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Blogs of the Week

October 01, 2013 6 min read
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| NEWS | Digital Education

Students Quickly Outwit iPad Security

Hundreds of teenagers in the 7,500-student Center Grove, Ind., school district circumvented the security mechanisms on district-issued iPads within hours of receiving them, according to a report last week in the Daily Journal.

Between 300 and 400 students found ways to reprogram the iPads so they could download games and apps for social media sites, according to the report, which quoted Center Grove officials as attributing the problem to their security program not being able to handle the number of devices—more than 2,000—that were distributed.

Districts are also facing increasing threats from outside hackers.

Keith Krueger, the CEO for the Consortium for School Networking, said such problems are increasingly common as districts deploy a growing number of devices.

The best strategy, Mr. Krueger said, is to combine the best possible security filters and other technology measures with a comprehensive acceptable-use policy and a commitment to enforcement.

“It’s not surprising that a school district would have some breaches,” he said. “The question is how do you leverage it into a teachable moment?”

—Benjamin Herold

| NEWS | BookMarks

Ravitch’s Reign of Error Hits Bookstores

Diane Ravitch, the scholar and education pundit, published a new book last month that is garnering a range of responses from the education community and beyond. Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools is a critical look at the state of education reform and how federal policies and trends of the past decade have encroached on the public nature of public schools, thus damaging them.

The book is a follow-up to The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (Basic Books, 2010).

A number of bloggers on Huffington Post, including two teachers, mostly offered favorable reviews. UC-Berkeley’s David L. Kirp mentioned the book favorably in an essay he wrote for Slate, but suggested that Ms. Ravitch soft-pedals some problems, including slipping U.S. college-graduation rates and the difficulty some districts experience trying to fire incompetent teachers.

Ms. Ravitch’s book tour has also resulted in a debate of sorts with her nemesis, Michelle Rhee, over public school troubles in Philadelphia.

Edweek.org opinion bloggers have also joined the conversation: Anthony Cody, a co-founder with Ms. Ravitch of the Network for Public Education, writes: “What Daniel Ellsberg was to the Vietnam War, Ravitch has become to the battle raging over public education—a truth-teller with the knowledge that comes from decades on the inside of the education ‘reform’ movement.”

In contrast, Sam Chaltain—who blogs at Of, By, For: In Search of the Civic Mission of K-12 Schools—sees Ms. Ravitch as more divisive than inspiring. While recognizing the need for public figures and voices to act as lightning rods in education, Mr. Chaltain concludes, “Reign of Error is a must-read book, but its research is diminished by its reductive characterizations of how we see, think, and believe.”

Ms. Ravitch co-authored the edweek.org opinion blog Bridging Differences with Deborah Meier from 2007 to 2012.

—Catherine A. Cardno

| News | K-12 Parents and the Public

Online Petitions Support School Causes

Parents passionate about school-related issues—from the prohibition of dreadlocks to school name changes—have been turning to online petitions recently to gain public support and media attention for their causes.

Some of the petitions on Change.org that generated the most buzz are:

• A 7-year-old Tulsa, Okla., girl was sent home from school because her dreadlocks violated the private school’s dress code. Her father’s petition to allow her to keep her hairstyle and return to class received 1,871 signatures.

• A Jacksonville, Fla., father is trying to gain support to pressure the Duval County district to change the name of Nathan Bedford Forrest High School. Forrest was a founding member of the Ku Klux Klan. The petition is picking up steam with some 86,000 signatures.

• More than 90,000 people are supporting a petition to reinstate a Catholic high school English teacher who was fired from his job in Glendora, Calif. Ken Bencomo lost his job after a feature article in a local newspaper about his marriage to his longtime same-sex partner.

Change.org is a petition platform that allows people around the world to seek support for a range of issues. According to the nonprofit, there are more than 45 million Change.org users in 196 countries.

With up to 1,000 new petitions launched each day, roughly 25,000 a month, education-related campaigns continue to be among the most popular, and most successful, on Change.org, a spokesman said.

—Karla Scoon Reid

| NEWS | Politics K-12

Cantor Slams Obama Administration on La. Vouchers

In what was billed as a major policy address, U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., the House majority leader, said in Philadelphia that he would “leave no stone unturned in holding [U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder] accountable” for the Obama administration’s push to stop Louisiana from implementing a voucher program that allows low-income children to attend private schools on the public dime.

The U.S. Department of Justice says the program runs afoul of a court-ordered desegregation plan in that state. The program distributed 5,000 scholarships last year, 91 percent of which went to minority students, according to a factsheet distributed by House Republicans. The issue will be debated in a federal court in New Orleans soon.

Congressional Republicans, including Rep. Cantor, say they don’t understand how the voucher program hurts minority students—in fact, they claim it is helping them escape from troubled public schools.

“The attorney general will have to explain to the American people why he believes poor minority children in Louisiana should be held back, and why these children shouldn’t have the same opportunity that the children from wealthier and more connected families,” he said at his address at Freire Charter School on Sept 23.

Rep. Cantor added that he’s hoping that the attorney general will reverse his decision; otherwise, the House will take further action.

—Alyson Klein

| NEWS | Learning the Language

In Some States, ELL Populations Boom—But Not Funding

South Carolina has seen the most extreme growth in its population of English-language learners—a jump of 610 percent in the last decade—but the state does not provide schools with resources on top of the regular per-pupil allocation to educate them.

Mississippi, in the same period, saw its English-learner population grow by 158 percent, but like in South Carolina, its schools don’t get any state aid to help pay for their educational services. Nevada, a third high-growth ELL state, until this year had not provided targeted funding to schools to pay for the education of ELLs. A measure signed earlier this year by Gov. Brian Sandoval is changing that.

By contrast, Kansas, North Carolina, and Virginia, other high-growth states, are providing state aid for English-learners that ranges from about $450 to nearly $750 per student.

In the latest issue of VUE, or Voices in Urban Education, a publication from the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, authors Sonya Douglass Horsford and Carrie Sampson compare funding supports for English-learners in the 10 states where their growth has been most dramatic since 2001. The entire issue of the quarterly publication is devoted to English-learner issues.

The authors argue that state-level politicians and policymakers should view their shifting demographics and growing ELL populations as a human capital opportunity worth investing in.

—Lesli A. Maxwell

A version of this article appeared in the October 02, 2013 edition of Education Week as Blogs of the Week

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