Senator Rand Paul Blames the Rise of ISIS on GOP Hawks!

Dear Commons Community,

Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), running for the Republican presidential nomination, yesterday blamed the rise of ISIS on hawkish members of the GOP who he said were too eager to intervene abroad. As reported in The Huffington Post:

“Paul has worked to push back against the characterization that he is an isolationist and weak on foreign policy. On Wednesday, Paul said that those who said his kind of foreign policy was responsible for the rise of ISIS were wrong.

“I would say it’s exactly the opposite. ISIS exists and grew stronger because of the hawks in our party who gave arms indiscriminately. And most of those arms were snatched up by ISIS. These hawks also wanted to bomb [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad], which would have made ISIS’s job even easier,” he said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “They created these people. ISIS is all over Libya because these same hawks in my party loved — they loved [former Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton’s war in Libya. They just wanted more of it.”

Paul’s comments come amid a heightened focus on the Iraq war and U.S. foreign policy. Earlier this month, a college student confronted former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, another likely Republican presidential candidate, and told him that his brother was responsible for the rise of ISIS — something that the 43rd president did in fact help with. Both Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) struggled to say whether or not they would have invaded Iraq in 2003 with the intelligence available today.

On Wednesday, Paul said that the hawkish members of his party had long been wrong on foreign policy.”

Thank you for your honesty, Senator Paul!



Goodbye F.A.O. Schwarz! One of NYC’s Special Places for Children is Closing!

FAO Schwarz

Dear Commons Community,

It is official, F.A.O. Schwarz, one of the country’s oldest toy store is closing in July, 2015. Founded originally in Baltimore in 1861 as the “Toy Bazaar”, F.A.O. Schwarz opened on 14th Street in New York City as the Schwarz Toy Bazaar in 1870,  moved to Fifth Avenue in 1931, and moved to its present location in 1986.

As a child in the 1950s, I remember my father taking me to F.A.O. Schwarz. The past several years, I have been taking my grandchildren, Michael and Ali, to experience the same wonder that I did looking at the fabulous assortment of toys. A New York Times article this morning provided a bit more history:

“F. A. O. Schwarz remains one of New York’s most venerable retail brands, having outlasted other carriage-trade stores such as B. Altman, Bonwit Teller and Best & Company. The store began as Schwarz Brothers Importers soon after the Civil War. It was the Manhattan outpost of a family-run operation from Baltimore, but the other brothers disappeared from the marquee in a few years. The one who remained, Frederick August Otto Schwarz, made the store his. It probably helped that many people saw in him more than a passing resemblance to Santa Claus.

He concentrated on intriguing toys at premium prices. He had to, said Christopher Byrne, the creative director of, an online toy review — in those days, most toys were imported from Europe. “There were very, very few manufactured toys in the U.S.,” he said. “These were luxury goods, the dolls and the trains and the building blocks, and these were unheard-of.”

There was a time when F. A. O. Schwarz was a status symbol. “Their slate blue box under the Christmas tree was as impressive to child as a Tiffany box would have been to a grown-up in New York,” Mr. Byrne said.

Those were the days when F. A. O. Schwarz published “this huge Neiman Marcus-style catalog that came to people’s homes.” He said the catalog, as much as anything else, had established the company’s identity from the moment Mr. Schwarz put out the first one in the 1870s. But catalogs have long since become passé, and ogling toys in a store “is not really an American pastime anymore,” he said.

“Kids still love looking at toys, but they’re doing it on their iPads and their phones and their different devices,” he said. “The image of the saucer-eyed child looking at some object of desire is the same, but the child is looking at a tablet.”



MaryEllen Elia: New Commissioner of Education in NYS!

MaryEllen Elia

Dear Commons Community,

The New York State Regents will recommend the appointment of MaryEllen Elia, a former superintendent from Florida, as the new commissioner of education. As reported by various media:

“The Board of Regents will name MaryEllen Elia, the former schools superintendent for Hillsborough County, Fla., to the position at an afternoon press conference in Albany.

