Spanking v. Abuse – Charles Blow Weighs I!

Dear Commons Community,

In light of the controversy surrounding professional football player Adrian Peterson, Charles Blow examines issues related to disciplining children.   To recap the controversy:

Adrian Peterson was booked and released following his indictment for negligent injury to a child charges. Peterson was booked in a Montgomery County Texas Jail last Saturday. According to law-enforcement sources, the Minnesota Vikings running back  beat his 4-year-old son with a tree branch as a form of punishment this summer, an incident that allegedly resulted in multiple injuries to the child. According to reports, Peterson has been indicted in Montgomery County, Texas for injury to a child.  The “whooping” – as Peterson put it when interviewed by police – occurred in Spring, Texas, in May. Peterson’s son had pushed another one of Peterson’s children off of a motorbike video game. As punishment, Peterson grabbed a tree branch – which he consistently referred to as a “switch” – removed the leaves and struck the child repeatedly.

Blow refers to a report published by  Child Trends:

“Use of corporal punishment is linked to negative outcomes for children (e.g., delinquency, antisocial behavior, psychological problems, and alcohol and drug abuse), and may be indicative of ineffective parenting. Research also finds that the number of problem behaviors observed in adolescence is related to the amount of spanking a child receives. The greater the age of the child, the stronger the relationship.

“Positive child outcomes are more likely when parents refrain from using spanking and other physical punishment, and instead discipline their children through communication that is firm, reasoned and nurturing. Studies find this type of discipline can foster positive psychological outcomes, such as high self-esteem and cooperation with others, as well as improved achievement in school.”

The group also pointed out just how pervasive the practice is:

“In 2012, according to a nationally representative survey, 77 percent of men, and 65 percent of women 18 to 65 years old agreed that a child sometimes needs a ‘good hard spanking.’ ”

The group continued:

“One of the most frequently used strategies to discipline a child, especially a younger child, is spanking. About 94 percent of parents of children ages 3 to 4 in the United States report having spanked their children in the previous year.”

Spanking is an age-old disciplinary technique, so turning the tide against it may be difficult.”

Blow concludes that “the drawing of blood isn’t an expression of love but more an expression of anger and exasperation that has morphed into abuse”.



Benghazi: Fox News Obsession!

Dear Commons Community,

Eric Boehlert of The Huffington Post reviews the obsession of Fox News in trying to unveil a White House conspiracy to cover up the events that led to the Benghazi attack. Boelhlert lays it on the line:

“Benghazi, of course, has been politicized in the most disturbing way possible, to the point where Fox News and conservatives have turned an American tragedy into something of a macabre Twitter punchline. It’s become sort of a Groundhog Day of exploitation and fakery, with more than 1,000 on-air Fox segments — during evening coverage alone — devoted to the endless pursuit. And now the Republicans’ select committee, virtually sponsored by Fox News, is set to add more chapters to the sprawling production, which conveniently doubles as a GOP fundraising tool.

According to press reports, the committee’s first hearing will focus on the State Department’s Accountability Review Board, which looked into the details surrounding the Benghazi attacks. In other words, Republican investigators have decided to investigate the Benghazi investigators. Again.

And at this point, does anyone even remember in 2012 when the family of slain U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens beseeched opportunists not to politicize his death? (“It would really be abhorrent to make this into a campaign issue.”) Or when the mother of one of the other murdered Americans in Benghazi scolded Mitt Romney when he kept referencing her son on the presidential campaign trail? (“It’s wrong to use these brave young men, who wanted freedom for all, to degrade Obama.”)

Those wishes were almost instantly trampled and are now long forgotten by most; distant echoes drowned out by the churning gears of phony outrage.

Increasingly, and somewhat belatedly, some mainstream press players have figured this out. Many reporters and pundits who were open and eager to follow every conceivable right-wing allegation about Benghazi (while playing down good news for the White House) have cooled to the chase in recent months and coverage was been slim. There’s also been surprisingly little chatter in anticipation of the select committee’s proceedings. After two years of dry holes, it’s difficult to feign interest any more. And poor CBS. It took a newsroom scandal of historic proportions to drive home the painful lesson of chasing bogus, partisan Benghazi allegations.

