вторник, 10 июня 2008 г.

Commission to consider online schools

A new education commission has been formed to look at online kindergarten through 12th-grade education in Colorado in the wake of a recent scathing audit of internet schools.

The Trujillo Commission for Online Education will make recommendations to state officials on how to respond to issues that were raised in the audit.

The commission will be hosted by the Donnell-Kay Foundation.

"The widespread use of online K-12 learning in Colorado is relatively new, but it is growing rapidly," said Nina Lopez, policy director of the Donnell-Kay Foundation.

"The commission's objective will be to create guideposts for thoughtful policy on the issue."

The audit report released Monday charged that online education programs are plagued by poor performing schools. It also noted that the programs are in such disarray that state educators don't know what to do with them.

The commission, to be headed by Lorenzo Trujillo, University of Colorado School of Law assistant dean, will seek to identify best practices in Colorado as well as in other states.

Other members of the commission are Kin Griffith from Colorado Virtual Academy; Tim Snyder, executive director of Colorado online learning; and Jane W. Urschel, associate director of Colorado Association of School Boards.

The commission expects to release its final recommendations to state officials Feb. 15.

In the meantime, the group is soliciting input from the public on the online schools.

Comments can either be emailed to www.dkfoundation.org or submitted by regular mail to Nina Lopez, Donnell-Kay Foundation, 730 17th Street, Suite 950, Denver, CO 80202.

According to a statement from the commission, members expect to have preliminary recommendations by Jan. 22.

On Feb. 1, the commission has scheduled a public forum where individuals can respond to the preliminary recommendations. The time and location of the forum has not yet been set.

Hillsborough Schools Crafting Tougher Cell Phone Rules

Hillsborough County School District officials are shaping new cell phone rules likely to ignite some fiery text messages among students.

Not only would students be required to keep their phones turned off at school -- the current rule -- they would also have to keep them out of sight.

If a student violator is caught, a sequence of punishments from a warning to suspension is proposed.

"If you can't have a cell phone on, there is no reason to have it out," said Lewis Brinson, the district's assistant superintendent for administration.

Brinson is drafting new cell phone procedures for the 2008-09 school year, to be presented at the May 20 school board meeting. The rules are a consensus from a committee of teachers, students, parents and principals, he said, but still must be vetted by the superintendent before they reach the board for a vote.

Cell phone use has exploded among students at all grade levels. They hide phones in purses or pockets and text friends in class, make calls or text from hallways and bathrooms between classes, or openly answer phones in class, especially when parents call. Test pages and answers can be photographed and shared, and video or pictures posted on the Internet.

Schools and individual teachers vary in how and whether they enforce Hillsborough's rule that cell phones "shall not be activated or used in any manner during school hours," including on silent, vibrate or visual-only mode. Some teachers say they just don't have the time to both police cell phone use and teach.

"We're trying to be more consistent," Brinson said.

Progress Village Middle Magnet School Principal Walt Shaffner can attest to the misuse, despite his school's rule: "If it's on, we take it away."

In his school of 850 students, "We have confiscated 80 to 100 so far this year," he said. "We have 30 or more cells alone from last year that were never picked up."

Shaffner was on the committee that came up with the proposed procedures. He said he agrees because of both the increased misuse and increased capability of phones.

"A phone has become a complicated and sophisticated tool that's kind of being used as a toy," he said. At the same time, "cell phones have gone from a privilege to an entitlement," Shaffner said.

Practicalities need to be worked out, Brinson acknowledged.

One is keeping track of violations. They could be recorded like tardies, he said, with teachers noting it in their computer.

"We don't want the cell phone situation to get into an argument," Brinson said. The intent, he said, is to stop disruptions to teaching, "not to patrol the bathrooms," looking for phones.

Many student government leaders were asked in March for suggestions to change cell phone rules. Many proposed allowing cells to be used during lunch.

Jarrod Barefoot, a senior at Newsome High, had suggested requiring students to leave phones out on their desks. He said the district's proposed changes don't sound much different than the way it is now, except for uniform consequences.

Recently, Newsome tightened its phone policy, Barefoot said. Most teachers send students to detention for a first offense, with in-school suspension the second time. Phones are usually confiscated only if used during a test, Barefoot said, because parents are so upset when they must retrieve them at the office.

"I think it's worked a lot better," he said. "I admit I don't talk often after worrying about getting detention or suspension."

Brinson said tougher rules could be enforced, then relaxed, depending on how students respond.

