Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving 2014


Dear Commons Community,

On this day, we give thanks for all we have.

We give thanks for our health.

We give thanks for our families and friends.

Happy Thanksgiving!


President Obama and Arne Duncan Propose New Teacher Education Guidelines!

Dear Commons Community,

President Obama and Arnie Duncan unveiled a proposal yesterday to regulate teacher preparation progams, saying that too many new K-12 educators are not ready for the classroom.

Under the plan, the federal government would require states to issue report cards for teacher preparation programs within their borders, including those at public universities and private colleges, as well as alternative programs such as those run by school districts and nonprofits such as Teach for America.

The rating systems, which would need approval by the Education Department, would for the first time consider how teacher candidates perform after graduation: whether they land jobs in their subject field, how long they stay and how their students perform on standardized tests and other measures of academic achievement. As reported by the Associated Press:

“Under the rules proposed Tuesday, only training programs deemed to be working well would be eligible to receive money from federal TEACH grants given to prospective teachers who agree to teach in disadvantaged schools. Factors considered include a training program’s success in placing its graduates in jobs, and the success of a teacher’s students on standardized tests.

The TEACH grant program pays up to $4,000 a year to students, and about $100 million is awarded nationwide each year.

“New teachers want to do a great job for their kids, but often they struggle at the beginning of their careers and have to figure out too much for themselves,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said.

Schools complain that linking the performance of graduates and their students to the teacher’s alma mater is unfair, and teachers’ unions say it could potentially make it harder to place teachers in schools in high-poverty areas.

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, said the rules use a “test-and-punish” model instead of offering a sustainable solution that raises the bar for the teaching profession.”

Arnie Duncan continues to push an education agenda which has been one based strictly on “do it my way and I give you money” otherwise you get nothing. Weingarten is absolutely right, Duncan has provided little in the way of sustained solutions only carrots and sticks.



New York Times Editorial on the Meaning of the Ferguson Riots!

Dear Commons Communty,

The New York Times editorial today analyzes the grand jury decision and the process by which county prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, handled the investigation. In the big picture, the editorial quotes President Obama: “We need to recognize that this is not just an issue for Ferguson, this is an issue for America.” The rioting that scarred the streets of St. Louis County — and the outrage that continues to reverberate across the country — underlines this inescapable point. It shows once again that distrust of law enforcement presents a grave danger to the civic fabric of the United States.” On the local side, the editorial concludes that “McCulloch made matters infinitely worse by handling this sensitive investigation in the worst possible way”. The editorial (see full text below) is right on both points.



The Meaning of the Ferguson Riots

New York Times Editorial

November 26, 2015

The St. Louis County grand jury’s decision not to indict the white police officer who in August shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, would have generated widespread anger and disappointment in any case. But the county prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, who is widely viewed in the minority community as being in the pockets of the police, made matters infinitely worse by handling this sensitive investigation in the worst possible way.

First, he refused to step aside in favor of a special prosecutor who could have been appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon of Missouri. He further undermined public confidence by taking a highly unorthodox approach to the grand jury proceeding. Instead of conducting an investigation and then presenting the case and a recommendation of charges to the grand jury, his office shifted its job to the grand jury. It made no recommendation on whether to indict the officer, Darren Wilson, but left it to the jurors to wade through masses of evidence to determine whether there was probable cause to file charges against Officer Wilson for Mr. Brown’s killing.

Under ordinary circumstances, grand jury hearings can be concluded within days. The proceeding in this case lasted an astonishing three months. And since grand jury proceedings are held in secret, the drawn-out process fanned suspicions that Mr. McCulloch was deliberately carrying on a trial out of public view, for the express purpose of exonerating Officer Wilson.

If all this weren’t bad enough, Mr. McCulloch took a reckless approach to announcing the grand jury’s finding. After delaying the announcement all day, he finally made it late in the evening, when darkness had placed law enforcement agencies at a serious disadvantage as they tried to control the angry crowds that had been drawn into the streets by news that the verdict was coming. Mr. McCulloch’s announcement sounded more like a defense of Officer Wilson than a neutral summary of the facts that had led the grand jury to its conclusion.

For the black community of Ferguson, the killing of Michael Brown was the last straw in a long train of abuses that they have suffered daily at the hands of the local police. News accounts have strongly suggested, for example, that the police in St. Louis County’s many municipalities systematically target poor and minority citizens for street and traffic stops — partly to generate fines — which has the effect of both bankrupting and criminalizing whole communities.

In this context, the police are justifiably seen as an alien, occupying force that is synonymous with state-sponsored abuse.

The case resonated across the country — in New York City, Chicago and Oakland — because the killing of young black men by police is a common feature of African-American life and a source of dread for black parents from coast to coast. This point was underscored last month in a grim report by ProPublica, showing that young black males in recent years were at a far greater risk — 21 times greater — of being shot dead by police than young white men. These statistics reflect the fact that many police officers see black men as expendable figures on the urban landscape, not quite human beings.

