State Funding for K-12 Education Remains below 2008 Levels!


Dear Commons Community,

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research and policy institute, has just published a study indicating that state funding of K-12 education has declined significantly over the past decade.  Here is an excerpt:

“Our survey, the most up-to-date data available on state and local funding for schools, also indicates that, after adjusting for inflation:

  • Thirty-five states provided less overall state funding per student in the 2014 school year (the most recent year available) than in the 2008 school year, before the recession took hold. 
  • In 27 states, local government funding per student fell over the same period, adding to the damage from state funding cuts.  In states where local funding rose, those increases rarely made up for cuts in state support.”
  • At least 23 states will provide less “general” or “formula” funding—the primary form of state support for elementary and secondary schools—in the current school year (2017) than when the Great Recession took hold in 2008, our survey of state budget documents finds…
  • Eight states have cut general funding per student by about 10 percent or more over this period. Five of those eight —Arizona, Kansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin enacted income tax rate cuts costing tens or hundreds of millions of dollars each year rather than restore education funding….”

Our country’s future depends heavily on the quality of its schools.  Increasing financial support can help K-12 schools implement proven reforms such as hiring and retaining excellent teachers, reducing class sizes, and expanding the availability of high-quality early education.  So it’s problematic that so many states have headed in the opposite direction over the last decade.  These cuts risk undermining schools’ capacity to develop the intelligence and creativity of the next generation of workers and entrepreneurs.


Faculty Strike at Pennsylvania Public Colleges and Universities!


Dear Commons Community,

The strike at the Pennsylvania public colleges and universities is entering its third day.  As reported by Penn Live:

“The more than 105,000 students who attend state universities will miss a third day of classes on Friday as the faculty strike continues with no talks scheduled to resolve its labor contract dispute.

An afternoon check with spokespeople for the State System of Higher Education and the Association Of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, which represents the 5,300 professors, confirmed a willingness to go back to the bargaining table but that is as far as they had gotten to making that happen.

“We remain committed to achieving a settlement that is fair to our faculty and to our students as quickly as possible. Even though there are no formal negotiating sessions underway, the State System is working hard to find a path forward,” State System Kenn Marshall said.

The faculty union President Ken Mash said on a Facebook announcement on Thursday afternoon while standing outside Dixon University Center, the system’s headquarters in Harrisburg,  “If they want to come out right now and negotiate. we’re willing to go ahead and do that. But I don’t want to be totally unfair either because they do have my cell phone number so if they want to call later on and say they are ready to negotiate. We’re ready to do that too.”Dozens of students traveled to Dixon University Center to pose some questions to system officials about what led to the strike and the impact it was having on them. But it was clear their allegiance lies with the faculty, which Marshall said is expected since they know faculty from their classes but don’t know the system administrators who are on the other side of the contract dispute.

The faculty held true to their threat of going on strike on Wednesday if no tentative agreement had been reached on a new contract to replace one that expired on June 30, 2015. Negotiating teams met for five straight days in the lead up to the strike deadline but the sides left the table, in the union’s eyes, as far apart as when they began on a plethora of issues ranging from salary and health care changes to work rules. 
This is the first strike in the 33-year-old system’s history and the union has indicated it will continue until a tentative agreement is in hand.This labor dispute affects students who attend Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester.”

We wish our colleagues well and stand in solidarity!



Stephen Hawking Issues Warning About Artificial Intelligence!

Dear Commons Community,

Stephen Hawking speaking yesterday at the opening of Cambridge University’s new artificial intelligence center, warned that “The rise of powerful AI will be either the best, or the worst thing, ever to happen to humanity.” As reported by The Telegraph:

“The invention of artificial intelligence could be the biggest disaster in humanity’s history, Professor Stephen Hawking has said, warning that if they are not properly managed, thinking machines could spell the end for civilisation.

“The rise of powerful AI will be either the best or the worst thing ever to happen to humanity. We do not know which,” the British physicist said.

He was speaking at the opening of a new Cambridge centre that will seek to address the potential dangers and conundrums of AI.

Professor Hawking, a prominent critic of making unchecked advances in AI, said that the technology promised to bring great benefits, such as eradicating disease and poverty, but “will also bring dangers, like powerful autonomous weapons or new ways for the few to oppress the many”.

“It will bring great disruption to our economy, and in the future AI could develop a will of its own that is in conflict with ours,” he said.

His comments come amid breakthroughs in artificial intelligence that are being achieved faster than many predicted. Google’s DeepMind subsidiary defeated the world champion of the ancient board game Go earlier this year. On Wednesday, Microsoft said it had achieved voice recognition on a par with humans.

