Articles from February, 2008

Google gets wiki wid it

Yeserday Google announced Google Sites, now part of its Google Apps suite. Sites lets people instantly create a wiki-style group workspace for their organization or classroom. According to Google, it could build your organization’s intranet. More likely, however, is using Google Sites for education purposes. What will they think of next? Google’s press release claims,

With Google Sites, people can quickly gather a variety of information in one place – including videos, calendars, presentations, attachments, and text – and easily share it for viewing or editing with a small group, their entire organization, or the world.

Google Sites has been marketed as a Microsoft Sharepoint killer, but most critics agree it only nominally competes against Sharepoint and IBM’s Lotus Notes. Just what kind of impact Sites may have on them, and when, remains to be answered. The competition certainly has more capabilities than Sites. So, as Mark Twain once remarked, “Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated,” seem to be true in this case too.

Sites is, essentially, a wiki, but nowhere does Google mention the word in connection with Sites. As ZDNet’s Larry Dignan says,

That observation is keen. Perhaps wiki is too geeky. Perhaps Google thought a name like Google Sites was better than Jotspot. Frankly, none of this rebranding works all that well. It’s still not clear what Google Sites is about judging from its name. Google is trying to mainstream the use of the wiki but without the name. But Google Sites doesn’t exactly bonk you over the head with meaning either.

BoardBuzz thinks Google Sites is a great collaboration application for people who need to manage projects or classroom activities. In other words, it’s wiki-ish. Sites makes it simple for anyone, teachers and students included, to create websites for sharing information, without any specialized knowledge required. It seamlessly integrates with other Google Apps like Talk, Docs, Calendar, etc. “We are literally adding an edit button to the web,” said Dave Girouard, vice president.

Oh, and did we mention that, as is typical of Google Apps, the service is free? BoardBuzz is wishing, right about now, that we had purchased some Google stock years ago.

Erin Walsh|February 29th, 2008|Categories: Educational Technology, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

BoardBuzz podcast
BoardBuzzNSBAMouseover the icon to listen to BuzzCast 21

  • Push and shove: BoardBuzz recently visited NSBA’s re-designed Legislative Action Center;
  • We love a good cause!;
  • American students have lost touch with history;
  • Kindergarten hair war;
  • The one presidential debate that’s not happening;
  • Seeing the “sites”
Erin Walsh|February 29th, 2008|Categories: Multimedia and Webinars, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

A bright (and costly) future

What are you preparing your students for?

Getting a well-rounded education? Passing their classes? Graduating? Going to college?

Unfortunately, a strong secondary education can only get them to the third tier. A lack of sufficient funds means college isn’t an option for a growing number of high school graduates.

According to a press release from Public Agenda, a nonprofit that conducts public opinion surveys, college costs as a share of household income have doubled for all but the most affluent Americans in the past 20 years.

The average student debt has more than doubled to $20,000 since 1997.

Attitudes about college costs have soured as well, meaning more and more struggling families don’t consider college a feasible option for their kids.

The percentage of Americans who feel costs are preventing students from attending college has risen from 47 percent in 2000 to 62 percent in 2007, says Public Agenda. Yet most people consider higher education the key to upward mobility.

Last week, students and education leaders gathered at a C-SPAN forum hosted by Public Agenda and The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education to discuss how college tuition costs are keeping young adults from reaching their potential. The group called for collaboration between the government, higher education, and families to address rising costs.

Until then, secondary schools can do their part by encouraging students to apply for scholarships or student aid as well as supplementing college prep with vocational education. Low-income students should be able to envision a bright future without a college degree.

Stacey Hollenbeck, ASBJ Spring Intern

Kathleen Vail|February 29th, 2008|Categories: Governance, Curriculum, Student Achievement, American School Board Journal|

Seeing the “sites”

Last week was Kyrene School District in Arizona‘s moment in the spotlight. The district, chosen by NSBA, was the site of one of NSBA’s TLN Site Visits for 2008. The district, which was one of NSBA’s Salute Districts in 2006, has long been a leader in education technology.

As this article on notes,

The Kyrene Teaches with Technology Project is funded by a capital override voters approved in 2005, which provides $7 million each year for technology.

Kyrene director of community education and outreach Kelly Alexander said visiting educators have taken pictures of bulletin boards and talked to teachers and students to get ideas they intend to take back to their home districts.