"If we follow through with what we say we're going to do, they'll realize we're serious about it," he said. "Right now we need to get a grip on letting students understand when we say off, we mean off."

Police seek mother in Web video

Fresno police are searching for a woman who allegedly encouraged her daughter to fight another girl -- a battle that was videotaped and ended up on MySpace.com.

The District Attorney's Office has given police a warrant to arrest Syreeta Fuller, 30, the mother of a 14-year-old girl involved in the fight.

Fresno police Capt. Keith Foster said Friday that officers are searching for Fuller.

The fight between the 14-year-old and a 13-year-old girl occurred near Cooper Middle School in northwest Fresno on April 19.

The fight drew national attention after the video appeared on the Internet. School officials reported receiving national media inquiries, including calls from cable news channel CNN.

The girls were not arrested; they were disciplined by school officials.

Once arrested, Fuller will be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, child endangerment and battery -- all misdemeanors. The battery count stems from "evidence that she held one of the girls down while the girl was being beaten," Foster said.

In a related matter, police continued to search for two men who allegedly brandished an assault rifle when the parents of the 13-year-old went to the home of the 14-year-old to talk to her parents.

Officers received warrants June 8 to arrest Jayson Sanderson, 22, and Aaron Moore, 20. Moore is wanted on a charge of illegal possession of a firearm and participating in criminal street-gang activity. Once arrested, his bail is expected to be $270,000. Sanderson is wanted on a charge of participating in criminal street-gang activity. His bail is expected to be $50,000.

School officials want standardized tests computerized

Computers were supposed to help us be more efficient and save us money.

The experts said computers would give us more time to focus on what's important because we wouldn't be so tied up with handling stacks of paper.

Schools spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the 1990s to increase and upgrade their computer systems. Janesville School District voters, for example, decided in 1997 to borrow about $10 million to install hundreds of computers at schools and link them to the Internet. Schools continue to spend money each year to keep those computers up to date.

And yet, when it comes to Wisconsin's standardized testing system, students still use No. 2 pencils to fill in the circles on the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam, just as their parents and grandparents did.

The state has an opportunity to get into the 21st century, but it's dragging its feet.

At least, that's the perception of Janesville school officials. They're joining other districts to pressure the state Department of Public Instruction to take the plunge into computer-based testing.

The Janesville School Board is championing a resolution calling for change at the upcoming Wisconsin Association of School Boards delegate assembly.

And Rep. Brett Davis, R-Oregon, the chairman of the Assembly Education Committee, is writing legislation that would force the state to change.

Davis said the DPI could make the change on its own.

"They don't appear to be willing to do it, so I'm working on legislation that would modernize the system," Davis said.

Lynette Russell, director of the Office of Accountability for DPI, says there are no easy answers. She said it takes hundreds of pages of technical documentation to get a test approved by the federal government.

"I don't think it automatically makes it better just because you put it on the computer," Russell said.

Davis and others believe that a computer-based test, along with a different way of reporting the test results, would greatly improve the system, improve education and might even save money in the long run.

The state uses a series of tests known as the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam to report progress--or lack of it--to the federal government under the No Child Left Behind Legislation.

The Janesville district's testing coordinator, Ruth Robinson, finds fault with Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam:

--It doesn't give credit to schools that make substantial progress, even though they have many students performing below the required standards.

--It doesn't hold schools accountable if they have a large number of high-scoring students but fail to challenge those students in the classroom.

--Results are reported months after the tests are taken, making them almost useless for improving teaching or correcting students' weaknesses during the same school year.

Something called a "growth model" testing system would take care of the first two points. Growth model assessment often is linked to a computer-based test, which can give much faster results.

Now, the state test results are available for individual students about four months after they take the tests. Reports of grade-level, school and district results aren't ready for six months, Robinson said.

That means a third-grade teacher, for example, can't tell how well she has taught her class until after the school year is over, Robinson said.

Online testing would give instant results, Robinson said. That same teacher would know right away if her students failed to understand a key idea in math or English. Then, the teacher could adjust her lesson plans to make sure students were up to speed before they moved on to the next grade level.

Some schools are spending their own dollars to give teachers faster results. Janesville and more than 100 other districts buy online tests called Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP.

The MAP tests give teachers almost instantaneous results.

Janesville pays $70,000 a year for the MAP test, Robinson said.

So why not use the MAP test statewide and kill two birds with one stone?

Can't do it, DPI's Russell said.

