Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to Face Run-off Election against Teachers Union Backed Candidate Jesus “Chuy” Garcia!

Dear Commons Community,

In yesterday’s Chicago mayoral run-off election, incumbent Rahm Emanuel failed to win a majority of votes and now must run again against the second place vote getter, Jesus Garcia.  As reported in The Huffington Post:

“…Rahm Emanuel won the most votes in Tuesday’s Chicago mayoral election, but he failed to receive the degree of support needed from voters to avoid a runoff election in April.

In his quest for a second term as Chicago mayor, Emanuel won 45 percent of the vote with 97 percent of precincts reporting. Election law states that should the winning candidate in a municipal race fail to win more than 50 percent of the overall vote, he or she must face off with the second-place challenger in a separate runoff election.

That election will take place April 7 between Emanuel and Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who outperformed recent polling on the race to win 34 percent of the vote Tuesday. The Associated Press confirmed Emanuel is heading to a runoff.

In the 20 years since Chicago’s mayoral elections have consisted of one election potentially followed by a runoff, an incumbent mayor has never before been forced into runoff.

Among the three other candidates, entrepreneur Willie Wilson won 10 percent of the vote, Chicago alderman Bob Fioretti won 7 percent and perennial candidate William “Dock” Walls won roughly 3 percent….

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, who had all but declared her candidacy, abruptly withdrew from the race in October 2014 after she was diagnosed with brain cancer.

Lewis later threw her support behind Garcia, who says the fiery labor leader essentially talked him into running.

…Garcia and his fellow challengers had some success painting Emanuel as out of touch with Chicago’s neighborhoods and obsessed instead with the city’s central business district and tourism reputation. Garcia was particularly critical of Emanuel for not hiring 1,000 new city police officers, as he had said he would do during his 2011 campaign. ”

It will be interesting to see how this election plays out.  Good luck Mr. Garcia!



Paul Krugman: Soaring Inequality Isn’t about Education; It’s about Power!

Dear Commons Community,

Paul Krugman destroyed the myth that the economic inequality in this country is tied to our education system. This myth started in 1983 with the deeply-flawed Nation at Risk Report which blamed economic woes on public education. Conservatives and neoliberals then and now have use it as an excuse to impose horrific reforms on public education. Paul Krugman refuted this rationale in his New York Times column yesterday:

“…I’m in favor of better education. Education is a friend of mine. And it should be available and affordable for all. But what I keep seeing is people insisting that educational failings are at the root of still-weak job creation, stagnating wages and rising inequality. This sounds serious and thoughtful. But it’s actually a view very much at odds with the evidence, not to mention a way to hide from the real, unavoidably partisan debate.

The education-centric story of our problems runs like this: We live in a period of unprecedented technological change, and too many American workers lack the skills to cope with that change. This “skills gap” is holding back growth, because businesses can’t find the workers they need. It also feeds inequality, as wages soar for workers with the right skills but stagnate or decline for the less educated. So what we need is more and better education.

My guess is that this sounds familiar — it’s what you hear from the talking heads on Sunday morning TV, in opinion articles from business leaders like Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, in “framing papers” from the Brookings Institution’s centrist Hamilton Project. It’s repeated so widely that many people probably assume it’s unquestionably true. But it isn’t….there’s no evidence that a skills gap is holding back employment. After all, if businesses were desperate for workers with certain skills, they would presumably be offering premium wages to attract such workers. So where are these fortunate professions? You can find some examples here and there. Interestingly, some of the biggest recent wage gains are for skilled manual labor — sewing machine operators, boilermakers — as some manufacturing production moves back to America. But the notion that highly skilled workers are generally in demand is just false.

Finally, while the education/inequality story may once have seemed plausible, it hasn’t tracked reality for a long time. “The wages of the highest-skilled and highest-paid individuals have continued to increase steadily,” the Hamilton Project says. Actually, the inflation-adjusted earnings of highly educated Americans have gone nowhere since the late 1990s…

…As for wages and salaries, never mind college degrees — all the big gains are going to a tiny group of individuals holding strategic positions in corporate suites or astride the crossroads of finance. Rising inequality isn’t about who has the knowledge; it’s about who has the power.

