Sep. 24 to Oct. 1 is Banned Books Week, an annual celebration of the freedom to read and create awareness to protect access to books, says Barbara Jones, Director of American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom, the group behind Banned Books Week. Local communities across the country celebrate Banned Books Week to emphasize the importance of our First Amendment rights and give kids the opportunity to read barred stories.
In August, as the back-to-school clothing and supplies were hitting the stores, Miami-Dade County (Fla.) Public Schools launched its own new "product line of services" to its student clientele, including additional magnet schools, a conservatory for the arts, salad bars, and new technology and online digital tools for students. This "ritual of reinvention" is a signature program of Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, as he's unveiled similar plans each year since joining the district in fall 2008.
The Deerfield Township School in New Jersey has been working on improving literacy across all grade levels of this PreK-8 school. To encourage curiosity in reading among students, Superintendent Edythe Austermuhl personally mingles with students in their classrooms and libraries to hold informal book talks and find new readings. The school librarians have noted that if they label a book as a "Recommendation by Dr. Austermuhl," the book often has a waiting list.
Mobile learning is on the rise, and consequently, so is the need for mobile connectivity. According to a 2010 survey of E-rate consumers, including public schools and libraries, conducted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), 50 percent of respondents said they plan to implement or expand the use of digital textbooks and other wireless devices.
As districts across the country debate the boundaries of social media in the class room, Missouri took an unprecedented step by passing the first statewide law banning teachers from individual communication with their students on social networks. The bill was passed with bipartisan support in the Missouri legislature and signed by Gov. Jay Nixon on July 14. The Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, which became effective Aug. 28, was created in response to a middle school student who was sexually abused by a teacher following communication on Facebook.
While tablet computers like the iPad get more attention, eBook readers—comparatively simpler devices designed specifically for reading electronic versions of books, magazines and newspapers—are currently selling in greater numbers and at a faster rate than tablets. E-book readers also hold much appeal for education, and for the same reasons they are increasing in popularity with consumers: ever-improving features and growing capabilities for displaying a variety of content, for a fraction of the price of most full-featured tablet PCs.
Make no mistake: 2015 is the year in which each and every student in America's K12 public school system will have a mobile device to use for curricular purposes, 24/7. For the majority of schools, one-to-one will be achieved because they will have adopted a BYOD policy: Bring your own device. Schools simply can't afford to buy a computing device for every student: Bonds aren't passing, and budgets are being slashed. And most school-age children are acquiring their own mobile computing devices for entertainment and communication. But there is no free lunch—surprise!
School administrators are faced with a wide variety of choices and a huge market when it comes to products and technology. According to a report issued in March by market research firm Compass Intelligence, school districts spend over $18 billion annually on IT-related purchases, and the market is projected to grow to nearly $21 billion by 2015.
The Universal Service Administration Company (USAC) officially announced to the FCC on July 13 that it has identified additional monies to fund FY 2010 E-rate Priority 2 (internal connections and basic maintenance of internal connections) requests at the 80 percent discount level. Schools and libraries that are entitled to 80 percent E-rate discounts serve some of the country's most financially strapped communities.
Administrators shouldn't only look outside their districts for something new when researching possible products or technology to purchase; solutions can sometimes be found in unexpected places. "When we get a request to purchase something new, such as curriculum software, we do a thorough examination of what we already have to make sure we don't duplicate functionality," says Roderick Matthews, director of information technology in the Recovery School District in New Orleans.
To the more than 600 million members of Facebook and the expanding legions of Twitter users, you can add a growing number of schools and districts. Whether communicating with parents and the public, enhancing classroom instruction and staff development, or rallying school spirit, administrators and teachers are beginning to leverage the interactive and multimedia features of social networks that have the added advantage of being widely and easily accessible—and free.