Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg Pledges $50 Million to Fight National Rifle Association!

Dear Commons Community,

Michael R. Bloomberg plans to spend $50 million this year building a nationwide grass-roots network to motivate voters who feel strongly about curbing gun violence, an organization he hopes can eventually out-muscle the National Rifle Association.  As reported in The Huffington Post:

“Mr. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, said gun control advocates need to learn from the N.R.A. and punish those politicians who fail to support their agenda — even Democrats whose positions otherwise align with his own.

“They say, ‘We don’t care. We’re going to go after you,’ ” he said of the N.R.A. “ ‘If you don’t vote with us we’re going to go after your kids and your grandkids and your great-grandkids. And we’re never going to stop.’ ”

He added: “We’ve got to make them afraid of us.”

…The considerable advantages that gun rights advocates enjoy — in intensity, organization and political clout — will not be easy to overcome. Indeed, Mr. Bloomberg has already spent millions of dollars trying to persuade members of Congress to support enhanced background check laws with virtually nothing to show for it.

What is more, for many gun owners, the issue is a deeply personal one that energizes them politically, said Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, who dismissed the mayor’s plans.

“He’s got the money to waste,” Mr. Pratt said. “So I guess he’s free to do so. But frankly, I think he’s going to find out why his side keeps losing.”

The N.R.A. had no comment.”

Let the battle begin.  We are in Mr. Bloomberg’s corner.



Happy Passover!


Book Review: The Great American Education-Industrial Complex… in the Teachers College Record!

Cover Final

Dear Commons Community,

Last year, my colleague Joel Spring and I published The Great American Education-Industrial Complex: Ideology, Technology, and Profit  (Routledge/Taylor & Francis).  On Friday, the Teachers College Record, had a review of it written by David Casalaspi.  The review points out the book’s strengths as well as the problems of researching difficult topics such as education policy, decision making, and political influence.  Joel and I appreciate and support Mr. Casalaspi’s conclusion:

“while other scholars have written in more detail about individual components of the complex, Picciano and Spring adumbrate a much more comprehensive, realistic and fluid portrait of educational governance than has been portrayed in recent literature.  Their acknowledgement that shifts in governance over the past few decades have empowered unelected elites and challenged traditional democratic power structures is an important one—and something that certainly demands the scrutiny of a democratic public.”



The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife – Papyrus Fragment Found/Authenticated to 4th Century!

Jesus WifeClick to enlarge

Dear Commons Community,

On this Palm Sunday, it might be an appropriate time to consider whether  Jesus Christ was married.   Harvard Divinity School professor Karen L. King says she has found an ancient papyrus fragment from the fourth century that, when translated, appears to indicate that Jesus was married.  The text is being dubbed “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.” The part of it that’s drawing attention says, “Jesus said to them, ‘my wife’” in the Coptic language. The text, which is printed on papyrus the size of a business card, has not been scientifically tested to verify its dating, but King and other scholars have said they are confident it is a genuine artifact.

As quoted in The Huffington Post:

“Christian tradition has long held that Jesus was not married, even though no reliable historical evidence exists to support that claim,” King said at a conference in Rome on Tuesday. “This new gospel doesn’t prove that Jesus was married, but it tells us that the whole question only came up as part of vociferous debates about sexuality and marriage. From the very beginning, Christians disagreed about whether it was better not to marry, but it was over a century after Jesus’s death before they began appealing to Jesus’ marital status to support their positions.”

King, who focuses on Coptic literature, Gnosticism and women in the Bible, has published on the Gospel of Judas and the Gospel of Mary of Magdala. She presented her research Tuesday evening in Rome, where scholars are gathered for the International Congress of Coptic Studies.

The idea that Jesus was unmarried and chaste is largely accepted by Christian denominations and a reason for the practice of celibacy among Roman Catholic priests.

“Beyond internal Catholic Church politics, a married Jesus invites a reconsideration of orthodox teachings about gender and sex,” said journalist and author Michael D’Antonio, who writes about the Catholic Church, in a blog on The Huffington Post. “If Jesus had a wife, then there is nothing extra Christian about male privilege, nothing spiritually dangerous about the sexuality of women, and no reason for anyone to deny himself or herself a sexual identity.”