We get a flavor of this in Officer Wilson’s grand jury testimony, when he describes Michael Brown, as he was being shot, as a soulless behemoth who was “almost bulking up to run through the shots, like it was making him mad that I’m shooting at him.”

President Barack Obama was on the mark last night when he said, “We need to recognize that this is not just an issue for Ferguson, this is an issue for America.” The rioting that scarred the streets of St. Louis County — and the outrage that continues to reverberate across the country — underlines this inescapable point. It shows once again that distrust of law enforcement presents a grave danger to the civic fabric of the United States.


Video Interview with Hunter R. Rawlings III, President of Association of American Universities, Warns of Ideologically-Motivated and Corporate-Minded Trustees!

Dear Commons Community,

In a brief interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education, Hunter R. Rawlings III, president of the Association of American Universities, says that ideologically motivated and corporate-minded trustees pose a great threat to public colleges. Mr. Rawlings, who leads a group of elite research universities, was highly critical of a recent effort to fire William C. Powers Jr., president of the University of Texas at Austin. In 2012, Mr. Rawlings also admonished University of Virginia board members for forcing out Teresa A. Sullivan as president, only to reinstate her under public pressure. Both cases, Mr. Rawlings says, point toward a troubling trend that has created instability at some of the nation’s top academic institutions.

Dr. Rawlings raises one of the critical issues facing American public higher education today.



The Innovators by Walter Isaaacson: Great Read for the Technology Crowd!

Dear Commons Community,

I have just finished Walter Isaacson’s book, The Innovators:  How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution (Simon & Schuster, 2014).  I found it a fine read with many interesting tidbits on the major figures of the digital movement.  A New York Times book review by Brendan Koerner, a contributing editor at Wired, is well done and balanced.  Koerner concluded:

“The book evinces a genuine affection for its subjects that makes it tough to resist. Isaacson confesses early on that he was once “an electronics geek who loved Heathkits and ham radios,” and that background seems to have given him keen insight into how youthful passion transforms into professional obsession. His book is thus most memorable not for its intricate accounts of astounding breakthroughs and the business dramas that followed, but rather for the quieter moments in which we realize that the most primal drive for innovators is a need to feel childlike joy.”

I would add that I found a number of gems in this work. First, Isaacson treats many of the movers and shakers such as John Von Newman, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs fairly while providing insights into their idiosyncrasies and character flaws.

Second, Isaacson gives due credit to the women who were intimately involved with the development of computing programming such as Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron, and Grace Hopper.

Lastly, I liked revisiting the agonies and  ecstasies of the early days (for me the 1960s – 1970s) of computer development.   Isaacson describes small issues like the difficulty of handling “floating-point” numbers with some of the early programming languages as well as big issues such as the importance of packet-switching for the development of the Internet.

In sum, I highly recommend it.


For-Profit Colleges Reeling from Enrollment Woes May Have Bottomed-Out!

For-Profit Earnings 2014

Dear Commons Community,

For-profit colleges have had several very difficult years in terms of student enrollments and earnings. Dozens of colleges saw double-digit drops in enrollment, and in 2012 a U.S. Senate committee released a damning report on the for-profit-college sector, concluding that some colleges had dropout rates above 50 percent and that the industry was spending more on marketing than it was on instruction. However, new enrollment data suggest things may soon be looking up for the sector. Analysts’ projections suggest the industry is close to “bottoming out” and could once again see student growth. As reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“To get an idea of what’s coming next, The Chronicle analyzed earnings reports and analyst projections for 14 publicly traded higher-education institutions, which together make up about half of the sector’s enrollment of two million students. The analysis found that, though enrollment dropped again in 2014, the forecast is for a smaller decline in 2015 and then enrollment increases thereafter. Indeed, several companies that were posting double-digit enrollment losses for the last four years are expected to post gains in 2015.”

The article specifically comments on the Apollo Group (Universitty of Phoenix) likening it to the 800-pound gorilla in the room:

“Even though some for-profit colleges are projected to have upticks in enrollment next year, the industry’s leader, the Apollo Education Group—the operator of the University of Phoenix—is projected by BMO to post enrollment losses in each quarter next year.

“Apollo, until recently, was declining at double digits, now it’s single digits, which is close to the industry trend,” Mr. Silber said. “It’s the 800-pound gorilla in the industry, and it will take a little time to catch up.”

The for-profit colleges have a place in American higher-education. It is unfortunate that several of them had substituted profit motives over the needs of their students. It remains to be seen how it works out for them.



Inside Higher Education’s Latest Survey of Faculty Attitudes to Online and Blended Learning Just Released!