Professor Hawking has been one of the most high-profile sceptics about AI. He was one of more than 1,000 other experts and researchers to sign an open letter warning of the perils of artificially intelligent weapons last year.”

The Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence is a collaboration between the Universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial College London and Berkeley in California.




3rd Debate: Donald Trump refuses to say if he would accept the results of the election if Hillary Clinton wins!

Dear Commons Community,

The third presidential debate was held last night at the University of Nevada – Las Vegas and all was even until Donald Trump would not commit to accepting the results if Hillary Clinton was elected.  Trump’s actual response to moderator Chris Wallace’s question of whether he would accept the results was: 

“I will look at it at the time… I will keep you in suspense.”

Clinton responded:  “That’s horrifying…Let’s be clear about what he is saying and what that means. He is denigrating — he is talking down our democracy. And I am appalled that someone who is the nominee of one of our two major parties would take that position.”

At this point, it was over for The Donald.  

This debate was more on issues than the previous two and while stating their positions, the candidates took effective shots at each other. Trump had Clinton stammering regarding the Clinton Foundation.  Clinton hammered Trump as a “puppet” of Vladimir Putin.  Trump commented that Clinton had thirty years of experience in government – “all bad”.  Clinton compared her experiences with Trump’s over those thirty years and commented that he had a pattern of saying the system is rigged whenever he is losing.  She concluded that Trump exhibits patterns of divisiveness and darkness.

In terms of demeanor during the debate, Hillary smiled and was more comfortable. Trump interrupted a few times, seemed edgy, rarely smiled, and referred to Clinton as “such a nasty woman”.

Chris Wallace did a fine job as a moderator.

CNN conducted a poll after the debate and concluded that Hillary Clinton won by a large margin of 52 to 39 percent.  



Strike of Dining Hall Workers at Harvard Enters Third Week!


Dear Commons Community,

Dining-hall workers at Harvard University have been on strike for more than two weeks.  It has become a bit of an embarrassment that the richest university in the world is having a wage dispute with some of its lowest-paid workers.  What might have been a simple labor dispute at another institution has become more contentious — and drawn more attention — thanks to Harvard’s reputation and enormous wealth.   Here is an excerpt from an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“The university faces a test of wills, and a problem of appearances: How does the richest university in the world negotiate with some of its lowest-paid workers?

Large strikes against colleges by nonacademic employees are rare but could become more common as the national discussion of inequality grows, and a new generation of activists, both workers and students, builds momentum on the issue.

Negotiations over a new employment contract began in May and continued over the summer. About 750 workers represented by Unite Here Local 26 went on strike on October 5 after the university rejected their demands for pay increases and stuck with plans to raise employee contributions for healthcare benefits. Harvard says that, at an average of nearly $22 per hour, its pay for dining-hall workers is among the best for such jobs in the region, and that skyrocketing health-care costs mean that some changes in its health benefits, and in worker contributions to those benefits, are needed.The university has proposed various steps, including delaying the increases until 2019, to mitigate any hardship caused by the rise in costs.

Strikers are walking picket lines at the university, and 11 were arrested for blocking traffic during a protest last week. Meanwhile, the university has closed six of its 14 dining halls. The remaining facilities are staffed in part with temporary workers. The university recently issued each student $25 worth of “Crimson Cash” to use at area restaurants in order to offer more “flexibility” to diners.

Many in the university community back the striking workers. More than 3,000 students signed a petition supporting the strike, according to Ted Waechter, a junior and a member of the Harvard Student Labor Action Movement, a student-activist group. About 400 students walked out of class in protest on Monday to attend a rally in support of the strike, he adds. Some alumni have signed a pledge not to donate to their alma mater and to instead divert any giving to the strike fund.

Sympathy for the workers may be heightened by Harvard’s status, says Ronald G. Ehrenberg, a professor of industrial and labor relations and economics at Cornell University and director of its Higher Education Research Institute. “When you are one of the richest universities in the world, there’s a lot of pressure on you to treat employees well,” he says, especially since some classes of employees, such as professors, are treated “very well.” Assistant professors at Harvard made an average of $114,777 a year in 2014, compared with assistant professors at all four-year private colleges, who made an average of $65,851 that year, according to data supplied to The Chronicle.

Harvard says that it treats its dining-hall workers well. Its hourly pay exceeds both the City of Cambridge’s “living wage” of $15.04 and the average wages paid to other food-service workers organized by Unite Here in the region. It offers paid vacation and retirement benefits, even to some part-time workers. The university’s most-recent offer to the striking workers includes a raise in average pay to more than $24 an hour by the end of a four-year contract.