The DaVinci Code anyone!


Students, Teachers, and Principals Protest New York State Common Core Tests!

Common Core Students Principals Protest

Dear Commons Community,

Students, teachers and at least 37 principals in Manhattan protested the state’s controversial Common Core tests Friday, saying the exams were full of poorly constructed questions.

“We are disappointed by the design and quality of this test, as well as the lack of transparency surrounding this process,” said Adele Schroeter, principal of Public School 59.

Advocates said all the schools in District 2, which covers most of the east side south of E. 97th St. and the west side south of 59th St., protested the exams administered last week.

The New York State Education Department has a major problem on its hands and seems to be in denial that there is a growing movement against the Common Core exams.  Elizabeth Phillips, the principal of Public School 321 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, had  an excellent op-ed piece in the New York Times highly critical of the tests administered last week in grades 3 through 8.  This should not be mistaken as a protest against the Common Core curriculum but against the tests designed by Pearson Education.


World University Leaders Ponder the Future of Higher Education at Paris Meeting!

Dear Commons Community,

Three hundred university leaders from around the world (mainly from the United States and Europe) are meeting in Paris to speculate on the future of higher education.  Organized by Princeton University and France’s Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, topics included enrollment growth, research, interdisciplinary study, and technology.  Here is a summary of the discussions  provided by The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required).

The number of higher-education students worldwide is expected to grow from 97 million in 2000 to 262 million in 2025, a demand that can’t be met under current models of higher education with the greatest growth in non-Western areas such as India and Africa.

Funding for higher education especially in the United States and Europe is being trimmed requiring students to bear larger portions of the costs.

Student goals and interests are shifting to a “return on investment” mentality that is leading many policy makers and others to question the value of a broad-based, liberal education.

Research needs to become more interdisciplinary and across institutions.

And what would a meeting of the future of higher education be without a discussion of MOOCs.   As in the United States, MOOCs experienced a period of breathless excitement in Europe and now face pushback.

In Britain, MOOCs went through a “cycle of hype,” said William Lawton, director of the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education, a London-based research group…He said he hoped that now a more sober—and enlightened—conversation could start about how online courses, especially ones that include a portion of in-person teaching, can improve higher education.

“The future is basically blended,” he said.

Most definitely!



New York School Principal: State Standardized Tests Were Confusing, Developmentally Inappropriate, and Not Aligned with the Common Core Curriculum!

Dear Commons Community,

Elizabeth Phillips, the principal of Public School 321 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, for 15 years, has an op-ed piece in today’s New York Times highly critical of the tests administered last week in grades 3 through 8 across New York State.  She states:

“In general terms, the tests were confusing, developmentally inappropriate and not well aligned with the Common Core standards. The questions were focused on small details in the passages, rather than on overall comprehension, and many were ambiguous. Children as young as 8 were asked several questions that required rereading four different paragraphs and then deciding which one of those paragraphs best connected to a fifth paragraph. There was a strong emphasis on questions addressing the structure rather than the meaning of the texts. There was also a striking lack of passages with an urban setting. And the tests were too long; none of us can figure out why we need to test for three days to determine how well a child reads and writes.”

Furthermore, she comments that educators across the state are prohibited from discussing details about the tests because:

“Pearson’s $32 million contract with New York State to design the exams prohibits the state from making the tests public and imposes a gag order on educators who administer them. So teachers watched hundreds of thousands of children in grades 3 to 8 sit for between 70 and 180 minutes per day for three days taking a state English Language Arts exam that does a poor job of testing reading comprehension, and yet we’re not allowed to point out what the problems were…

We do not want to become cynics, but until these flawed exams are released to the public and there is true transparency, it will be difficult for teachers and principals to maintain the optimism that is such an essential element of educating children.”

Ms. Phillips makes fine points regarding testing in New York.  She joins many other educators across the state who are calling out and pleading with policy makers to examine the testing insanity that has been perpetuated on children and teachers in our schools.



G.E. , Microsoft, and Pfizer Top List of American Corporations with Money ($2.3 Trillion) Stashed Overseas!

