National Education Association (NEA) Endorses Hillary Clinton!

Dear Commons Community,

The National Education Association (NEA) endorsed Hillary Clinton yesterday for president.  The American Federation of Teachers endorsed Hillary in July.  As reported in The Huffington Post:

“The National Education Association, the nation’s largest union, endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Saturday.

The union’s campaign arm had indicated that it was recommending the endorsement earlier this week, as Politico first reported. Members of the 3-million-strong union who support Clinton’s main rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), have already protested the move, just as Sanders supporters from the American Federation of Teachers did when Clinton secured that union’s endorsement in July.

“Clinton is a strong leader who will do what is best for America’s students. For more than four decades, Clinton has fought to make sure all children have a fair opportunity to succeed regardless of their ZIP code,” said Lily Eskelsen García, president of the NEA, in a statement. “Clinton will continue to advocate on behalf of students, educators and working families because she understands the road to a stronger U.S. economy starts in America’s public schools.”

In an interview with The Huffington Post, García said that Clinton personally came and spoke to the organization’s 175-person board of directors in a session that left them “blew them away” because of Clinton’s understanding of what a president would have to do on certain education issues.

“As a lifelong fighter for children and families, I am deeply honored to have earned the endorsement of the National Education Association and their nearly 3 million members,” Clinton said in a statement after the endorsement was announced.

The NEA’s campaign arm had said that it believed Clinton was the candidate best positioned to win in the general election next year. But both Clinton and Sanders had received “A” ratings on the group’s congressional legislative scorecard…

..the NEA chose Clinton, García said, because she was the candidate who the union felt would be best able to highlight education issues in the presidential race.

“It was never a discussion about who’s for education who’s against education. People are gonna make up their own minds we get that, we understand that, we respect that,” she said. 

The NEA’s interests include ending competitive block grant programs supported by Obama like “Race to the Top,” and scaling back federally mandated “high-stakes” standardized testing that influences administrative decisions about teachers. Members of the Democratic Party have been divided over the merits of changes in public education, including more funding for charter schools and teacher evaluation systems influenced by standardized test scores.

“It’s just dead wrong to make teachers the scapegoats for all of society’s problems,” Clinton told the AFT earlier this year, according to The Washington Post. “Where I come from, teachers are the solution. And I strongly believe that unions are part of the solution, too.”



Arne Duncan to Resign as Education Secretary!

Dear Commons Community,

President Obama announced yesterday the resignation of his education secretary, Arne Duncan, who will be replaced by John B. King Jr., a former commissioner of education in New York State. Duncan has been controversial to say the least mainly because he used the promise of Race to the Top funding to strong-arm states to adopt his policies centering on the Common Core, standardized testing, teacher evaluation, and charter schools.  While President Obama praised his service, Duncan has drawn mixed reviews as the Education Secretary. As reported in the New York Times:

“Mr. Duncan’s critics are an unusual coalition from the left and right.

I think history will show that this time period was the apex of federal authority in education,” said Michael J. Petrilli, the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a right-leaning education policy group in Washington. “That’s in part because there’s a sense among members of Congress but also among people in the education field that he abused his power,” he said, referring to Mr. Duncan.

Kati Haycock, the president of the Education Trust, a left-leaning nonprofit, said Mr. Duncan’s aggressive push to introduce new tests and teacher evaluations was bound to create a backlash that would handcuff his successors. Anyone who pushed that hard, she said, “was going to be a villain no matter what.”

“There’s no question that the Department of Education’s fixation on charters and high-stakes testing has not worked,” said Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second-largest teachers union, in a statement.”

John King is a Duncan acolyte and will continue all of Duncan’s policies in the year left in Obama’s presidency. As commissioner of education in New York State, Mr. King oversaw the rollout of the Common Core standards, as well as more difficult standardized tests intended to measure student progress on those standards, despite protests from parents and teachers.


Jeb Bush on the Slaughter of Nine College Students in Oregon:  “Stuff Happens”!

Dear Commons Community,

Jeb Bush while responding to a question about the shootings at Umpqua College that resulted in the deaths of nine innocent victims,  commented that “stuff happens … there’s always a crisis”.  As reported by the Associated Press:

“Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush says he’s opposed to new federal gun laws as a response to the mass shooting at an Oregon community college.

At a forum in South Carolina, Bush said Friday he learned as Florida governor that “stuff happens … there’s always a crisis, and the impulse is to do something, and it’s not necessarily the right thing to do.”

“I think the American people should hear that and make their own judgment.” President Obama

Bush later defended his use of the phrase “stuff happens.” He says he was speaking generally about tragedies, not Thursday’s shooting that left 10 people dead, including the gunman.

Asked to react to Bush’s statement, President Barack Obama says, “I think the American people should hear that and make their own judgment.”

Obama added that voters “can decide whether or not they consider that stuff happening.”

Jeb Bush must have gotten his script from the NRA’s Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre.



Swedish Companies Switching to a Six-Hour Workday!

