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Government Spotlight

The latest news about education from the U.S. government

A Turtle Teaches Cyberspace Ethics

Worried that computer-savvy kids are growing up with little guidance on how to be good online citizens, the federal government is introducing a friendly new mentor for the Internet generation.

Meet “Dewie the Turtle,” the mascot for a plan put forth by the Federal Trade Commission to discourage kids from using their computers to wreak havoc and teach them to protect themselves from dangers in cyberspace.

“This is a campaign very much like Smokey the Bear, but instead of fighting forest fires, Dewie the Turtle will be concerned with creating a culture of cybersecurity,” says Mario Correa, director of Internet and network security policy with Business Software Alliance.

The program is to be coordinated on both federal and state levels and contains about 80 recommendations for boosting computer security.

The strategy will help make cyberspace more secure, says Shannon Kellogg, vice president for information security programs and policy at the Information Technology Association of America.

Dewie, who already has his own Web site, will appear in the form of public service announcements. Stickers and posters will be available for kids and teachers.

Dewie will also introduce some cyberspace ethics to kids. “He will tell the kids it’s important not to use the computer as a tool for creating disaster via the Internet,” Correa says.

Kellogg says Dewie will be an important vehicle to instruct children on the do’s and don’ts of computer behavior, something their less computer savvy parents might fail to discuss. Dewie tell kids what it means to be a good “cybercitizen,” in part that breaking into another system is not the right thing to do.

“You’d be surprised at the ages of some hackavists out there,” with even preteenagers involved in hacking, Kellogg says.

Kellogg adds that his organization stands behind teaching cyberethics at a young age. “We would certainly like to see information security be a subject at all levels of education. You can shape a younger person’s thinking by teaching them ethical behavior.” — Margaret Tierney

Tough Words Elicit NCLB Defense

Some education officials are dismayed over Secretary Paige’s tough words that warn states not to lower performance standards to skirt the No Child Left Behind Act.

In an October letter, Paige stated that some states were lowering expectations or redefining proficiency to limit the number of failing or low performing schools.

“Those who play semantic games or try to tinker with state numbers to lock out parents and the public stand in the way of progress and reform,’’ Paige stated.

But some school officials say they’ve been working hard to meet the federal requirements. “We think the secretary could have made points without haranguing states that are grappling with this issue,’’ says T.J. Bucholz, Michigan Department of Education spokesman. Michigan’s standards are among the toughest in the nation and up to 15 percent of the state’s elementary and middle schools could be labeled as failing this school year.

Some state educators say the act’s regulations are vague and criticized the U.S. education department for lack of real guidance. But federal officials say they are meeting directly with state and local officials and have posted a detailed Web site to help officials meet the law’s requirements. —Fran Silverman

Learning Chinese Electronically

The U.S. and China are building an e-language project that will use Webbased technology to help students and educators learn a second language first in English and Chinese.

U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige and Zhou Ji, vice minister of education of the People’s Republic of China, signed a memorandum of understanding last fall.

It “represents a partnership that will build cultural awareness and increase binational communications through the study of language?by teaching Chinese to American students and English to Chinese students,” Paige said. “The E-Language Project recognizes the importance of language skills in a world economy and advances education goals for children of both nations.”

The project will answer the need for American schools that want to offer foreign language but lack teachers with proper skills to teach it. It will also help schools with large immigrant populations needing English as a second language. And it will help teach English to students in remote and rural areas of China.

The U.S. Education Department will contribute $3 million to the project through the Star Schools program.