Mockingbird on fountain

Politics and Pursestrings

Senator Charles “Chuck” Grassley (R-Iowa) is seeking to defund the Common Core State Standards. Grassley’s asked Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) to include verbiage to that end in the Department of Education’s funding measure.

A bill to create a “New University of California,” an exam-centric, credit-delivery school with no professors, is dead, as its sponsor Assemblyman Scott Wilk has pulled the legislation.

Another piece of legislation in California, Senate Bill 520, lives on. The bill, which would require the state’s public universities to accept online courses for credit for certain classes, has been amended due to pushback from faculty concerned about the outsourcing of curricular decisions. The language of the bill now reads: the new California Student Access Platform “shall be developed and administered by the President of the University of California, the Chancellor of the California State University, and the Chancellor of the California Community Colleges, jointly, with the academic senates of the respective segments.” More details via the Remaking the University blog.

Lousiana superintendent John White has pulled student data out of inBloom, reports The News Star. Louisiana was one of the states participating in the pilot program — a Gates and Hewlett Foundation-funded project to build a nationwide data infrastructure. (For more information on inBloom’s plans for student data, see my latest story on the non-profit startup.)

The Philadelphia School District has put forward what it describes as a “catastrophic” budget. The district’s $304 million deficit means a budget with no money for counselors, librarians, sports, extracurricular activities, aides, summer school. Some 3000 employees could be laid off.

The Department of Education has approved Southern New Hampshire University’s plan to offer federal financial aid to students enrolled in its self-paced online program called College for America. The university describes this as ““the first degree program to completely decouple from the credit hour.” More via The Chronicle of Higher Education.

A bill in West Virginia would make science fiction compulsory, in order to "stimulate interest in the fields of math and science.” Because nothing stimulates kids’ interest in something more than making it a school requirement.

Patents and Lawsuits

Apple has been awarded a patent for its “virtual university” (aka iTunes U). PatentlyApple has the details: the patent is “about systems, methods, and computer program products for accessing e-learning courses from an online resource. Graphical user interfaces (GUIs) allow students to enroll in online courses or collections of other media (e.g., video files, presentations).” Because if it weren’t for the Apple GUI, clearly there would be no online education.

The Orlando Sentinel reports that the Florida Education Association, the Florida teachers’ union, is suing the state, alleging that merit and performance pay violate employees’ rights to due process. The suit claims that district employees are being evaluated for students they did not teach.

Launches and Upgrades

The Digital Public Library of America has launched! There’s so much to love here: a portal that links together the libraries, museums, and archives of the US; open source and openly licensed code and metadata; mapping and discovery tools that help us rethink how we might “browse the stacks” in a digital space.

The educational wiki providers at Wikispaces have launched a new product, Wikispaces Classroom, which expands on the existing wiki capabilities but adds new features — like a news feed, mobile capabilities, and assessment tools — and a new look.

Learn-to-code startups continue to pop up. This week, it’s Hopscotch, which offers an iPad app for for those 8 and up. (iTunes link) The app looks a lot like MIT’s Scratch (as do many of the recent entries in the market).

A golf clap for for the Boy Scouts of America who proposed on Friday — at the height of the media fixation with the search for the Boston Marathon bomber — to lift its ban on gay members. It will continue to exclude gay adult leaders.

Verbling Brings Immersive Language Learning Into Your Living Room (Exclusive),” reads the Venture Beat headline. I confess I only kinda skimmed through the story because “immersive language learning in the living room” doesn’t seem terribly exclusive. But I guess the big news is there are Verbling Courses now, which are different than Verbling Classes, which launched in December. Read more at Venture Beat.

Scholastic rolled out what it’s calling its “largest education technology product launch” in the company’s history — a suite of tech tools including MATH 180, iRead, and Common Core Code X.

Downgrades and Closures

On Friday afternoon (news burial alert!), Yahoo announced it was closing down a number of services, including Yahoo! Kids (formerly Yahooligans) in 11 days. As Internet archivist Jason Scott tweets, “Good job there. Countdown to parents finding kids browsing cool new shit!” Yet another good time to ask who owns kids’ data, as well as for parents to think about how they plan to keep an archive of all of it.