Dear Commons Community,

Many businesses in Sweden are having employees work fewer hours with the goal of becoming more productive. The move also comes in a bid to boost workers’ private time with family.  As reported in the Associated Press:

Toyota centers in the country apparently made the change 13 years ago. Last year, businesses in Stockholm also introduced a six-hour work day. In an interview with Fast Company, Linus Feldt, CEO of app developer Filimundus, said, “The eight-hour work day is not as effective as one would think.”

Feldt continued, “To stay focused on a specific work task for eight hours is a huge challenge. In order to cope, we mix in things and pauses to make the work day more endurable. At the same time, we are having it hard to manage our private life outside of work.”

Fortune magazine previously wrote about several other companies in Gothenburg which made the switch earlier this year.


President Obama: Following the tragedy in Oregon – We have become “numb to this”!

Oregon Shootings

Dear Commons Community,

Following the shootings at Umpqua College that resulted in the deaths of nine innocent victims and the gunman, President Obama said yesterday that we have become “numb” and that he is powerless to do anything.  As reported in the New York Times:  

“President Obama’s rage about gun massacres, building for years, spilled out Thursday night as he acknowledged his own powerlessness to prevent another tragedy and pleaded with voters to force change themselves.

“So tonight, as those of us who are lucky enough to hug our kids a little closer are thinking about the families who aren’t so fortunate,” the president said in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room, named for a man severely wounded by a would-be assassin’s bullet, “I’d ask the American people to think about how they can get our government to change these laws, and to save these lives and let these people grow up.”

Mr. Obama admitted that he was unable to do anything to prevent such tragedies by himself. And he did little to try to hide the anger and frustration that have deepened as he returns again and again to the White House lectern in the wake of a deadly mass shooting.

Mr. Obama took a veiled swipe at the National Rifle Association, which has successfully fought most limits on gun use and manufacture and has pushed through legislation in many states making gun ownership far easier. “And I would particularly ask America’s gun owners who are using those guns properly, safely, to hunt for sport, for protecting their families, to think about whether your views are being properly represented by the organization that suggests it is speaking for you,” he said.O

On Thursday afternoon, police officers secured the scene of a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore.

Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for the N.R.A., declined to respond to Mr. Obama, saying that it was the organization’s policy “not to comment until all the facts are known.” Wayne LaPierre, the organization’s executive vice president, declared after the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

On Thursday night, Mr. Obama said that given the frequency of mass shootings, people had “become numb to th,is.”

A sad, sorrowful state of affairs!



United States Slips a Bit in Latest World Rankings of Universities!

Dear Commons Community,

The latest ranking of the world’s best universities released Wednesday shows the United States’ traditional lead has slipped a bit.

The Times Higher Education’s annual ranking of the top 200 universities worldwide includes 63 American institutions, down from 74 the year before. The U.S. still has 14 of the top 20 schools, however. 

Times Higher Education, a London-based magazine, credited America’s slip to a “surge of innovative European and Chinese schools.” The European Union and China have also been making new major investments in their universities for much of the past decade This year’s rankings are the most inclusive, looking at 800 institutions, and refined aspects of their methodology, explained on their website.

The top twenty- five universities are listed below.



The top 25 universities in the world in 2015-16, according to Times Higher Education:

Rank 2015-16 Institution Country
1 California Institute of Technology US
2 University of Oxford UK
3 Stanford University US
4 University of Cambridge UK
5 Massachusetts Institute of Technology US
6 Harvard University US
7 Princeton University US
8 Imperial College London UK
9 ETH Zürich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich Switzerland
10 University of Chicago US
11 Johns Hopkins University US
12 Yale University US
13 University of California, Berkeley US
14 University College London UK
15 Columbia University US
16 University of California, Los Angeles US
17 University of Pennsylvania US
18 Cornell University US
19 University of Toronto Canada
20 Duke University US
21 University of Michigan US
22 Carnegie Mellon University US
23 London School of Economics and Political Science UK
24 University of Edinburgh UK
25 Northwestern University US


Donna Shalala Suffers Stroke!

Donna Shalala

Dear Commons Community,

Donna Shalala, former president of Hunter College and a former cabinet secretary under President Bill Clinton, suffered a stroke last night.   Donna had recently taken over as  president and CEO of the Clinton Foundation.  As reported in the Associated Press:

“Bill Clinton and his daughter Chelsea Clinton issued a statement saying the 74-year-old Shalala was stricken Tuesday evening following a meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, the foundation’s spinoff organization which seeks solutions to international problems. Its 2015 meeting began Saturday in New York.

The Clintons said “fortunately, she was with colleagues at the time,” and was taken to a hospital. “Initial reports are very encouraging.”

Shalala took over at the Clinton Foundation this year. She became president of the University of Miami after serving eight years as Health and Human Services Secretary. She also was president of the University of Miami, chancellor at the University of Wisconsin, and president of Hunter College in New York.”

We wish Donna a speedy recovery!  Any of us who had the privilege to work with her know she was a special person.


