Monthly Archives: August 2010

Free Web Hosting for Schools

LunarPages, an award-winning web host, offers a program of free web site hosting for K-12 public schools in the United States.

The program can be accessed by an administrator at the district or school level, a classroom teacher, or a PTA representative.The account must be used for educational purposes.

See the LunarPages Education webpage for more information.

Those who do not meet these criteria might still be interested in the low-cost starter plan.

You can also find the Best Web Hosting at or find bluehost coupons at

Online Safety: Deactivating Facebook ‘Places’

The new Facebook feature ‘Places,’ is designed to share the location of posters. It lets other know where you are, which can be useful if you want to find friends, and frightening, when used by a stalker or others with ill intent.

Disturbingly, ‘Places’ debuted on Wednesday with its capabilities turned on, not off. This means that until you take steps to stop it, your privacy (and your children’s privacy) is compromised. And—like other new features in Facebook that have drawn recent complaints, it is not simple and straightforward to turn it off.

This is what you can do to disable it.

1. Log into Facebook.

2. Click on the ‘Accounts’ drop-down menu in the upper right-hand corner of your screen and choose ‘Privacy Settings.’ You will see ‘Places’ towards the end of the list and a dot in the ‘Friends Only’ column.

3. Below the list of settings, click ‘Customize settings.’ It is shown circled in red in the screenshot just above.

4. You will then see a screen with two settings that you can change (in the rectangle on the screenshot below). First, disable the lower one, by unchecking the ‘Enable’ box.

5. Next, click on the drop-down menu that says ‘Friends Only’ and choose ‘Customize.’ You will see the ‘Custom Privacy’ setting box shown in the screenshot below. On the drop-down menu, select ‘Only Me,” and click the ‘Save Setting’ button.

6. This will take you back to the screen shown below 4. above. At the left of the gray bar towards the top of the screenshot, you will see a button called ‘Back to Privacy’ with a back arrow. Click it and verify that the dot shown under ‘Friends Only’ in the screenshot under 2. above has been moved to the ‘Other’ column. Your location is now private.

For more information on Facebook ‘Places’ settings, see this article in PCWorld

August Survey Halfway Report

Halfway through our August survey on the Obama administration’s education leadership, we bring you a report of the results so far. If you haven’t yet participated in our August survey, you can vote here.

The survey question this month is:

Do you think the Obama administration and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan are doing a good job of leading the country in the right direction with education?

The answer choices are:

• Yes: they really “get it.”

• Yes, national standards and the reform funded by Race to the Top are really needed, but we still need an overhaul of No Child Left Behind.

• Yes, the oversight of the for-profit schools is critical, and the other things I can live with.

• No, they’re off-track in just about every possible way.

• No, some things are okay, but Race to the Top and the national standards are a major step in the wrong direction in terms of educational quality and giving up local control.

• No, the federal government should be moving towards less involvement in education, rather than more.

Other (please specify)

So far, 81 votes have been cast, with 19 people (23.4%) voting for one of the three answers beginning ‘Yes,’ 55 (67.9%) voting for one of the three answers beginning ‘No,’ and 7 (8.6%) choosing ‘Other’ and leaving a comment.

The leading answer is: “No, the federal government should be moving towards less involvement in education, rather than more,” which has 33.3% of the vote.

Second place goes to: “No, they’re off-track in just about every possible way,” with 24.7% of the vote.

The least chosen answer is: “Yes, the oversight of the for-profit schools is critical, and the other things I can live with,” with 2.5% of the vote.

The responses to ‘Other’ include the following (lightly edited for typos, etc.):

• “After 10 years in education I have left the classroom and taken my 3 children with me, we will be homeshooling from now on. Until NCLB is recognized as the “Every Child Held Back” program that it is and we stop punishing teachers for going into the most illiterate schools in the country by touting Pay for Performance as a means of rewarding teachers that take the easy way out, it really isn’t that hard to teach children who can read and write BEFORE coming to school and who have parental support; well until that time my children and I will not set foot in a public school again.”

• “not so rigid on certification for international teachers who are already certified and brilliant on their country. And no discrimination on application. They are employing a lot of international teachers not knowing they are victimized by private agencies hiring them back home, charging them their whole salary upon employed and leaving them destitute and not to be renewed for the next school year because of the probationary certificate for the expensive visa they have paid from hard work. May the government have pity on the poor but bright international teachers that they are hiring for lack of teachers in science, math and special ed in the USA.”

• “Education is one of the small things in these bad economic times. Obama needs to get the economy better before he tries anything big like education.”

• “NCLB needs a major over-haul, less emphasis on AYP [Annual Yearly Progress] and less testing requirements. Students should not be tested every year, every other is plenty. National standards are already in place and working well. Merit pay could work if done right: it should be based on teacher performance and training, not student performance. Race to the Top as it stands will harm students. The biggest change that needs to happen is FUNDING REFORM. School funding should not be linked to property tax. At least half of school funding should come from the federal government. Our schools are not equitable and no amount of reform will help our students until school funding is equitable.”


• “Get rid of the Unions and schools might have a chance!”

• “more vouchers and school choice—they are good on charter schools

If you haven’t yet voted, we’d like to include your opinion for our final report, so please take the survey here.

Tax Breaks for Back-to-School Shopping

Here’s a collection of various state’s tax free or tax break days, which many parents are using for back-to-school shopping. State names are linked to more details. Note that Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon do not have a general sales tax, so are not listed. Dates that have passed are noted.