The MOOC News Just Keeps on Comin’

The faculty at Amherst have voted down a proposal to join edX, reports The Amherst Student. Professors said they were “underwhelmed by the tools edX currently offered, that edX seemed too new and unreliable a program, that there were better things to spend money on and that the requirement to offer certificates, either immediately or after the first time the course is offered, was against the College’s interests.” More details via Inside Higher Ed.

The online learning startup Udacity is expanding its partnership with San Jose State University, offering 5 for-credit classes this summer: Intro to Programming, Intro to Psychology, Elementary Statistics, College Algebra, and Entry-level Math. The classes cost $150 and will offer transferable college credit.

Because it appears you can never have too many MOOC initiatives out of Stanford: NovoEd launched this week. Formerly known as Venture Labs, NovoEd was founded by Stanford management sciences professor Amin Saberi and PhD student Farnaz Ronaghi and offers a “team-based, collaborative, and project-based approach” that “helps learners foster the core competencies of leadership, collaboration, and communication.”

P2PU and the Open Knowledge Foundation kicked off their School of Data MOOC this week to help teach journalists, non-profit folks, and citizens how to gather, clean, and use data

Funding and Acquisitions

Learnzillion has raised $7 million, reports Techcrunch, in its Series A round. Learnzillion is building a Common Core State Standards-aligned platform that offers lessons and videos for teachers (made by teachers). (See my story from June 2012 for an introduction to the startup).

Houghton Mifflin has acquired Montreal-based Tribal Nova, which according to the press release means “in-house game development expertise” for the textbook publisher. Wheee.

The online learning startup Echo360 has acquired Thinkbinder, a tool that’s still in beta that helps students communicate and collaborate. Sounds unique. More details at GigaOm.

From the Human Resources Department

Karen Cator, formerly the head of the Department of Education’s Office of Ed-Tech, has taken on a new role as the CEO of Digital Promise, a Congress-created initiative to enhance teaching and learning with technology.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced the appointment of Michael Steffen as Director of Digital Learning. Steffen will help lead the charge for better broadband access at schools and more digital learning stuff via this newly created position. (The FCC handles E-Rate, the federal fund that helps make schools’ and libraries’ Internet affordable.)

The National Louis University has cut its full-time faculty by nearly half, according to the AAUP. The school, which is facing revenue shortfalls (but um, seriously, who isn’t?!) has laid off 63 faculty members, including 16 tenured professors, and has closed four departments: English, fine arts, mathematics and natural sciences. Ditch the reading, writing, and arithmetic; hire more adjuncts. Brilliant.

Research (and Retractions)

The education reform think-tank Education Sector and the American Council of Trustees and Alumni have retracted a report they issued last month that claimed that university faculty teaching loads have gone down by 25% — something they argued had led to the increased cost of college. Oops. Could have been worse, I guess. (See: Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff’s famous 2010 study ”Growth in a Time of Debt” — a report invoked to argue for austerity policies — and the apparent Excel spreadsheet mistake they made.) Maybe we should hold off on dismantling public institutions ’til we’ve checked each others’ work or something.

According to a new study by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, one out of every four of black students, nearly one out of five students with disabilities and one out of five English language learners were suspended in the 2009–2010 school year. More on this story at The Nation.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on a study that’s found that examining students’ criminal histories and running background checks on college applicants does not accurately predict whether students will pose a threat once on campus.

Project Tomorrow has released its annual Speak Up Survey that asks parents, teachers, principals and students about their thoughts on education technology. Among the findings: 34% of school technology leaders said that bandwidth was their most challenging technology issue.

According to the 2012 ACT National Curriculum Survey, high school teachers think their students are ready for college at a far higher rate than college professors do. “89 percent of high school teachers think report their students are ‘well’ or ‘very well’ prepared for college-level work in the subject they teach, while just 26 percent of college instructors say incoming students are ‘well’ or ‘very well’ prepared for entry-level course,” writes Education Week.


Pearson has admitted major errors in its scoring of the test it offers to parents to see if their children are eligible for New York’s Gifted & Talented program. Gotham Schools has more details, including the apology letter that Pearson sent to parents. They are, of course, "truly sorry" that "errors were made."

Across the nation, it’s been a shitty week, compounded in schools everywhere by standardized test-taking time. So in my best Edward R. Murrow voice, I wish you all "Good night. And good luck."

Image credits: andymw91 via Flickr, the Noun Project

Audrey Watters


Hack Education

The History of the Future of Education Technology

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