Now, there’s a lot we could do to redress this inequality of power. We could levy higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy, and invest the proceeds in programs that help working families. We could raise the minimum wage and make it easier for workers to organize. It’s not hard to imagine a truly serious effort to make America less unequal.”

Krugman concludes that our polarized federal government is incapable of solving the real problems of inequality in this country and instead looks for scapegoats like public education.


Daniel Katz Rebuts New York Times Editorial Calling for Congress to Maintain Standardized Testing in NCLB!

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday’s New York Times editorial praised the results of No Child Left Behind and called on Congress to reauthorize it and to maintain its excessive testing requirements.  Daneil Katz, Director of Secondary Education and Secondary Special Education Teacher Preparation, Seton Hall University, rebuts the Times editorial on several issues but especially on the weakness of the test score argument.  Here is an excerpt:

“Two weeks ago the New York Times published a guest editorial by Chad Aldeman defending keeping annual testing as a part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) as Congress is debating revisions and renewals to the changes made in the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). I was not especially impressed. Today, the editorial board itself has chimed in with what could have been a carbon copy of Mr. Aldeman’s position. The board implores Congress to maintain annual testing as a key component of federal education law, and, unsurprisingly, I find the arguments less than stellar.

The board covers fairly familiar ground while acknowledging that some aspects of NCLB have been negative, such as the inability of test-based accountability to distinguish between so-called “failing” schools and schools that missed certain accountability targets as measured by tests. The board also acknowledges that testing has expanded to consume too much attention in many states and districts.

However, their recommendation that states “fix this” by “identifying and discarding unnecessary tests and, if necessary, placing explicit limits on how much time can be spent on testing” misses that it is the federal accountability requirements that spawned excessive testing and test preparation in the first place. It is an act of fancy rhetorical footwork to blame states and municipalities for an over focus on standardized testing when federal requirements have incentivized that very focus, first with threats to label schools as failures under NCLB and then with the Obama administration pressuring states to use discredited statistical models to evaluate teachers as part of Race to the Top. The “wave of over-testing that swept this country’s schools during the last decade” is the responsibility of the federal government, and it is up to the federal government to fix it…

The Editorial Board of the Times fails to make any convincing argument that maintaining standardized testing of every child in every grade each year is necessary to address the root problems our education system faces — concentration of poverty and increased segregation in our communities. Do we need annual testing to tell us that poverty in childhood has lifelong consequences in health, education, and economic opportunity? Do we need annual testing to tell us that communities with high concentrations of minority students from impoverished households struggle on test-based measures? Do we need annual testing to tell us that income segregation means that constituencies with political power have no personal stakes in the outcomes for disenfranchised constituencies? Do we need annual testing to tell us that governors and state houses from Albany to Madison have cut state spending for education and maintain patently discriminatory state aid funding formulas?”

I would add that another issue is one of policy overreach by the U.S. Department of Education.  School districts in this country were empowered to fund and to oversee education.  The federal government provides no more than about ten percent of the funding for K-12 education and yet by virtue of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top has forced states to implement standardized testing, Common Core Curriculum, and teacher evaluation systems.  After more than a decade of these federal policies, it has become painfully clear that they do not work in most school districts.  Furthermore, Washington, D.C., has come to epitomize government dysfunction as driven more by party politics, ideology, and influence peddling than what is good for its citizens.   I join with those parents and educators who would prefer to minimize Washington’s involvement in the lives of children.


Rudy Giuliani Displaces Donald Trump as the Republican Party’s Bloviating Ignoramus!

Rudy Guiliani

Dear Commons Community,

Earlier this week Rudy Giuliani made the TV rounds to talk about the uproar he caused by claiming that President Obama doesn’t love America.  Giuliani did not apologize or explain that he had misspoken. Those of us in New York who have seen Giuliani’s stubbornness  when he was mayor were not surprised by his comments.  What is surprising is that he doesn’t realize he is undermining the early phase of the Republican Party’s presidential nomination process.  Even the New York Daily News which has always been friendly to Giuliani had an editorial yesterday lambasting him and comparing him to Donald Trump’s excesses during the 2012 presidential elections. The editorial commented:

“…in the Daily News online and in Saturday’s paper, investigative reporter Wayne Barrett devastated Giuliani’s assertion that Obama harbors ill will for his nation or his fellow Americans in part because he “wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up.”

