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Monday, January 21, 2002

Pertinent Columns

The San Francisco Chronicle's Earl Ofari Hutchinson posted a timely article yesterday in MLK's legacy: A Leader Filled with Paradox and Ambivalence: Beyond a dream, King had practical programs.

According to the Baltimore Sun, President Bush has signed a bill that expands educational benefits to at-risk students. The measure's purpose is to "encourage adoption, reunite troubled families and find mentors for those with parents in prison." A Yahoo/Reuters report says, "In the federal budget he sends to Congress next month, Bush said he would also ask for an extra $1 billion to help children with special needs under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)."

Yahoo News carries Michelle Cadwell Blackston's report on Pros and cons of charter schools, vouchers debated at USD forum. The original article appeared in the San Diego Daily Transcript, but is blocked there unless you're a subscriber. Vouchers, charter schools, state takeovers, and such are sure to remain a big item in education news for some time to come.

Diana Jean Schemo has an interesting column in the New York Times (free registration required) about the power possessed and exerted by G. Reid Lyon, chief of child development and behavior at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. According to Ms. Schemo, Reid wrote most of the Early Reading Initiative included in the recently passed education reform act. That section "pits supporters of drilling children in phonics, which involves understanding the sounds that build words and matching them with letters, against those who favor "whole language" teaching, which uses good stories to capture children's interest in reading and utilizes phonics secondarily." I'm pretty much a phonics first sorta teacher, but when folks start directing others explicitly how to teach in their local classroom from Washington, D.C., even I begin to worry.

BusinessWeek Online has a number of good columns indexed on their Technology Special Report: The Future of Apple page.

The Henrico Learning Curve

A Richmond Times-Dispatch column says all of the 11,000 iBooks distributed to students in the Henrico County schools in Virginia are to be recalled for software upgrades. In Henrico to put limits on students' laptop use, Times-Dispatch staff writer Chris Dovi says the recall is to "install upgrades and security devices aimed at curbing student abuses of the iBook program." According to Dovi, the upgrades will create three login environments on the machines: home; school; and testing. "Loading any new games or software will be impossible without having the additions made by county technology personnel." The recall comes in response to reports and complaints of pornography downloads, lost instructional time due to student in-class game playing and music downloads, and grade tampering by student hackers. Henrico Superintendent Mark A. Edwards has been criticized by parents, teachers, and specifically by "Henrico Supervisor Richard W. Glover...for maintaining what he said was a culture of fear that prevented anyone connected with the school system from criticizing the computer program."

New and Updated Software

States3000Ken Winograd of Space-Time Associates has released a Windows 1.0 version of his States3000 hangman game. States3000 for Macintosh has been around for a while. Both versions of the $20 shareware use a hangman format to quiz learners about the "50 States...State Birds, State Capitals, State Flowers, State Nicknames, State Trees." Download Mac PPC (828K) and/or Windows (450K) versions. The Space-Time Associates home page also carries a number of other educational sharewares for both Macintosh and Windows.

Roger Clary has moved his MacMuse Software site to a new server and domain and is offering a 20% discount on all shareware registrations through March 15 as part of the grand opening of the new site. Details on the offer appear on Rog's Special Promotion site. MacMuse offers the Math Stars fact drill program and the QuizMaker Pro computerized test tool in both Mac and Windows formats. Other titles, such as What Do You Know, Math Wizard, and the new Teacher's Toolbox are currently Mac only. Roger's Information page notes that other PC ports of his software will be coming soon.

If you have suggestions, news ideas, etc., please .

Wednesday, January 23, 2002

Schools Built On or Near Toxic Waste Sites?

Washington Post staff writers Eric Pianin and Michael A. Fletcher describe a disturbing report released Sunday by the Child Proofing Our Communities Campaign in Many Schools Built Near Toxic Sites, Study Finds. Pianin and Fletcher state:

The study focused mainly on five states with large school-age populations -- Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Michigan and California -- and concluded that more than 600,000 students were attending nearly 1,200 public schools that are located within a half mile of federal Superfund or state-identified contaminated sites.

