Where is Education in the Republican Party’s Presidential Nominee Debates!

Dear Commons Community,

The Republican candidates are getting ready for yet another debate tonight (ABC-News) just before the New Hampshire primary.  These debates have covered many topics but education has not been one of them.  Other than a few passing comments about Democratic proposals for free college tuition, none of the Republican candidates have said very much about the state of our schools and colleges.  The Huffington Post did a summary of the Republican debates and came up with this analysis:

“ … an analysis of transcripts from each of the 14 Republican presidential debates, which includes both undercard and the main debates, shows the candidates only discussed education in earnest 11 times. 

In 12 of the GOP debates, no candidate even uttered the word “teacher.” In the other two debates where the word was used, it was in the context of the taxes that a teacher married to a cop would pay, and about governors who sparred with teacher’s unions. 

Looking at the first four official Democratic debates, not including the extra forums, the candidates have talked about education policies at least 38 times. (Democrats have talked about college affordability extensively) 

Some Republican candidates mentioned college or education a handful of other times that we did not include in our count because they were just references in passing: 

  • Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Neurosurgeon Ben Carson both mocked Sanders’ free college plan.
  • Ex-HP executive Carly Fiorina briefly stated that the federal government was responsible for the student debt problem, but didn’t say anything else about it and instead pivoted to talk about the Federal Communications Commission. 
  • Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum talked about helping people who did not go to college find jobs in five debates before he bowed out of the race.
  • Ted Cruz (R-Texas) mentioned graduates being in student debt “up to their eyeballs,” but didn’t discuss the issue further. 

Republicans should come to understand that education matters for now and for our future.  How about a few ABCs tonight!



Democratic Debate: Clinton and Sanders Clash over Wall Street Influence!

Dear Commons Community,

The debate last night between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders covered a lot of the same ground and issues that we have seen in the previous debates: health care, free college tuition, Iraq War/ISIS, and corporate influence.  I thought the last item generated the most audience reactions with both cheers and boos especially when Sanders questioned Clinton on why big banks and financial interests have given her PAC money and paid her hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees.

Clinton directly told Sanders that it was time to end his “smear” by insinuation.

“Time and time again, by innuendo, by insinuation, there is an attack that he is putting forth,” she said.

She went on to say that it was beneath Sanders’ dignity to raise such doubts about her:

“Which really comes down to: Anybody who ever took donations or speaking fees from any interest group has to be bought. And I just absolutely reject that, senator. And I really don’t think these kinds of attacks by insinuation are worthy of you. And enough is enough.

If you’ve got something to say, say it directly. But you will not find that I ever changed a view or a vote because of any donation that I ever received. … I think it’s time to end the very artful smear that you and your campaign have been carrying out in recent weeks.”

Sanders responded by arguing that corporate money and lobbying exert influence over elected officials.

Sanders said:

“Let’s talk about why in the 1990s, Wall Street got deregulated. Did it have anything to do with the fact that Wall Street spent billions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions? Well, some people might think, some people might think, Yeah, that may have some influence. There is a reason why these people are putting huge amounts of money into our political system. In my view, it is undermining American democracy, and it is allowing Congress to represent wealthy campaign contributors and not the working families of this country.”

Clinton has struggled to address her speaking fees in the past, including during a town-hall event on Wednesday night, in which CNN’s Anderson Cooper pressed her about a $675,000. fee she received from the investment bank Goldman Sachs.

This issue will not go away for Clinton and is a liability for her in the primary battle with Sanders.




U of Wisconsin’s New “Fake” Tenure Proposal to Be Discussed Tomorrow by Regents!

Dear Commons Community,

The American Association of University Professors and the American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin issued a statement raising concerns ahead of a University of Wisconsin Board of Regents meeting tomorrow, where the regents will discuss proposed changes to faculty tenure policy.

Last year, the GOP-controlled Wisconsin legislature and Gov. Scott Walker (R) pushed through a budget that eliminated tenure from state law. Academics raised an outcry when it appeared that the new budget would allow governor-appointed regents to fire tenured professors simply because an academic program had changed in some way.   Faculty and the media have been referring to the proposal as “fake tenure”.  As reported by The Huffington Post:

Critics fear that Wisconsin’s attack on tenure is an attempt to strip away protections for academics and make it easier for the state to silence certain voices if it wishes to.