Barrett reminded [us] that Giuliani’s father did time in Sing Sing for robbing a milkman and served as enforcer for a loan-sharking operation, that Giuliani secured draft deferments to avoid serving in the Vietnam War and that his father and five uncles avoided service in World War II.

We liked much about Giuliani the mayor. He started winning the war against crime; reformed welfare; … championed immigration and gun control and peerlessly led after 9/11.

That leader is no more. He has gone where no Republican had gone before — into a galaxy beyond Donald Trump…”

As a reminder, it was Washington Post columnist, George Will, who commented in 2012:  “what voter is going to vote for him [Mitt Romney] because he is seen with Donald Trump? The cost of appearing with this bloviating ignoramus is obvious it seems to me.”

It will be interesting to see what Republican potential nominee appears with the new bloviating ignoramus, Rudy Giuliani.   Scott Walker maybe!


New York Times Magazine Gets Makeover!

Dear Commons Community,

For those of us who read or peruse the New York Times Magazine every Sunday, get ready for a new look and feel.  For the first time in ages, the Magazine has been redesigned.  There will be new typefaces, logos, columns, and a host of “hammer and nail [not blowtorch] changes.” Here are samples of the changes as presented in a Times article this morning:

First Words: This column opens the magazine each week with a prolonged consideration of a telling word or phrase. A small group of writers will trade off in this slot, among them Virginia Heffernan, Colson Whitehead, Amanda Hess and Michael Pollan.

Search Results: Twice a month, the great and farseeing Jenna Wortham will use this space for a dispatch from Internet culture, which, let’s be honest, is the most vital engine of culture today.

The Ethicists: This page, which has been in existence since 1999, has undergone the most radical overhaul: We have reimagined it as a podcast. On their weekly show, produced with our friends at Slate, our three-ethicist panel of Kenji Yoshino, Amy Bloom and Jack Shafer will discuss and debate the best way to solve readers’ ethical quandaries. In print and online, you’ll be able to read an edited excerpt from that conversation

The Ons: In a monthly rotation, four different critics will take up four different subjects — Teju Cole on photography (which is featured this week); Adam Davidson on money; Troy Patterson on clothing; and Helen Macdonald on nature. Each of them can also be found continuing their studies of these subjects throughout the month online.

Finally, later this year, we’ll be beginning a regular series of evenings with The Times Magazine, events here in New York City at which some of the best stories and subjects from our pages come to life. But we’ll also be bringing The Times Magazine to stages around the country, with gatherings that celebrate some of our special issues. In June, our Design and Technology Issue will furnish the theme for a conference in San Francisco; in October, our Culture Issue will become a Culture Festival in New York; and in December, our Great Performers Issue will make its debut with a premiere screening and conversation in Los Angeles.”

Thank God the article did not mention any change to the crossword puzzle.



Nicholas Kristof: We Should Strengthen Unions, Not Try to Eviscerate Them.

Dear Commons Community,

Nicholas Kristof in his New York Times column yesterday fesses up that he used to be opposed to unions. He has now changed his mind because he has come to believe that a good deal of the income inequality in this country can be traced to the weakening of unions and collective bargaining.

“I disdained unions as bringing corruption, nepotism and rigid work rules to the labor market, impeding the economic growth that ultimately makes a country strong.

I was wrong.

The abuses are real. But, as unions wane in American life, it’s also increasingly clear that they were doing a lot of good in sustaining middle class life — especially the private-sector unions that are now dwindling.

Most studies suggest that about one-fifth of the increase in economic inequality in America among men in recent decades is the result of the decline in unions. It may be more: A study in the American Sociological Review, using the broadest methodology, estimates that the decline of unions may account for one-third of the rise of inequality among men.