She will replace John B. King Jr., who resigned as commissioner in 2014 for a job at the U.S. Department of Education.

Hillsborough is the eighth-largest school district in the country with 200,000 students. She has roots in upstate New York, where she started as a social studies teacher in 1970. Elia moved to the Hillsborough district as a reading resource teacher in 1986. She worked her way up and was appointed superintendent in 2005.

The president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, offered in a statement that while the union was “opposed to high-stakes testing” and grading teachers on students’ test performance, “even when MaryEllen applied it as required under Florida law, she made collaboration her mantra.”

Collaboration is something that New York desperately needs. Carmen Farina brought it to New York City. Let’s hope that MaryEllen can bring it to Albany and the rest of the state.



Securing Smart Cities – We Need a New Initiative!

Dear Commons Community,

Cities around the world are spending billions of dollars into bringing more of their basic services and infrastructure online. Big data and analytics are finding their way into health care, education, social work, traffic control, housing, police, and most other city services. The New York Times has an article cautioning mayors and managers that they are not paying enough attention to cyber security and their databases are increasingly vulnerable with each new application. As reported:

“…Cesar Cerrudo, an Argentine security researcher, began pointing out critical vulnerabilities in America’s so-called smart cities, where wireless sensors control a growing portion of city infrastructure from traffic lights to water and waste management systems.

One year later, Mr. Cerrudo discovered that little had been done to patch those basic vulnerabilities, even as cities around the world poured billions of dollars into bringing more of their basic infrastructure online. Without renewed focus on security, he and other researchers warn, those cities are just creating larger and larger targets for nation states and cyberterrorists.

“What I found is that there are a lot of security problems — the situation is really bad — but I didn’t want to just point out problems without offering solutions,” Mr. Cerrudo said.

In response, on Tuesday, he and others from IOActive Labs; Kaspersky Lab, the Russian cybersecurity company; and a growing list of security experts will announce a new Securing Smart Cities initiative. Their goal is to bring private security researchers and public administrators together to set up basic cybersecurity checklists for smart cities, including properly installed encryption, passwords and systems that can be easily patched for security holes…

Every day cities are incorporating new technologies really fast without any testing and they are putting citizens and businesses at risk,” Mr. Cerrudo said in an interview. “Every day we depend more and more on technology. If that technology is not secure and protected, it will get attacked, and people and businesses will suffer the consequences.”

This is sound advice!



Math Genius, John Nash, Killed in Automobile Accident!


Dear Commons Community,

John F. Nash Jr., the mathematician who shared a Nobel Prize in 1994 for work that greatly extended the reach and power of modern economic theory and whose long descent into severe mental illness and eventual recovery was killed, along with his wife, in a car crash on Saturday in New Jersey. He was 86. Nash’s up and down life was well-depicted in the book and a film, both titled “A Beautiful Mind”. Here are several excerpts from his obituary:

“Dr. Nash was widely regarded as one of the great mathematicians of the 20th century, known for the originality of his thinking and for his fearlessness in wrestling down problems so difficult that few others dared tackle them. A one-sentence letter written in support of his application to Princeton’s doctoral program in math said simply, “This man is a genius.”

“John’s remarkable achievements inspired generations of mathematicians, economists and scientists,” the president of Princeton, Christopher L. Eisgruber, said on Sunday, “and the story of his life with Alicia moved millions of readers and moviegoers, who marveled at their courage in the face of daunting challenges.”

“…Harold W. Kuhn, an emeritus professor of mathematics at Princeton and a longtime friend and colleague of Dr. Nash’s who died in 2014, once said, “I think honestly that there have been really not that many great ideas in the 20th century in economics, and maybe, among the top 10, his equilibrium would be among them.” A University of Chicago economist, Roger Myerson, went further, comparing the impact of the Nash equilibrium on economics “to that of the discovery of the DNA double helix in the biological sciences.”