In 2015, it was revealed that a draft of the University of Wisconsin regents’ new policy would allow for layoffs of tenured faculty “when such an action is deemed necessary due to a budget or program decision requiring program discontinuance, curtailment, modification or redirection.”

The draft policy has changed since then. As of this week, it does not include any mention of program “curtailment, modification or redirection” — a change that both the AAUP and AFT-Wisconsin said they were pleased to see.

“We remain concerned, however, that some of the provisions in the draft regent policy documents fall far short of those standards,” the groups’ statement reads.

“Particularly alarming is the inclusion of a provision for program prioritization based primarily on financial considerations for the purpose of discontinuing academic programs and laying off faculty,” it continues. “Actions taken by administrations at several universities in the name of program prioritization have led to investigations of violations of academic freedom and tenure as well as the imposition of censure by the AAUP.”

The action of the Wisconsin Board of Regents and any subsequent proposals made by Governor Scott Walker or the state legislature will be watched closely by faculty around the country. 



Zephr Teachout Running for a New York Congressional Seat!

Zephr Teachout

Dear Commons Community,

Zephr Teachout, a law professor at Fordham University, who came on the political scene last year by challenging Andrew Cuomo in the New York State gubernatorial primary, announced last week that she will run for Congress in New York’s 19th Congressional District.  Her political views are very similar to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. She considers herself a populist who is concerned about issues such as corporate influence, campaign finance reform, and climate change. 

In her primary challenge, she garnered an impressive 30 percent of the vote against the popular incumbent Cuomo.

Since declaring her congressional candidacy, she has already received campaign contributions from more than 3000 donors with an average donation of $30.

The 19th District is located in the Hudson Valley where she did well in her primary challenge. It’s a district that leans slightly Democratic, and where the incumbent, Rep. Chris Gibson (R), is not seeking re-election — making it a takeover target for Democrats.

We wish her well in her campaign!


Chaos in the Iowa Primaries: Cruz Wins, Trump Loses; Clinton and Sanders Tie!

Dear Commons Community,

The long-awaited Iowa caucuses yesterday resulted with Ted Cruz receiving 28% of the delegates, Donald Trump 24%, and Marco Rubio 23% on the Republican side with Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in a virtual tie with a few tenths of a percentage point separating them.  The Huffington Post has branded these results as “the chaos has just begun”.

Various media are predicting that the results portend a massive headache for the Republicans, who face the real prospect of a fissure in the months ahead as the two leaders, Cruz and Trump duke it out, much to the chagrin of the Party establishment who do not want to see either of them win the nomination.

Things were just as confusing for the Democrats where former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton clung to the slimmest of leads over Sen. Bernie Sanders, with 99% of the votes counted. Regardless of the final numbers, Clinton has a lot of work to do to convince Democrats that she is their candidate.  Rather than show herself to be the inevitable nominee yesterday — blessed with a bloodless and quick primary fight — she struggled to handle Sanders whom she once led by more than 50 points in the polls.

On to New Hampshire!


American Prometheus:  J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin!

Robert Oppenheimer

Dear Commons Community,

If you are looking for a biography to read, I would recommend, American Prometheus:  The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin.  This Pulitzer Prize winner was published in 2005 but anyone interested in Oppenehimer’s life, the development of the atomic bomb, his emotional struggles with dropping the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the brutal federal investigation of his Communist sympathies, will find this book riveting fare.

The authors trace Oppenheimer’s life from his boyhood in New York City, his academic work at CalTech, his associations with physicists such as Niels Bohr, I.I. Rabi, and Albert Einstein, the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, and his directorship of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.  The story is told in the backdrop of the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War.  There is also a certain amount of titillation from his personal life.  Here is an excerpt from a New York Times book review reflecting on Oppenheimer’s concerns about nuclear weapons:

“Oppenheimer and Bohr understood at the beginning of the nuclear age what the nations of the world, the United States pointedly included, have not yet been willing to act on: that nuclear weapons are not weapons of war but embodiments of a new knowledge of nature, one that in the long run — before or, horribly, after they are used again — must inevitably force nations to find some other way to settle their disputes.  “Two scorpions in a bottle,” Oppenheimer characterized the superpowers sardonically in 1953, “each capable of killing the other, but only at the risk of his own life.” Today nine scorpions crowd the bottle. However tragic his life, Robert Oppenheimer is the single figure who will be remembered when the history of the Manhattan Project has blurred away.”