“To understand the rising inequality, you have to understand the devastation in the labor movement,” says Jake Rosenfeld, a labor expert at the University of Washington and the author of “What Unions No Longer Do.”

Take construction workers. A full-time construction worker earns about $10,000 less per year now than in 1973, in today’s dollars, according to Rosenfeld. One reason is probably that the proportion who are unionized has fallen in that period from more than 40 percent to just 14 percent.

“All the focus on labor’s flaws can distract us from the bigger picture,” Rosenfeld writes. “For generations now the labor movement has stood as the most prominent and effective voice for economic justice.”

I’m as appalled as anyone by silly work rules and $400,000 stagehands, or teachers’ unions shielding the incompetent. But unions also lobby for programs like universal prekindergarten that help create broad-based prosperity. They are pushing for a higher national minimum wage, even though that would directly benefit mostly nonunionized workers.

I’ve also changed my mind because, in recent years, the worst abuses by far haven’t been in the union shop but in the corporate suite. One of the things you learn as a journalist is that when there’s no accountability, we humans are capable of tremendous avarice and venality. That’s true of union bosses — and of corporate tycoons. Unions, even flawed ones, can provide checks and balances for flawed corporations.”

Kristof’s conclusion:

“This isn’t something you often hear a columnist say, but I’ll say it again: I was wrong…we should strengthen unions, not try to eviscerate them.”



Ideologues Seek to Close Centers at the U. of North Carolina!

Dear Commons Community,

An advisory panel of the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors has recommended closing three academic centers, including a poverty center and one dedicated to social change, inciting outrage among liberals who believe that conservatives in control of state government are targeting ideological opponents in academia. As reported in the New York Times:

“Conservatives are cheering the move, seeing it as a corrective to a higher education system they believe has lent its imprimatur to groups that engage in partisan activism.

“They’re moving in the right direction, though I don’t think they went far enough,” said Francis X. De Luca, president of the Civitas Institute, a conservative think tank based in Raleigh. “A lot of these centers were started up with a specific advocacy role in mind, as opposed to an educational role.”

But critics say the moves by a panel whose members were appointed by a Republican-dominated Legislature reflect the rightward tilt of state government.

“It’s clearly not about cost-saving; it’s about political philosophy and the right-wing takeover of North Carolina state government,” said Chris Fitzsimon, director of NC Policy Watch, a liberal group. “And this is one of the biggest remaining pieces that they’re trying to exert their control over.”

The impassioned response is the latest manifestation of a deep ideological rift in North Carolina that was exacerbated by the 2010 elections, when Republicans took control of both houses of the Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction. They soon enacted an ambitious conservative agenda in what had been one of the South’s more moderate states.

The fate of the 17-campus public university system was bound to be affected: While many here take pride in its carefully cultivated rise to the top tier of American public education, conservatives have long groused about some campuses, particularly the flagship school at Chapel Hill, as out-of-touch havens of liberalism.

Since the recession began, the state government has also subjected the system to budget cuts leading to the loss of hundreds of positions.
Twenty-nine of the 32 university board members were appointed by the Legislature after the Republicans’ 2010 gains. Last year, lawmakers instructed the board to consider redirecting some of the funding that goes to the system’s 240 centers and institutes, which focus on topics ranging from child development to African studies.

The advisory group’s report, which is likely to be considered by the full Board of Governors next Friday, recommends closing the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at Chapel Hill; North Carolina Central University’s Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change; and East Carolina University’s Center for Biodiversity.”

It is sad commentary that one of the truly great public university systems in our country is being forced to submit to the whims of ideologues.


Janet Napolitano: U. of California to Postpone Tuition Increase for One Year!

Dear Commons Community,

Various media including the Associated Press are reporting that University of California President Janet Napolitano is postponing a proposed tuition increase as a good faith gesture stemming from her ongoing negotiations with Gov. Jerry Brown to resolve their standoff over higher education funding.

Speaking at the University of Southern California, Napolitano said she was also hopeful the university system will be able to forestall any tuition increase for the next academic year.

Napolitano and Brown have been working in private to consider some of the proposals the governor believes will allow the university to serve more students without increasing tuition or receiving a significant budget hike.

