New York State Cancels inBloom Contract!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York State Education Department acknowledged earlier this week that it will reverse plans to store student data on a controversial cloud-based service called inBloom.

“As required by statute, we will not store any student data with inBloom and we have directed inBloom to securely delete the non-identifiable data that has been stored,” department spokesman Tom Dunn said.

The statement is an acknowledgement of recently passed state legislation that prohibits the state from giving student data to inBloom or other vendors to store and manage.

inBloom is the corporation funded by the Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation ($100 million from Gates) to collect personal, identifiable student data. The software was created by Wireless Generation, part of Joel Klein’s Amplify, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. The data is stored on a “cloud” managed by amazon.com.

Dunn said the department will continue to explore “alternative paths” to help schools access “secure and cost-effective educational technology tools that empower and support our teachers, students, and their families.”

The plan to use inBloom to manage extensive data on all students was widely criticized by parents and educators who were concerned about the security of the data and possible use of it by third-party vendors like inBloom. The Education Department maintained that the data was secure and that vendors were barred from selling or sharing it. 

Thank God that there are some sane officials in Albany that forced the NYS Education Department to take this action.

Tony

Is Testing Taking over our Schools? An Entire Faculty Says Yes and Not for the Better!

Dear Commons Community,

The entire faculty at P.S. 167 in New York City took a stand against standardized testing in an op-ed published by The Hechinger Report.  The piece decried standardized testing’s impact on their school. The teachers wrote that the tests have made students incredibly stressed and have detracted from students’ educational experiences.  Here is an excerpt:

“When they enter our school each fall, our sixth-graders write about their hopes and fears for middle school. This year, 35 percent said their greatest fear was failing the state tests. At one of the most socially difficult times of their lives, over a third of our children have more anxiety about standardized tests than any other issue.

…This year in our school, as in schools across the country, we have seen the number of standardized tests we are required to administer grow sharply, from 25 to more than 50 (in grades 6-10). In the next six weeks alone, each of our sixth-graders will be required to participate in 18 days of testing. The testing includes “3 days of state English tests, 3 days of state math tests, 4 days of new city English and math benchmark tests, and 8 days of new English, math, social studies and science city tests to evaluate teacher performance”

The faculty members wrote that they don’t oppose testing on principle.  However, they recommended that officials allocate resources toward developing other ways of assessing educational quality.   Furthermore,  they question an assessment system in which 70 percent of students are labeled “failing.”  “This is not a function of low performance, but a deliberate decision by the state to increase the number of students labeled “failing in order to create more pressure on teachers and schools, and to gain public support for new—untested—reform initiatives. We question the collateral consequences of such a mechanism for educational change.”

Collateral damage indeed!

Tony

46th Anninvesary of the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King 2014

At 6:05 P.M. on Thursday, April 4th, 1968, Martin Luther King was shot dead while standing on a balcony outside his second-floor room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.  The night before his death, Dr. King spoke prophetically of his own death, noting the threats he was receiving.

“I don’t know what will happen now; we’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter to with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind,” he said. “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life–longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”

 

United States Ranks 16th on New Global Social Progress Indicator!

Social Progress Indicator

Dear Commons Community,

Despite having the second-highest GDP, the U.S. falls shorts on basic human needs, health and wellness, and education according to a new global social progress indicator developed by researchers at the Harvard Business School.  As reported in The Daily Beast:

“New Zealand took the number one spot, followed by Switzerland and Iceland in a new global ranking of the world’s most socially advanced countries, according to a new global index released today by a U.S.-based nonprofit, The Social Progress Imperative (SPI). The United States came in 16th. And that’s despite having the second-highest GDP per capita (behind #5, Norway).

Created by a team led by Professor Michael E. Porter of Harvard Business School, the Social Progress Index ranked 132 countries over three categories: basic human needs, foundations of wellbeing, and opportunity. Over 50 indicators were used to measure outcomes in each—including nourishment, access to water and sanitation, access to basic knowledge and advanced education, life expectancy, greenhouse gas emissions, and personal and political freedoms.

