Michigan Colleges and High School Online Course Requirements!

Dear Commons Community,

Michigan was the first state to require that all high school students take an online course or its equivalent. An article (subscription required) in The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on interviews of  a number of college personnel for their perspectives on students who met this requirement. Here is an excerpt:

“Nine years ago, when Michigan began requiring high-school students to take an online course before graduating, it was the only state to do so. Since then, though, five other states — as well as some school districts — have followed suit.

The result is a growing group of students — in Michigan and around the country — who have experienced some form of online learning by the time they get to college. During the 2013-14 school year, 65,130 high-school students in Michigan reported taking an online course, according to a survey by Michigan Virtual University, a nonprofit corporation that provides online professional-development training. That’s about 15,000 more students than took such a course the previous year.

Now those students are arriving on college campuses with greater expectations that technology will be an integral part of their academic experience. By exposing students to how technology is best used in the classroom, several Michigan educators say, the requirement has in part led those students to expect college classrooms to also make thorough use of technology.

And their standards are rising. At Michigan State University, students don’t just want technology to feature in the classroom. They’re looking for it to be incorporated in a more productive way, says William Hart-Davidson, associate dean of graduate studies and an expert in online learning.

In other words, students see going online as about more than just turning in homework, he says. Some students come to a campus better prepared to use learning-management systems; others are more able to juggle an online course with other classes on campus. Most of them are savvier about technology.

“They’ve become a bit more critical consumers,” Mr. Hart-Davidson says.

More Demands of Colleges

Experience taking online courses can make students more successful when they take their first collegiate-level course online, says Adam L. Cloutier, director of teaching and learning support services at Henry Ford Community College, in Dearborn, Mich. They’re more focused and “better equipped to navigate the college system and our learning-management system,” he says.

But they haven’t necessarily become expert online learners. Students can fulfill Michigan’s requirement by taking a true online course in high school or by incorporating “online learning experiences” into required courses. Those experiences could include working with a blog or a WebQuest, an inquiry done completely online.

But not all online experiences are created equal, says Allison Powell, vice president for state and district services at the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, and many schools’ attempts to build technology into their courses aren’t well thought out.

“Kids know how to use technology, but they know how to use it for their social lives and for fun,” Ms. Powell says. “They still need a lot of work on learning how to use it for being productive and to use it to learn.”

The article goes on to provide a number of other insights.

Interesting read!



Google to Provide Free Internet Service to Low Income Housing Residents!

Google Free Internet

Dear Commons Community,

Google announced earlier this week that it would provide free high-speed Internet access to public housing projects in select cities.

Google’s plan is part of a larger initiative by the Obama Administration to help low-income American students keep up with today’s online demands. Google announced:

“Today, in all of our Google Fiber markets, we’re launching a program to connect residents in select public and affordable housing properties for $0/month with no installation fee.”

The new public housing program will reportedly be available in every city where Google Fiber is offered. As of now, Google Fiber is accessible in Kansas City; Provo, Utah; and Austin, Texas. The company plans to expand soon to other cities. Google also announced that it will implement digital literacy programs to assist those who lack basic computer skills. Many residents in Austin’s Manchaca Village have already successfully completed the training program. Google Fiber’s free Internet program is part of the larger Obama Administration initiative called ConnectHome, which reportedly intends to cover 275,000 households in 27 cities.

This is a generous move on the part of Google.


Oregon Is Second State to Adopt a Free Community College Policy!

Dear Commons Community,

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) signed into law yesterday a bill that would allow students to go to community college for free immediately after they graduate high school. The legislation sets aside $10 million over the next year to begin an “Oregon Promise” program. Eligible students will need to enroll within six months of graduating high school, according to the Oregonian, and have at least a 2.5 GPA. As reported in The Huffington Post:

“Today, we fling wide open the doors of opportunity by expanding access to post-secondary education, the precursor to a better life,” Brown said in a statement. 

Up to 6,000 students could benefit in the first year of the program, a fact sheet on the bill notes, and it is meant to “offset any remaining tuition after deducting any state/federal grants.” Each recipient of the program will get a minimum $1,000 grant to cover tuition, books, supplies and transportation. 

Brown signed the bill into law at a ceremony at Columbia Gorge Community College in The Dalles. Oregon becomes the second state to have such a program, following Tennessee’s lead

President Barack Obama began promoting a $60 billion initiative earlier this year to provide free community college nationwide. Members of Congress introduced a bill this month to make his plan a reality. There is currently no scheduled vote on the federal legislation.”

This is the right move. It is inevitable that free community college policies will pick up steam in other states and nationally! It is no longer a matter of whether but when!


U.S. Senate Overwhelming Votes to Overhaul NCLB!

Dear Commons Community,

The U.S. Senate voted 81-17 to overhaul the No Child Left Behind Act yesterday, passing a bipartisan bill that gives states more flexibility to hold schools accountable for students’ test scores. As reported in The Huffington Post:

“Everyone wants to fix No Child Left Behind,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn) after the vote was counted. “That’s the consensus we began with.”

