Arizona Governor Calls for Revisiting Common Core – Put Needs of States and Localities First!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times is reporting that Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona urged state education officials yesterday to re-evaluate the Common Core standards adopted by the state and meant to guide what students learn from kindergarten through graduation. He said he saw them as an example of the federal government overstepping its bounds.  In a speech outlining his agenda to the State Board of Education, the governor did not call for repealing the Common Core, but instead asked the board to review the language and mathematics standards “in their entirety” and tailor the curriculum in ways to meet the needs of students in Arizona.

“We can learn from others, but at the end of the day the standards need to come from Arizona, and they need to help us achieve our objectives,” Mr. Ducey told the board.

Governor Ducey joins a number of other state officials questioning the Common Core on grounds of federal government overreach.

The Times article commented:

“Lisa Graham Keegan, a former superintendent of public instruction in Arizona, said that for some, opposition to the Common Core was driven not by the standards themselves but by a centralized process that made it harder for parents and educators to contribute to the discussion. She said there was little disagreement on the fundamentals that students should learn.

“I don’t think that’s a shallow thing,” Ms. Keegan, now an education policy consultant, said of the public’s desire to have its say. “I think it’s incredibly important. I don’t know if other states need it. I know we do.”

During his speech, Governor Ducey asked the board to include parents, teachers, administrators and other experts in its evaluation of the Common Core.

“This review should include input from people at all levels of education from every corner of our state,” he said. “And in any instance during your review, you find situations where Arizona standards can outperform the ones already adopted, I ask you to replace them.”

Ms. Graham and Governor Ducey are correct.  The Common Core has a lot to offer but it was force upon many states by the U.S. Department of Education in return for Race to the Top funds.  There absolutely needs to be an evaluation process that includes all constituents down to the local level.  Let us also keep in mind that it is the localities that provide the majority of funds for public education not the federal government.



Bill de Blasio and Rudy Giuliani Form Alliance on NYC Schools:  What?

Dear Commons Community,

It is hard to believe that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani have joined forces in an unlikely alliance to push for an extension of the law granting the mayor full control over the city school system.  As reported in The Daily News:

“The frequent foes have written a joint letter to Gov. Cuomo and state legislators urging them to extend the expiring law without changes.

“It is no secret that the two of us disagree on a great many things — but we both know that mayoral control of the public school system ensures direct accountability and is absolutely essential for the future progress and development of New York City schools,” de Blasio and former mayor Giuliani wrote.

The letter also takes a veiled shot at Cuomo’s plan to allow the state to take over consistently failing schools.

“Proposals that would limit mayoral control will only take us backward to a time of blurred lines of accountability,” de Blasio and Giuliani wrote. “Graduation rates, college readiness rates, and test scores are showing signs of improvement, and the success of our children demands that we move forward…”

…the law, last extended in 2009, is set to expire in June. Cuomo has proposed extending it for three years. Assembly Democrats are pushing for a seven-year extension that would carry through de Blasio’s second term…

The Senate GOP, which had a good relationship with fellow Republican Giuliani but has feuded with de Blasio after he unsuccessfully tried last year to help the Democrats win control of the chamber, says an immediate decision doesn’t need to be made as part of the new budget because the law is several months from expiring.”

Mayoral control has had its supporters and detractors.  One thing is for sure, control of the public schools needs to stay where they are located.  The last thing they need is any interference from the politicians and bureaucrats in the state capitol.



Sweet Briar College (Virginia) To Close!

Dear Commons Community,

Here at bucolic Sweet Briar College, equestrians awaken at dawn and trek to the stables to ride on 18 miles of trails through wooded countryside, fields and dells. Women study on the boathouse dock at sunset, as geese squawk over a lake. Pearls are still in fashion, and men must have escorts. Students call it “the pink bubble.”

Now, all of a sudden, the bubble has burst due to the abrupt decision by the Sweet Briar board to close the 114-year-old women’s liberal arts school enrolling 700 students at the end of this term “as a result of insurmountable financial challenges” .

The Board’s decision has transformed this tranquil community into a hotbed of anger and activism.  A new alumnae group, Saving Sweet Briar, has raised $3 million and intends to demand this week that the school make its finances public — or face legal action. The faculty voted unanimously last week to oppose the “unilateral decision” to close the school, and demanded to meet with the board. Students, fresh from spring break, plastered their cars with a rallying cry — #SaveSweetBriar — in the school colors, pink and green.