“It’s a wonderful way to share not only how teachers use technology but how it makes Kyrene a wonderful place to learn,” Alexander said. “We want them to walk away and say, ‘That’s what technology should be.'”

Nearly 100 teachers, administrators, and other school district personnel attended the site visit to learn about the innovative ways Kyrene is integrating technology.

If you’re disappointed to have missed the Kyrene visit, there are two other opportunities to get in on the action:

March 24-26, 2008: Kent School District #415, Kent, Washington
May 4-6, 2008: Batavia City School District, Batavia, New York

Be sure to check it out!

Erin Walsh|February 28th, 2008|Categories: Educational Technology, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Impaired working memory

One in 10 students may be suffering from a condition known as “impaired working memory”—and that’s having a negative impact on their academic performance.

So report researchers in a news release from Durham University in the United Kingdom. They also say this impairment is rarely identified by teachers, who are more likely to view affected children “as inattentive or as having lower levels of intelligence.”

So what is working memory? According to, working memory—or short-term memory—is “a system for temporarily storing information and managing the information required to carry out complex cognitive tasks.”

Translation: If you are told two numbers, you remember them, and you multiply those numbers in your head, you’re using your working memory.

It’s pretty obvious that a student’s classroom success depends somewhat on his or her ability to follow a teacher’s instructions, do some quick mental calculations, or remember what’s been said in a classroom lecture long enough to write it down.

“Working memory is a bit like a mental jotting pad, and how good this is in someone will either ease their path to learning or seriously prevent them from learning,” Dr. Tracy Alloway, head of the research team, is quoted as saying.

So how practical is this information for you? Well, some of your teachers will be familiar with the basic concept of working memory and instruction, and some special education teachers will have learned something about this condition.

But it can’t hurt to point out that the condition may be more common than they think—and isn’t the same thing as attention deficit disorder (ADD), although the challenges for students can appear similar. Also, it turns out that there are checklists available that your teachers can use to identify children who may have this problem, and there are diagnostic tools available to confirm such suspicions.

And, finally, there are instructional techniques to help students cope with this impairment.

All anyone needs to do is a little more research.

It might prove worthwhile. As Alloway notes, “early identification of these children will be a major step toward addressing underachievement. It will mean teachers can adapt their methods to help the children’s learning before they fall too far behind their peers.”

Del Stover, Senior Editor

Kathleen Vail|February 28th, 2008|Categories: Governance, Wellness, Educational Research, Student Achievement, American School Board Journal|

The one presidential debate that’s not happening

BoardBuzz agrees wholeheartedly with this op-ed in today’s edition of USA Today, which points out that public education has become “an afterthought” in presidential debates. The author, Wendy Puriefoy, CEO of the Public Education Network asserts, “Nearly 50 million of our nation’s children attend public schools, yet the men and women who aspire to lead us have spent less time debating how these children are being educated than it takes to get a haircut or a facial.” Strong (but true) words.

On the rare occasion that the presidential candidates have managed to get in a few words about education, they’ve often recycled such buzz words as No Child Left Behind and unfunded mandate, with little substance or meaning attached. We are hearing the same repetitive statistics on students’ poor graduation rates and their lackluster performance in math and science compared with other countries, but rarely are any concrete solutions offered to tackle these challenges.

There is no reason why education should not be debated as feverishly as healthcare, the economy, the Iraq war, and immigration. There are plenty of substantive issues to debate that affect our kids’ education every day. Most of all, there is NCLB, which is now driving the activities in many of our schools.

Public education advocates need to hear from our presidential candidates on exactly how they will improve NCLB and address other challenges in our schools, and not just as an afterthought. How exactly, for example, should student performance be accurately measured and how to build the capacity of local schools and school districts to help student achieve? The list goes on and on.

Erin Walsh|February 27th, 2008|Categories: Educational Legislation, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

BoardBuzz podcast
BoardBuzzNSBAMouseover the icon to listen to BuzzCast 20

  • Can he do it? The fate of NCLB reauthorization rests in the hands of Senator Ted Kennedy;
  • What’s all this fuss about homework??;
  • Fashion Week, NSBA style;
  • Somethin’ for nothin’ – From Cyberbullying to Cell Phones: Navigating through the Legal Questions and Answers;
  • Better than ginkgo biloba!
Erin Walsh|February 27th, 2008|Categories: Multimedia and Webinars, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

ASBJ wins first place award for series on race in schools

Congratulations to Senior Editor Del Stover for winning first place in the Education Writers Association’s 2007 National Awards for Education Reporting for his series of stories on schools dealing with racial issues.