The overwhelming vote passed the Every Child Achieves Act, a bipartisan proposal sponsored by Alexander and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash). The bill keeps in place current federal testing requirements but gives states more freedom to determine how to hold schools and teachers accountable for students’ test scores. The current testing schedule mandates that schools test children in reading and mathematics every year in grades three through eight and again once between grades nine through 12.

The House of Representatives passed its own version of a NCLB overhaul last week called the Student Success Act.

“This is a complicated piece of legislation,” Alexander said. “There are crocodiles in every corner.” The fact that it passed with a wide margin despite these complexities, he said, is “remarkable.”

“I am so proud that our bill… is a strong step in the right direction to finally fix” NCLB, Murray said. It was a compromise, she added: “It wasn’t the bill I would have written on my own.”

However, the bill’s next steps are unclear, since even its supporters concede President Barack Obama is unlikely to sign it in its current form.

“I commend the hard work of Senator Alexander, Senator Murray, and their colleagues to get us this far,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement. “However, this bill still falls short of truly giving every child a fair shot at success by failing to ensure that parents and children can count on local leaders to take action when students are struggling to learn.” Duncan’s thoughts echo those of several civil rights groups that oppose the bill because they say its accountability measures don’t go far enough. The bill would also need to be reconciled with the NCLB overhaul the House passed, which Obama has suggested he would veto.”

Regardless of the future of this bill, it is good to see that Republicans and Democrats can agree on legislation that is so important to our children and their education.


Whitehouse Infographic: Digital Divide and Internet Access

Digital Divide 2015

Dear Commons Community,

In preparation for President Obama’s announcement for a new initiative to address the Digital Divide that exists in this country, the White House made an infographic available to illustrate the problem. Accompanying the graphics was the following:

“Right now, even though more than 98 percent of Americans have access to internet service, one in four doesn’t have it at home.

For low-income Americans, that number jumps to one in two.

This is a problem. A high-speed connection is no longer a nice-to-have for the privileged few. Increasingly, you need an internet connection to find a job, to do your homework, and to stay in touch with the people you know. It’s an economic necessity when it comes to communicating, collaborating, and doing business on a global scale.

We’re doing something big to fix this. Today, the President is traveling to Durant, Oklahoma to announce ConnectHome — a new pilot program launching in 27 cities and one tribal nation, and initially helping to connect more than 275,000 low-income households with the support they need to access the internet at home.”

Those of us who have worked in areas with high levels of poverty, know this issue well. It has major ramifications for instructional technology initiatives especially at the K-12 level.



Video and Images: New Horizons Reaches Pluto!


Dear Commons Community,

The Associated Press and AOL have set up a website that contains video and images from NASA’s New Horizon Project. The New Horizons probe reached the planet Pluto earlier this week and has begun sending back images and other data. As stated in the AP article:

“Mankind’s first close-up look at Pluto did not disappoint Wednesday: The pictures showed ice mountains on Pluto about as high as the Rockies and chasms on its big moon Charon that appear six times deeper than the Grand Canyon.

Especially astonishing to scientists was the total absence of impact craters in a zoom-in shot of one rugged slice of Pluto. They said that suggests that Pluto is geologically active even now and is being sculpted not by collisions with cosmic debris but by its internal heat.

Breathtaking in their clarity, the long-awaited images were unveiled in Laurel, Maryland, home to mission operations for NASA’s New Horizons, the unmanned spacecraft that paid a history-making flyby visit to the dwarf planet on Tuesday after a journey of 9 1/2 years and 3 billion miles.”

Congratulations NASA!



Summer Reading: Jonas Salk: A Life!

Jonas Salk

Dear Commons Community,

If you are looking for a biography to read this summer, I would recommend, Jonas Salk: A Life, by Charlotte DeCroes Jacobs. It is a good retelling of the story of Salk, who was raised in the Bronx, attended City College and NYU, and goes on to develop the vaccine that stems polio in this country and around the world.

Jacobs is a good story-teller and is at her best when telling of the trials and tribulations of developing vaccines. Here is an excerpt from the New York Times Book Review:

“Jacobs, a professor emerita of medicine at Stanford, neatly splits “Jonas Salk” into two “acts.” The first is a vivid if by now familiar retelling of Salk’s early life, medical training, foray into polio research and fateful connection to Basil O’Connor, president of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, known as the March of Dimes. Unlike other researchers, who were inching along in search of a live-virus vaccine, Salk had produced a killed-virus version with impressive results. It may not have been perfect, but it took a lot less time to develop. With polio raging each summer, a sense of urgency prevailed, giving Salk the upper hand. As O’Connor put it, “He sees beyond the microscope.”

In 1954, the March of Dimes sponsored the Salk vaccine polio trials. More than a million schoolchildren took part, some getting the real vaccine, others a look-alike placebo. Parents frantically pushed their children into line. They didn’t need to be educated about the risks and rewards of the vaccine. The evidence was everywhere: children in leg braces, wheelchairs, iron lungs — and coffins. The Salk trials rank among the great successes of modern medicine, and Jacobs tells the story as well as it’s ever been told. This is science writing at its best.”

