site lets New York City parents track data on students

After several months of delays, a web site that offers an interactive portfolio of New York City public school students’ test scores, grades, and attendance rates will be available for all parents by the end of June, reports the New York Times. Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein called the web site, known as Parent Link, a "powerful tool" that would allow parents to work more closely with teachers to help their children. On the site, parents will be able to view overall course grades and scores on state tests, but not individual scores on class assignments. They’ll also be able to see attendance histories and look at the probability of a student passing state math and English exams, based on how they have scored on periodic city tests. The web site also will show how their child is doing compared with children at schools serving similar student populations. The Parent Link site, which is available in nine languages, is part of an $80 million data and information initiative developed by IBM, known as the Achievement Reporting and Innovation System, or ARIS, which has been slow to take off. Some principals grew so frustrated with its quirks last fall that they improvised their own data management systems. Since then, the city’s Department of Education has improved the system, and it is now easy to use, said Chiara Coletti, a spokeswoman for the principals’ union…

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Hacker’s warning prompts Georgia schools to boost security

Because most high-tech criminals aren’t as accommodating as one recent university hacker, Georgia’s 35 public colleges and universities and network of public libraries are implementing new policies designed to tighten the security of their computers, reports the Augusta Chronicle. Last week, University of Georgia officials began investigating the case of a hacker who contacted the school to report a security vulnerability. The hacker accessed only dummy computer pages and reported a vulnerability the school had already discovered, according to UGA spokesman Tom Jackson. Even though the hacker might have professed pure intentions, snooping around someone else’s computer is against the law. As much as 83 percent of the traffic on the computer network for the public colleges and libraries is unwelcome, according to Stan Gatewood, the chief of information security with the University System of Georgia. Gatewood was hired in August, and since the first of the year, the University System’s Board of Regents has passed additional computer-security policies, including one at this month’s meeting. The policies are designed to safeguard data, develop protocols on passwords and information sharing, and create strategies to ensure computer networks function despite natural disasters…

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‘DTXTR’ translates teen text into English

Wot r ur students txting? If you’re wondering — or 1dering — there’s a new online translation tool that helps decipher the code, AFP reports. Mobile phone maker LG Electronics MobileComm USA has launched "DTXTR" (www.lgdtxtr.com), a web service that translates teen text speech into plain English. Plug in text shortcuts such as OMG! or 2G2BT and get back the translation — in this case "Oh my God!" and "too good to be true." DTXTR includes a glossary of hundreds of definitions for shorthand text phrases, abbreviations, and symbols. It also includes text tips for adults to help them "stay ahead of the curve."

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Senate bill supports 21st-century skills

States offering students curriculum options that integrate key 21st-century skills would receive matching federal funds through an incentive bill introduced in the U.S. Senate May 13 by West Virginia Democrat John D. Rockefeller IV.

The legislation was developed using ideas generated from West Virginia educators and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, which researched and surveyed the skills students need in the classroom to remain competitive for the future, according to a press release from Rockefeller’s office.

"The knowledge base and skills set that most students learn in school should expand to provide students with the skills, like critical thinking and problem solving, needed to succeed in modern workplaces and communities," Rockefeller said when he introduced the bill.

"The purpose of the 21st Skills Incentive Funds Act is to offer competitive grants from the Department of Education for states willing to invest in education reform. … Although the economic downturn has current challenges for new investment in education, waiting for a better time to engage in reform would be unwise," he added.

Shelley Pasnik, director of the Education Development Center’s Center for Children and Technology, said she is pleased to see the bill addresses more than simply putting more technology into schools.

"The legislation goes beyond technology. It’s about implementing a framework for 21st-century learning," she said. "It’s more promising this way. If it were just about technology purchases, it would be a missed opportunity."

The bill, which is co-sponsored by Sens. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and John Kerry, D-Mass., suggests several areas where states could expand their curricula to encompass 21st-century skills, such as global awareness; financial, economic, business, and entrepreneurial literacy; civic literacy; and health and wellness awareness.

"Students need to go beyond just learning today’s academic context to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills, communications skills, creativity and innovation skills, collaboration skills, contextual learning skills, and information and media literacy skills," the bill reads.

If passed, the bill would appropriate $100 million a year for the U.S. Department of Education to pass on to states that have developed a comprehensive plan for implementing a statewide 21st-century skills initiative and are able to supply matching funds for their initiative.

Since the Partnership for 21st Century Skills was founded in 2002, ten states have voluntarily adopted the more comprehensive set of skills and standards that the group says are needed for students to remain competitive in the classroom—and beyond.

