Education Politics

Arizona State Senator Al Melvin is terribly concerned about the Common Core State Standards. “Some of the reading material is borderline pornographic,” he said during an education committee meeting. Even worse? The math portion substitutes letters for numbers. As Wonkette writes, “Thank goodness Melvin paid attention to the briefing memo, ‘Al Gebra Determined to Strike in U.S.’”

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has appointed David Hespe to be the state’s new education commissioner. Hespe, who’s had the gig before, will take over from Chris Cerf, who recently resigned to take a job at News Corps’ education company Amplify.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio will block three charter schools from using space inside public school buildings, reports The New York Times, reversing the policy of his predecessor Michael Bloomberg who gave space to charters rent-free.

Budget cuts mean that half of LAUSD’s elementary and middle schools don’t have librarians. So let them eat iPads, right?

The Department of Education issued a report (PDF) on Title IV arguing that “additional safeguards are needed to help mitigate the risks that are unique to the distance education environment.”

The White House holds its first-ever Student Film Festival today.

President Obama also announced a new White House initiative, My Brother’s Keeper, aimed at empowering boys and young men of color.

Adobe and Prezi have joined the White House’s ConnectED initiative, offering to give away millions in free software to schools. (Other participants include Apple, Microsoft, AT&T, and O’Reilly Media.) So the nation’s Prezi presentation nightmare will continue.

Education and the Law

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has filed suit against ITT, accusing the for-profit school of “of forcing students into high-interest, private loans.”

31 current and former University of Berkeley students have filed a complaint against the university alleging administrators mishandled sexual assault investigations. According to The LA Times, “the complaints allege that officials for years have discouraged victims from reporting assaults, failed to inform them of their rights and led a biased judicial process that favored assailants’ rights over those of their victims.”

The University of Mississippi is pushing for criminal charges against 3 students who placed a noose around the neck of a statue in honor of James Meredith, the school’s first black student.

The 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled against the University of Notre Dame, which had argued that providing Obama-care-mandated coverage for contraception forced the school to violate its religious beliefs.

Ed-Tech Upgrades and Downgrades

Apple has released some upgrades to its iOS deployment and management tools and have also added a COPPA-compliant way for kids under 13 to sign up for Apple IDs.

LibraryBox – “an open source, portable digital file distribution tool based on inexpensive hardware that enables delivery of educational, healthcare, and other vital information to individuals off the grid” – reaches version 2.0.

Texas A&M University will soon have a 163-foot-wide video screen for its stadium – “the largest video display in all of college football.” Because higher education.

Facebook, or rather (which is Facebook plus handset makers), announced SocialEDU, a MOOC initiative and partnership with edX to offer “localized education content” in Rwanda. (While it doesn’t examine the education component of this initiative, Mat Honan’s article “Facebook’s Plan to Conquer the World – With Crappy Phones and Bad Networks” is totally relevant and worth a read.)

The publishers Springer and IEEE have had to withdraw more than 120 papers from their subscription services after a discovery that these articles were “computer-generated nonsense.” Or as us humanities folks call it with a smirk, “Sokal-as-a-service.”

The NSBA is partnering with New Regency to distribute 12 Years a Slave – along with book and study guide – to high schools.

“Pinterest for Education” app Learnist has struck deals with “director Gus Van Sant, actress Olivia Wilde, designer Danny Forster, MythBusters TV host Kari Byron, former NFL star Dhani Jones and author Brad Meltzer,” reports AdWeek, to provide multimedia content for its site. Because this mobile learning thing is gonna be huge. Or something.

Pearson has released the latest version its test-taking app for iPad. Whee.

The IMS Global Learning Consortium has released version 2 of the Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) specification, for all your one-click educational app/LMS integration needs.

And if that’s not enough data standard excitement for one week, SIF Data Model Implementation Specification 3.1 is out too.

There’s a “kinda sorta working model” of a federated OER Wiki, brought to you by Tim Owens and Mike Caulfield.

Macmillan e-books are now available to schools and libraries via OverDrive, says The Digital Reader.

Oppia, “a tool for interactive learning,” was announced in a post on the Google Open Source Blog. A project built by Google engineers on “20% time,” “ is not a Google product, and Google bears no responsibility for the content of this website.” The Open Universtiy’s Tony Hirst takes a closer look at the new tool.