For one thing, the MAP test isn't aligned to the state academic standards in the same way as the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam, Russell said.

No Child Left Behind requires a test that tests student knowledge of the standards.

The MAP test asks questions that relate to the standards, but that's not the same thing as being thoroughly aligned, Russell said.

The MAP test also is an "adaptive test," and that's a problem, Russell said.

MAP automatically makes its questions easier if a student is marking wrong answers, and it gives above-grade-level questions if the student is getting mostly correct answers.

No Child Left Behind requires that students be tested on the standards for their grade level, Russell said, and MAP doesn't provide that.

That's easily fixed, Robinson responds. Just add enough grade-level questions to satisfy No Child Left Behind.

An adaptive test also has an advantage, Robinson said: It will tell the teacher precisely at what level the student is functioning. The Wisconsin Concepts and Knowledge Exam will tell only how the student is doing in relation to the standards for his grade level.

Russell said a multiple-choice online exam can't test students' thinking abilities--as required in state standards--because students can't write to explain their thinking.

And not all districts would be able to handle online testing because they lack computers, Russell said. Not only that, but children who have extensive computer experience would have an instant advantage over those who don't.

So some way would have to be worked out to make the tests fair, Russell said.

Robinson said these are surmountable problems.

"The frustrating thing from my point of view is that there are a half dozen vendors around the country that have been providing this kind of thing for years," Robinson said. "... It appears to me that (DPI) is not entirely willing to do the work."

Davis said he hopes to have his legislation ready in February or March.

Russell said DPI doesn't have its head in the sand; it is entering into a number of research studies on growth-model testing this year.

The state is paying $8 million this year to CTB McGraw-Hill to supply the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam.

The contract includes development, production, scoring, reporting and research, said Lynette Russell, director of the state Department of Public Instruction's Office of Accountability.

New state voucher program pulled nearly 100 children out of city schools

More than 3,500 of the city's schoolchildren have chosen not to continue their education in the city school system this year.

They've opted to enroll in one of nearly two dozen charter schools, take classes at other public schools through the state's open-enrollment program or secure a state voucher to attend a local private school.

The number represents nearly an 18 percent increase over the number of pupils who chose to go elsewhere last year. The voucher program, which pulled nearly 100 children from the Youngstown schools this year, wasn't available last year.

Current enrollment in the city schools stands at 8,215, down from 8,875 a year ago.

The loss of 3,535 pupils will cost the district around $24 million in lost state subsidies this year.

State subsidies follow the pupils and go to the schools they choose to attend.

The biggest loss for Youngstown is to 23 charter schools, seven of them online Internet schools. The district reports that 2,730 of its pupils are in charter schools this year, up nearly 400 from last year.

The charter schools are also getting the bulk of the subsidy money lost by Youngstown. The district estimates that amount at just over $20 million.

Open enrollment, which allows school districts to accept pupils from neighboring school systems, or from across the state if they choose, took 713 pupils out of Youngstown this year. That's only a slight increase from the 700 who participated in open enrollment last year.

The cost to Youngstown this year is more than $4.3 million.

The voucher program implemented this fall allows pupils in public schools ranked by the state as being academically troubled to enroll in a private school willing to accept them.

The pupils must meet the private school's academic and other requirements, and the state voucher picks up the cost of their tuition.

The state put three of Youngstown's schools -- West Elementary, Hayes Middle and Wilson High -- into the voucher program, and the district reports losing 92 pupils to vouchers at a cost of around $500,000 in subsidies.

The district launched a "We Want You Back" campaign this fall in an effort to get some of those 3,535 children back, putting a lot of emphasis on recent academic improvements, pointing out the district improved from academic emergency to academic watch and nearly reached continuous improvement on the state local report card for 2006.

One of its schools, the Youngstown Early College High, achieved an academic excellence rating this year.

The drive also focuses on academic and artistic achievements made by individual pupils and teams of pupils in various competitions.

The ongoing project to rebuild or replace 14 school buildings is also seen as a draw to get children back as well.

Some parents have pulled their children out of the city schools in disputes over disciplinary matters, said Dr. Wendy Webb, superintendent.

One of her plans is to hold community meetings with parents of those children to look at what the district can do to help children understand what is expected of them and what behavior is acceptable.

Parents and the community have to be a part of the solution, Webb said.

She also intends to hold meetings with teachers and staff seeking feedback and strategies to bring children back.

Buffalo-based online school for dealers could face some steep regulatory hurdles

You don't have to know cards to know Johnny Chan, two-time winner of the World Series of Poker.