"There is no doubt that successful states have an informed, innovative, and civically engaged citizenry," said Paige Kuni and Ken Kay, chair and president of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, in a statement. "In fact, to sustain a viable economy in today’s world requires workers with 21st-century skills, as almost all emerging industries are built upon knowledge, creativity, communication, and problem solving."

Pasnik said she sees passage of the bill as an opportunity for the states that already have implemented a 21st-century skills initiative—Arizona, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and West Virginia—to receive financial help.

"The states that have been working with the Partnership have really been doing so on their own volition," she said.

The bill, S.1029, was in the Senate Committee on Finance at press time.

Links:

Senate Bill 1029

Partnership for 21st Century Skills

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Web site caters to student, faculty travelers

Caitlin Richelson was looking to save on a plane ticket to Puerto Rico for spring break. Richelson, a senior at Leslie University in Massachusetts, perused a handful of travel web sites and found StudentUniverse.com, which verified her student status and saved her $40 on a $300 roundtrip ticket.

"Most students spend a lot of time looking around [on the internet] for a deal, but [StudentUniverse] is definitely one you have to look at," said Richelson, 21. "It’s important to students to find some kind of deal … so it’s worth it to look around this site."

StudentUniverse, a Massachusetts-based site launched in 2000, offers deals on airfare and vacation packages for college students and faculty members. The web site verifies that users are, in fact, students or professors–using a college-based eMail address–and offers access to travel prices StudentUniverse officials have negotiated with major airlines.

Atle Skalleberg, head of research and marketing for StudentUniverse, said the site has drawn more students and faculty members in the past year, as personal and school budgets have tightened in a slumping economy.

StudentUniverse is not only designed for students booking their spring break or summer getaway trips, but also the many back-and-forth trips students make every year to visit family for holidays, birthdays, and other events, Skalleberg said. It also could save schools money on faculty trips to conferences and speaking appearances.

"It is a solid resource for them to save some money," he said, adding that the average student saves 14 percent on airfare. "We’re not pretending to always be cheaper, but we’re a resource people should be aware of."

A 2007 survey underwritten by StudentUniverse showed that, although student spending on travel eclipses $20 billion every year, the costs are usually an "unplanned expense," meaning airfare, gas money, and bus tickets are not taken into account. The study surveyed 896 students on campuses across the country and found the average student spends $1,200 on travel annually.

Fifty-six percent of college students surveyed said their travel costs were for traveling from home to school and back, 47 percent said spring break, and 40 percent said travel costs included trips during Thanksgiving break.

"With that much travel, the costs can quickly add up," said Anand Rajaratnam, head of research and marketing for StudentUniverse.

More than half of students in the survey–57 percent–said they paid travel expenses without assistance from their parents. Fifteen percent of students said they had studied abroad, and 25 percent of respondents said they would travel more if they had more money for travel expenses.

StudentUniverse officials said the service differs from other travel sites offering special deals for college students, because a user must prove he or she is a current student. Deals on most other sites are available to anyone with an internet connection.

"Other companies jump on that wagon," Skalleberg said, "but a lot of students see through it."

StudentUniverse announced this month that students and faculty will have a new search option this summer with the launch of FarePlay, which allows visitors to scan discounted airfares according to the kind of trip they’re planning for. For instance, if a student or professor wants to search for plane tickets to the most popular European destinations, FarePlay filters those options. Other FarePlay searches include cheap destinations, popular Asian cities, backpacking, and study abroad.

"Where most other travel sites assume that people know exactly where they want to travel, we realize that students know what they want to do but do not necessarily know where to find it," Skalleberg said.

Link:

StudentUniverse

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Gates Foundation: Teachers trump class size

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation spent billions of dollars exploring the idea that smaller high schools might result in higher graduation rates and better test scores. Instead, it found the key to better education is not necessarily smaller schools but more effective teachers.

Some people might cringe while recounting how much money the foundation spent figuring this out. But the foundation’s new CEO, Jeff Raikes, smiles and uses it as an example to explain that the world’s wealthiest charity has the money to try things that might fail.

"Almost by definition, good philanthropy means we’re going to have to do some risky things, some speculative things to try and see what works and what doesn’t," Raikes said May 27 during an interview with the Associated Press.

The foundation’s new "learner-in-chief" has spent the nine months since he was named CEO studying the operation, traveling around the world, and figuring out how to balance the pressures of the economic downturn with the growing needs of people in developing nations.