Dear Commons Community,

Foreign profits held overseas by U.S. corporations to avoid taxes at home nearly doubled between 2008 to 2013.  to over $2.1 trillion.  GE tops the list, followed by Microsoft, Pfizer, Merck, Apple.  As reported by Reuters:

“Foreign profits held overseas by U.S. corporations … doubled from 2008 to 2013 to top $2.1 trillion, said a private research firm’s report, prompting a call for reform by the Senate’s top tax law writer.  The new numbers certainly highlight what is one of the key challenges for tax reform. I do think there need to be  some reforms in this area,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden told reporters on Tuesday on Capitol Hill.

Under U.S. law, corporations do not have to pay income tax on most of their overseas profits until they are brought into the United States. These earnings can be held offshore for years if they are classified as indefinitely invested abroad.

The research firm, Audit Analytics, said in a report issued last week that the total of such earnings was up 93 percent from 2008 to 2013, citing federal financial filings for companies listed in the Russell 1000 index of U.S. corporations.

Conglomerate General Electric Co had the biggest pile of earnings stored abroad, at $110 billion, the firm said.

Next were software maker Microsoft Corp, with $76.4 billion; drugmakers Pfizer Inc, with $69 billion, and Merck & Co Inc, with $57.1 billion; and high-tech group Apple Inc, with $54.4 billion, it said.

In response, GE said in a statement: “GE operates in more than 170 countries, and most of these overseas earnings have been reinvested in active business operations like manufacturing facilities and loans to non-U.S. customers.”

A Merck spokesman said the company files its tax returns in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations.

A Microsoft spokesman referred questions to 2012 congressional testimony, in which company officials said it abides by foreign and U.S. tax laws.

In testimony in 2013 before Congress, Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook said the company is a large taxpayer and does not use tax gimmicks. Apple declined to comment on the new report.”

All of these companies operate within the law but  it is how they stretch the law that is the problem. Tax loopholes indeed.



New Yorker Cover Shows President Obama Giving Republicans their Medicine!

Obama Republicans New Yorker Cover

Dear Commons Community,

Republicans are not going to like the New Yorker’s latest cover.

In reference to  Obamacare’s recent victory of having achieved over 7 million subscribers, it shows President Obama feeding medicine to a little boy which in this case is Mitch McConnell.  Waiting on line for their medicine are Ted Cruz, John Boehner, and Michele Bachman.



Pearson Embanet to Get $186 Million to Manage University of Florida Online!

Dear Commons Community,

This was sent to me by my colleague, Peter Shea, at SUNY Albany.  As reported in The Gainseville Sun:

“The University of Florida (UF) will pay Pearson Embanet an estimated $186 million over the life of its 11-year contract — a combination of direct payments and a share of tuition revenue — to help launch and manage the state’s first fully online, four-year degree program.

How UF evaluates how well Pearson does its job is unknown — the standards by which the contractor is measured are still being withheld from the public, such as minimum enrollment figures and total tuition levels.

UF officials maintained that those criteria are “trade secrets” exempt from state public records law.

“Per the General Counsel’s Office, the redacted information is confidential as a trade secret of Pearson, deriving independent economic value from not being generally known to, or readily ascertainable by, other persons who can obtain economic value from its disclosure or use,” Janine Sikes, the UF assistant vice president for media relations, said in an email to The Sun.

The Gainesville Sun pieced together what UF could wind up paying Pearson based on a business plan presented to the Florida Board of Governors in September, two months before UF Provost Joe Glover and Chief Financial Officer Matt Fajack signed a contract with Pearson Embanet CEO and President David Daniels.”

…Pearson Learning is part of an international publishing and media conglomerate that includes The Financial Times and Penguin Publishing. It entered the e-learning support field for public universities in 2010, starting with Arizona State University and the California State University System, according to Inside Higher Education.

It bought Embanet Compass in 2012 for $650 million — leapfrogging from fifth to first in providing online learning support for public colleges and universities, according to Inside Higher Education. UF had a prior relationship with Embanet supporting eight online graduate programs.

Under its new contract with UF, Pearson is responsible for creating “proprietary digital content,” providing admission and enrollment support, generating leads and signing new students, tracking retention rates, engaging in joint research and development, and providing on-demand student support.”

UF’s relationship with Pearson Embanet will be watched closely by the higher education community.