“…early in 1959, with his wife pregnant with their son, John, Dr. Nash began to unravel. His brilliance turned malignant, leading him into a landscape of paranoia and delusion, and in April he was hospitalized at McLean Hospital, outside Boston.”

It was the first step of a steep decline. There were more hospitalizations. Dr. Nash underwent electroshock therapy and fled for a while to Europe, sending cryptic postcards to colleagues and family members. For many years he roamed the Princeton campus, a lonely figure scribbling unintelligible formulas on the same blackboards in Fine Hall on which he had once demonstrated startling mathematical feats.

“…The Nobel, the publicity that attended it and the making of the film were “a watershed in his life,” Dr. Kuhn said of Dr. Nash. “It changed him from a homeless unknown person who was wandering around Princeton to a celebrity, and financially it put him on a much better basis.”

A beautiful mind and an incredible life.



Veterans Frustrated by How Politicians View their Sacrifice and Participation in the Iraq War!

Dear Commons Community,

The Associated Press interviewed several veterans of the Iraq War on the issue of presidential hopefuls distancing themselves from the decision to invade that country. The AP article reports:

“Veterans of the Iraq War have been watching in frustration as Republican presidential contenders distance themselves from the decision their party enthusiastically supported to invade that country.

Some veterans say they long ago concluded their sacrifice was in vain, and are annoyed that a party that lobbied so hard for the war is now running from it. Others say they still believe their mission was vital, regardless of what the politicians say. And some find the gotcha question being posed to the politicians — Knowing what we know now, would you have invaded? — an insult in itself.

“Do-overs don’t happen in real life,” said Gregory Diacogiannis, 30, who served as an army sniper in Baghdad trying to spot militants laying roadside bombs and chased high-value targets in the city of Baqouba. “I have trouble with the question itself just because it lends itself to disregarding the sacrifices that have been made.”



NY Times Editorial Slams Governor Andrew Cuomo for Proposing Tax Credits for Donors to Private Schools!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times editorial yesterday slammed NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposal for tax credits for individuals donating to private and parochial schools. As stated in the editorial:

“Gov. Andrew Cuomo can talk passionately about improving New York’s “failing public schools,” but when he made that point at churches and a yeshiva last Sunday it was, at best, disingenuous. He was there to sell his bill that would help private and parochial schools, by offering big tax credits to their donors. This energetic effort for an expensive and possibly unconstitutional bill that Mr. Cuomo has named the Parental Choice in Education Act could cost the state more than $150 million a year. That money should be used to help almost 2.7 million public school students in the state, not given to wealthy donors subsidizing mainly private or religious schools.

Elizabeth Lynam, a budget expert for New York’s Citizens Budget Commission, called the bill “an extremely lucrative benefit likely to serve the state’s wealthiest taxpayers.” Many of the people who would get the credit already support their favorite private or parochial schools, she said. A tax credit to encourage them isn’t needed.

The bill would allow a 75 percent credit on donations of up to $1 million for each individual or corporation contributing to funds for students in private or parochial schools. That is a huge change from existing law, which offers far less lucrative tax deductions. Typically, for the wealthiest taxpayers, the maximum state tax deduction on $1 million is about $22,000. The Cuomo plan would cap the number of tax credits it gives out and create a complicated system of deadlines and requirements before donors could get the full benefits. Those difficulties add to the suspicion that only someone with a fancy accountant could easily take advantage of this tax bonus.

The $150 million pool includes millions of dollars in tax credits for donations that could provide scholarships to private or parochial students from families with incomes of up to $300,000 a year, which hardly targets the neediest students. And, in an attempt to attract support from the Assembly speaker ,Carl Heastie, and his Democratic majority, Mr. Cuomo has proposed $70 million for a tuition credit of $500 per child sent to nonpublic schools for families with incomes of up to $60,000. There would also be $10 million a year for public-school teachers, including those in charter schools, who could get up to $200 each in tax relief when they buy classroom supplies.