That was him with Matt Damon in the 1998 movie "Rounders." The icily confident Chan had a cameo as a star gambler; beating him is Damon's moment of glory.

Now the Chinese-born, Las Vegasbred Chan is teaming up with a casino school in Buffalo to make a score in the global casino business -- if they can get the idea past skeptical regulators.

Chan's company has licensed the Casino Career Training Center in Buffalo to operate an Internet school for dealers called Johnny Chan University. The backers call the idea a first for online education.

"We spent some time at their office in Buffalo (and) looked at the online content," said Nick Koustas, manager of Chan Poker. "We were pretty impressed with their content and ability."

Like U.S. states, nations across Asia are racing to set up legal casinos in order to draw high-rollers and their thick wads of cash. The boom means tens of thousands of dealers will be hired in coming years, the school's backers say. Who will train them?

"This Internet thing is going to explode," said Steven DePutter, head of the Buffalo casino school. "I want to train all of Asia -- the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan . . ." That's in addition to the fast-growing Chinese gambling zone in Macau, plus the expanding casino industry in the U.S.

The casino school will also put Chan's name on its real-world sites in Buffalo and Olean, with plans to open two more offices in Las Vegas and in Macau. But it is the online business that holds out the promise of reaching the most students, De-Putter said.

Chan's reputation and ethnic background, plus some translation help from language students, position the school's curriculum for a global market, he figures. Chan himself will devote one hour a month to the business.

DePutter plans a 100-hour online class, with exams given via Web cams in students' homes. He hasn't worked out the tuition, but figures it will be less than the $1,200 tab for the realworld class; maybe about half.

But getting a required license from the state Education Department could be a problem for the firstof-its-kind school. Distance-learning techniques usually aren't suited for hands-on skills like card dealing, an official said.

"It's an interesting idea," said Thomas Reimer, head of curriculum for the state Eduction Department's trade school division. "But because it involves manual skills and dexterity, I have great reservations." The state agency has hired a former dealer to review the school's proposal. The school is refining the program -- such as how Web cams will be used -- with the state's input before submitting a formal application, Reimer said.

"The crucial aspect is, can the institution really teach the hand-work through the Internet," Reimer said.

With its collection of used card tables in the old Pierce Arrow building in North Buffalo, the Casino Career Training Center seems far removed from the glitz of Vegas -- or even Niagara Falls.

The school, and a competing public-sector one at Niagara County Community College, has trained many of the dealers now working in Niagara Falls, DePutter said, with classes in poker and other games. The sister location in Olean trains dealers primarily for the Seneca Allegany Casino in Salamanca.

On one recent evening, a grad named Dave dropped in at the Pierce Arrow office to practice his card handling. He hasn't been called by the casinos yet, but that doesn't keep him from working.

He was hired for a private gambling cruise recently, he said, dealing the cards each night after the boat left its dock in Myrtle Beach and sailed past the U.S. territorial limit.

Many languages used

In the poker class, instructor Nick Ciavarella, an experienced dealer, fanned the cards expertly over the green felt table. His hands do the same trick on instruction videos that were shot for the online class. But his head is left out of the frame, so that voice instructions in different languages can be easily dubbed in, DePutter explained.

The casino school was founded in 1999 by Amherst resident Louis Giambrone, an entrepreneur with a checkered history. In 1988, federal cocaine distribution charges against him were dropped when a key witness refused to testify, court records show.

DePutter said he bought the Casino Career Training Center from his friend Giambrone in 2003, after the Federal Trade Commission shut down another Giambrone business in the Pierce Arrow building.

The FTC called Giambrone's First Capital Consumer Membership Services a telemarketing scam that sold bogus insurance to credit card holders. He and a partner paid a fine of $387,000.

Giambrone's ties

County records show that Giambrone was removed from the casino school's ownership record in 2003. But his name continues to surface in connection with the business.

Giambrone was among a group from Buffalo who met with Chan's business partners in Las Vegas to launch the idea for Johnny Chan University, Koustas of Chan Poker said.

And in February, the landlord for the casino school's new office near downtown Buffalo said in an interview that Giambrone had paid a deposit for the site. Developer Ralph C. Lorigo identified Giambrone as the owner of the school -- a statement he now says was mistaken.

Buffalo lawyer Brian Melber, who represents Giambrone and the casino school, confirmed that he got in touch with Lorigo to tell him that Giambrone doesn't own the school.

