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Duncan's Task: Carry Out 'New Vision'

A supporter of technology-based learning, the new education secretary will have to tackle a host of serious issues, including NCLB

DURING A DEC. 16 SPEECH announcing his pick for the office of secretary of education, Barack Obama called for "a new vision for a 21st-century education system." The then President- elect tasked 44-year-old Harvard graduate Arne Duncan with helping to shape and fulfill that vision. "When it comes to school reform, Arne is the most hands-on of hands-on practitioners," explained Obama. "For Arne, school reform isn't just a theory in a book-- it's the cause of his life."

In Brief

MR. SECRETARY A success in
Chicago, Duncan takes on the nation.

Duncan's seven-year track record as CEO of Chicago Public Schools, the third-largest school district in the nation, provides a strong indication that he is up for the tough job of changing the US public education system for the better. He took action for school and teacher reform, closing down consistently poor-performing schools when needed and reopening them with new staff. The positive results of Duncan's work are apparent not only in the praise he received from students, parents, administrators, and teachers, but also in the numbers: During his tenure as CEO, CPS' dropout rates declined while college enrollment rates rose.

Duncan has also committed to increasing student access to technology. In 2004, he helped launch Renaissance 2010, a project whose stated mission is to open 100 new schools in the district by 2010, with technology integration a priority in each one of them. As part of that project, he helped launch VOISE Academy High School, which opened last fall. VOISE (Virtual Opportunities Inside a School Environment) integrates face-to-face teacher instruction with a rigorous online curriculum, and provides laptops for each student. In addition, the Chicago Board of Education recently approved plans for two more technologyoriented high schools as part of the Renaissance 2010 project.

As secretary of education, Duncan will face a myriad of difficult tasks. At the top of his list: addressing teacher quality and retention, improving early childhood education, lowering the dropout rate, closing the achievement gap, increasing student access to higher education and job training, and preparing students for the 21st century.

Also a top priority will be reforming the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Duncan supports the law's core emphasis on accountability, but believes more funding and a more flexible approach may be required moving forward. "To label a school a failure because of one child-- there's a lack of logic behind that," he said during his confirmation hearing in January. "Let's not take too blunt an instrument to an entire school. I agree with the President-elect that we should neither bury NCLB nor praise it without reservation."

Green Spot


PC MALL GOV has announced the winners of its Green Light Contest. To enter the competition, sponsored in part by T.H.E. Journal, HP, and InFocus, middle and high school students submitted essays proposing technologybased programs that can be used to have a positive impact on the environment and their communities. Judges chose one first-prize middle school winner and one from the high school level to receive an environmentally safe HP laptop. The two winning students were honored at the Florida Educational Technology Conference (FETC) in January.

The middle school winner, Julia Mearsheimer from Ted Lenart Regional Gifted Center in Chicago, wrote an essay proposing the development of an online education program for elementary and middle school students that promotes an eco-savvy lifestyle. The high school winner, Helen Ayala Unger, is a junior at Charles F. Brush High School in Lyndhurst, OH. Her essay called for a youthoriented web-based environmental resource. Unger was also named the grand-prize winner, receiving a 30-seat "green" computer lab for her school in addition to a laptop. The lab includes HP thin clients with a server, software, and networking equipment, and an InFocus projector. Look for the contest's four highest-scoring essays here.

:: Awards and Contests

THE.NEWS HOSTS STUDENT VIDEO COMPETITION. A new online news project for middle and high school students called the.News has launched a student news video competition called To enter, students in grades 6 to 12 must make five-minute news videos that explore how decisions made in Washington, DC, affect their home communities. The videos will be judged on their correlation with the theme, their journalistic value, and their technical quality. Three top prizes will be awarded at each grade level. First prize is a mini digital camcorder; second prize is a digital camera; the third-place winner will receive a $100 gift certificate. Plus, the winning videos will be posted on the the.News website. Submissions will be accepted through March 31. For more information, visit here.

ENTER SWEEPSTAKES TO WIN A WIRELESS LAB. CDW-G and Discovery Education have announced the start of their seventh annual Win a Wireless Lab Sweepstakes. The event gives K-12 schools across the country a chance to win a fully appointed 21st-century classroom, including tablet or notebook computers, a wireless cart, an interactive whiteboard, a student response system, a projector, a printer, and a document camera, along with onsite training. Five schools will win the grand-prize classroom, and 25 additional schools will win prizes such as projectors and digital camcorders. To enter the sweepstakes, K-12 teachers, administrators, or technology specialists must fill out an online form here. Winners will be selected randomly.

NCOMPUTING RECOGNIZES DROPOUT PROGRAM. NComputing, a maker of low-cost computing appliances, has announced Mavericks in Education as the winner of its inaugural World Changer Award. The award was created to honor organizations that use NComputing technology to benefit society. The Florida-based winner was honored for its student-centered education model that uses computer-based learning to reengage high school dropouts.

:: Industry News

FOLLET EXPANDS EBOOK OFFERINGS. Titles from Nova Press, Oxford University Press, Temple University Press, and Zed Books will now be available to more than 60,000 K-12 schools and libraries through Follett Digital Resources' digital e-book distribution. Follett has more than 200 publishers involved in the program, which allows schools and libraries to buy e-book titles to be stored on a virtual shelf and checked in and out any time and anywhere computer access is available.

GINGER OFFERS FREE WRITING RESOURCE. Ginger recently released a free beta version of Ginger Spell, a downloadable program that supports struggling writers, including English language learners and children with dyslexia. The program detects spelling mistakes and misused words, and more features will be added during the beta test period, including grammar evaluation and text-to-speech capabilities. To download the free version of Ginger Spell, visit the company's website.

VENDORS EXPAND COLLEGE RESOURCES. helps high school students and their parents make informed higher education decisions by providing unscripted videos featuring college reviews from college students themselves. Recently, to expand its content and reach out to more potential users, the company has taken on three partners. The US News & World Report website now shows videos; The Princeton Review has added a "Test Prep" button to the navigation bar; and soon CliffsNotes will add videos to its website and e-mail newsletters.

RESPONSEWARE NOW AVAILABLE THROUGH APPLE. Turning Technologies, a provider of student response systems, has announced the availability of its ResponseWare polling application for the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch. Now users of the popular handheld devices can download the ResponseWare application for free through the Apple iTunes App Store.

:: People

VIRGINIA EDUCATORS HONORED FOR TECH LEADERSHIP. The Virginia Department of Education named Karen Campbell, supervisor of instructional technology for Harrisonburg City Public Schools, as the recipient of the 2008 State Educational Technology Leadership Award and the Region 5 Educational Technology Leadership Award, and also honored seven more Virginia educators with regional awards. The honorees are chosen for their success in helping schools improve teaching and learning through the use of instructional technology and media. For more information about the awards and the winners, visit here.

SCIENTIFIC LEARNING NAMES NEW CEO. Educational software developer Scientific Learning has promoted Andrew Myers to CEO. Myers began serving as the company's president and chief operating officer in January 2008.

This article originally appeared in the 02/01/2009 issue of THE Journal.