At first glance, the index seems obvious. Countries with the largest economies are near the top, while those with the lowest fill the bottom tier…But the SPI further evaluates each country in relation to others with similar GDP performance. This is where the index gets interesting and people (in theory, policy makers) can identify areas of excellence and those in need of improvement.

There’s one bright spot. According to the SPI, America is still the land of opportunity, mostly because we outperform other countries in our access to advanced education—our citizens go to school for more years and our universities are top-notch—but that’s where the celebration ends.

So what’s our problem? Why aren’t we number one?

“What you’ve got is a bunch of very marginalized people,” Michael Green, SPI’s Executive Director, told The Daily Beast.

Our biggest fails, according to the SPI:

  • Basic Human Needs: Access to water, sanitation, are all worse in the U.S. than in countries with similar GDPs. But where we really lose it is personal safety, ranking 31st compared to Canada (9th), Germany (13th), New Zealand (17th), and the UK (21st). These numbers are partly due to an abnormally high number of traffic deaths.
  • Access to Information and Communications: Just 81% of the population is Internet users compared to 87% in both the UK and Canada. While mobile telephone subscriptions (a little over 95 per 100 people) are also lower than in other countries.
  • Health and Wellness: The United States ranks poorly here (70th), thanks in part to our obesity epidemic.
  • Access to Basic Knowledge: We’re ranked 39th due to low primary school enrollment rates.”

You can view the full results in a heat map or play with SPI’s interactive data visualization tool here.

Tony

US Supreme Court Rules on McCutcheon: American Democratic System Handed Over to Moneyed Interests!

Dear Commons Community,

It was bad enough in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that the US Supreme Court ruled that political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, and the government may not keep corporations or unions from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections but now a 5-4 ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission strikes down the limit any individual can contribute to federal candidates in a two-year election cycle.  This ruling significantly increases the role money plays in American politics.  The Sunlight Foundation commented:

“Once again, the Supreme Court has given more power to special interests and a tiny percentage of the very rich. Its Citizens United ruling four years ago opened up the floodgates for unlimited spending in our elections, and now it might as well have tied a big bow around Congress and deliver it to the 1%. By striking down the long-standing cap on total contributions individuals may give to federal candidates and political parties, the Supreme Court has permitted the unseemly spectacle of a single donor being able to contribute more than $3.5 million to one party during an election cycle (or double that, if he/she wants to hedge her bets).

In light of today’s decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, we need now more than ever real-time transparency of political spending so the public can know whether their elected officials are representing their interests or special moneyed interests. It’s technologically possible, so there’s no reason Congress should not act fast to enact legislation to mandate disclosure of all contributions of $1,000 or more to parties, candidates and political committees within 48 hours.

What this court fails to recognize is the First Amendment rights of the 99.9% of citizens who cannot buy access to elected officials in order to give voice to their issues. Seven-figure contributions are not a megaphone merely amplifying the voices of the donors, they are a sonic boom, overpowering to the point of silencing all other voices. Real-time transparency can foster accountability, deter corruption and act as a bulwark against the unfettered and wholesale purchase of our elections by the wealthy.”

Noam Chomsky was much more succinct in his commentary on the decision:   “Let’s forget about any pretense of being a democratic society”.

Tony

 

Vergara v. California: Teacher Tenure on Trial!

Dear Commons Community,

California’s rules on teacher tenure, dismissal, and seniority are on trial in a lawsuit filed by the advocacy group, Students Matter, on behalf of nine students.  The basic issue is: Do these rules keep bad teachers in classrooms and doom some students to an inadequate education?

The plaintiffs in Vergara v. California argued that the state’s employment rules leave so many ineffective teachers on the job that some students – many of them low-income and minority – fail to receive the education guaranteed by the state constitution. The two-month trial ended last Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court. A ruling is expected in about two months.  The key issues in the case as reported by Forbes are as follows.