As reported in a New York Times article:

“The drama at Sweet Briar — a tiny school, with just 532 students on a sprawling 3,250-acre campus, and another 170 or so studying overseas — is playing out against a backdrop of wrenching changes for small liberal arts schools, especially those in rural areas, and women’s colleges, which face particular challenges in recruiting.

A survey this year by Inside Higher Ed, conducted by the Gallup Organization, found that just 39 percent of college presidents felt confident that their institution’s financial model would be sustainable for the next decade. In Virginia alone, two other small colleges have closed since 2013 — Virginia Intermont College in Bristol, and St. Paul’s College, a historically black institution in Lawrenceville.

Fifty years ago, there were 230 women’s colleges in the United States, according to the Women’s College Coalition, a nonprofit group. Last year, there were 46. But Chatham University in Pittsburgh is set to admit men this fall, dropping the number to 45. Without Sweet Briar, there will be 44.”

The plight of women’s colleges has been going for several decades.  Many of these colleges began admitting men as early as the 1970s, others simply closed due to decreased enrollments and financial difficulties.




Analyzing the Rewrite of No Child Left Behind!


Dear Commons Community,

The U.S. House of Representatives continues to work on a rewrite of No Child Left Behind, the signature education policy bill of the George W. Bush administration.  Actually it is formally a reauthorization of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act.   Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the ranking minority member, are drafting the rewrite that they expect to have ready next month.  There are many issues associated with the old bill related to standardized testing, federal funding aid, and labeling schools as failing that need to be addressed.   The New York Times has an article today focusing on a number of NCLB issues.  Here is an excerpt:

“No Child Left Behind was a bipartisan effort that was intended to help schools improve reading and math in the third to eighth grades. The law required that every child in the nation be proficient by 2014 in those subjects, as measured by standardized tests. Cascading punishments — beginning with mandated tutoring and going all the way to school takeover — were imposed on schools that failed to make sufficient progress toward this goal.

As Arne Duncan, the education secretary, put it in a speech this year, the law “created dozens of ways for schools to fail and very few ways to help them succeed or to reward success.”

As almost all schools began to fall into the failing category — and a partisan logjam kept Congress from reauthorizing the law when it expired eight years ago — the Obama administration began granting states waivers from its requirements.

Over the past three years, schools in all but a few states have been given waivers, allowing them to show success through measures other than test scores and eliminating the 2014 deadline for universal proficiency.

Those waivers, though, came with conditions. Among them were that states adopt academic standards like the Common Core, which defines what students need to know and be able to do between kindergarten and high school graduation, and that they agree to base teacher evaluations in part on test scores.

Parents have been rebelling against new tests based on the Common Core, and many Republicans, as well as a group from the left, see these requirements as a federal power grab in an area traditionally governed by the states. Those lawmakers are determined to keep the requirements out of the reauthorization. Leading Democrats and many civil rights groups, though, worry about giving too much control back to the states.

“The worry is that if you leave it to the states, they will drop the ball, as they did in the past,” said Martin West, who studies the politics of kindergarten through high school education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

No Child Left Behind required the public release of test scores by race, sex, disability and family income. The release of those subgroups’ scores is broadly considered a success, bringing transparency that focused attention on children needing the most assistance, and helping to shrink achievement gaps.”

It remains to be seen how the rewrite of NCLB plays out.  There is hope that something positive will come out of it mainly because of the leadership (Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray) of the House Committee.  Both are moderates not ideologues who have invested time and energy in understanding the complexity of public education issues.



Conference at Berkeley:  Ph.D.s Explore Careers Outside of the Academia!

Dear Commons Community,

Approximately 400 people attended a two-day Beyond Academia conference that focused on careers for Ph.D.s outside of the academia. While mostly for current and recent Berkeley doctoral students, participants came from other California universities as well.  Sessions ranged from the practical to the esoteric, with titles like “The Enjoyment of Employment,” “The Job Hunt Process,” and “Branding Your Brain.” Attendees came from all disciplines, but mostly from the sciences.  As reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required):

“Many students were not sure they even want academic jobs. But there seemed to be just as many who had tried to land on the tenure track until it became financially infeasible. …

A conference like Beyond Academia, organizers say, helps students think about their careers before going down the uncertain, financially straining adjunct path. Many attendees, however, were several months or even several years removed from their Ph.D.’s or postdoctoral positions, seeking transferable skills they wished their programs had taught them.