In most cases, residency is not required to participate in these sales, so you can check for neighboring states as well as your own.

* Alabama – August 6–8

* Connecticut – August 15–21

* Florida – August 13–15

* Illinois – August 6–15

* Iowa – August 6–7

* Louisiana – August 6–7

* Maryland – August 8–14

* Massachusetts – August 14–15

* Mississippi – (past) July 29–30 – some cities did not participate

* Missouri – August 6–8

* New Mexico – August 6–8

* North Carolina – August 6–8

* Oklahoma – August 6–8

* South Carolina – August 6–8

* Tennessee – August 6–8

* Texas – August 20–22

* Vermont – (past) March 6

* Virginia – August 6–8

* West Virginia – (residents only; energy efficient appliances, rather than back-to-school) September 1–November 30

Other Sources

The Cost of Textbooks

This is the first of a group of “back-to-school” topics for the month of August.

There have been many articles written in the past few weeks about the new federal, and in some cases state, laws that have a role in shaping the world of textbooks.

• “$200 Textbook vs. Free. You Do the Math.” in the NYTimes speaks with Scott G. McNealy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, about the “need” for free online textbooks.

• “Taming the Cost of College Textbooks” at notes (as do many others) that the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 came into play on July 1 this year, requiring more disclosure from textbook publishers. It quotes the oft-repeated figure of undergrads spending about $700/year on textbooks, and provides a number of suggestions for getting text materials for less.

• “Textbook law aimed at helping lower cost of higher education” discusses the “College Textbook Affordability, Accountability, and Accessibility Act,” introduced in the state of Pennsylvania by Senator Andy Dinniman, which makes greater demands that the federal law. In a sidebar, it is clarified that while the federal law only covers institutions receiving federal student aid or federal funding, the state bill would extend to all schools.

Scholars at Risk Network, hosted at New York University, says that the Pennsylvania bill would require faculty members to select “the least expensive, educationally sound textbooks,” would restrict academic freedom.

What is one to make of all this?

1. The figures for college textbooks—not only the $700/year figure, but—in at least one place—the $4000 over the course of an undergraduate career, do not take into account that many students sell many, if not all, of their textbooks, recouping much of the money.

2. They also don’t take into account that when students elect to keep a textbook, it may signals something about the lasting value of the book. Just as what goes on in the classroom in an investment for a lifetime, a textbook may be as well. Textbooks are not just the required calculus text that you’re never going to look at again. The “textbook” might be a Mamet play, the work of a contemporary philosopher, a well-regarded analysis of history or foreign policy, a dictionary of a foreign language—any of which might be consulted periodically through a lifetime and passed down as an inheritance.

3. People are crying out for differentiated instruction and attention to learning styles in classrooms, with no recognition that a key component of this happens (or at least can happen) through textbooks and accompanying material.

4. Choosing the “least expensive, educationally sound textbook” may require choosing the copy the cover of which will fall off before the end of the semester. Books are material objects: there are some that are made more skillfully, and some that are cheaply constructed: you’re not just buying what’s on the page.

5. Trying to have all educational materials available for free has some key problems:

a) Not all the teaching in a classroom is done by the teacher. Some is done by/through materials. Creating those materials is a specialized job, done by people with special training, talents, and insights into the learning process. The people who create those materials are educators—even though they are sometimes not currently in the classroom. Proposing that what’s free is what should be used either ignores the value of what has been prepared by educational professionals who create classroom materials or assumes that everything that is available is of equal value. This is no more the case than it is true that every educator in the classroom is equally qualified and effective.

b) Yes, there is a culture of open source and free material. But, as anyone who has ever researched it (and I have) can tell you, a good bit of what is free is of poor quality, which may mean that it includes misinformation, bad grammar, or was created with no concept of the learner’s needs. Besides that, trying to find free materials is an issue because—if one really cares about value—one has to find it and vet every single bit of it. This requires an enormous investment of time.

c) Anybody want to take a class in 21st century fiction or poetry or history or biography or orchestral music or philosophy? Oops – these course can’t be offered because the materials with which one could teach them are copyright. By the time they’re in the public domain, it may be the next century. Oh well …

d) Try any of these experiments: read an online textbook for four hours; take notes on an online textbook; mark an online textbook as you would a print book—underlining, highlighting, margin notes, sticky notes. You’ll find that it’s more difficult and tiring to read on-line; taking notes on any but a very large monitor (larger than what is available on laptops) is likely to be time-consuming and frustrating as you have to switch between programs constantly; marking the text is also tedious, and therefore not likely to be done. Sticky notes, which quickly can get you to key pages can be roughly imitated by keeping a list of page numbers and typing them in, one at a time—pretty tedious, too. Now consider this process for a student with any kind of learning disability…

Is material that the student just looks at and doesn’t interact with understood and retained as well? “There is growing evidence that note-taking combined with critical thinking facilitates retention and applications of the information.” (“Note-Taking: What Do We Know About The Benefits?” In short, there are personal and educational effects to trying to do everything online, but they’re not always included in the discussion.

6. Teachers are not automatons: they have different approaches and presentation styles, which may integrate more effectively or more poorly with various textbooks. Some textbooks may be “educationally sound” without being apt to a particular setting.

So these are some things to think about before taking a stance on textbooks.