Testing Reading Achievement for the Feds

Mike Bowler discusses the difficulty in assessing reading progress in Law raises questions about reading tests. While most of Bowler's discussion involves Maryland's MSPAP tests, he notes that "evaluating competence in reading is tricky," and that written responses are expensive to score and that multiple choice tests are "ill-suited for tapping into the higher-order thinking that takes place when people read." Bowler also paraphrases Clifford Hill, a testing authority at Teachers College, Columbia University, as warning that "there's likely to be a 'distortion' of the curriculum, with much of the new federal money being put into math and reading coaching and test preparation, while subjects such as science and art are neglected."

Netscape Sues Microsoft

Netscape has sued Microsoft along lines similar to the various unsettled class action suits against Microsoft. Everybody has a story or bulletin on this one:

Freeware Column

Regular readers of this site know that I'm an admitted freeware junkie. We Mac users often face the enjoyable task of choosing between several different freewares that perform similar functions. Beverly Woods (no relation) most recent Acoustic Mac column on Low End Mac, Freeware I Wouldn't Want To Be Without, only adds to this delicious dilemma. Beverly describes three of her favorite Mac freewares: X-launch; Process Manager; and POP Monitor.

GraphicConverter Updated

GraphicConverterThe essential Macintosh graphics app, GraphicConverter, has been updated to version 4.2.1. If the link above is busy, you might wish to try the AusMac.net mirror for the PowerPC (4.3 MB) and OS X (3.9 MB) versions. The 68K version isn't available from Ausmac, but is posted on the regular GraphicConverter site. I love the browser feature of GraphicConverter. It's navigation menu saves lots of time when working through multiple folders of photos.

Free Kiplinger TaxCut for Mac

DealMac says that the Macworld Expo special for a free download of H&R Block's Kiplinger Tax Cut ("Enter code 'osx' to receive it.") has been extended until January 31, 2002. The download is for the federal edition only, with state versions running $19.95. Also, if you work exclusively on a Mac, note that state editions may not be available until late February!

TaxCutI've used TaxCut for a number of years (1997-2000) with varying levels of frustration. Before that, I used the old MacInTax (the then Mac version of TurboTax) with equal levels of frustration. I guess there's no truly easy way of doing taxes. The worst year was when I found upon completing my federal return that it wouldn't upload for e-filing and would not print as well. (Do you then box up your Mac and ship it to the IRS?) Since the installer was a hybrid CD, I was able to switch to a PC and file the return online. The TaxCut folks sent me a free copy the next year. This year I've already noticed an error when trying to update TaxCut from within the application. Also, state versions, as noted above, are currently only available in Windows versions with Mac users being advised, "Macintosh versions will be available by February 28, 2002."

SchwabLearning.org

New items this week from the SchwabLearning.org include:

Editor's Note:

This is one of those evenings when I began the update with absolutely zip and thought it would be a really rotten posting for Wednesday. (Hmm...maybe it is.) I'd done my usual looking about on my "off day" without finding much of anything of interest. This evening, as I began the posting, I ran across two really good columns pertinent to education -- the one about schools near toxic waste sites and the other about reading tests in Maryland.

Looking about for something else of value, I came up empty for new educational software or updates, so I decided to go ahead and install the free copy of TaxCut I'd downloaded overnight the previous evening. The update error made me decide to plug TaxCut with the cautions noted above.

The Netscape vs. Microsoft suit was an automatic inclusion to the day's content. Everybody (except maybe Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, & Co.) loves to see Microsoft get sued. The Schwab weekly posting came in late again, but in time to make the day's page, but without a thorough reading.

Just as I was ready to do the final upload of the page (regular readers often see the page grow, shrink, or otherwise change through an evening of updates), I ran across Beverly Woods column with three freewares I'd never tried. Wow!

I began the evening with the prospect of zip. I ended with 980, 981, 982...words.

BTW:

Is anyone else out there about ready to pitch the latest classic version of Internet Explorer? My normally rock solid Mac is doing all sorts of weird things that appear to have begun with the installation of, and coincide with the use of Internet Explorer 5.1.3 (4012).