I have to admit that I had “blurred” knowledge of Oppenheimer.  This book was an illumination.  


New York Times to Endorse Hillary Clinton and John Kasich!

Dear Commons Community,

Tomorrow, in its Sunday edition, the New York Times will formally endorse Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee for president and John Kasich as the Republican nominee.  Here is an excerpt from the announcement as reported by Reuters:

“The New York Times’s editorial board endorses Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican John Kasich as they seek to become their parties’ nominees in the U.S. presidential election, calling Clinton one of the most “deeply qualified presidential candidates in modern history.”

“Mr. Sanders does not have the breadth of experience or policy ideas that Mrs. Clinton offers,” and praises him for making important points about economic inequality and foreign policy.

The board praised Clinton’s term as secretary of state from 2009 to 2013, and said she had shown a lifelong commitment to American workers, particularly women. The board criticized her as too quick to propose using military force abroad, but said she still would be a better military leader than her Republican rivals.

The Times editorial board previously endorsed Clinton in 2008, when she ran against Barack Obama. In that endorsement, it also argued that Clinton had more experience and had presented more detailed policy ideas than her rival.

Kasich, the governor of Ohio, was the only candidate in the crowded Republican field the board said it was able to stomach.

“Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, though a distinct underdog, is the only plausible choice for Republicans tired of the extremism and inexperience on display in this race,” the board wrote.

It said Kasich had “been capable of compromise and believes in the ability of government to improve lives.”

The board said that front-runner Donald Trump did not have experience of international issues or interest in learning about them. It said Ted Cruz would “say anything to win”. The line I like best in its endorsement Kasich 

The endorsement for Clinton was expected but Kasich is a surprise.  The line I like best in the endorsement of Kasich is:

“I am so tired of my colleagues out here on the stage spending all their time talking about Barack Obama,” he told a town hall crowd in New Hampshire. “His term is over.” Mr. Kasich said recently that he had “raised the bar in this election. I’ve talked about hope and the future and positive things.” In this race, how rare that is.




John King/U.S Department of Education:  Threaten Funding if Students Opt-Out of Standardized Tests!

Dear Commons Community,

John King failed to listen to parents and teachers regarding standardized testing during his tenure as New York State Commissioner of Education, and as a result, had to leave his position. As Acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, he is making the same mistake.  As reported by the Associated Press:

“The U.S. Education Department is not relenting on requirements to test students on math and language arts abilities, despite the end of No Child Left Behind, and it reminded some states that federal funding could be at stake if too many children skip the annual assessments.

But testing opponents say they’re not giving up either, and after a surge in students opting out last year, they’re looking for even more to sit out in the coming assessment season.

A letter from the federal department last month reminded state school chiefs that the requirement to test at least 95 percent of grade 3-8 students is still in place and will continue under the nation’s new education law, passed in December.

Last year, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a group known as FairTest that’s critical of standardized assessments, counted more than 640,000 students in over a dozen states who refused to take the assessments to protest the high-stakes consequences begun under No Child Left Behind.

The new Every Student Succeeds Act that was passed to replace NCLB leaves it to states how to handle schools that fall short in participation, but Ann Whalen, an assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, stressed in her letter that assessment requirements remain.

Whalen’s Dec. 22 memo followed a series of individual requests for improvement plans from states at risk of falling short of the threshold in 2014-15. Letters went out to California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington and Wisconsin.

Most states responded with plans that stressed improving communication with parents and teachers about the importance of assessments. Several promised to downgrade a district or school’s rating should they miss participation targets, or revoke eligibility for recognition awards, according to responses obtained by The Associated Press. None of the plans appeared to carry any financial consequence.