New York State Governor Cuomo Names Task Force to Review Common Core!

Dear Commons Community,

NYS Governor Andrew announced the establishment of a Common Core Task Force yesterday, stating that: “The State’s learning standards must be strong, sensible and fair, and parents and teachers should be able to have faith in those standards. This Task Force will ensure that this becomes the reality.”  As described by his office’s announcement:

“Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today launched the Common Core Task Force – a diverse and highly-qualified group of education officials, teachers, parents, and state representatives from across New York that is charged with comprehensively reviewing and making recommendations to overhaul the current Common Core system and the way we test our students. The Task Force will complete its review and deliver its final recommendations by the end of this year.

The Task Force will include members of the Governor’s successful New NY Education Reform Commission, which played an instrumental role in developing a blueprint to improve the quality of education for all students through its final report in January 2014. Richard Parsons, who chaired that Commission, will return to lead the Governor’s Common Core Task Force. Mr. Parsons is Senior Advisor, Providence Equity Partners Inc. and former Chairman of the Board, Citigroup Inc.

Mr. Parsons said: “We can all agree that our students deserve every opportunity they can to learn and grow – and having tough, fair standards is crucial to ensuring that they receive those opportunities. I am happy to serve as chair of the Common Core Task Force, because I believe that this is the opportunity we need to fix New York’s education standards and improve the lives and learning outcomes of students across the state. By performing an in-depth review of everything from curriculum to testing, we can lay out exactly what needs to be done to fix the Common Core. I am grateful to Governor Cuomo for asking me to lead this important endeavor, and I am eager to get to work.”

Governor Cuomo believes that the learning standards should be strong, accurate and fair, because having the highest standards is critical to ensuring that students are educated and prepared for their futures in college or the workforce. However, the Common Core program’s flawed rollout by the State Education Department has caused disruption and anxiety that must be fixed, including testing aligned to the standards.

With that in mind, the Governor has charged the Task Force to:

  1. Review and reform the Common Core State Standards;
  2. Review New York State’s curriculum guidance and resources;
  3. Develop a process to ensure tests fit curricula and standards;
  4. Examine the impact of the current moratorium on recording Common Core test scores on student records, and make a recommendation as to whether it should be extended;
  5. Examine how the State and local districts can reduce both the quantity and duration of student tests, and develop a plan whereby districts include parents in reviewing local tests being administered to analyze those tests’ purpose and usefulness; and
  6. Review the quality of the tests to ensure competence and professionalism from the private company creating and supplying the tests.

The Governor has directed the Task Force to conduct its process as transparently as possible and to solicit and consider input from regional advisory councils comprised of parents, teachers and educators across the state. A new website ( has been launched to encourage participation, including by allowing visitors to submit comments and recommendations to the Task Force. The Task Force’s report will be issued publicly by the end of the year so that it can be reviewed by all and changes can be implemented quickly and effectively.”

This Task Force is well-needed!


2015 MacArthur Awards Announced – Professor from Brooklyn College among Winners!

Dear Commons Community,

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced its roster of MacArthur Fellows, a designation frequently referred to as the “Genius Grant.” The fellowship bestows upon its recipients a $625,000 prize, along with “an accolade that manages to celebrate innovative minds across fields, from science to poetry to painting, and just about everything in between.”

This year, the list of MacArthur Fellows ranges from a celebrated writer to an environmental advocate to an inorganic chemist, varying in age from 33 to 72 years old. In total, there are 15 men and nine women represented. The recipients were made aware of their award before the 12 a.m. announcement by the MacArthur Foundation this Tuesday.

Among the winners is Ben Lerner,  a writer and professor in the Department of English at CUNY’s Brooklyn College.   Lerner’s work moves between fiction and nonfiction in an attempt to investigate the “relevance of art and the artist to modern culture.”


NASA Confirms Water on Mars!

Dear Commons Community,

NASA scientists as a news conference today reported that Mars appears to be flowing with rivulets of salty water, a finding that boosts the odds of life on the red planet.  As reported in the Associated Press:

“It suggests that it would be possible for there to be life today on Mars,” NASA’s science mission chief, John Grunsfeld, said at a news conference.

Scientists in 2008 confirmed the existence of frozen water on Mars. Now instruments aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have yielded the strongest evidence yet that salt water in liquid form trickles down certain Martian slopes each summer, according to the researchers.

“Mars is not the dry, arid planet that we thought of in the past,” said Jim Green, director of planetary science for NASA. “Under certain circumstances, liquid water has been found on Mars.”

The rivulets — if that’s what they are, since the evidence for their existence is indirect — are about 12 to 15 feet wide and 300 feet or more long, scientists said.

“What we’re dealing with is wet soil, thin layers of wet soil, not standing water,” said Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona at Tucson, the principal scientist for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s high-resolution imaging experiment.

McEwen said he, for one, believes the possibility of life on Mars to be “very high,” though it would be microbial and somewhere in the Martian crust.”

Congratulations NASA!