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Articles of Interest - Michigan News

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Bridges4Kids LogoStudents, Teachers, Give Laptop Program High Marks
Gongwer News Service, March 4, 2004
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As state officials prepared to sift through applications for the 2004 Freedom to Learn grants, House Speaker Rick Johnson, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Watkins and Michigan Virtual University President David Spencer announced that those involved with the pilot of the program would push for its continuation.

A survey of the participants in the pilot giving laptop computers to sixth graders showed the program is improving performance for the students and involving parents more in the educational process.

Of the respondents to the survey at the 15 districts and intermediate districts involved in the study, representing about 8,000 students, 90 percent said the program should be continued and expand in their district.

Some 66 percent of teachers said the program is encouraging students to spend more time on homework and 82 percent said it is helping students become more independent learners.

The program has also improved teacher technological competency, doubling to 60 percent the number of teachers who say they spend at least 10 hours a day on the computer and with 74 percent saying the proficiency has improved, 84 percent saying that was through the professional development required under the program.

But teachers also raised concerns that there is not sufficient training under the program. Some 95 percent said they were busy or overwhelmed and did not have time to experiment with the new systems. And only 36 percent of teachers said they were involved in decisions on software purchases.

In addition to teacher time, the program has also raised workloads for technology support staff within the districts accepting the laptops. The survey showed a new look at technology staffing was particularly in light of the fact that a plurality of teachers (43 percent) and technical coordinators (49 percent) believed technology staff took the lead in adopting new technology.

The study also found that more than half of principals and technical coordinators said their schools did not have technology plans.

Mr. Johnson, the prime mover behind the pilot program last fiscal year, said the findings of the survey were encouraging as the state prepares to hand out more federal funds to expand the program around the state. "I believe in this program and I believe those were the kind of results that were going to come out," he said.

"We were actually quite surprised (at the response) given the short roll-out," said Mark Urban-Lurain, who oversaw the study for the Michigan State University Center for Teaching and Technology.

The current year budget has $17 million in federal funds that are hoped to provide computers to 40,000 low-income sixth grade students.

Grant applications are due Friday for the funds, which provide $250 per student for districts ready to implement the technology or $50 per student as planning grants for those districts not ready for the computers themselves.

"We've taken this from a pilot project to a project that really could skyrocket," Mr. Watkins said. "I see the excitement in the teachers' and kids' eyes. It's making a difference."

Because the program is limited to federal Title II funds, only 81 districts in the state will qualify for the next rounds of grants, and some districts involved in the pilot will be excluded from second year funding. But Mr. Johnson expected those districts excluded would find the money within their own budgets to at least continue the program.

Mr. Spencer noted that the program is being run partly through a contract with Hewlett-Packard, which provides the laptops for $250 a year, and that any district in the state can join the contract with its own funds even if it does not qualify for the grant program.

And he said the state is accepting applications from more than just the 81 districts (some 200 have already applied) in case there is money left over, there is more money added to the program, or the criteria for districts changes.

While the current federal program is for four years, Mr. Johnson said he hopes to be able to design the program to extend indefinitely.

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Michigan Bills Would Move Sex Ed To "Just Say No" Posture
MIRS, March 4, 2004

Sex education would look more like today's anti-drug education campaigns under bills reported today by the Republican majority of the Senate Education Committee.

The two bills, SB 943 and 944 are sponsored by Committee Chair Sen. Wayne KUIPERS (R-Holland) and among other things would require that public school instruction on HIV, AIDS, and sex education emphasize abstinence, respect for marriage, personal responsibility, adoption and other content.

The package would also prescribe the membership, terms and responsibilities of each school district's "health education advisory board." Those boards guide individual districts' sex education offerings.

To ensure the mandates in the package are followed, school districts that fail to meet the new requirements could lose 5 percent of their state aid.

Worrying most sex education teachers, the bills also provide a new complaint process where parents who feel the district is violating state law could file a complaint that would automatically launch an investigation into the district's sex education practices.

Opponents of the two measures, just as last week, argued that the bills are redundant of existing law. Concern was also expressed over the new sex education advisory committee requirements that require parents who don't work for the district to comprise a majority of the advisory committee and that such a parent chair the committee could result in deadlocked panels and ineffective sex education programs.

Before the two bills were reported, Sen. Nancy CASSIS (R-Novi) complained about the fear of including parents expressed by some teachers.

"As a former educator, I'm very disturbed by claims that a competent parent can't serve as chair of the advisory committee," Cassis said. "Because more and more what we're doing is getting parents out of education."

During two hours of testimony today, the Committee heard from students who testified in favor of the bills arguing that in year-after-year of sex education courses the word "abstinence" was never mentioned. In contrary testimony, teachers and administrators testified that all programs put an emphasis on abstinence and that all parents and teachers would rather that students abstain.

Kuipers said he is presently awaiting recommendations from the staff of Gov. Jennifer GRANHOLM on changes they'd like to see made to the bills. Kuipers also told Sen. Burton LELAND (D-Detroit) that the bills wouldn't move on the floor next week to allow time for Democrats to develop amendments.

Kuipers introduced the bills shortly after President George W. BUSH called for some $300 million to support abstinence training. The Holland Republican told reporters today that he believes the two bills will help the state secure more of that funding.


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