New York Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia described a host of initiatives after 20 percent of students didn’t take the tests last year, which was about four times the number as the previous year. New York replaced test vendor Pearson with Questar to develop new test questions with more teacher input and shortened the assessments, Elia said. After complaints from teachers and parents that the state has moved too quickly on reforms, officials said results will be kept out of student transcripts and teacher evaluations through 2018.

“The letter … was a serious letter from the U.S. D.O.E. indicating clearly that there are ramifications,” Elia said at a budget hearing Wednesday, where she added that students will be able to take as much time as they need on the revised tests.”

King and the U.S. DOE need to realize that fifteen years off No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top and their testing requirements have been a failure in the education of children in this country.  It is not likely in this election year especially that education funding will be denied to the states.



Sanity Returning to the NYS Department of Education:  Timed-Tests Out!

Dear Commons Community,

New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia announced yesterday that time limits will be removed from a number of required student tests.  As reported in the New York Daily News:

“New York schoolkids can take as long as they want to complete state reading and math evaluation tests this year, Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said Wednesday.

Speaking at a legislative hearing in Albany, Elia said that the decision to remove time limits for students who take the tests was a reaction to public outcry.

“I heard from parents across this state and from teachers that part of the stresses that we had on our kids was that they were timed, and particularly younger children,” the commissioner said in a question-and-answer period following her testimony on Gov. Cuomo’s $145 billion budget proposal…

…Time limits on the exams in previous years ranged from 70 to 90 minutes for each test. The tests are administered to grades three through eight over six days in April.

The exams have faced intense and widespread criticism that grew when they were first pegged to tougher Common Core academic standards in 2013.

Roughly 20% of 1,000,000 eligible students statewide boycotted the tests in 2015 in protest of the exams’ quality and prominent role in the public schools.

City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said she supports Elia’s decision to lift time limits on the tests.

“I totally applaud it,” said Fariña, who also delivered testimony on Cuomo’s budget in Albany Wednesday. “One of the biggest stress points for students is, will I get it finished in time? And I think it will also go a long way for parents who have complaints about their children not having the stamina for this.”

City teachers also praised Elia’s decision.

“This is a pretty big deal,” said Michele Cleary, a teacher at Middle School 247 in Manhattan. “Kids don’t really have enough time to read closely and answer the questions … so having unlimited time will help them a lot.”

State officials said they will distribute guidance on the policy change to educators in the coming weeks.”

BRAVA – Commissioner Elia!  A significant step in the right direction.




Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly Begs Donald Trump to Participate in the Republican Debate Scheduled for Tonight!

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Dear Commons Community,

In the latest Donald Trump/Fox News debate saga, Bill O’Reilly, all but got down of his knees, to beg Trump to participate in the Republican Party’s Presidential Debate scheduled for tonight. 

It is obvious that the Republican Party has a major problem when its number one media outlet, Fox News, and its leading contender for the Party’s presidential nomination are in an open feud over debate logistics.  As reported in The Huffington Post:

“Bill O’Reilly wants Donald Trump to be the bigger man in his ongoing feud with Fox News, but Trump is promising an “eye for an eye” instead. 

The “O’Reilly Factor” host was trying to convince the GOP frontrunner to join Thursday night’s debate in Iowa despite his dislike for Megyn Kelly, the Fox News host who will be one of the event’s moderators.

O’Reilly even tried appealing to Trump’s Christian faith, something the candidate has spoken of frequently in an effort to woo evangelical voters.

“In your Christian faith, there is a very significant tenet and that’s the tenet of forgiveness,” O’Reilly said. 

“I think you should be the bigger man,” O’Reilly added. “Don’t you think that’s the right thing to do?”

“It probably is,” Trump agreed. “But y’know it’s called an eye for an eye. I guess also you can look at it that way.” 

“No, no, no,” O’Reilly countered. “That’s Old Testament. If you’re the Christian, the eye-for-the-eye rule goes out. Here’s what it is: Turning the other cheek.” 

O’Reilly physically turned his cheek and patted himself to show what he meant.

Trump brushed off the appeal to his faith and instead plugged his event Thursday night for the Wounded Warrior Project, which he will be doing instead of participating in the GOP debate.  

In sum, a media mess for Fox News and Trump!