There was an article in the Financial Times about Second Life in higher education this week. I kid you not. I had to check the publishing date, like, 4 times to make sure it wasn’t 2007 again. And FT parent company Pearson wonders why it’s struggling to make the transition to digital? (See profit warning below.)

“A Colorado Software Firm Is Programming Your Next Professor,” reads the headline in Forbes, a publication that never fails to tout a technodystopian future as some sort of great business deal. “As education costs increase, it’s not unreasonable to think that professors, teachers, adjuncts, and tutors could at least be partially replaced by a $7,000 programmable character who never sleeps or unionizes, or emotionally overreacts to student behavior.”

Money Money Money

Ed-tech news and product review site Edsurge has raised $1.5 million in a Series A round of funding. Investors include GSV Capital, NewSchools Venture Fund, Learn Capital, Nancy Peretsman, Judy Estrin, Gillian Munson, Kelly Pope and David Bulfer, Joe Gleberman, (Edsurge co-founder Betsy Corcoran’s husband) George Anders, Bud Colligan, Jennifer Fonstad and Martha Ehmann Conte, Imagine K12, (Princeton Review founder) John Katzman, (Imagine K12 co-founder) Alan Louie, Tim Ranzetta, and ( founder) Lynda Weinman. Re/code reports that, among other things, the new funding will buy “better food than Fritos” for teachers at Edsurge’s tech events. (This brings the total venture funding to $1.9 million for Edsurge. It’s also received $700,000 in grants from the Gates Foundation, as well as funding from other foundations.)

Piazza, a “social learning tool” where professors and students can hold online class discussions, has raised $8 million from Khosla Ventures and Bessemer Venture Partners. It’s also launching “Piazza Careers,” a recruitment tool which according to is “opt-in to protect student privacy.” (This brings to $15.5 million the total investment for the startup.)

The testing platform Smarterer has raised $1.6 million from Rethink Education, True Ventures, Boston Seed Capital and GSV’s Deborah Quazzo. (This brings to $4.6 million the total raised by the startup.)

The assessment app MasteryConnect has raised $3.375 million in Series A funding from Catamount Ventures, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, Deborah Quazzo of GSV Advisors, and Learn Capital. (This brings to $8.88 million raised by the startup.)

Skillshare, which offers a platform for people to run on- and offline classes, has raised $6.1 million from Union Square Ventures and Spark Capital. (This brings to $10.8 million the total raised by the startup.)

Coursehorse, a site which lists local classes and lessons has raised $3 million in funding, according to Edsurge. Investors were not disclosed. (This brings to $3.51 million the total investment for the startup.)

If You Can, a gaming startup led by Electronic Arts founder Trip Hawkins, has raised $6.5 million from Greylock Partners and Almaz Capital to “teach empathy through games,” reports Edsurge. (This brings to $9.3 million the total raised by the startup.)

Credible, a startup that lets students comparison shop for student loans, has raised $500,000 in seed investment from Carthona Capital, Cthulhu Ventures, Orrick, Cap-Meridian Ventures, Simon Franks, Trevor Loewensohn, Mitch Zuklie and Peter Gammell. Cthulhu Ventures. For reals.

Techcrunch writes about rumors that Google tried to buy the brainwave-reading startup InteraXon. Oh, think of the Google Apps for Edu integration possibilities! (Oh, and think too of the data-mining. See below.)

SRI International has been awarded a $12 million grant to validate whether the digital math program created by its own SRI Education works. Hmm. Any bets on how awesome it says it is?

According to The Wall Street Journal, Pearson “shares continued their steep decline Friday after the U.K.-based publisher, halfway through a restructuring plan, issued a profit warning amid continuing weakness in its core U.S. education business.”

Let the pre-IPO poking begin. On the heels of last week’s announcement that it was prepping an initial public offering, 2U is under (expected) scrutiny. The Washington Business Journal notes that more than two-thirds of the company’s revenue came from one source (the University of Southern California). E-Literate’s Phil Hill runs some numbers too.