The case, named Vergara v. California, seeks to strike three labor laws in the state. They are:

  • Tenure – California’s Permanent Employment Statute (or “Tenure Law”) mandates that administrators either grant or deny permanent employment status to teachers after only 18 months. However, the plaintiffs claim that the amount of evaluation time is not sufficient to determine a teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom, as new teachers have yet complete their beginners’ program. L.A. Unified School District (LAUSD) Superintendent John Deasy seconded that assessment when he testified, “There is no way that this is a sufficient amount of time to make such an important decision.”
  • Dismissal Statutes – Once teachers receive tenure, it is nearly impossible to remove them from the classroom for poor performance. State records indicate there are more than 300,000 teachers in California’s public schools. Yet, according to the nonprofit Students Matter, the sponsor of Veagara v. California, over the last 10 years, only 91 tenured teachers have been removed from classrooms. And of those dismissals, just 19 were due to poor performance in the classroom. The process to remove a bad teacher can take up to 10 years and cost millions of dollars in taxpayer funding, noted Deasy.
  • Seniority – California law dictates that school districts must use the “Last In, First Out” Layoff Statute (or LIFO) if it ever has to lay off teachers. When it comes to making their choices, school boards are not allowed to consider a teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom. The Plaintiffs claim school districts are forced to retain ineffective teachers if they have been teaching longer, which diminishes the quality of education that students receive.

The verdict in this case will be watched closely in many other states. With appeals, it is very possible that the final verdict in this case is several years away.

Tony

60 Minutes Report: Is the Stock Market Rigged?

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Dear Commons Community,

CBS’s 60 Minutes had a segment on Sunday with the author, Michael Lewis, whose new book posits that the U.S. stock market is rigged, with elite traders buying access to a high-speed network.  This access allows them to figure out what you’ve just ordered, order it first, then raise the price before your order is complete.  And according to Michael Lewis, author of a new book about high-frequency trading called “Flash Boys,” this form of “front running” is completely legal.

The insiders are able to move faster than you,” Lewis said on “60 Minutes” on Sunday night. “They’re able to see your order and play it against other orders in ways that you don’t understand. They’re able to front run your order.”

The advantage adds up to less than a second — in some cases a fraction of a millisecond — but thanks to the powerful computers masterminding the trades, it’s enough time to make serious money.

See the full segment above.

Tony

Saving CUNY’s Past: Program at the CUNY Graduate Center on April 9th!

Saving CUNYs Past

Dear Commons Community,

The American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning is launching a CUNY Digital History Archive with a public program on Wednesday, April 9th entitled SAVING CUNY’S PAST — The Story of Open Admissions. Speakers and panelists will include public higher education advocates who were active in the fight for open admissions in the sixties and seventies and in the movement against cutbacks from the eighties to the present. The project is trying to recruit as many participants as possible from the CUNY community past and present to join the archive effort, tell their stories and contribute documents.

This is a most worthwhile endeavor.  Anyone interested in or who was a part of the CUNY community in the late 60s and 70s, will find this a most interesting evening.    For more information, see: http://psc-cuny.org/calendar/forum-saving-cunys-past-story-open-admissions

Tony

 

Chronicle Article: The Ups and Downs of Big Data Research!

Dear Commons Community,

Marc Parry has an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, examining the ups and downs of big data research.   While there are various definitions of “big data”,  generically, the term  assumes that the information or database system(s) used as the main storage facility is capable of storing large quantities of data longitudinally and down to very specific transactions for subsequent use in studying human behavior.  Depending upon the application, big data could involve capturing every keystroke relating to the focus or behavior of an inquiry.

Parry starts by referring to questions to David Lazer:

“In 2009, David Lazer sounded the call for a fresh approach to social science. By analyzing large-scale data about human behavior—from social-network profiles to transit-card swipes—researchers could “transform our understanding of our lives, organizations, and societies,” Mr. Lazer, a professor of political science and computer science at Northeastern University, wrote in Science. The professor, joined by 14 co-authors, dubbed this field “computational social science.”