“Long-term forced free time is awful,” says Sven Chilton, who earned a doctorate in nuclear engineering from Berkeley in 2013. He attended Beyond Academia to focus his job search.

Mr. Chilton suspected early in his Ph.D. program that he wasn’t interested in academic research, but he suppressed those thoughts. “I hung on to that possibility for several years,” he says. “I think students, largely in STEM fields but perhaps the humanities as well, socialize that the academy is the pinnacle of society.”

… Change at Berkeley and in academe may be slow, but it is afoot, says Rosemary Joyce, an associate dean of Berkeley’s Graduate Division. “I’m not going to deny that there are individual faculty members who dismiss their students who explore careers outside academia,” she says. “But they’re not the majority anymore.”

Ms. Joyce says Berkeley plans to create a center on the campus this fall for graduate-student professional development. It will have one full-time staff member, she says. The university will also provide a website where graduate students can create individual development plans and learn about the range of careers in their field.

“We need to shift the national dialogue from the overproduction of Ph.D.’s to the underutilization of Ph.D.’s,” Ms. Joyce says, echoing a key theme expressed in recent years by groups like the American Historical Association and the Modern Language Association.

Ph.D. recipients, even at an elite institution like Berkeley, Ms. Joyce says, have always left for careers outside the university. The Graduate Division conducted a survey of Berkeley doctoral recipients across all disciplines from 1968 to 2008, and found that 44 percent of respondents held tenured or tenure-track appointments, 42 percent had nonacademic careers, and 14 percent had other employment in higher education, including as adjuncts and administrators.”

For those of us who work with Ph.D. students, the issues raised at this conference are important and need to be addressed.  It is clear that there are not enough positions in academia to support our graduates.  As the organizers of Beyond Academia suggest,  appropriate career paths and alternatives to college teaching need to be part of our advisement and counseling services.



Pacific & Standard Magazine:  Survey of Adjunct Faculty!

Adjunct Survey 2015

Dear Commons Community,

Pacific & Standard, as part of its series on adjunct faculty, conducted a survey in early March to collect information about current and former adjunct professors.  P & S makes no claims that the survey was based on a scientifically-drawn sample.  It basically provides a partial picture of what adjunct professors face in the employment market.  As stated in the article:

“Of the 467 responses, what rings out most clearly is the sense of betrayal, sadness, and frustration. Many stated that their impressive student evaluations are almost never tied to pay or contract renewals. They noted that without a union they would be far worse off—or that they wanted to organize, but were too scared of reprisal.

Many respondents also wrote that they live happy, fruitful lives. These people treat adjuncting as a side job and feel fulfilled by their work, both inside and outside of the classroom. While most people agreed that adjuncting couldn’t possibly be a full-time job, they appreciated the flexibility of teaching a few classes in addition to their other work. The large majority of respondents said what keeps them in the classroom is the students.”

Further data and access to the entire series is available here.




Cosmetics Executive Leonard Lauder Donates $10 Million to Hunter College’s School of Nursing!

Lawrence Lauder

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday, Hunter College announced a $10 million gift from Cosmetics Executive Lawrence Lauder to its School of Nursing. The gift will fund salaries and research to attract academics, provide scholarships for students, and enable the purchase and maintenance of equipment needed for instruction.

It is Mr. Lauder’s largest gift to Hunter and one of the biggest to any school of nursing, according to Hunter’s president, Jennifer Raab. The gift is named in memory of Mr. Lauder’s first wife, Evelyn, who died in 2011 from nongenetic ovarian cancer.

The late Mrs. Lauder went to Hunter College, graduating in 1958 with a degree in anthropology. She also attended Hunter College High School. Her education served as the foundation for her careers as a public-school teacher and an executive at Estée Lauder Cosmetics, the firm founded by Mr. Lauder’s parents.  As reported in The Wall Street Journal:

“In 1993, after she was diagnosed with breast cancer, Evelyn Lauder founded the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF), a New York-based group that has become a national powerhouse for funding study of the disease.

In a recent interview, Mr. Lauder, 81 years old, said he was motivated to support nursing because of the care his late wife received from intuitive, skilled nurses during her many years in and out of hospitals. “I was hugely impressed with the nursing care, but also impressed with the fact that there weren’t that many young people entering nursing from New York or even from America,” Mr. Lauder said.

With the Affordable Care Act, he said, more people will be able to receive medical attention. To serve that demand, more nurses are needed.

