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Testing Sturm und Drang

New York Fails Common Core Tests,” reads the Politico headline. “Test Scores Sink as New York Adopts Tougher Benchmarks,” says The New York Times. “New York State Stops Lying to Children – and That’s a Good Thing,” says Dropout Nation. So yeah, lots of sturm und drang this week as New York State released the results of how students performed on this year’s tests – tests that were aligned with the new Common Core State Standards. Fewer than a third passed.

The Wyoming Department of Education also released the scores for its 2013 Proficiency Assessments for Wyoming Students this week. The proficiency rates declined across all grade levels and content areas when compared to the 2012 exams. This year’s exams were partially aligned with the Common Core State Standards.

The Texas Education Agency has, for the first time, released sample questions from last year’s STAAR tests online. Texas is not part of the Common Core, for what it’s worth.

Another victim of the sequester cuts: the National Assessment of Education Progress or NAEP. The Shanker Institute’s Matthew Di Carlo explains why this is bad news: “Although its results are frequently misinterpreted, NAEP is actually among the few standardized tests in the U.S. that receives rather wide support from all “sides” of the testing debate. And one cannot help but notice the fact that federal and state governments are currently making significant investments in new tests that are used for high-stakes purposes, whereas NAEP, the primary low-stakes assessment, is being scaled back.”

Law and Politics

Indiana Schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz has acknowledged that grade manipulation did occur under her predecessor Tony Bennett, a darling of the education reform movement, who instituted a grading system for the state’s schools then pushed to have the grade of a charter school run by a donor changed from a C to an A.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that a Pennsylvania school district’s ban on wearing cancer awareness bracelets that read “I ♥ boobies” violated students’ First Amendment free speech rights.

Philadelphia School District superintendent William Hite Jr said that the district might not open on time this fall unless it has assurances by August 16 that it will receive $50 million from the city.

The Obama Administration approved NCLB waiver requests for 8 California school districts. (California has not applied for a NCLB waiver and that these districts have been granted a waiver has been somewhat controversial.)

Amazon, Kobo and Sony are petitioning the FCC, writes Laura Hazard Owen, “to permanently exempt e-readers from certain federal accessibility laws for the disabled, arguing that e-readers are barebones devices designed for a single purpose: reading text.”

The National Science Foundation has cancelled its political science grant funding for the rest of the year, blaming Congress which passed a law requiring that political science research grants benefit either national security or the economy.

The FDIC has notified Sallie Mae that it plans to penalize the student loan company relating to violations of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. More via The Chronicle.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has filed a complaint with the FTC, charging that Fisher Price is making false claims about the educational value of its apps aimed at babies. “According to the complaints, the companies say in marketing material that their apps teach infants spatial skills, numbers, language or motor skills. But, the complaints claim, there is no rigorous scientific evidence to prove that these kinds of products provide those benefits.”

Launches and Upgrades

The file-sharing company Box unveiled a major education offering this week, integrating closely with several platforms (most tightly with Instructure Canvas) for its HTML5 document sharing and annotation tools. More via Information Week.

The learn-to-code startup Tynker has launched a new product, akin to its school platform and curriculum, aimed at learning to code at home – $50 per student. More details via Techcrunch.

Behaviorist app ClassDojo announced a new feature where teachers across a wholr school can track and reward their pigeons’ behaviors.

The Chronicle of Higher Education covers a new online education marketplace Oplerno, which allows (adjunct? that’s the pitch of the story at least) to offer courses online.

Google’s app store Google Play now offers textbooks for rent or for purchase.

Google is also rolling out a new feature in Search that will highlight in-depth articles alongside search results.

Textbook publisher Boundless released a major update to its products this week, with premium ($19.99) textbooks, mobile apps, and what its calling “Boundless Learning Technology” to help students study the textbook material. More via GigaOm.

Apple updated its Terms and Conditions this past week to allow children under age 13 (the age decreed by COPPA, under which there are stricter restrictions on privacy) to open and manage iTunes accounts – as long as the Apple ID is associated with “an approved educational institution.”

Follett is partnering with Random House to make the latter’s e-books available to K–12 libraries.

Downgrades and Closures

Wander, an app that began as a language learning app that pivoted towards photo-sharing and cross-cultural communication, will shut down on August 15.

