Hack Education Weekly News: RFIDs, MOOCs, Elmo, ALEC and the CCSS

Cold turkey

Law and Politics

A federal appeals court deemed on Wednesday that Michigan’s ban on affirmative action as part of the college admissions process is unconstitutional. The state says it will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard arguments last month about affirmative action and Texas universities.

A high school student in Texas has been suspended for refusing to wear her school-issued RFID tag, reports Wired. The Northside ISD in San Antonio began issuing student body IDs with the RFID chips in them at the beginning of the school year. The chips monitor the students' movements on campus, and according to the district, the IDs are part of its efforts to track attendance (which its budget is tied to).

Finnish police confiscated the laptop of a nine-year-old girl after she allegedly downloaded a song from the file-sharing site Pirate Bay. The girl’s father had responded to the initial criminal complaint by showing that the family had later bought the record album and attended the artist-in-question’s concert, and as such they refused to pay the 600 Euro fine. So enter the police who carried away the girl’s Winnie the Pooh laptop.

The American Legislative Exchange Council ALEC — a controversial, anti-democratic organization that joins corporations and conservative politicians to enact its ideas on a state level (See my story here) — voted this week that it will remain neutral on the issue of Common Core State Standards. There had been some discussion that ALEC would oppose the Common Core, particularly after some linked it to the defeat of Republican “education reformer” Tony Bennett, who was voted out of office as the Indiana State Superintendent of Schools earlier this month.

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, whose anti-collective bargaining proposals outraged union workers in the state last year, is at it again — this time with more ideas on how to “fix” education. His suggestion this time around, tie funding of the state’s university system to performance and completion (rather than enrollment). UW-Madison Professor of education Sara Goldrick-Rab has more details on her blog.

If you believe that New York City sets the fashion for the rest of the world, then you’d do well to read math teacher Jose Vilson’s write-up of the city’s recent Mayoral Candidate Forum on Education. Current Mayor Michael Bloomberg can’t run again in 2013, and at this past week’s forum five of the six candidates for his seats explain their thoughts on education policies, including mayoral control, class size, and tenure.

Partnerships and Launches

Another week, another round of MOOC-related news: This week, MassBay and Bunker Hill community colleges became the first community colleges to join edX, the Harvard-MIT-UT-UC Berkeley-MOOC platform. The two colleges will offer “MITx 6.00x Introduction to Computer Science and Programming” in a “blended” format — that is, with both virtual and face-to-face components. Students will pay the same for these classes as they would regular classes — yet another indication that this whole MOOC acronym doesn’t really work any more.

Wikipedia announced this week that it is working with JSTOR to give its top 100 volunteer editors free access to the complete JSTOR archives (which includes thousands of academic journal titles).

The City University of New York launched “Commons in a Box” this week, its open source platform to make it easier for groups to create and maintain online communities. Commons in a Box is built on WordPress and Buddy Press and is designed to be simple to install, as well as to make online communication and collaboration easier.

Happy 50th birthday to Ranger Rick, the cartoon racoon (and long-running magazine) from the National Wildlife Federation. To celebrate the birthday, the NWF is launching a new magazine for younger kids, as well as an iPad app (iTunes link). (The latter was built by Moonbot Studios, the Academy Award-winning makers of “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.”)

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Knewton announced they’ll be offering “personalized learning” to incarcerated youth with a Department of Education-backed initiative to bring the companies’ content and adaptive learning platforms into youth correctional facilities. I find this fairly chilling, quite frankly — the link between education technologies and prison profiteering — and while yes, sure we need to offer educational opportunities to kids in jail, I would like to point out that sitting (in this country at least, primarily) poor kids and youth of color down in front of computers to run through multiple choice instruction and testing does not constitute “personalized learning.”

Research and Data

The Pew Research Center has released another study about teens’ online behaviors, this one looking at parents, teens, and questions of online privacy and digital footprints. The study found that 81% of parents say they’re concerned about data that advertisers are collecting about their teens. And 69% of parents say they’re concerned about how their child handles their reputation online. 59% of parents who have teens who use social networking sites say they’ve spoken to their child about something she or he has posted online. (That translates to 46% of parents of all online teens.)

Funding, Acquisitions, and Mergers

Lesson plan marketplace BetterLesson has raised $3.5 million from the Gates Foundation, reports Techcrunch. (This is, I believe, the second for-profit education startup into which the Gates Foundation has invested funds — a financial relationship different than its grant-giving efforts. The first: the Facebook college recruitment app Inigral.)

On the heels of the merger of Penguin and Random House, it looks like there may be more consolidation in the works for the Big 6 5 publishers. News Corp-owned HarperCollins is reportedly in talks to acquire CBS’s Simon & Schuster.

The networking giant Cisco Systems announced that it is acquiring the WiFi and security management company Meraki for $1.2 billion. (I’m guessing that this acquisition will impact schools although truth be told I know little on what that will look like.)

Hires and Fires

Microsoft announced this week that it has hired Jeannette Wing the new vice president of Microsoft Research International. Wing, who’s been an advocate for “computational thinking,” will head Microsoft’s research labs in Bangalore, India; Cambridge, UK; and Beijing, China.

Sesame Street puppeteer Kevin Clash announced his resignation this week, following more allegations that he’s been engaged in underage sexual relationships. Clash is the puppeteer behind Elmo.

Image credits: Eddy van 3000



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