New York City Teachers Score Highly Under New Evaluation System!

NYC Teacher Evaluation

Dear Commons Community,

Nine out of 10 New York City teachers received one of the top two rankings in the first year of a new evaluation system that was hailed as a better way of assessing how they perform, according to figures released yesterday by the New York State Education Department. As reported in the New York Times:

“The system, enacted into state law in 2010, was created, in part, to make it easier to identify which teachers performed the best so their methods could be replicated, and which performed the worst, so they could be fired. Although very few teachers in the city were deemed not to be up to standards, state officials and education experts said the city appeared to be doing a better job of evaluating its teachers than the rest of New York State…

The findings are based on the evaluations of 62,184 teachers in New York City that were reported to the state and 124,693 evaluations of teachers from the rest of New York State.”

Congratulations are in order for New York City teachers, the school principals who guide them,  and the schools of education especially here at City University of New York that trained them.



Washington Post Reports Pearson Foundation Closing!

Dear Commons Community,

On November 18, 2014, the Pearson Charitable Foundation’s Board of Directors publically announced the intent to cease Foundation operations and close the Pearson Foundation at the end of the year. This follows a decision by Pearson plc to integrate all of its corporate responsibility activities and functions into its business entity. As reported in The Washington Post:

“The closing comes on the heels of last year’s court settlement when the Pearson Charitable Foundation paid $7.7 million in fines to the state of New York after authorities found that it had broken state law by helping its for-profit parent by helping it develop Common Core educational products and by paying travel expenses for potential clients to attend education conferences.

Nonprofit organizations are not supposed to be helping for-profit companies make money. The settlement between the foundation and New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said that the foundation had a “close working relationship” with Pearson. It said:

The Foundation’s staff has consisted of Pearson employees; the Foundation’s board was comprised entirely of Pearson executives until 2012; select Foundation programs have been conducted with the advice and participation of senior Pearson executives; and the Foundation continues to rely heavily upon Pearson Inc. for administrative support.

According to the settlement, Pearson used its nonprofit foundation to develop Common Core products in order to win an endorsement from a “prominent foundation.” A story by my Washington Post colleague Lyndsey Layton said that Pearson used the foundation to develop Common Core products, including courses, to win an endorsement from a “prominent foundation,” which happened to be the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which was a prime funder of the Core from its creation.”

Pearson’s corporate-affiliated foundation was a prime example of how the education-industrial complex works and profits from public education in this country.



Microsoft Executive to Fund Study to Examine Effects of Artificial Intelligence!

Dear Commons Community,

Eric Horvitz, the Managing Director of the Redmond, Wash., campus of Microsoft Research, has agreed to fund a century-long study of the effects of artificial intelligence on society, including on the economy, war and crime. The project will be housed at Stanford University but will include participants from several other major universities. The project is unusual not just because of its duration but because it seeks to track the effects of these technologies as they reshape the roles played by human beings in a broad range of endeavors. As reported in the New York Times:

“My take is that A.I. is taking over,” said Sebastian Thrun, a well-known roboticist, who led the development of Google’s self-driving car. “A few humans might still be ‘in charge,’ but less and less so.”

Artificial intelligence describes computer systems that perform tasks traditionally requiring human intelligence and perception. In 2009, the president of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, Eric Horvitz, organized a meeting of computer scientists in California to discuss the possible ramifications of A.I. advances. The group concluded that the advances were largely positive and lauded the “relatively graceful” progress.

But now, in the wake of recent technological advances in computer vision, speech recognition and robotics, scientists say they are increasingly concerned that artificial intelligence technologies may permanently displace human workers, roboticize warfare and make of Orwellian surveillance techniques easier to develop, among other disastrous effects.

Dr. Horvitz …last year approached John Hennessy, a computer scientist and president of Stanford University, about the idea of a long-term study that would chart the progress of artificial intelligence and its effect on society. Dr. Horvitz and his wife, Mary Horvitz, agreed to fund the initiative, called the “One Hundred Year Study on Artificial Intelligence.”

In an interview, Dr. Horvitz said he was unconvinced by recent warnings that superintelligent machines were poised to outstrip human control and abilities. Instead, he believes these technologies will have positive and negative effects on society.

“Loss of control of A.I. systems has become a big concern,” he said. “It scares people.” Rather than simply dismiss these dystopian claims, he said, scientists instead must monitor and continually evaluate the technologies.

“Even if the anxieties are unwarranted, they need to be addressed,” Dr. Horvitz said…

In a white paper outlining the project, Dr. Horvitz described 18 areas that might be considered, including law, ethics, the economy, war and crime. Future reports will be produced at regular intervals.”



Mott Hall Bridges Academy: A Profile of a Successful School in the Poorest of Neighborhoods!