DePutter said that Giambrone is an old friend who sometimes handles a negotiation for the school, but is not an owner or employee.

Johnny Chan University was formed as a Delaware limited liability corporation on March 9, Delaware Department of State records show. DePutter said he and Kevin S. Upton, who handles the technology end of things, own the company.

Upton, whose background is in video messaging, was developing online gambling technology when the U.S. began cracking down more effectively on the industry by outlawing payments via credit card.

Now, online training represents an alternative application for his Web video system, he said. He is finishing a studio at an Internet hosting site in Amherst to conduct the school's online operations.

Like DePutter, Upton sees a big training opportunity in the casino boom that is sweeping the U.S. and Asia.

"Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing is not in my realm of decision making," he said.

Teaching in cyberspace

Once all the instructional videos are shot, most teaching will happen in cyberspace, with students and instructors both working in their Web camequipped homes, Upton explained.

Students can send videos to instructors to illustrate a question about technique, he said, and instructors will issue grades based on video exams. Graduates will have a video resume to submit to employers that showcases their abilities.

In addition to obtaining a state license, the school faces the task of raising money. It will seek about $2.4 million in equity from private investors, De-Putter said.

"In order for us to expand," he said, "it's going to take a great infusion of capital."

Based Retail Firm Melds Traditional Techniques with Internet

In two years, 4imprint has leveraged technology and built relationships with corporations like School Specialty of the Fox Cities and Lands' End of Dodgeville to successfully build its market share. 4imprint's customer list reads like a Who's Who of the world's large and high-profile corporations.

"We have in our customer base every one of the Fortune 100 companies," said Dick Nelson, president and chief executive officer of Oshkosh-based 4imprint.

The company's ability to meld traditional catalogs sales and marketing with Internet and other methods has bolstered recent sales.

JuneBox.com, a wholly owned subsidiary of Grand Chute school supplies wholesaler School Specialty, and 4imprint formed an alliance earlier this year to sell promotional products via the Internet.

Schools and school districts have the option of ordering more than school supplies on the JuneBox.com site. They can place orders for T-shirts, mugs, keychains and other items which can be printed with their school logo. The order for promotional products is sent to 4imprint for packaging and shipping. "We've made a dent in the education market through our traditional direct marketing venues, but this arrangement will help us increase our presence in the arena," said Patrick Hartel, marketing manager for 4imprint. "We hope to use (JuneBox.com's) expertise to get a stronger foothold within schools." JuneBox, launched in March 2000, sells educational supplies to more than 3,000 customers on the Web.

The company's shared backgrounds in direct marketing and the geographic area made the deal "a natural fit," Hartel said.

4imprint has the option to "pick and choose partners," Nelson said. "We have more people wanting to partner with us than we choose to partner with."

Last summer, the company partnered with apparel cataloguer Land's End.

Land's End named 4imprint its official provider of hard goods, like coffee cups, calendars and pens. That corporate sales agreement has led to programs with General Motors' Saturn division and the American International Automobile Dealers Association, among others.

In addition, The Fortune Group named 4imprint and Land's End providers of marketing merchandise for its annual lists such as Fortune 500 and Best Companies to Work For.

"We're leveraging our technology," Nelson said. "A lot of those efforts are still in their infancy."

"Much of our technology is geared toward improved order processing to make it easier to order through the entire transaction, resulting in lower costs and better service," said Greg Iott, vice president of business development.

Whether customers place orders online or simply use 4imprint.com for research -- the site shows more than 3,000 products vs. the catalog's 400 -- the online presence accounts for 17 percent to 20 percent of weekly U.S.

sales.

The company launched a site for international customers last spring.

"All of this technology has made us an operational leader," Nelson said.

"We'd eventually like to see all of our corporate programs worldwide migrate to the Web."

Nelson expects 75 percent of the global corporation's sales will occur online by 2004.

"We are in the midst of developing a version of our software for Adventures in Advertising, the company we bought at the beginning of the year," Nelson said. "When installed by the year's end, all the orders their franchise owners place will be over the Internet."

However, the emphasis on technology has not lessened the importance of print materials, Nelson said.

"Last year we mailed six million catalogs in the United States," Nelson said. 4imprint still prints catalogs four times a year and sends additional versions to about 1 million of its best customers. Catalog sales increased 11 percent from 1999 to 2000.

Nelson said the catalog does more than that, though. It promotes it Web address on almost every page.

"We can use our paper catalog to drive people to our Web site."