But at Fox News, the ratings-grabbing obsession remains strong. And now, thanks to Media Matters’ meticulous research, we know just how far and how all-consuming that obsession has stretched. It’s hard to even wrap your heads around some of these numbers from Fox’s coverage in the 20 months following the attack:

-1,098 total Fox News evening segments that included significant discussion of Benghazi — an average of about 13 segments per week.

-144 interviews with GOP members of Congress versus only five interviews with Democratic members of Congress and Obama administration officials.

Note the relentless and out of control focus showered on the story by Special Report, which Fox executives often point to as its premiere and serious news program, not just a partisan talk show. Serious news program? It aired nearly 400 Benghazi reports in less than two years.

Please also pay attention to the fact that despite its flood-the-zone coverage, Fox has been unable to move the Benghazi cover-up story one foot in two years. Almost nothing Fox has reported over the last 24 months has added in any significant way to the understanding of what happened in Benghazi the night of the attack. And considering Fox has set aside more than one thousand segments to the topic, that fact simply confirms the team’s collective impotence.”

Benghazi was a tragedy. The fact is that there was an attack and four Americans were killed. We should be honoring their service to our country and not using them for crass political purposes but then again crassness is Fox News’ forte.



Koch Brothers and Florida State University Revisited!

Dear Commons Community,

The Koch brothers and their intrusion into Florida State University’s governance and personnel practices are in the spotlight again. Recently released documents are shedding light on a “gift” the Koch Brothers Foundation gave to FSU. As part of the gift, stipulations were required regarding curriculum and faculty hiring. Joel Spring and I wrote about this in our 2010 book, The Great American Education-Industrial Complex:  Ideology, Technology, and Profit.  A posting on the website of The Center for Public Integrity reviews the new documents. Here is an excerpt:

“In 2007, when the Charles Koch Foundation considered giving millions of dollars to Florida State University’s economics department, the offer came with strings attached.

First, the curriculum it funded must align with the libertarian, deregulatory economic philosophy of Charles Koch, the billionaire industrialist and Republican political bankroller.

Second, the Charles Koch Foundation would at least partially control which faculty members Florida State University hired.

And third, Bruce Benson, a prominent libertarian economic theorist and Florida State University economics department chairman, must stay on another three years as department chairman — even though he told his wife he’d step down in 2009 after one three-year term.

The Charles Koch Foundation expressed a willingness to give Florida State an extra $105,000 to keep Benson — a self-described “libertarian anarchist” who asserts that every government function he’s studied “can be, has been, or is being produced better by the private sector” — in place.

“As we all know, there are no free lunches. Everything comes with costs,” Benson at the time wrote to economics department colleagues in an internal memorandum. “They want to expose students to what they believe are vital concepts about the benefits of the market and the dangers of government failure, and they want to support and mentor students who share their views. Therefore, they are trying to convince us to hire faculty who will provide that exposure and mentoring.”

Benson concluded, “If we are not willing to hire such faculty, they are not willing to fund us.”

Such details are contained in 16 pages of previously unpublished emails and memos obtained by the Center for Public Integrity.

While the documents are seven years old — and don’t reflect the Charles Koch Foundation’s current relationship with Florida State University, university officials contend — they offer rare insight into how Koch’s philanthropic operation prods academics to preach a free market gospel in exchange for cash.”

The above is another example of why the Koch Brothers and their Foundation have become embarrassments for the free-enterprise system.  In a word, they continue to feed the distrust that large segments of the public have for corporate America.



California Set to Pass Wide-Ranging Student Data Privacy Law!