Thursday, January 24, 2002

Lots of Education Columns

Dan Rafter of the Indianapolis Star has written a good column about children's struggles to fit in at their schools. In Children miserable in school need help but solutions can be elusive, Rafter talks about problems and possible solutions for victims of bullying, cliques, and endless teasing.

Jay Mathews, Class Struggle columnist for the Washington Post, "concluded long ago we can't count on Washington to save our schools." While lukewarm about the current education reform law, Mathews says in Creating a Standard Through Educational Reform he's still "glad the law passed" because of the increased funding and attention on education the law brings. He also concludes:

But the most important factor will be, as always, the energy and intelligence of the principals and teachers and how successful they are, no matter what the federal rules say, in giving kids the time, attention and high expectations they need.

I missed NEA's last posting on the reform bill. The January 8 press release is Ed Bill Signing Sets Off Seismic Shift to States.

If you love to serve on committees, write curriculum guides, standards, and benchmarks, you'll probably enjoy reading this NASBE (National Association of State Boards of Education) press release. It's full of all of the politically correct terminology and power words. It's also a little look into the bureaucracy involved in setting standards nationally and locally.

Maja Beckstrom of the St. Paul Pioneer Press notes the continuing inequities in health care and educational achievement for minorities in Minnesota in Report shows minority kids lag in health, education measures. A report released yesterday by the Children's Defense Fund-Minnesota reveals grim statistics despite increased state programs and funding for minority health care programs.

Richard Rothstein writes about the limitations for educational advancement for recipients of welfare due to the 1996 federal welfare reform law in Let Education Guide Welfare (New York Times--free registration required). Rothstein writes, "With a time limit of five years for receiving benefits, the law says that only one of those years can be used for education." With the current economic downturn and loss of entry-level jobs, he concludes, "In the long run, it might have been wiser for more recipients to improve their skills before going to work," as even "an associate degree takes at least two years, not one."

He likes the new iMac, but...

eWeek's Scott Peterson notes the new iMac "has also been trumpeted as a triumph of innovation," but finds that "at its cost, it's a triumph of chutzpah, too," in Apple: At what price innovation? Peterson states that Apple has just polished "the design of the original Mac." His point is that "the function is still the same," and faults Apple for not exploiting "a robust enterprise-ready operating system."

Friday, January 25, 2002

Philadelphia School Reform Commission Meets

The Philadelphia Daily News reports that the first meeting with all five members of the School Reform Commission present in Philadelphia was acrimonious. In Schools spat, part two: Parents complain to new commission, Mensah H. Dean reports that parents protested the planned 1 P.M. time for future board meetings as excluding working parents, suggested the commission "forgo hiring consultants and instead put that money in classrooms," and questioned the soundness of the proposed privatization of the Philadelphia public schools.

Software Updates

Travis East has updated his excellent cross-platform freeware Geometry application to version 2.6 (1.6 for OS X).

The iCab web browser for Macintosh has been updated to Preview version 2.7. While the Preview version is still free to use, the authors are now accepting registrations for the Pro version to be released sometime this year ($29).

Sites Come and Go

I've been disappointed to see that the once excellent Kids Domain site seems to have gone dormant. Their weekly What's New page, once an excellent source of new educational software for both Macintosh and Windows, hasn't been updated since October 26. The redesigned home page still reads "While Fall is dwindling, Winter is on its way." I wrote the site's creator, Grace Sylvan, and learned that the site has changed hands, with Kaboose, Inc. now in control. Apparently, Grace wasn't invited to participate in the new site. That's unfortunate, as she ran a good site which now is quickly slipping into irrelevance without any new updates. If you need a proven good hand to help run an educational site, I think Grace might be open to offers.

Mac Site News

MacFixIt has announced that access to their archives will now require an annual fee of $24.95 ($19.95 until the end of February). In a January 22 announcement, site founder Ted Landau explained that daily updates, the Download Library, and the MacFixIt forums will remain free at this time. Only access to archived postings over two days old will require a subscription. Landau notes:

I hope it is evident to you that my motto has always been: "Put the reader first." In order to have the financial support to keep the site alive, I have had to make certain concessions, such as the inclusion of advertising. But, as much as possible, I have tried to do it in a way that minimizes reader annoyance. Moving to a subscription-based site is no exception. It has become financially necessary that we pursue this option.