Research and Data

“How Well Aligned Are Textbooks to the Common Core Standards in Mathematics,” asks USC education professor Morgan Polikoff. I’m gonna go ahead and let you guess. Or, even better, you can read his research paper. Spoiler alert: not well-aligned at all.

The real estate site Redfin reports that 83% of California home are not affordable on a teacher’s salary. (And no homes within San Francisco are.) Clearly teachers, you need to raise some VC and/or learn to code.

Childhood obesity is down. Yay! But so is food security, and far too many kids in the US aren’t getting enough to eat.

Scholastic and the Gates Foundation released the results of their fourth annual survey of teachers. Lots of findings are summarized by Emily Richmond in The Atlantic. Of note for ed-tech folks, the most popular websites used by teachers “for professional purposes.”

According to a new Gallup survey, 9% of respondents (“business leaders”) said that the school on a candidate’s diploma is “very important.”

According to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, there is a long-term benefit for music lessons early in life. (Thanks, Mom, for making me practice the piano!)

Babies cannot learn to read, according to a NYU study. But can they learn to code?!

Privacy and Data

“In the wake of a 2013 ruckus that cost a top Harvard University dean her job, a committee appointed by Harvard’s president has recommended that the university adopt institutionwide standards for gaining access to email and other accounts used by students, faculty members, and employees,” reports The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Department of Education folks, including Arne Duncan, made a showing at the Common Sense Media Privacy Zone conference. (Duncan’s remarks are here.) The department also released some new guidelines on protecting student privacy while using education software. (PDF) The guidelines include helpful answers to questions like “Is student information used in online educational services protected by FERPA?” (Answer: “It depends.”) “What does FERPA require if PII from students’ education records is disclosed to a provider?” (Answer: “It depends.”) And this: “metadata that have been stripped of all direct and indirect identifiers are not considered protected information under FERPA because they are not PII” – even though it’s been demonstrated that it’s almost impossible to strip out these identifiers and metadata is incredibly revealing.

“Where does targeted advertising end and personalized learning begin?” asks Katherine Varker, Associate General Counsel for McGraw-Hill Education said at the Privacy Zone event. Um. “The fact that you don’t know – or don’t care – means that I don’t want your company anywhere near my kids,” responds Scott McLeod.

Google admits data mining student emails in its free education apps,” writes, which examines some recently-filed court documents. Enjoy your free cloud-based software, folks.

The Better Business Bureau wagged its finger at HarperCollins, recommending that the publisher do a better job of protecting kids’ privacy (and complying with COPPA) on its And HarperCollins has agreed to do that. More via PandoDaily, which notes you can get around the new privacy restrictions by changing your country to something other than the US.

Indiana University revealed this week that data stored in an “insecure online location for nearly a year” had exposed personal records for some 146,000 current and former students. Information at risk included name, addresses and social security numbers.

From the HR Department

Duke professor Cathy Davidson is heading to the CUNY Graduate Center where she’ll head up its new Futures Initiative. My first question, no big surprise, was how the move would affect the IP in her Coursera MOOC, “The Future of Higher Education.” She outlines the implications – the deal is between Duke and Coursera, it’s worth noting – here.

Education history professor Sherman Dorn will be leaving the University of South Florida at the end of the school year and headed to Arizona State University as the teachers college’s new director of the Division of Educational Leadership and Innovation.

Rob Killion has stepped down as executive director of the Common Application, an organization that has built an online application site that serves some 500+ colleges and universities. As the name suggests, the application process is shared; but its technology has been fairly broken this year, and Inside Higher Ed reports that the organization’s board of directors requested Killion’s exit as a result.

Fabrice Tourre will be teaching a section of Elements of Economics Analysis at the University of Chicago next term. “Fabulous Fab” is the Goldman Sachs trader found liable last year “on six of seven counts of securities fraud for misleading investors in a complex investment product linked to mortgages.” Don’t ever change, University of Chicago. Don't ever change.

The students at Glasgow University have elected NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden to serve as their rector.

American Public Media’s Marketplace is hiring an ed-tech reporter.

RIP Egon Spengler PhD, Professor of Paranormal Studies

Or rather, RIP Harold Ramis.

Image credits: Chris Yu and The Noun Project

Audrey Watters


Hack Education

The History of the Future of Education Technology

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