Dear Commons Community,

During the past year, 36 states introduced legislation on student information privacy and security. About 30 bills were passed, as varied as measures that ban school districts from collecting details like students’ pregnancy history and those that require education departments to publish lists of the exact data points they collect. California is now close to passing one of the most comprehensive bills in the country. As reported in The New York Times:

“Legislators in the state [California] passed a law last month prohibiting educational sites, apps and cloud services used by schools from selling or disclosing personal information about students from kindergarten through high school; from using the children’s data to market to them; and from compiling dossiers on them. The law is a response to growing parental concern that sensitive information about children — like data about learning disabilities, disciplinary problems or family trauma — might be disseminated and disclosed, potentially hampering college or career prospects. Although other states have enacted limited restrictions on such data, California’s law is the most wide-ranging.

“It’s a landmark bill in that it’s the first of its kind in the country to put the onus on Internet companies to do the right thing,” said Senator Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat who wrote the bill.

Gov. Jerry Brown has not taken a public position on the measure…If he does not act, the bill will become law at the end of this month. Senator Steinberg said the bill had broad bipartisan support and was likely to be enacted.”

This type of legislation is overdue and will only have to be strengthened in the future. Data about young people are being collected and the protections are few. While California puts the onus on companies “to do the right thing”, sooner or later a company or two will not do the right thing and confidential student data will seep out into the Internet ether. We only have to look at the hacking scandals that are rocking governments throughout the world to understand that the systems in place protecting data on individuals including children are weak.  Parents would be wise to opt out of any program that move their children’s data into the hands of private enterprises.



Two Million Older Americans Still Repaying Student Loans!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has an article describing the plight of older Americans who still owe the government on their student loans. It is estimated that two million Americans age 60 and older are in debt from unpaid student loans, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Its August “Household Debt and Credit Report” said the number of aging Americans with outstanding student loans had almost tripled from about 700,000 in 2005, whether from long-ago loans for their own educations or more recent borrowing to pay for college degrees for family members.

The debt among older people is up substantially, to $43 billion from $8 billion in 2005, according to the report, which is based on data from Equifax, the credit reporting agency. As of July 31, money was being deducted from Social Security payments to almost 140,000 individuals to pay down their outstanding student loans, according to Treasury Department data. That is up from just under 38,000 people in 2004. Over the decade, the amounts withheld more than tripled, to nearly $101 million for the first seven months of this year from over $32 million in 2004.

Here are two stories from the Times article:

“Janet Lee Dupree, 72, was surprised when she received her first Social Security benefits seven years ago. About one-fifth of her monthly payment was being withheld and she called the federal government to find out why.

The woman, who is from Citra, Fla., discovered that the deduction from her benefits was to repay $3,000 in loans she took out in the early 1970s to pay for her undergraduate degree.

“I didn’t pay it back, and I’m not saying I shouldn’t,” she said. “I was an alcoholic, and later diagnosed with H.I.V., but I’ve turned my life around. I’ve been paying some of the loan back but that never seems to lower the amount, which is now $15,000 because of interest.

“I don’t know if I can ever pay it back…”

Rosemary Anderson, 57 is from Watsonville, Calif., has a home mortgage that is under water, as well as health and other problems, and $64,000 in unpaid student loans. She borrowed the money in her 30s to fund her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, but fell behind on her student loan payments eight years ago.

As a result of compound interest, her debt has risen to $126,000. With her $526 monthly payment, at an 8.25 percent rate, she estimates that she “will be 81” by the time it is paid, and will have laid out $87,487 more than she originally borrowed.”

Senators Elizabeth Warren and Susan Collins have introduced measures to ease the burden on individuals such as Janet and Rosemary but the bottom line is that they will see their social security checks garnished if they don’t pay back their loans.




Plutarch and The Future of College – The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be lit.