The former Microsoft Corp. executive, who turns 51 May 29, joined the foundation as its latest CEO after Patty Stonesifer, another former Microsoft executive, announced her retirement and his friends Bill and Melinda Gates talked Raikes out of retiring.

In the past decade, the foundation reportedly has given away nearly $20 billion, mostly in global health, global development, and U.S. education.

It has been ramping up its giving since Warren Buffett, head of Omaha, Neb.-based Berkshire Hathaway, announced in June 2006 that he would make annual donations of about $1.5 billion to the foundation, with the money to be distributed in the year it is donated.

Raikes is also from Nebraska, where he grew up on a family farm near Omaha. He and his wife, Tricia, formed the Raikes Foundation in 2002 to support youth development, education, and community issues in the Seattle area.

He hasn’t lost his easygoing manner, it is reported, during his transformation from business leader to nonprofit CEO.

One of the things he’s learned, he said, is the foundation must take a different direction with its education grants, and the best path is to support good, effective teachers.

Between 2000 and 2008, the foundation spent about $2 billion trying to improve America’s high schools and another $2 billion for scholarships, primarily for low-income and minority students.

It saw graduation rates go up in many foundation-supported schools. But it didn’t see significant improvements in student achievement or in the number of students who left high school ready to enroll in college.

Raikes said the responsibility for social innovation often falls on nonprofit organizations, because the private sector doesn’t see the profit margin in it and most citizens don’t want the government speculating with their tax dollars.

The foundation plans to continue to experiment with its education policy.

"We’re going to try some things, and I’m quite confident that some things will succeed and I’m quite confident that some things will fail," Raikes said.

He said half of the more than 1 million students who drop out of school in the United States each year are from just 100 school districts.

What can make a difference for those kids? Raikes wants to find out.

The foundation also is investing money to improve data collection in public schools–in part, to better find out what works–and to help community colleges improve graduation rates.

Raikes talked of a study of the Los Angeles Unified School District after an initiative to reduce class sizes led to a liberalization of rules on who could be hired to teach.

He said the district found that whether a teacher had a certificate had no effect on student achievement.

Raikes said the district found that putting a great teacher in a low-income school helped students advance a grade and a half in one year. An ineffective teacher in a high-income school held student achievement to about half a grade of progress in a year.

"We really have to focus classroom by classroom," said Jim Morris, chief of staff at the L.A. district. "Every teacher matters, just like every student matters."

Morris said the most important factor to successful schools is excellent teachers and supporting what they do in the classroom.

The Harvard researcher who studied the Los Angeles district, Thomas J. Kane, now works for the Gates Foundation as deputy director of education for data and research.

Links:

Gates Foundation

L.A. Unified School District

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FCC develops strategy for rural broadband

Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps has released a report on broadband strategy for rural America, CNET reports. The report was mandated as part of the 2008 Farm Bill. In that bill, Congress asked the FCC to work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to submit "a report describing a comprehensive rural broadband strategy." The emphasis came several months before President Obama took office. Obama also sees broadband as a priority and included funding for broadband development as part of the stimulus package passed by Congress earlier this year. Copps called this report on rural broadband a starting point for developing a national broadband policy. And even with the $7.2 billion for broadband from the stimulus package, he said more money will be needed to ensure that every American has access to broadband. Copps identified several issues in this report that must be overcome to get broadband deployed in rural areas, including technological challenges, lack of data about where broadband is available and who is accessing it, and high network costs. Despite these challenges, he said the U.S. government must pour resources into solving these problems–just as it did when building the U.S. Postal Service, the railroads, the nationwide electrical grid, the interstate highway system, and even the internet backbone…

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iPhone to replace attendance register at Japan university

A Japanese university is giving away Apple Inc’s trendy iPhone to students for free, but with a catch: the device will be used to check their attendance, Reuters reports. The project, which is being tested ahead of its formal launch in June, involves 550 first and second year students and some staff of a department at Aoyama Gakuin University. The school’s iPhones are meant to create a mobile information network between students and professors, but they are also a convenient way for the teachers to take attendance in class. As students enter the room, instead of writing their name on a sheet, they simply type in their ID number and a specific class number into an iPhone application. To prevent students from logging in from home or outside class, the application uses GPS location data and checks which router the students have logged in to. "We don’t want to use this to simply take attendance. Our hope is to use this to develop a classroom where students and teachers can discuss various topics," professor Yasuhiro Iijima told Reuters as he demonstrated the application…

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