Del’s stories – “Moment of Truth” (April), “Summer of Fate” (August), and “The Vicious Circle” (December) – were recognized in the Special Interest, Institutional and Trade Publications category. Only four awards were given in the category this year.

ASBJ is one of 15 finalists for the Fred M. Hechinger Grand Prize for Distinguished Education Reporting, which will be awarded April 26 during the EWA’s 61st National Seminar in Chicago.

The EWA contest, which honors the best education reporting in print and broadcast media, is the only independent contest of its kind in the United States. This is the first time in the contest’s history that ASBJ has taken first place two years in a row; last year’s first place winner was the magazine’s series on Gulf Coast schools in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Kathleen Vail|February 27th, 2008|Categories: Governance, Curriculum, Student Achievement, American School Board Journal|

Kindergarten hair war

“A kindergarten student with a freshly spiked Mohawk has been suspended from school,” reports ABCNEWS.COM. “Surely,” query you Dear Readers, “You must mean a kindergarten student with a gun… or drugs… or who cracked open someone’s head with a blunt instrument?” No, no, gentle BoardBuzzers, you read correctly: The school suspended little Bryan Ruda for the offense of sporting a funky hair cut. (And, for the record, BoardBuzz saw the photograph of the 6-year-old offender, and, well, it was NOT spiked.) Even so, “”[t]he school said the hair was a distraction for other students [and] violate[d] the school’s policy on being properly groomed,” school Principal Linda Geyer said.”

Bryan’s mom, whose love for the avant garde apparently extends to decorative children’s hairstyles, was outraged by the schools decision, saying that while she understands the school has a dress code, “They can’t tell me how I can cut his hair.” Well, apparently, they can, and they did. “The school district’s dress code allows school officials to forbid anything that interferes with the conduct of education.”

But, if, Dear Readers, you surmise there’s more hair (ahem) than meets the eyes, you would be correct: This latest skirmish appears to be only one of several incidents in the quest for individuality between little Bryan’s mother and school officials in the Kindergarten Hair War at Parma Community School. “An administrator at the suburban Cleveland charter school first warned [the mom] last fall that the haircut wasn’t acceptable. The school later sent another warning letter to her reiterating the ban.” Wait, they sent a letter, too? And, she still didn’t get it? Talk about sacrificing for your art . . . er, hair.

That school finally lost its religion last week, when little Bryan’s “freshly shorn” hair caused a sensation of sorts and disturbed the general mirth.

Now the mom is changing little Bryan’s school rather that changing his hairstyle. What?!!! BoardBuzz is all about individuality, but we must admit that the choices some parents make are hard for us to sort out.

Erin Walsh|February 27th, 2008|Categories: School Security, Student Achievement, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Autism’s lasting impression

Journalists—at least the ones I know—tend to forget stories shortly after they are published. But occasionally there’s one so compelling that you have to go back.

I first heard about Brick Township, N.J., a decade ago while writing a story on autism for Education Week. In the late 1990s, very little was known about treating the disorder, much less the causes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was studying Brick because of a perceived “autism cluster,” given its seemingly high rate of children diagnosed.

The quiet oceanside village was bombarded by press, and parents and residents were frantic to know why so many of their children were afflicted. Most believed environmental contaminants played a role, although medical mishaps and genetics were also frequently mentioned. School officials, though, pointed to an entirely different supposition—since Brick was one of the first places to provide educational services specifically for children with autism, desperate parents were moving to send their children to Brick schools.

When I decided to write about autism for ASBJ—this time looking at the costs, treatments, and how little is still known about the causes—the first place I researched was Brick. Surely by now there would be an answer to this medical mystery, the CDC must have found some fascinating evidence to explain the autism cluster, right?

Instead, I found that Brick’s rate of identification is now the norm in New Jersey, probably because medical experts’ heightened awareness of the disorder means many more children have been identified. And the CDC report raised more questions than it answered, essentially laying out in painstaking detail the lack of good national data and information.

But what Brick and several other districts have figured out is that, regardless of causes, they must educate and embrace these children. My story in this months’ ASBJ shows how they’re doing it.

Joetta Sack-Min, Associate Editor

Kathleen Vail|February 27th, 2008|Categories: Governance, Curriculum, Student Achievement, Budgeting, American School Board Journal|
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