While Harvard’s offer to the union does raise employees’ contributions for health care, the university hasn’t increased the cost of benefits to dining-hall workers since 2008. Given the huge cost increases for health care that have been partially passed on to employees in virtually all industries over the past several years, that’s “pretty extraordinary,” says Andy Brantley, president of the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources.”

Come on Harvard – do the right thing and settle this!



Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders Sock it to Donald Trump!

Dear Commons Community,

Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders at a rally for Hillary Clinton on Sunday tore into Donald Trump for his business practices and the fact that he hasn’t paid federal income taxes.  Here is an excerpt from The Huffington Post:

“With just over three weeks until Election Day and polls showing Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump trailing heavily, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)  appearing with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Sunday at a rally for Hillary Clinton in Denver, Warren tore into the real estate mogul by calling him a “selfish little sleazeball” and a “pathetic cheapskate” who doesn’t deserve support from anyone who had previously backed Sanders’ primary campaign.

“Trump said he was excited for a housing crash because then he could swoop in and buy up more real estate on the cheap,” said Warren, referring to comments Trump made ahead of the 2008 recession.

“What kind of a man does something like that?” she continued. “A small, insecure money-grubber who cares about no one and nothing but himself. A man who will never be president of the United States.”

Warren has become a reliable attack dog against Trump throughout the campaign, often calling him a “loser” or a “chicken” for refusing to release his tax returns. …

Warren then introduced Sanders, who turned his sights on Trump and suggested that the GOP nominee could be the most unqualified candidate of a major political party in the history of the United States.

“I have been running all over this country for a year and a half talking about a corrupt tax system. And in one day, Donald Trump did more to explain the corrupt tax system to the American people than I did in a year and a half. Thank you, Donald,” Sanders said.

“What Donald said is, ‘Yeah, I’m a multibillionaire. I’ve got mansions all over the world. But you know what? I, a billionaire, don’t have to pay any taxes and I’m proud of it because you suckers are going to pay the taxes for me,’” Sanders continued, referring to tax records that show Trump could have avoided paying federal income tax for nearly two decades.

“We’re going to beat Trump and beat him badly,” Sanders said. “And we’re going to bring millions of people together to create a political revolution.”


Emily Levine Asks: If Colleges Are Dismantled – What Will be the Impact on Their Cities?

Dear Commons Community,

Emily J. Levine, an associate professor of modern European history at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, has a commentary in today’s Chronicle of Higher Education asking the question if colleges are unbundled and become essentially Internet-based services, what will this mean to their cities and communities. It is an interesting question.  She bases much of her article on the higher education disruption position of  observers such as Kevin Carey, Ryan Craig, and Anant Agarwal, who have predicted that online technology will make many colleges obsolete as education moves to a smorgasbord of electronically available courses thereby reducing the need for a physical campus or place.  Levine is right in challenging their position. She states:

“…the university has an additional purpose that is missing in these conversations and that historically played a central role — service to surrounding communities and cities. In fact, history provides a valuable lesson about what might happen if the university’s services were unbundled. And it shows that this central feature of the university would be lost — along with the local economic and cultural benefits that the university provides — if it were to be dismantled.

In the last quarter of the 19th century, even as the world became more interconnected, ascendant universities remained embedded in the cities that promoted them and benefited from their successes. From the last quarter of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th, the fortunes of universities often rose or fell with the ability of their presidents to maintain relationships with their communities. Community support positioned a university for global prominence…

Notwithstanding the prognostications of disruption, the twin forces of globalization and MOOCs have not felled the university. And in fact studies show that online programs draw a majority of enrollments from students who live less than 100 miles from the college. The local has persisted for the economic as well as cultural benefits that universities offer their communities.

The risk of unbundling is that nobody knows what held the package together, and the value it offered, until it begins to unravel. However, history reminds us that the university is more than the sum of its parts. In our efforts to achieve the goals of access and efficiency we should protect our campuses and our communities, or we might actually lose that crucial thread to the past.”

As I argue in my recent book, Online Education Policy and Practice:  The Past, Present and Future of the Digital University, Levine is correct in her position at least for the foreseeable future.  But at some point, more advanced technology will evolve based on artificial intelligence and brain-machine interfaces that will radically change much of human endeavor including higher education.  The need for central places will change accordingly.



Nicholas Kristof Asks: Is there a double standard for women in politics?

Dear Commons Communty,

New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof raises the question today about whether there is a double standard for women in politics.  He reviews a number of situations that have arisen in the current presidential campaign and reverses the roles of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.  Here is a sample of his “Imagines ifs”:

Imagine if 15 men had accused Clinton of assaulting or violating them, with more stepping forward each day.

