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Weekly News Roundup

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Bert Kimura

  • Pearson, the world's largest education company announced this week that it had acquired Connections Education, an online virtual school provider. About 40,000 students in 21 states attend the schools, which are funded by the states and districts and free to parents in places where virtual school counts as a public education.
  • On Monday, McGraw-Hill announced that it would be splitting into two companies. One would focus on its education division, now second only in size to Pearson, and the other would handle the company's financial business, including its ownership of Standard & Poors. On Thursday, the company announced it had led the investment in a first round of funding for Unigo, an online resource for college students. The New York-based startup will now power the student review section of the U.S. News & World Report's college rankings.
  • The U.S. Department of Education released new figures on the student loan default rate. No surprise in an economic downturn, the default rates have risen, up to 8.8% in 2009 from 7% in 2008. Rates differed between public, private, and for-profit universities (7.2%, 4.6% and 15$ respectively) but in all cases, the default rates were up.
  • The College Board released statistics about the latest round of SAT test-takers: scores are down. The average math score hit its lowest point since 1995. and critical reading scores hit an all time low. The College Board tried to downplay the news, as scores may be declining in part because of the changing and expanding demographic of those taking the test. Some have pushed back on the news, including Robert Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing who argues that the continually declining test scores show a broader failure in the emphasis on high-stakes testing throughout students' school careers, not just come SAT time.
  • Mozilla officially announced its Open Badges Project at an event in Washington DC. We've covered the project and its aims to rethink how we recognize digital skills. Mozilla, along with HASTAC and the MacArthur Foundation, announced today that this year's Digital Media and Learning Competition would address badges for lifelong learning. At stake are some $2 million in grants.
  • The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released its annual Education at a Glance report this week, with more than 500 pages of educational data from around the world: how many students finish secondary school, how much money is spent per student, how does educational attainment impact participation in the labor market, how much time do teachers spend teaching, and much much more. For education data geeks, this is an important resource, and the report is free to download.
  • Actor, author, and literacy advocate Levar Burton announced this week that the much beloved Reading Rainbow television show would be transformed into a new company RRKidz. Reading Rainbow went off the air in 2009, but Burton's new venture, in partnership with Buffalo's WNED-TV -- the rights owner of the long-running PBS show -- will bring the concept of teaching a love of reading to iOS and Android with an e-book app.
  • The FTC has released its proposed updates to COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. The act prevents companies from gathering the personal information of people under the age of 13 without a parent's permission. Updated language in the FCC's proposal would also restrict mobile and GPS data, as well as prevent children under the age of 13 uploading photos of themselves without parental consent. Public comments are open through November 28.
  • Google unveiled a number of improvements for accessibility to its suite of productivity and social tools. Google Hangout now have a "Take the floor" feature. Currently Hangouts focus on the person who's speaking, but the new feature will allow those using sign language to be able to "control the camera," if you will, and show up as the featured speaker in the larger screen. Google also said it made Google Docs, Calendar, and Sites more accessible to the blind through more keyboard shortcuts and support for screen readers.
  • Indiana University's pilot project whereby students purchase e-textbooks at a greatly discounted rate (as the university itself is the buyer, not the students) can now boast participation from some of the major textbook publishers, including McGraw-Hill, Wiley & Sons, Bedford, W.W. Norton, and Flat World Knowledge. The university announced this week that it has negotiated new contracts with the publishers, not only reducing the costs for students, but extending the period by which students will have access to the digital textbooks.


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