Inside Education 2014 Blended Learning I

Inside Education 2014 Blended Learning

Inside Education 2014 Blended Learning II

Click to enlarge.

Dear Commons Community,

Inside Higher Education annually commissions Gallup to conduct an opinion survey of college faculty and technology administrators. In the latest study, Gallup surveyed 2,799 faculty members and 288 academic technology administrators this past summer on a number of issues related to online learning. A copy of the report can be downloaded here. Highlights as summarized by Inside Higher Education include:

  • Virtually all faculty members and technology administrators say meaningful student-teacher interaction is a hallmark of a quality online education, and that it is missing from most online courses.
  • A majority of faculty members with online teaching experience still say those courses produce results inferior to in-person courses.
  • Faculty members are overwhelmingly opposed to their institutions hiring outside “enablers” to manage any part of online course operation, even for marketing purposes.
  • Humanities instructors are most likely to say they have benefited from the digital humanities — but also that those digital techniques have been oversold.

“Only about one-quarter of faculty respondents (26 percent) say online courses can produce results equal to in-person courses. While that represents a slight increase from last year’s survey, when only one in five said so, that top-line number fails to communicate that most faculty members maintain serious doubts about being able to interact or indeed teach students in online courses.

The doubt extends across age groups and most academic disciplines. Tenured faculty members may be the most critical of online courses, with an outright majority (52 percent) saying online courses produce results inferior to in-person courses, but that does not necessarily mean opposition rises steadily with age. Faculty respondents younger than 40, for example, are more critical of online courses (38 percent) than are those between the ages of 50 and 59 (34 percent).”

Several of the other findings also point to positive attitudes and experiences with blended courses.   For example, the percentage (50% – see Table 11) of faculty who had taught a blended course versus the percentage (33% – see Table 9) who  had taught a fully online course indicate  that blended courses are continuing to move well into the mainstream of American higher education.  Furthermore, Table 17 indicates that the vast majority (75-80%) of the faculty are moving to blended courses for sound pedagogical reasons.



Fifty One Years Ago Today – President John F. Kennedy Was Assassinated!

Kennedy 1

We remember that on Nov. 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated while riding in a motorcade in Dallas.  A nation mourned and would never be the same!

Texas Adopts Controversial Textbooks!

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday, a Texas panel approved 89 history and social studies textbooks for use in its classrooms across the state. The Republican-controlled State Board of Education voted along party lines 10-5, sanctioning most proposed books and electronic lessons. It defeated six books, however, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt withdrew a high school government textbook. Because Texas’ market is so large, textbooks published to meet its standards can affect those sold in other states. As reported in the Associated Press:

“Texas’ school board approved new history textbooks …capping months of outcry over lessons some academics say exaggerate the influence of Moses in American democracy and negatively portray Muslims.

The State Board of Education sanctioned 89 books and classroom software packages that more than 5 million public school students will begin using next fall. But it took hours of sometimes testy discussion and left publishers scrambling to make hundreds of last-minute edits, some to no avail. A proposal to delay the vote to allow the board and general public to better check those changes was defeated.

“I’m comfortable enough that these books have been reviewed by many, many people,” said Thomas Ratliff, a Republican and the board’s vice chairman. “They are not perfect, they never will be.”

The history, social studies and government textbooks were submitted for approval this summer, and since then, academics and activists on the right and left have criticized many of them. Some worry they are too sympathetic to Islam or downplay the achievements of President Ronald Reagan. Others say they overstate the importance of Moses on America’s Founding Fathers or trumpet the free-market system too much.

Bitter ideological disputes over what gets taught in Texas classrooms have for years attracted national attention. The new books follow the state academic curriculum adopted in 2010, when board Republicans approved standards including conservative-championed topics, like Moses and his influence on systems of law. They said those would counter what they saw as liberal biases in classrooms.

Friday’s 10-5 vote, with all Republicans supporting the books and Democrats opposing them, was the first of its kind since 2002. The books will be used for at least a decade.

Mavis Knight, a Dallas Democrat, said she couldn’t support books adhering to the 2010 academic standards.

“I think it’s a disservice to the students when we have a particular bent in which we present things to them,” said Knight, who is retiring and attended her last board meeting.”

The politics of public school curriculum is not a new issue.   John Stuart Mill, in 1869, in his major work, On Liberty, commented:   “A general State education is a mere contrivance for molding people to be exactly like one another; and as the mold in which it casts them is that which pleases the predominant power in the government…it establishes a despotism of the mind.”

We congratulate the Texas School Board for verifying Mill’s observation.



The 4th Wave – Keynote Address at the CUNY University Faculty Senate Fall Conference!

The 4th Wave – The Online Learning Landscape was the basis for my keynote presentation at the CUNY University Faculty Senate Fall Conference – November 2014.