Dear Commons Community,

My colleague, Frank McCluskey, had a posting on his blog a little while ago raising questions about the purpose of a university. He asked: If a university does not support faculty research and publication can we still call it a university?  He argued “No” and that a fundamental mission of a university is to seek knowledge. The discussion moved to the future of higher education in the age of online learning, MOOCs, and venture capital endeavors such as Coursera and Minerva. An article in The Atlantic on “The Future of College”, published in August, was referenced that speculated on the influence of online technology on higher education. There was the usual give and take about whether certain types of online institutions would replace traditional colleges and universities, much of which has been well-reviewed over the past half dozen years. However, the quote that I liked most in The Atlantic article was from the Greek author, Petrarch, who said: “The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be lit.”  There is great wisdom in these words and they are as important in the 21st century as they were in the 1st century AD. A critical question is whether online learning is simply a vessel-filling modality or can it inspire students to learn and to want to learn on their own. I would say yes it can but it will take well-trained faculty to do so who can create highly-interactive learning environments in which students can in fact feel inspiration from a teacher and/or fellow students.  Many of the canned, mass-produced courses lack this close human to human interactivity and that may be their Achilles heel.  In my opinion, many of these courses are well-done, multimedia-infused content delivery that will best be utilized in blended learning environments where faculty will select some of the content but will reserve for the traditional classroom the interaction needed to inspire students.  Yes many students will enroll in these courses and programs especially those who live in parts of the world where higher education opportunity is severely lacking.  In the United States, as long as the elite institutions continue to offer and promote small-class size,  interactive face-to-face instruction, it will be difficult for fully online colleges to become the norm.


Texas: Another Battle Brewing over Textbooks!

Texas Textbooks

Dear Commons Community,

It is that time of the season when the Texas State Board of Education will deliberate and vote to adopt new textbooks for its K-12 schools. As in the past, controversy dominates the process mainly because a number of educators contend that the books contain material that represent conservative Christian values.  The Huffington Post reports on several of this year’s points of contention:

“New social studies books, on which the Texas State Board of Education is set to vote in November, promote pro-Christian religious and conservative political biases, according to a report released Wednesday from the nonprofit Texas Freedom Network Education Fund. History scholars argue in the report that a number of the books under consideration contain misleading information on topics like America’s founding and world religions.

The textbooks on American government, U.S. and world history, and religion in world history and geography were submitted by publishers including Pearson Education, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and McGraw-Hill Education. They were designed to fit Texas’ curriculum standards for history, which some critics have charged contain their own conservative biases.

Ten scholars, including professors from Southern Methodist University and doctoral students from the University of Texas at Austin, were contracted by the Texas Freedom Network to review the textbooks. While the experts praised some of the books for navigating the state standards in a fair way, they criticized others for capitulating to political concerns and disregarding evidence.

“In all fairness, it’s clear that the publishers struggled with these flawed standards and still managed to do a good job in some areas,” said Kathy Miller, president of the TFN Education Fund, in a statement. “On the other hand, a number of textbook passages essentially reflect the ideological beliefs of politicians on the state board rather than sound scholarship and factual history.”

Emile Lester, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington, took issue with much of the content he saw in the U.S. government textbooks. “The [State Board of Education] and these textbooks have collaborated to make students’ knowledge of American history a casualty of the culture wars,” he wrote in the report.

Lester specifically criticized a proposed Pearson textbook for “a treatment of affirmative action [that] verges on the offensive.” He mentioned two cartoons (see below) in which space aliens discuss affirmative action. In a call with reporters on Wednesday, he said those cartoons “imply that recipients of affirmative action … are un-American.”

This is another fine example of politicians undermining public education in this country?



Fourteen College Presidents – White Paper on Key Shifts in Higher Education!

Dear Commons Community,

eCampus News has a summary of a white paper prepared by a panel of fourteen  college executives assembled by the American Council on Education (ACE). According to the paper, the  panel identified several key shifts occurring in higher-education today, thanks to evolving technologies; and it’s these key shifts that will shape the future of institutions.

The rise of the content commons: This refers to open resources and its products, such as MOOCs, video modules, open courses, and on-demand online assistance and expertise. Mobile devices play into this shift, as well as new work and social space designs. Ultimately, this trend “will encourage deeper changes in existing pedagogy, not just the transfer of existing practices to new modalities,” says the paper.

Actionable data streams: Thanks to the prevalence of big data and advanced analytics, student learning can now be highly customized and personalized. Institutions can also use these technologies to identify potential drop-outs and reduce retention, as well as use technologies like eye-tracking software to make instant adjustments to materials that students may find boring.