Mott Hall Bridges Academy

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has a profile of a successful public school in one of the poorest neighborhoods of New York City. Mott Hall Bridges Academy is a public middle school, it is seen by many families as a safe zone in a crime-plagued neighborhood, and a gateway out of generational poverty for those born with few advantages in life. Nearly all 191 students in grades six through eight are black or Hispanic; more than 85 percent are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

The school prides itself on what the principal, Nadia L. Lopez, calls its “holistic approach” to educating children for whom nothing can be taken for granted. Staff members lead peer groups on Monday afternoons to keep tabs on whether students have problems at school or at home, and try to teach coping strategies. In September, they checked students’ backpacks to make sure they were keeping up in class. And in a neighborhood where many people have never even traveled into Manhattan, they give children a new aspiration: to experience life beyond Brownsville.

“You think about Manhattan, and there are skyscrapers and million-dollar properties, and then you’re in Brownsville, and the only skyscrapers you see are projects,” Ms. Lopez said. “That’s not fair. There’s nothing here. There’s no equity. There’s no reminder that tomorrow is hopeful.”

In what has become a fall tradition, the sixth graders join hands and walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan to symbolize their connection to the world. Eighth graders take a class with a guidance counselor to learn about high schools around the city; they compare programs, admission rates and commuting times. Last spring, 72 of the school’s 75 graduates enrolled in high schools outside Brownsville.

The school’s approach has drawn praise from parents and city educators, including the schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, who has visited several times. “Mott Hall Bridges Academy is proving that any school — no matter its ZIP code — can deliver a great education for its students,” Ms. Farina said.

In its most recent evaluation by the city’s Education Department in October, the school was rated “proficient” in the rigor of its curriculum and the effectiveness of its teaching and learning. It excelled at establishing a culture of learning that communicated high expectations to staff, students and families. But the school’s performance on state math and English tests, though improving, still falls well below the citywide average.

I agree with Chancellor Farina, this is a successful school and is focused on things that matter most in life and not simply on standardized test scores.



The Glass Cage: Automation and Us – New book by Nicholas Carr!

Carr The Glass Cage

Dear Commons Community,

I have just finished Nichols Carr’s book, The Glass Cage: Automation and Us (Norton, 2014)).  Carr is the author of The Shallows, a best-seller and Pulitzer Prize finalist. Carr picks up where The Shallows left off.  Here is an excerpt from a review by Daniel Menaker:

In his previous book, “The Shallows” — essential reading about our Internet Age — Nicholas Carr, former executive editor of the Harvard Business Review and author of several books about technology, discussed the detrimental effects the Web has on our reading, thinking and capacity for reflection. In this new book, “The Glass Cage: Automation and Us,” similarly essential if slightly repetitive, Carr explains how certain aspects of automative technology can separate us from, well, Reality. How, for all its ­miraculous-seeming benefits, automation also can and often does impair our mental and physical skills, cause dreadful mistakes and accidents, particularly in medicine and aviation, and threaten to turn the algorithms we create as servants into our mindless masters — what sci-fi movies have been warning us about for at least two or three decades now. (As Carr puts it near the end of The Glass Cage, when “we become dependent on our technological slaves . . . we turn into slaves ourselves.”)

I found The Glass Cage a good read and important commentary on how we are becoming too dependent on technology from cell phones to automatic pilots to driverless cars. For instance, Carr references Harry Braverman’s Labor and Monopoly Capital that “most workers were being funneled into routine jobs that offered little responsibility, little challenge, and little opportunity to gain know how in anything important.” Later on Carr references a Robert Frost poem about a freshly mown field where he sees “ a small luster of flowers, a leaping tongue of bloom that the scythe had missed.”

Between Braverman and Frost, Carr also mentions the number of Americans including schoolchildren taking prescription drugs. “More than ten percent of school children and more than twenty percent of high-school boys have been given a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and two-thirds of that group take drugs like Ritalin and Adderall to treat the condition…..Drugs that numb the nervous system…to rein in our vital, animal sensorium”.

At 232 pages, The Glass Cage can be read over a weekend.  I highly recommend it.


College Enrollments Dip for 3rd Straight Year!

College Enrollment 2014

Click to enlarge.

Dear Commons Community,

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center just issued its latest enrollment estimate for American higher education and shows that the overall college student population dropped by 1.3 percent this fall after slipping 1.5 percent last fall and 1.8 percent in the fall of 2012. However, there are differences among the various sectors.

In fall 2014, enrollments decreased among two-year public institutions (-6.0 percent) and four-year for-profit institutions (-0.4 percent). Enrollments increased among four-year public institutions (+2.2 percent) and four-year private non-profit institutions (+1.6 percent). It should be noted, however, that part of the decrease in two-year public enrollments is due to institutions being reclassified in IPEDS as four-year institutions. Without these reclassifications, two-year public enrollments would have decreased by 3.4 percent and the growth in four-year public enrollments would have been 0.4 percent. Taken as a whole, public sector enrollments declined by 1.5 percent this fall.

Enrollments declined in 39 states and the District of Columbia. They were up in 11 states, with the largest jumps in New Hampshire at 19.9 percent and Arizona, at 5.2 percent. The biggest declines were among students older than 24.



College for Grown-Ups: Dispelling the Myth of the Traditional College Student!

