Hack Education Weekly News: Graduation Rates, Advertising and Assessment Expenditures

When you are bored during a standardized test this can happen

Law and Politics

In this week’s best “LOL,” New York Times’ Thomas Friedman penned an op-ed “nominating” Arne Duncan as Secretary of State. “Trust me,” he writes, “if you can cut such deals with Randi Weingarten, who is president of the American Federation of Teachers, you can do them with Vladimir Putin and Bibi Netanyahu.” Duncan responded, saying that The Onion, which joked last week that Duncan was going to have to take up work as a male stripper to put the nation through school, “is probably more accurate than Tom Friedman." Probably?!

A federal judge in Baton Rouge, Lousiana has granted an injunction blocking the state’s new voucher program, along with new policies for hiring and firing teachers in Tangipahoa Parish, stating that the new laws conflict with the parish’s federal desegregation order. An attorney in the case now says he plans to challenge the laws in other districts too, but the Lousiana Department of Education says it plans to appeal.

The European Commission released a statement this week about the EU’s strategy for “rethinking education.” Among the measures it suggests, an increase in the use of technology and OER.

Another round of legal battles between UCLA and the Association for Information Media and Equipment (AIME) this week, with (yet again) the dismissal of the latter’s suit against the university for making licensed DVD materials available to students via a streaming service. More details on the legal blog Techdirt.

Research and Data

The Department of Education released data about states’ high school graduation rates. This is the first time that states have all used the same method to measure this, so it will be difficult to compare the figures to previous years as calculations have changed. But you can view the figures, broken down on a state-by-state level here.

The Brookings Institute has released a report on states’ spending on K–12 assessments, an expenditure that’s been growing since the NCLB era and will expand again with the Common Core State Standards and new requirements for computer-based assessments. The report finds that “the 45 states from which we obtained data spend a combined $669 million per year on their primary assessment contracts, or $27 per pupil in grades 3–9, with six testing vendors accounting for 89 percent of this total.” So if you add in the 5 states that aren’t included in the research, that’s about $1.7 billion per year on testing. KA-CHING.

In a story about online for-profits, the USA Today’s Greg Toppo reports that “10 of the largest for-profit operators have spent an estimated $94.4 million on ads since 2007. The largest, Virginia-based K12 Inc., has spent about $21.5 million in just the first eight months of 2012.” Your tax dollars at work, folks.

Interesting research from Rey Junco, who continues to explore the ways in which technologies like social media impact students’ GPA. In a study of some 1800 students, he found that texting and Facebooking during class were negatively related to GPA. But emailing and searching in class didn’t have the same relationship.

According to the National Science Foundation, university spending on R&D increased during the last fiscal year, reaching $65 billion in 2011. The majority of the R&D is in the life sciences, which grew by 6.6% year-over-year to $37.2 billion.

The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) released a report (PDF) this week on the successes of charter schools in New Jersey. The report contends that students at charter schools in the state make larger gains in math and reading than their peers at public schools. On the School Finance 101 blog, Bruce Baker has some interesting thoughts about the report — its methodology and findings. “Most cynically, one might argue the main finding of the report is simply that cream-skimming works – generates a solid peer effect that provides important academic advantages to a few….”

Launches and Upgrades

Minecraft (the open-ended building game) is coming to Raspberry Pi (the credit-card sized computer). The folks at Minecraft’s parent company Mojang have ported a special version of the game — Minecraft Pi Edition — which is designed, as with the Raspberry Pi, to help folks learn programming. This edition will be free to download.

Hacker High School, which offers security and privacy lessons for students, has just updated its content.

Learnsprout, a startup that offers schools an API to help integrate their SISs to other applications (and a startup that I covered here earlier this year), has released two new tools: LearnSprout Dashboard and LearnSprout Messages. The former is a data dashboard that analyzes data stored in a school’s SIS; the latter is a low-cost messaging system that connects the SIS to phone and text messaging to facilitate school-to-home communication.

Techcrunch covers the launch of Coursetalk, a “Yelp for open online classes.”

Kickboard, a data dashboard for teachers (which I covered here), announced this week that it’s making free “starter accounts” available to teachers. (The app is typically sold as a school-wide platform).

Khan Academy released an iPhone app (iTunes link). Of course, you could already watch Khan Academy videos on your iPhone by visiting YouTube, but the free app lets you sign into your Khan Academy account so you can get credit for the videos you watch. Woohoo. Badges.

Academic journal database JSTOR says that, following a successful 3 year pilot, it will be ready to launch its Alumni Access program in early 2013. The program will allow students from some 3000 partner schools to maintain their access to the JSTOR archives after they graduate.

Funding and Acquisitions

McGraw-Hill has sold its education division to a private equity firm, Apollo Global Management (not to be confused with Apollo that owns the University of Phoenix). The purchase price: $2.5 billion.

CodeHS (one of the startups I covered in my recent “ed-tech trends” post on learning to code) is running a crowdfunding campaign to help teach 1000 high school students how to code. Unlike many other online learn-to-code startups, CodeHS emphasizes the human element and offers “live help” as well as tutors. The crowdfunding campaign will be used to help pay for the latter.

Microsoft says it’s giving an additional $250 million in funding to its educator professional development program, the Partners in Learning project.

Hires

Rachel Wolf, the founder of the British New Schools Network (a charity that establishes “Free Schools” in the UK — the equivalent of US charter schools) has joined Amplify, News Corp’s education division.

The Shared Learning Collaborative, a Gates Foundation-funded initiative to build a data infrastructure for K–12 schools, announced its new CEO: former Promethean exec Iwan Streichenberger.

Tests

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, one of two organizations that’s helping to construct the new Common Core State Standards-related assessments, has awarded a contract for building out a reporting system on the data to News Corp-owned Wireless Generation.

Classes

British authorities have granted the for-profit College of Law university status, making it the country’s first for-profit university, reports Inside Higher Ed. Congrats?

Inside Higher Ed reports that MOOC startup Coursera is exploring using its “power users” as community TAs. “The idea is to give these power users ‘the sense that they’re contributing and helping build this with us,’ says Coursera’s Norian Caporale-Berkowitz. Perhaps they’ll get special certificates too. (But no word on paying them.)

Competitions

It’s time again for the Google Code-in, its coding competition for high schoolers. Those age 13 to 17 are eligible to enter the contest, which asks them to complete an open source programming task. Prizes include a trip to the Googleplex.

Image credits: Benjamin Chun



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