‘Socialstructed’ work and new work skills: As more companies and jobs look for skills rather than degrees, work is becoming de-institutionalized and a new generation of digital platforms is allowing student skills [badges and ePortfolios] to be showcased. ‘Socialstructing’ is a form of value creation that involves aggregating micro-contributions from large networks of people using social tools and technologies, and many innovative jobs are becoming more ‘socialstructured.’ “Within this model, people, not just institutions, more directly participate in the value they create,” explains Sandeen. “Assuming this ‘socialstructuring’ model continues to evolve, more traditional colleges and universities may find themselves rethinking the kind of skills and knowledge they need to provide their students—both individually and collaboratively—in order to thrive in such as world.”

Alternative assessment and credentialing: Concepts like seat time, credit hours, and a unified institutional degree program are being questioned, says the report, as demonstrated skills through badges and other digital credentials begin to take precedence with companies such as Google. “As credentialing is a core function of colleges and universities, the emerging alternative credential trend will be important to track,” says Sandeen.

Based on these key shifts, as well as keeping in mind the concepts of affordability and student centricity, the college and university presidents discussed what may be the future of institutions in four distinct models:

1. The historic liberal arts college

Though the paper says that many institutions will not be able to make the transition to the new higher-ed ecosystem, those that do will enhance what they offer through evaluated and customized use of technology—though it will not be scalable and will instead thrive on its idiosyncratic nature. The model will attract students who value the liberal arts, as well as a certain prestige. The model will also limit its offering to undergraduate degrees, while offering advanced learning tools and new spaces, and will require financial support through endowments.

2. The greater community college

This model will serve an even greater segment of the community and will focus on improved access, smaller modules and “boot camps to build student portfolios and achievements that meet the personal learning goals determined by each individual student,” notes the report. Competency-based education, as well as multiple pathways fueled by analytics, diagnostics and goal advisors will be stressed, and the model will also build a “volunteer pipeline from within the larger geographical community, connecting retired workers from the large baby boomer cohort with students to serve as tutors and mentors.”

3. The entrepreneur’s institution

A new model for higher-ed, this will attract aspiring entrepreneurs by doing away with traditional tuition in favor of the institution taking an equity stake in new ventures launched by students and provide a screening process to evaluate business plans. “Venture capital firms will invest in the university in exchange for early access to its students and their discoveries,” describes the report. “The physical campus in this model would offer high-immersion live/work spaces, ample networking events, mentorship, and spontaneous group meetings.” Instead of traditional degrees, credential portfolios would support student career paths “throughout their lives.”

4. The corporate and global learner’s institution

Like Netflix for higher-ed, this for-profit model will charge a monthly subscription fee by offering the equivalent of “frequent-learner point and rewards,” says the report. Using an online platform with skills-gap training for globally-recognized credentials, the online experience will be supplemented with interactive gaming for team-building as an alternative to traditional athletics at brick-and-mortar institutions. “The institution will partner with corporations, state governments, and foundations to identify skills needed in the workforce and to match individual students with job opportunities that align with their competencies and interests.”

This is interesting reading and provides a glimpse at new models but it will take a while for these models to evolve. They will also likely exist with other “traditional” higher education institutions for many years to come.


We Remember – September 11, 2001

World Trade Center 2014

OECD Report: U.S. Teachers Spend More Hours Teaching Per Year than Counterparts in Other Countries!

OECD IFigure I


Figure II

Dear Commons Community,

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD),an international economic organisation of 34 countries founded in 1961 to stimulate economic progress and world trade, issued its Education at a Glance Report for 2014. The voluminous 566-page report contains a host of tables and figures comparing countries around the world on a number education indicators. The Huffington Post has an article highlighting the report specifically focusing on the number of hours teachers work per year and overall lifetime compensation. The United States is the third highest country in the number of hours teachers teach (see Figure I above) and the sixth lowest paid when compared to other college-educated professions (see Figure II above ).

It would be beneficial if the education reformers in the U.S. Department of Education and the state education departments would examine these numbers and present a plan for improvement.