Dear Commons Community,

Mitchell L. Stevens, an associate professor of education at Stanford, has as an op-ed piece in today’s New York Times, commenting on the residential, four-year college experience that permeates many of our institutions yet no longer reflects the way most students approach their education. He comments:

“A substantial body of research demonstrates that first-generation college students, those from low-income families and racial minorities are particularly at risk for feelings of exclusion, loneliness and academic alienation. The costs of leaving college can be large for everyone: lost tuition, loan debt and a subtle but consequential diminishment of self-esteem.

The source of these problems is baked into the current organization of residential higher education. Virtually all selective schools arrange their undergraduate programs on the presumption that teenagers are the primary clients. Administrators plan dormitory architecture, academic calendars and marketing campaigns to appeal to high school juniors and seniors. Again the cruel paradox: In the ever-growing number of administrators and service people catering to those who pay tuition, there are grown-ups all over campus, but they are largely peripheral to undergraduate culture.

If we were starting from zero, we probably wouldn’t design colleges as age-segregated playgrounds in which teenagers and very young adults are given free rein to spend their time more or less as they choose. Yet this is the reality.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Rethinking the expectation that applicants to selective colleges be fresh out of high school would go far in reducing risk for young people while better protecting everyone’s college investment.”

Stevens goes on to describe alternate online learnings models that might be more appropriate. I agree fully with his basic premise that American higher education is built on the myth that our students are residential, full-time, and between the ages of 18-21 when the exact the opposite is the case. The vast majority of college students are older, do not live on campus, and need to work to pay for tuition and living expenses.  Alternate types of programs have been flourishing for years and have been fueled more recently by new models that take advantage of online technology.



John King, Jr. to Leave Post as New York State Commissioner of Education!

Dear Commons Community,

John King Jr. announced earlier today that he is resigning at the end of this year as New York State’s Commissioner of Education. The New York Times  reported that he would step down to take the second-highest-ranking job at the United States Education Department, as senior adviser to Secretary Arne Duncan.

During his tenure, King pushed a neoliberal agenda calling for more testing, charter schools, more testing, tougher teaching evaluations, more testing, the Common Core, and more testing. He followed Arne Duncan’s script carefully and never veered from it. Teachers and parents have rebelled against most of his initiatives. I believe his greatest failure was the rushed implementation of the Common Core. Curriculum materials were not revise or developed, teachers were not trained, and parents were not properly informed, all of which resulted in mass failures by school children on state tests. Teachers and parents called for his resignation last year in response to the Common Core implementation and also because of his support for establishing a statewide student database managed by a private company.

In sum, Commissioner King took the heat for the Race to the Top funding deal that Governor Mario Cuomo and Chancellor Merryl Tisch agreed to with Arne Duncan and the U.S. Department of Education.  Essentially the quid pro quo was $800 million in federal funding in exchange for New York implementing the Common Core curriculum, establishing teacher evaluation systems based on standardized test scores, and contributing to a national student database.

New York’s school children deserved better.



Former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani Blames Teachers Unions for Violence in Black Communities!

Dear Commons Community,

Former New York City Mayor Rudi Giuliani on a visit to Fox News programs blamed teachers unions in part for the violence in black neighborhoods. During interviews with Geraldo Rivera and Sean Hannity, Giuliani, a member of the teacher-bashing crowd of right-wing zealots, commented:

“Asked by Rivera about de Blasio’s response to the situation, Giuliani said that liberals have been ignoring the underlying causes of police brutality against black communities. While groups around the country have been protesting the decisions by two separate grand juries not to indict the police officers who killed Brown and Garner, Giuliani suggested that these activists may be misdirecting their energies.

“The energy that [Al] Sharpton and everyone else is spending protesting against police would save a lot more black lives if it would start talking about improving black education, if it would talk about improving the family situation in black neighborhoods, if it would talk about dealing with police officers with respect,” Giuliani said.

The former mayor then went on to suggest that teachers unions may be partially to blame.

“Maybe all these left-wing politicians who want to blame police, maybe there’s some blame here that has to go to the teachers union, for refusing to have schools where teachers are paid for performance, for fighting charter schools, for fighting vouchers so that we can drastically and dramatically improve education,” he said.

In response, Randi Weingarten, President of the AFT, tweeted: Did #rudygiuliani really blame school teachers -not economics nor racism nor excessive force 4 #garner‘s death. Has he lost it?

Giuliani was a bully while in office and remains so today even though politically he is largely irrelevant except on Fox News.


Rethinking Evaluation and Assessment in Online and Blended Learning Environments!

Wave V

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday I had the pleasure of giving a talk (attached are my notes) to a group involved with Cathy Davidson’s Future Initiatives Project.  The topic was Rethinking Evaluation and Assessment in Online and Blended Learning Environments!  The talk had two parts:

  1. The Evolution of Online Learning – The Four Waves
  2. Evaluation and Assessment

Below is the abstract.  The audience seemed well engaged for the 90 minutes.   Here is a Storify link compiled by one of the attendees:

Abstract: During this open session, we will explore methods for evaluating courses and programs that use and integrate online technology for teaching and learning. We will discuss the challenges and opportunities that online learning modalities provide. Specific issues related to learning goals and objectives, instructional interactions, the use of social media and collaborative learning, adaptive learning, and learning analytics will be presented.