Imagine if Clinton had held a Mr. Teen USA pageant and then marched unannounced into the changing area to ogle the young bodies as some were naked and, after doing the same thing at a Mr. USA pageant, marveled on a radio show at what she was allowed to get away with.

Imagine if Clinton had less experience in government or the military than any person who has ever become president?

Imagine if she had said about a man running against her in the primaries, “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?” 

Imagine if it were Clinton who had boasted, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”

Imagine if it were Clinton who had been caught on a hot mike referring in a degrading way to men’s genitals and boasting that her prominence gave her license to grab men’s crotches.

Imagine if she had bragged about her attempts to commit adultery — and later reportedly sought to have fired from his job the married man who resisted her seduction efforts.

Imagine that it were Hillary Clinton who had been accused of assault by her first spouse (later recanted) and later of assault in a lawsuit by a business partner. 

Imagine if Clinton had defended herself from an accusation of molesting a young man by explaining, “He would not be my first choice, that I can tell you.”

Imagine if Clinton had body shamed Donald Trump, saying that she had observed his rear end and concluded, “I’m not impressed, believe me.”

The list goes on and Kristoph concludes asking the reader deciding whether there is a double standard in American politics, indeed in American society, subjecting women to greater scrutiny?  

Indeed there is!


NY Times Editorial Weighs in on New Federal Regulations for Teacher Preparation Programs!

Dear Commons Community,

A New York Times editorial today weighs in on new federal regulations for states to evaluate and improve teacher education programs.   Under these regulations, states are required to gather information on new teachers, including the programs that trained them, and to get feedback from both principals and teachers on how well the training programs prepared them. States must then report this information to the department and make it available to the public.  Most important, the states will rate teacher-training programs on multiple indexes, including how teachers fare on evaluations or growth in student learning, as measured through a method determined by the state. As part of this process, states are required to ensure that all teaching programs give students a strong grounding in the subject they will teach — as well as in how to teach it. States are also expected to help low-performing programs get better.

The NY Times editorial (see below for full text) strongly supports these efforts but neglects one major issue and that is the cost and complexity of implementing the new regulations. Terry Hartle of the American Council on Education earlier this week said that the US DOE had dramatically underestimated the cost of implementing the new regulations. In 2014, California estimated that it would cost $230 million to get the system up and running and another $485 million each year to maintain; the US DOE estimated the cost over the next decade to average out to just $27 million per year, for the entire nation.

“Teacher quality is absolutely critical to improving student performance in the classroom. The central question, however, is whether or not these regulations will help — and the answer is no,” Hartle said. “They are costly, complex, burdensome and based on only tenuous evidence that they will work.”

Some education school deans have embraced the new rules, saying they will create a way for them to get information they desperately want from school districts about the performance of their alumni.

It will be interesting to see how these regulations will play out when a new president takes office in 2017.



New York Times 

Help Teachers Before They Get to Class!


OCT. 14, 2016

The countries that have eclipsed the United States in educational achievement have far more effective systems for training teachers. Consider, for example, Finland’s system, which has consistently ranked among the best in the world. Decades ago, Finland moved teacher education out of teachers colleges and into universities, where students are given rigorous preparation and recruited from the top quarter of their graduating high school classes.


Teachers colleges in the United States have resisted proposals for raising entry standards along these lines, which is unfortunate given how abysmal teacher training is in this country compared with training in high-performing nations. The problem was underscored in a 2013 study by the National Council on Teacher Quality that rated only 10 percent of the 1,200 programs the study examined as adequate. Most programs had low or no standards for admissions.


Even when they offer adequate instruction, the programs fail in other ways. For example, they regularly train people in subject areas where no new teachers are needed, while ignoring areas where there is a teacher shortage, like math, science and special education. Beyond that, schools often fail to arrange for student-teaching programs in schools in high-poverty areas, which puts those schools at a disadvantage for finding new staff members.


This week, the Department of Education released rules that are meant to address these problems and help states distinguish strong teacher-training programs from weak ones.


Under the new rules, states are required to gather information on new teachers, including the programs that trained them, and to get feedback from both principals and teachers on how well the training programs prepared them. States must then report this information to the department and make it available to the public.


Most important, the states will rate teacher-training programs on multiple indexes, including how teachers fare on evaluations or growth in student learning, as measured through a method determined by the state. As part of this process, states are required to ensure that all teaching programs give students a strong grounding in the subject they will teach — as well as in how to teach it. States are also expected to help low-performing programs get better.


In addition to giving the states a clearer view of how well teacher-training programs are working, the new information will allow aspiring teachers to evaluate the worth of teacher training programs before they go into debt to complete them.