MacsOnly carried a pretty good analysis of the situation on Wednesday (1-23-02). What it boils down to is that MacFixIt, after being purchased by TechTracker.com, expanded its full and part-time editors and then got caught by decreased ad revenues from the dot.com crash.

Other Mac sites have been faced with a similar dilemma due to advertising revenues decreasing unexpectedly. Dan Knight's Low End Mac quickly comes to mind. Dan probably picked one of the all-time worst times to quit his day job and rely solely on his web site to support his family. When the advertising crash occurred this year, he openly explored the problems and possible solutions for sites such as his in a series of columns. Dan hinted a bit about going to some kind of subscription-based service, but chose to stick with ads, contributions, accessory sales, and...getting a part-time job.

I certainly respect what Ted Landau and MacFixIt have done for the Mac community over the years. I have no way of knowing the dynamics of the MacFixIt decision, but do see a downside to the new subscription service. An example is the posting I made earlier this week about H&R Block offering their TaxCut federal version as a free download until January 31. A followup posting would normally include a link to MacFixIt's readers' problems with the program. While the link will be good for this posting, under the new MacFixIt subscription-based service, the link would expire just two days after its original posting and well before it rolled off the home page. For that reason, I'd probably omit the reference. Putting links on a site you know will break within days is simply bad business.

My treatment of not linking to subscription-based archives whenever possible is not limited to MacFixIt, but is a general policy in attempting to write an effective web site. Frequently, a story of educational relevance will be carried on the site of a newspaper that charges for access to their archives. In those situations, I try to find an alternate link to the story from a source that does not charge for access to archived columns. Often, I use an alternate link even for New York Times columns, simply because the Times requires free registration to access their site. It's a matter of giving the reader the best access to news items possible with the least amount of hassle.

A second problem with the subscription-based MacFixIt Pro is simply the cost. While $24.95 a year sounds quite affordable, that's just for access to their archives, which I visit only infrequently. With many other sites considering such a content delivery mode, one has to wonder how many $24.95's they will eventually be paying if they wish to have the same access to material they have previously had.

Another concern I have about MacFixIt's subscription-based service is the potential for further erosion of the cooperative spirit of the Mac community. I've submitted reports to MacFixIt in the past as the community tries to track down various software glitches. With a subscription-based service, I suspect readers who have chosen not to subscribe may not as readily share their experiences with MacFixIt, knowing that their contribution and the experiences and advice of others will disappear behind the $24.95 subscription veil in just two days. Most newspapers that charge for archive access allow at least seven days before moving content to their fee-based archives. In MacFixIt's case, I think their decision will decrease their relevance as their information base shrinks.

Finally, I hate to think of the new Mac users who accesses the MacFixIt site, hoping to find a fix for their software woes, only to find they must pay $24.95 to even find out if MacFixIt has the answer. For those of us who are frequently asked for advice or direction in solving hardware and software issues, the subscription fee makes it less attractive to suggest MacFixIt as a possible source of an answer to readers' questions.

The problems facing MacFixIt, Low End Mac, and many other Mac web sites are serious. The free content versus subscription-based delivery model discussion on the web is far from over. MacFixIt has made their decision. I'm glad they've chosen to leave their content available free of charge for two whole days before charging for it. I wish I could wholeheartedly endorse their decision, as MacFixIt is a valuable, but not indispensable, resource for Macintosh users, but I think they've created a lose-lose situation for themselves. If the fee-based model produces enough subscriptions to fulfill their financial needs for now, they will have locked themselves into a model that discourages new readers. If the plan fails, an extremely good Mac site will be weakened at least temporarily.

Unfortunately, I simply think they've hurt themselves and the Mac community with this decision and wish the folks in control of MacFixIt these days would rethink their decsion and find another viable option. For now, obviously, I won't be subscribing.

Have a great weekend!

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