Class Notes: Apple’s Textbook, Pre-K Cuts and More Education News

Each week, TIME's Kayla Webley fills you in on the goings on in the education world, everything from pre-K to higher ed.

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Apple Takes on the Textbook Market
At a New York City event on Thursday, Apple unveiled iBooks 2—what the company is billing as a “new textbook experience” for the iPad. Showing off the new technology, Apple VP Roger Rosner, said their product will improve upon current textbooks which are not portable, searchable, current or interactive. Apple’s model will allow for embedded movies, search, immediate feedback, more engaging layouts, one-touch glossary access and more. But the most interesting part of the announcement might be the free app, iBooks Author, which would allow teachers and professors to self-publish their own textbooks, bypassing textbook publishers altogether. I’ll write more on this later, but for now, read more about the announcement on Techland.

Class of 2011 Out-Earning the Class of 2010
Well, at least there’s some good news for the Class of 2011 (the most indebted graduating class ever). According to a survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, college graduates in the Class of 2011 are earning an average of $41,701—an increase of 2.3% over the Class of 2010. The survey also breaks down salary by major. Engineering and computer science majors are raking in the most dough—$61,872 and $60,594, respectively, on average. At the low end are education and humanities and social science majors, who bring in an average $35,503 and $37,830, respectively. Download the full survey here.

Race to the Top to Expand to School Districts
In an interview with Education Week,  Secretary of Education Arne Duncan talked about what he would like to do with the $550 million awarded to the department by Congress last year to extend the Race to the Top initiative. Duncan says he envisions a Race to the Top at the local district level, as a way to highlight individual in-district programs. Read more of the interview, including an update on the department’s No Child Left Behind waivers, here.

States Cutting Back on Pre-K
The Associated Press reported on a sad side effect of the Great Recession: the expansion of early childhood education programs has slowed, and in some states, reversed. Indeed, roughly a quarter of 4-year-olds and more than half of 3-year-olds are not enrolled in preschool, even though the benefits of starting young have never been so clear. Further, families with incomes between $40,000 and $50,000 often face the greatest challenge because they make too much to qualify for state-funded programs, but cannot afford private schools. For more on cutbacks in pre-K, read my story from October 2010, “The Preschool Wars,” here.

What To Do If You Can’t Pay Your Student Loans
If you graduated college last spring, chances are over the winter holidays the government delivered a nice present to your door: your first student loan bill. According to the Project on Student Debt, college seniors who graduated in 2010 with student loans owed an average of $25,250—the highest level ever recorded—and 2011 debt totals are predicted to be even higher. Additionally, those debt-carrying graduates also faced an impossibly tough job market, as unemployment for new college graduates hovered around 9% for most of the year. All of this means there are likely many more people this year feeling stressed out about student loans and overwhelmed by debt (or just plain broke) than at any other time in recent memory. If you’re one of them, read my Moneyland post here.

Funding Declines for Public Research Universities
According to a report from the National Science Board, in the past decade states have reduced per-pupil funding for major public research universities by one fifth. Further, the report shows that while the U.S. continues to lead the world in funding for science and technology research and development, today we lead only by a slim margin —  and several Asian countries are poised to take the lead in the near future. The report shows that from 1999 and 2009, the U.S. share of global research and development dropped from 38% to 31%, while a group of 10 Asian countries, China, India and Japan among them, increased their share from 24% to 35%. Read more about the report from the the policy making body for the National Science Foundation here.

New York Governor Brings Teacher Evaluations to the Forefront
In a case sure to be watched by educators across the country, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an ultimatum to school districts when he unveiled his budget proposal this week: settle on a new teacher evaluation system by this time next year, or lose their share of a proposed 4% increase in education funding. The governor said if an agreement can’t be reached between the state and the unions, he would implement a system of his own. Cuomo’s threat follows up on a warning from the U.S. Department of Education last week that the state could lose its $700 million in education funding awarded as part of the Race to the Top initiative if they do not settle on a evaluation system for both teachers and principals. Read more about the difficulties of implementing an evaluation system in the state here.

Why Parents Should Be Allowed to Choose Their Kids’ Teacher
Ahead of National School Choice Week, which kicks off next Monday, TIME’s education columnist, Andrew Rotherham, has this column on why parents should pay more attention to who is teaching their child. He says parents typically pay much more attention to choosing a school, but teacher effectiveness varies a lot within schools, even within good schools, which means that just choosing the right school for your kid is not a proxy for choosing great teachers. Read more here.

States Have Data, But Don’t Use It
A new report from the Data Quality Campaign shows that while all states now have academic data readily available to them, few make good use of the information. In fact, as reported by the Washington Post, many states are not sharing the data with those who need it the most: teachers and parents. And, many states fail to use the information in any meaningful or sophisticated way. But, as The Atlantic notes, the good news is, many states are on the verge of creating better systems to utilize the data so that they may make data-backed education reforms.

Kayla Webley is a Staff Writer at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @kaylawebley, on Facebook or on Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.