This month Mr. Lazer published a new Science article that seemed to dump a bucket of cold water on such data-mining excitement. The paper dissected the failures of Google Flu Trends, a flu-monitoring system that became a Big Data poster child. The technology, which mines people’s flu-related search queries to detect outbreaks, had been “persistently overestimating” flu prevalence, Mr. Lazer and three colleagues wrote. Its creators suffered from “Big Data hubris.” An onslaught of headlines and tweets followed. The reaction, from some, boiled down to this: Aha! Big Data has been overhyped. It’s bunk.”

Big data is surely being hyped as have many other new technological approaches only to have to come down to earth at some point.  My opinion is that big data is a natural evolution of decision support systems that have been developing for the last fifty years.  Database technology has been evolving steadily as the use of the Internet has greatly expanded hardware and software data-capturing facilities.  For researchers using big data techniques, one of the major problems as Parry astutely mentions is;

“The emerging problems highlight another challenge: bridging the “Grand Canyon,” as Mr. Lazer calls it, between “social scientists who aren’t computationally talented and computer scientists who aren’t social-scientifically talented.” As universities are set up now, he says, “it would be very weird” for a computer scientist to teach courses to social-science doctoral students, or for a social scientist to teach research methods to information-science students. Both, he says, should be happening.”

The disconnect between disciplines is a major issue and there needs to be an integration of skills  in order to realize the potential of big data research in human behavior.  In addition, a recognition of the cultural differences among disciplines has to be recognized.  The latter is much more difficult to achieve.

Tony

 

Homeless and on Food Stamps: The Life of an Adjunct Professor!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has a featured article on Mary-Faith Cerasoli, 53, an adjunct professor of Romance languages, who is homeless, sleeps in her car or at friend’s houses.  A graduate of Hunter College and Middlebury College, Ms. Cerasoli had been a public school teacher but had to give it up due to an eye injury.  Trying to eke out a living as an adjunct, Ms. Cerasoli travels from one college to another in the New York City area.  As reported in the article:

“Ms. Cerasoli has been an adjunct for several years at Mercy College in Westchester and several other places in and around New York City.

She says she uses film, music, culture and food to shape her lessons and to tell students, “Worlds open up to you when you learn a foreign language.”

But while encouraging students to major in foreign languages, she does not encourage them to follow her path into adjunct college teaching. The work is rewarding, she said, but not the pay:

Ms. Cerasoli, a former New York City schoolteacher, currently teaches two Italian classes at Mercy, splitting time between its Westchester and Midtown Manhattan campuses. For her, the professorial lifestyle has meant spending some nights sleeping in her car, showering at college athletic centers and applying for food stamps and other government benefits.

After being unable to keep several apartments, Ms. Cerasoli began couch-surfing a year ago, relying on friends. There was the unheated basement in Bronxville, and the room in the Bronx with no hot water. She is currently living in a small room in a Co-Op City apartment, also in the Bronx, courtesy of a friend — who is about to be evicted.

“We’re basically squatting here,” she said, while preparing for a trip to Albany for her one-woman demonstration in front of the state’s Education Department building. She planned to urge officials to improve conditions for adjuncts at public colleges as more universities save money by reducing their full-time teaching staffs.

Until recently, Ms. Cerasoli taught at Nassau Community College on Long Island, but lacking seniority, she was not assigned any classes this year, she said.

“They call us professors, but they’re paying us at poverty levels,” she said. “I just want to make a living from a skill I’ve spent 30 years developing.”

The exploitation of adjunct professors has been going on for years.  The pay is low and has not changed much in decades.  I had my first teaching position as an adjunct at Borough of Manhattan Community College in 1971.  I was paid a little more than $3,000. for a three-credit/three hour course.  This is still the going rate in the New York City area.  With the squeeze of funding at many public colleges and tuition-dependent private colleges, adjuncts have become their financial lifelines.

For shame on all of us who have allowed this to happen.

Tony

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