MOOCs

“The apocalypse has arrived,” says Stephen Downes, noting that the European enterprise software giant SAP is now offering a MOOC.

The apocalypse doesn’t appear on the MOOC Map, an interactive map that lets you view the geographical spread of MOOCs from 6 providers (Coursera, Instructure, Blackboard, edX, FutureLearn, Open2Study).

Moodle.org is launching its first MOOC, Moodle for Teachers. (“First,” that is, if you don’t count the very first MOOCs which were run on Moodle. But we don’t count those Canadian MOOCs, I guess…)

The University of Maryland University College says that it will offer transfer credits to students who complete MOOCs (or more precisely, who “demonstrate learning” from 3 Udacity or 3 Coursera courses, ones that have been approved for ACE credit).

Not MOOCs

Berklee College of Music and Southern New Hampshire University are teaming up to offer “the nation’s first MBA in music business that is entirely online,” according to the press release.

Howard University unveiled “Howard University Online,” a “partnership” with Pearson to offer online and blended courses.

Beginning in the 2014–2015 schools year, Colorado Virtual Academy will split from K12, the for-profit online education provider that currently manages the school. According to KUNC, “COVA has struggled with poor academic performance in recent years amid questions about K12 Inc.’s management of school resources—including teacher understaffing.”

Funding, Acquisitions, and IPOs

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos purchased the Washington Post this week for a cool $250 million. The Washington Post Company will retain its ownership of the for-profit education company Kaplan (of test-prep and university “fame”), as well as its investment in Edsurge.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has filed for an IPO, one year after the company emerged from bankruptcy.

Student response system company Turning Technologies has acquired eInstruction, which according to Campus Technology, makes the “Insight 360 classroom instruction system, ExamView assessment software, and Mobi interactive whiteboards.”

Robo-grader startup LightSide Labs has received a $25,000 literacy grant from the Gates Foundation.

The Lumina Foundation has given a $2.3 million grant to a project that aims to standardize regulations for colleges, particularly online course offerings. More via The Chronicle.

The investment bankers Berkery Noyes have published a report on investment activity in the education industry during the first half of 2013.

From the HR Department

The University of New Mexico has formally censured psychology professor Geoffrey Miller for his fat-shaming tweet. Miller will be barred from serving on graduate student admissions committees.

The Florida Virtual School has laid off 177 full-time and 625 part-time instructors over the last two months, according to the AP. The layoffs are a result of declining enrollments, say the online school’s spokesperson.

Florida should have fun filling its education positions. Last week, Superintendent Tony Bennett resigned. This week, it’s Frank Brogan, chancellor of the state university system, who’s leaving. He’ll be taking a similar role in Pennsylvania.

“Research” and Data

“The obesity rate among preschool-age children from poor families fell in 19 states and United States territories between 2008 and 2011,” say federal health officials.

Students who transfer from community colleges into four-year programs with a degree or certificate under their belt are more likely to attain their Bachelors, according to a report released by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (PDF).

The New York Times has calculated the net worth of a college degree, and according to its math, Harvey Mudd College offers the best return on investment. The worst? The Art Institute of Pittsburgh. Me, I kinda want Nate Silver's opinion on this...

“Only 35 Percent of College-educated Workers Consider All or Most of What They Learned in College to be Applicable to Their Current Jobs, According to a University of Phoenix Survey.” That’s a real headline on a real press release that claims, among other things, that nearly 75% of adults have regrets about their education.

But the best bullshit press release this week goes to USA Gold pencils which surveyed people about whether or not they think that students need to learn cursive. (The Common Core State Standards call for keyboarding in lieu of cursive instruction.) “Does Abandoning Cursive in Schools Write Off Our Children’s Future?” asks the press release, stirring up as much doom and panic as a pencil-sponsored survey can muster.

Conferences

ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, held its annual meeting in Chicago this week. The keynote speaker: former Florida governor Jeb Bush. A few lines from his speech: “Those vested in the status quo lash out with political and personal attacks. They hatch conspiracy theories about plots to destroy public education.”

Science-Free Shark Week

It’s Shark Week, the Discovery Channel’s week of shark TV programming. But the channel has faced some pushback this week as its kickoff show, Megalodon: The Monster Shark That Lives, was a mockumentary, one that claimed that the ancient shark is actually not extinct. Science education fail.

Image credits: Emilio Kuffer, The Noun Project

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