The new rules represent a necessary first step in broader reforms of teacher preparation. Eventually, for example, schools of education will have to become more rigorous and selective if the country is to get the caliber of teaching that it clearly needs.


Donald Trump is Trying to Burn Down the Country!

Dear Commons Community,

Timothy Egan’s has a column in today’s New York Times describing the carnage that Donald Trump is wreaking on national civility and discourse.  He likens Trump to a wounded bear that will try to harm and kill everything in its path.  Here is the entire column:

“A wounded bear is a dangerous thing. Detested and defeated, Donald Trump is now in a tear-the-country-down rage. Day after day, he rips at the last remaining threads of decency holding this nation together. His opponent is the devil, he says — hate her with all your heart. Forget about the rule of law. Lock her up!

He’s made America vile. He’s got angel-voiced children yelling “bitch” and flipping the bird at rallies. He’s got young athletes chanting “build a wall” at Latino kids on the other side. He’s made it O.K. to bully and fat-shame. He’s normalized perversion, bragging about how an aging man with his sense of entitlement can walk in on naked women.

Here’s his lesson for young minds: If you’re rich and boorish enough, you can get away with anything. Get away with sexual assault. Get away with not paying taxes. Get away with never telling the truth. Get away flirting with treason. Get away with stiffing people who work for you, while you take yours. Get away with mocking the disabled, veterans and families of war heroes.

You know this by now — all the sordid details. For much of the last year, the Republican presidential nominee has been a freak show, an oh-my-God spectacle. He opens his mouth, our cellphones blow up. But now, in the final days of a horrid campaign, an unshackled Trump is more national threat than punch line. He’s determined to cause lasting damage.

Is there one sector of society he has yet to maul? Until this week, it was the denial wing of his own party, those “leaders” who looked the other way while their leader walked all over the Constitution.

But those who take pleasure in watching Trump destroy the Republican Party are missing the bigger picture. He’s trying to destroy the country, as well. Civility, always a tenuous thing, cannot be quickly restored in a society that has learned to hate in public, at full throttle.

Trump has made compassion suspect. Don’t reach out to starving refugees — they’re killers in disguise. Don’t give to a charity that won’t reward you in some way. Don’t pay taxes that build roads and offer relief to those washed away in a hurricane. That’s a sucker’s game. We’re not all in this together. Taxes are for stupid people.

Every sexual predator now has a defender at the top of the Republican ticket. The most remarkable thing about last Sunday’s debate was Anderson Cooper having to school a 70-year-old man on workplace taboos that most of us learn on our first job.

“You described kissing women without consent, grabbing their genitals,” said Cooper. “That is sexual assault. You bragged that you have sexually assaulted women. Do you understand that?”

What you heard was the lecture the human resources director gives just before saying, “You’re fired.” Trump could not get hired at the drive-through window at a Jack in the Box. Knowing about his history would make any employer liable. It took decades to get the workplace to that point where Trumpian predators are shunned. Given the biggest pulpit in the world, Trump is trying to bring that consensus down.

He calls it locker room talk. The locker room has pushed back, resoundingly. Let’s call it what it is — the workplace. And as Trump told Howard Stern in 2005, when he bragged about his voyeur intrusions into backstage beauty pageants, “I sort of get away with things like that.” He made a similar comment — the blueprint for his actions — in the 2005 television tape that has blown up in his face. If he can do it, any creep outside of the celebrity bubble should be able to get away with the same thing.

He’s destroyed whatever moral standing leading Christian conservatives had — starting with Mike Pence. Their selective piety is not teachable. Take solace in one of the small acts of courage breaking out in recent days: a group of students at Liberty University telling their Trump-supporting president, Jerry Falwell Jr., to practice what the school preaches.

Trump is “actively promoting the very things that we Christians ought to oppose,” the students wrote. These young people, at least, are smart enough to see what Trump is doing to their world.

It will take many people like those students, and like the first lady, Michelle Obama, a model of decency and class, to repair the awful damage Trump has done.

In a powerful speech Thursday, the nation’s most respected public figure scorned the “hurtful, hateful language” of Trump and its effect on children: “The shameful comments about our bodies. The disrespect of our ambitions and intellect. The belief that you can do anything to a woman. It’s cruel. It’s frightening.”

So it has come to this: The core lessons that bind a civilized society are in play in the last days of this election. We long for family dinners where Trump no longer intrudes, for tailgate parties where football is all that matters, for normalcy. Remember those days? They may be gone forever.”

I hope not.  I want my children and grandchildren to have a happy positive perspective on life.