With this misguided bill, Mr. Cuomo may have found plenty of support from religious leaders and private school donors. But his efforts seems jarring, given his record of seeking more accountability in schools. The state has little say in private and parochial schools over testing, the teaching of basic subjects or other data collection required for assessing a good education.

Moreover, taxpayer support for religious education has been banned by the state Constitution for over a century. Exceptions were made long ago for universal needs like transportation and special education, but there are questions as to whether the kind of public support for religious schools the bill proposes would be prohibited.

Republicans in the majority in the State Senate are all for the governor’s bill. It will be up to Mr. Heastie and the Assembly to make sure it doesn’t pass.”

The Times is right. Tax credits for individuals donating to private and parochial schools would be anti-public education and probably would not stand up to a Constitutional challenge.



NYS High School Principal of the Year Carol Burris Resigns Citing Test-Heavy Teacher Evaluation Processes and Common Core!

Carol Burris

Dear Commons Community,

Education Week, the Long Island Herald, and Newsweek have articles reporting that New York State Principal of the Year in 2013, Carol Burris, is resigning in response to new teacher evaluation procedures and the Common Core. As reported:

“Carol Burris, a nationally recognized principal and a vocal opponent of the Common Core State Standards, announced recently that she will be resigning from her position after this school year, citing test-heavy teacher-evaluation processes as a key reason for her departure.

Burris, the principal of South Side High School in Rockville Centre, N.Y., has been recognized by several state and national associations and was named the New York High School Principal of the Year in 2013. Known as a proponent of rigorous curriculum, she’s drawn attention for mandating that nearly all students in her school take advanced classes, including International Baccalaureate courses.

In explaining her decision to resign, Burris said she was morally opposed to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to make student test scores count for as much as 50 percent of teachers’ evaluation ratings.

“I did not feel, in good conscience, that I could come back the following year and participate in that evaluation system,” she said, according to a Newsday report.

Provisions to create a new, more rigorous evaluation system were included in New York’s recently passed budget legislation. While Gov. Cuomo had originally proposed making student performance count for half of a teacher’s evaluation, the details of the new system have yet to be fleshed out, though test scores are expected to be a central component.

Though she was once a supporter of the common core, and even co-authored a book on working with the standards in schools, Burris has become an outspoken and oft-cited critic of the framework, arguing that it is unclear, untested, and overly complicated.

Though she is leaving her school position, Burris is not expected to retire from K-12 education scene. She said she plans to devote more of her time to fighting the changes she sees as harmful to education, including the standards and the new teacher-evaluation system. “I think it’s time for me to step outside of the system and advocate for schools full time,” she told”



What Is ‘Personalized Learning’? Video Series Aims to Go Beyond Hype!

Dear Commons Community,

Personalized learning is one of the current instructional technologies that is receiving a lot of attention. An education blog whose authors believe there’s too much hype around “personalized learning” technology has posted a series of video case studies about the trend, hoping to help get beyond overheated rhetoric.  They provide a look at five colleges trying high-tech classroom experiments and wrestling with how new teaching methods change the role of students and teachers.

As reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“The videos were produced by the education-technology blog e-Literate, with the support of a $350,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The case studies, divided into short segments covering different topics, together resemble a MOOC. That’s no accident, says Michael Feldstein, founder of the blog and a host of the videos, who hopes that some teaching-with-technology centers will use the videos in their professional-development workshops.

He wants videos to provide more nuance than can be found in several recent popular books about the future of education. “It’s just hard to convey a visceral sense of what’s going on in the day-to-day educational lives of teachers and students with the written word,” he said in a post about the videos.

Most projects featured in the videos are also supported by the Gates Foundation, but in an interview, Mr. Feldstein said the foundation had given him and the other host, Phil Hill, editorial independence. “We told them that if we decide that this personalized-learning software doesn’t work, that’s what we’re going to publish,” he said. “We look at what’s working and what’s not.”

Worth a look!