“I have a long-term dream that we should and must have, over the next five to 10 years, more storefront walk-in clinics run by physician’s assistants, the highest level of nursing,” said Mr. Lauder. “If we want to be able to care for our population in the long-run and not skyrocket the cost of medical care, we need to eventually have far more of the services handled by people who are graduates of nursing schools.”

The gift follows several others to Hunter, including donations in support of the arts and regular grants in support of breast-cancer researchers. Mr. Lauder credits Hunter with setting his late wife on a road that has ultimately saved “many thousands of lives” through the work of the BCRF. And, he said, the late Mrs. Lauder, the product of the public education system, was also one of its biggest champions.

This type of gift is something of a departure for Mr. Lauder, who in recent years has earned headlines for his donation of $1 billion in artwork to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and for his support of the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Mr. Lauder said he was now turning more of his focus to two areas that need more attention: breast cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

In response to a question about whether he has accelerated his giving in recent years, Mr. Lauder said: “Yeah. You can’t take it with you, can you?”


Nancie Atwell – English Teacher Wins $1 Million “Nobel” Prize for Teaching!

Nancie Attewell

Dear Commons Community,

Nancie Atwell, an English teacher from rural Maine, won the $1 million Global Teacher Prize after 42 years of work as an innovator and pioneer in teaching literature.  Nancie Atwell plans to donate the full amount to the Center for Teaching and Learning which she founded in 1990 in Edgecomb, Maine. As reported in the Associated Press:

“Atwell said that winning the award is a valedictory for her life’s work, but that her true validation comes from the responses of students.

“I really find that I’m validated every day just by the experiences I have with children in the classroom,” she told The Associated Press after receiving the award.

Atwell was selected from a pool of 1,300 applicants from 127 countries.

The top 10 finalists, which included two other teachers from the U.S. and others from Afghanistan, India, Haiti, Cambodia, Malaysia, Kenya, and the U.K., were flown to Dubai, United Arab Emirates for the ceremony. The winner was announced on stage by Sunny Varkey, founder of the non-profit Varkey Foundation that focuses on education issues and founder of the for-profit GEMS Education company that has more than 130 schools around the world.

The award was created to be the largest prize of its kind and to serve as a sort-of Nobel Prize for one exceptional teacher each year.

After Atwell won the award, a young boy no older than 11 with a book bag strapped to his back waited patiently with his mother for a photograph with the winning teacher.

Varkey said that the award is aimed at fostering that kind of admiration for teachers and to say “to a celebrity-obsessed world that teachers are important and worthy of respect.”

Congratulations, Ms. Atwell!



New Look to Tony’s Thoughts!

Dear Commons Community,

Welcome to the new design of Tony’s Thoughts.  This is the first major redesign since I started this blog in November 2009.  The reasons for the change are threefold.

First, five plus years is a long time to stay with the same look so a change was overdue.

Second,  the old design was not mobile friendly.  The new design uses a format that is “responsive” to the smaller screen sizes used on tablets and smart phones.

Third, Matt Gold and Andy McKinney of the CUNY Commons tell me that google has changed its search algorithms in a way that gives preference to websites that are responsive to mobile devices.

I hope you like the new look and feel free to let me know what you think.  Also my thanks to Matt and Andy for their suggestions and assistance with the change.




Arne Duncan:  High School Graduation Rates Improving – Achievement Gap Narrowing!

High School Graduation 2015

Dear Commons Community,

Data released earlier this week by the U.S. Department of Education shows that the high school graduation rates for Hispanic, black, white, American Indian and Asian/Pacific Islander students all increased between the 2010-11 and 2012-13 school years. Even though significantly more white and Asian/Pacific Islander students are graduating from high school than their Hispanic, black and American Indian peers, achievement gaps in this area still appear to be closing.

The release of this data comes a month after the DOE announced that national high school graduation rates had reached a historic high. During the 2012-13 school year, 81 percent of American students graduated from high school in four years.  As reported in The Huffington Post:

“America’s students have achieved another record-setting milestone,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement last month. “We can take pride as a nation in knowing that we’re seeing promising gains, including for students of color.”

Monday’s announcement outlines the specific gains achieved by students of color.

“The hard work of America’s educators, families, communities and students is paying off. This is a vital step toward readiness for success in college and careers for every student in this country,” Duncan said in a statement. “While these gains are promising, we know that we have a long way to go in improving educational opportunities for every student — no matter their ZIP code — for the sake of our young people and our nation’s economic strength.”