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Michigan Attempts to Mandate Online Learning

Lawmakers in Michigan are working on a state Board of Education proposal to revamp the state's outdated high school graduation requirements, in part to recommend that every student complete an online educational experience. It would be a first of its kind in the U.S.

While some critics bring up Internet access as a potential roadblock, supporters are quick to point out that nearly 99 percent of Michigan schools have Internet access and 88 percent have a high-speed connection. Another potential issue is the statewide ratio of kids to computers, which is only 4:1. Another potential drawback is cost.

But starting this fall, the Michigan Virtual University and Microsoft will begin offering a free online course for all Michigan students. "The course will cover career planning in the global economy," says Jamey Fitzpatrick, MVU president. "It's an exciting opportunity for kids to learn about how the working world has changed."

James Bosco, professor emeritus at Western Michigan University, wants to ensure that schools can develop effective, engaging learning experiences that will benefit students. "All students should know how to learn from a book as well as how to find and avail themselves of quality learning experiences online," he says. "The commitment should be about what's right for the kids not just to ensure that this is out there."

To that end, Bosco has an ally in Sen. Wayne Kuipers (R-Michigan), chairman of the Senate K-12 Education Committee. Kuipers, whose committee is taking testimony from the field before revising the requirements, says he'd like to see a technology-training course for middle school students and for the online experience to be integrated into all applicable courses.

"We want to push districts beyond what they're comfortable with and expose kids to a wide range of learning experiences," Kuipers says.

Ellen Ullman

First of Its Kind Charter School

The University of Arizona and a non-profit school are joining forces to create the state's first university-affiliated charter school.

UA's Wildcat School, will open in Tucson for low-income junior high and high school students and will run from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. 200 days of the school year. The extra days will include five Saturdays for exhibiting classroom projects and three weeks in the summer attending UA workshops or serving internships at UA or in the community.

NEA Partners With AFL-CIO

The National Education Association partnered recently with the AFL-CIO to allow local affiliates of both organizations to work together to meet the needs of working families. The partnership brings together 2.8 million teachers and education support professionals and 9 million workers in a federation of unions.

"Through joint activities we can better strengthen our communities, strengthen our public schools and strengthen our organizations," says NEA President Reg Weaver. For example, affiliates will collaborate on common local goals, such as increasing parental involvement in schools and protecting members' rights to living wages and health benefits.

Parents Try to Reclaim Summer

Save our summers! 'Tis the rallying cry heard round the nation as districts push school start dates into early August. The outcry is particularly loud in Florida where the state legislature is weighing two proposals that would prevent schools from opening more than seven days before Labor Day. But is preserving summer the best way to teach kids?

Florida school starts have crept into early August, partly to maximize instructional time before standardized testing. But parents are frustrated.

The calendar is out of whack, says Miami-Dade parent Sherry Sturner. School closes in mid-May, and kids return in early August at the height of hurricane season. Parents complain about sweltering classrooms and buses, yet most schools are air-conditioned, according to the Florida Department of Education. Sturner formed Save Our Summers to preserve the traditional summer break.

Parents may get their way; the Florida legislature will vote on the bills by May, which could push start dates to late August in the 2007-08 school year. Florida districts aren't the only ones feeling the heat.

North Carolina, Texas, Minnesota and Wisconsin have passed legislation restricting early start dates. Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and Pennsylvania will consider proposals.

The focus on a long vacation may be short-sighted. The National Association for Year-Round Education claims the traditional agrarian calendar with a three-month summer break has not met students' needs for decades. A balanced calendar with a shorter summer vacation and more frequent breaks can prevent summer learning loss and reduce review time. Lisa Fratt

Summer School = Success in Sunshine State

While most kids spend their summers far removed from learning, students at Hallandale (Fla.) Elementary School are hard at work. The school is among 3,000 in the U.S. with a year-round calendar. Kids attend school 180 days, but the year is peppered with two- to three-week breaks.

The calendar works, says Curriculum Specialist Sharon Scales.

For the last five years, the inner-city school has earned an "A" grade from the state. Scales credits the school's high achievement to continuous learning made possible by the year-round calendar.

"Parents and kids love it," continues Scales. "There's no remediation because students are only out of school two to three weeks at a time." The good news for Hallandale students is that the school will be exempt from proposed legislation prohibiting early starts as it does not include schools on a year-round track.

The secret to successfully implementing year-round schooling is open communication with parents and the community, Scales adds.

Florida Joins Performance-Based Pay

First it was Denver, then Houston and now Florida will tie public school teachers' pay to student performance on standardized tests. Beginning next year, both the base salaries and annual bonuses will be partially linked to student improvement on tests a move that the state Board of Education approved but which is expected to face legal challenges, according to The Miami Herald.

Officials in both Miami-Dade and Broward counties say they would be unable to meet the state's June 15 deadline, which requires the districts and unions to completely rebuild salary systems that have long been based on a teacher's education and years of experience.

''There is no way we can get that completed in time,'' says Ofelia San Pedro, deputy superintendent of the Miami-Dade district.

2006 Sizzles with Learning Tech

Low-cost learning technology systems and Open Source are the top two learning technology trends this year.

Ambient Insight, a vendor-independent R&D firm specializing in performance management technology, recently held a Webinar, Hottest Learning Technologies of 2006: What are Customers Buying?

They discovered that Dell Learning System was one example of very low-cost Learning Management Systems gaining traction now.

And they predict that by 2011, Pre-K-12 will be the largest buying segment of eLearning Management tools, taking over corporations and enterprises.

"Learning Management System prices are dropping fast as disruptors like Dell gain market share with low-cost learning appliances," says Sam Adkins, chief research officer at Ambient Insight. "Free Open Source products are also shaking up the competitive landscape."

Real-time collaborative technology is also the fastest growing product type in buyer segments, adds Jill Burger, principal research analyst.

There is also a boom in electronic books driven by Apple's iPod and MP3 players. The iPod also dominates the Personal Learning product category and offers free lesson plans for teachers using iPods in K-12. Blackboard and Tegrity also integrate PodCast technology with LMS.

Five big trends in collaborative tech include:

1. Installed versions of real-time collaboration-based Learning platforms for educational institutions;

2. Innovation in accessibility of the technology;

3. The rapid growth of online academic mentoring using the technology;

4. Steady growth of virtual schools and cyber charter schools;

5. Growth of Classroom Collaboration Management Products.

Healthy Schools Program Launched

The Healthy School Project, an $8 million initiative to fight childhood obesity by promoting healthier food and more exercise for school children will start next fall.

Former President Clinton and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation say that 285 schools in 13 states have been chosen as pilots to get help in improving nutrition in school cafeterias and vending machines, increasing physical activity and providing health lessons and promoting staff wellness.

New D.O.E. Technology Office Leader

Timothy J. Magner was recently appointed director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education. Magner, formerly the deputy executive director for technology at the Council of Chief State School Officers, will coordinate the development and implementation of the department's educational technology policies. He also served as the department's deputy director for educational technology from April 2004 through June 2005.

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