The Board of Regents approved raising tuition to up to 5 percent each of the next five years at Napolitano’s urging in November unless the state gave the university more money.


New York Times to Re-Enter the Education Business!

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education is reporting that the The New York Times is re-entering the world of education with a new effort called NYT EDUcation. While there were few details, The Chronicle reported:

“The Times is collaborating with the CIG Education Group, which helps create branded academic institutions like Sotheby’s Institute of Art, to develop the program. Michael Greenspon, general manager of news services and international for the Times, said the effort had come from the business side rather than the newsroom.

Journalists on the Times staff are busy with their day jobs and would not be required to participate, though he said he could see them offering guest lectures or particularly interested staff members becoming otherwise involved—as long as it did not conflict with their editorial duties.

The Times has tried and failed at such educational efforts before. Its Knowledge Network, an online-education program the newspaper started in 2007 in collaboration with Stanford University, the University of Southern California, and other colleges, was suspended in 2012.

NYT EDUcation differs from the Knowledge Network primarily in its business model. “The Knowledge Network relied primarily on the New York Times brand alone, and I think the combination of the New York Times brand with the educators and the practitioners that CIG brings just is a combination that we alone could not beat,” Mr. Greenspon said.

When the Times suspended the Knowledge Network, it wasn’t trying to get out of the education game completely, he said.

“We took a step back, we didn’t take a step out,” Mr. Greenspon said. “For us, it was really just trying to figure out what was the right way to get back in.”

Though the plan is to offer courses starting this fall, the development of the courses is still in its very early stages. Officials did not say what topics would be covered, who would be teaching them, or how much the courses would cost.

“All the options are on the table,” said Michael Chung, chief executive of CIG. Some courses could be online, others could meet face to face, or they could be hybrids, he added.”



Will the Tennessee Promise of Free Community College Work?

Dear Commons Community,

Educators and policy makers are intensely watching the roll-out of the Tennessee Promise for next year, the program that provides a free community college education for every high school graduate.  Basically it is in the student application process stage right now but early results seem impressive.  As reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required):

“Nearly 90 percent of high-school seniors in Tennessee applied [to the program], and more than 9,000 adults have volunteered to serve as mentors for those applicants.

It’s a large-scale experiment, and higher-education experts and policy makers across the nation will be watching to see if the lure of tuition-free college attracts students—and keeps them in college long enough to complete a degree or vocational program.

The early results are encouraging, but they’re far from a guarantee of success. While two-year colleges are bracing for enrollment increases, more students in classrooms won’t necessarily translate into an increase in college completions—the real goal of the Promise.

If enrollments increase too much, community colleges may struggle with the cost of adding enough instructors. An influx of students who are unprepared for the rigors of college learning may lead to more dropouts along the way. And some students still may not have enough financial support to attend full time (a requirement of the program) without working, hampering their academic progress.”

It also appears that the program will not cost as much as initial expected since:

“State officials estimate that the average Tennessee Promise student will receive a little less than $1,000 per year. In fact, many students who sign up for the program will not get any money through the program because they are eligible for a full Pell Grant of $5,700—nearly $2,000 more than the cost of full-time tuition at a community-college in Tennessee.

The Tennessee Promise is a “last dollar” scholarship, which means that the state will cover only the tuition costs left after a student applies for other forms of financial aid, such as a Pell Grant or the state’s Hope Scholarship, which has a minimum grade-point-average requirement.

That last-dollar approach keeps the cost of the Promise relatively low and politically palatable in a conservative state whose lawmakers are stingy about government spending. The money also comes from state lottery proceeds, not tax dollars—another detail that makes the program easier for legislators to swallow.

The small amount of money is meant to send a big message, said Governor William E. Haslam during an interview in his office. For most families, “the funding gap is not that big, but they don’t know that,” he said. “We want to push down that barrier.”

The critical issue for this program is whether these students will be successful and graduate. It will not do them any good if the program becomes a revolving door with many students admitted only to drop out because they cannot meet academic requirements or they feel pressured to address other personal, financial, and family needs. On the other hand, if it does works, it will be the model for states throughout the country.