I especially liked the sections on Salk’s competition with Albert Sabin (Sabin Vaccine) and the development and struggles of the Salk Institute in La Jolla. Jacobs also does not neglect Salk’s personal life (early childhood, marriage, divorce, remarriage).

Good biography!



Hillary Clinton Puts Forth Economic Agenda and Warns of the “Shadow Banking System”!

Dear Commons Community, 

Hillary Clinton put the fight for higher wages for everyday Americans at the heart of her economic agenda yesterday and talked tough against Wall Street in the first major economic policy speech of her White House bid. As reported by several news outlets:

“Clinton said the U.S. economy will only run at full steam when middle-class wages rise steadily along with executive salaries and company profits.

“I believe we have to build a growth-and-fairness economy. You can’t have one without the other,” she said at The New School in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village.

“Corporate profits are at near-record highs and Americans are working as hard as ever but paychecks have barely budged in real terms. Families today are stretched in so many directions and so are their budgets,” Clinton said.

The former secretary of state promised to push for a broader reform of the U.S. corporate tax code.

She talked tough against Wall Street, promising to go beyond the 2010 Dodd-Frank law that imposed stronger regulations on the financial industry.

“Too many of our major financial institutions are still too complex and too risky and the problems are not limited to the big banks that get all the headlines,” she said.

Clinton warned that “serious risks are emerging from institutions in the so-called shadow banking system including hedge funds, high-frequency traders, non-bank finance companies” and other entities “which receive little oversight at all.”

She will unveil more specifics of her economic policy in a series of speeches in coming weeks.



A Brief History of Scott Walker’s War on Higher Education!

Dear Commons Community,

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker announced today his candidacy for the Republican nomination for president. The Chronicle of Higher Education thought it appropriate to review Governor Walker’s “war” on the University of Wisconsin. Here are several excerpts:

“Since he was elected Wisconsin’s governor, in 2010, Scott Walker has been waging war against higher education…

As governor, he has earned a reputation for pushing controversial, conservative-minded reforms. Now, as he sets his sights on the White House, here’s a look back at how a few of his efforts to reshape higher education in Wisconsin have fared.

Attack on Collective Bargaining

Mr. Walker took office in January 2011. In February he announced a controversial “budget repair” bill, which, among other things, would strip public-college faculty and staff members of the collective-bargaining rights they won in 2009. Mr. Walker argued that the measure was crucial to plugging a big hole in the state budget.


Autonomy, at a Price

Mr. Walker was behind two proposals to grant public colleges autonomy from the state. First, shortly after he took office, the governor unveiled a plan to grant the Madison flagship autonomy from the larger system, and to lay the groundwork for the Milwaukee campus to do the same. The flagship’s leaders argued that the measure would give them much-needed flexibility (even though it would result in a cut of $250 million in state funds over two years), while system officials opposed it.

That proposal ultimately failed. ..Another version of the autonomy plan was unveiled by Mr. Walker last year. The proposal would have granted the entire system more autonomy from the state while dealing it a budget cut of $300 million over two years. Lawmakers rejected the plan in May, leaving the proposed budget cut intact (it has since been reduced to $250 million).

The ‘Wisconsin Idea’ in the Cross Hairs

One of the most vocal protests against Mr. Walker’s administration erupted in February, when it was revealed that a proposed version of the governor’s budget would strip the state’s revered Wisconsin Idea of its public-service mission. While news outlets turned up evidence that Mr. Walker’s administration had directed budget writers to replace the public-service mission with a focus on meeting “the state’s work-force needs,” the governor tweeted that the changes had been the result of a “drafting error,” which was subsequently corrected.

Mr. Walker, who attended Marquette University but left without a degree, has presided over another attack on a few cherished features of academe: tenure and shared governance. In May a state legislative committee voted to strip protections of tenure and shared governance from state law as part of the state-budget proposal. The Legislature approved the changes, much to the chagrin of faculty members and their advocates on University of Wisconsin system campuses. The system’s regents voted quickly to enshrine those protections in system policy, but faculty members have worried aloud whether that step would be enough to keep tenure intact.

The New Budget

Mr. Walker on Sunday signed the much-debated state budget, which sets in stone the two-year $250-million cut in the University of Wisconsin system and the removal of tenure protections from state statute. The chancellor of the system’s flagship, Rebecca M. Blank, had publicly asked Mr. Walker to exercise his broad veto powers to reverse the controversial tenure measures. He did not.

Walker is a long shot to win the Republican nomination and even a longer shot to win the presidency. In the meantime, he has done everything possible to destroy one of America’s great public higher education systems.



Pope Francis Sends Powerful Message Championing the Rights of the Poor and Against “Unbridled Capitalism”!

Dear Commons Community,

Pope Francis on his tour of South America offered his most impassioned comments on the “sacred rights of the poor” to labor, lodging, and land and to shun policies of corruption and “unbridled capitalism”.  As reported by Reuters:

“Pope Francis appealed to world leaders on Saturday to seek a new economic model to help the poor, and to shun policies that “sacrifice human lives on the altar of money and profit.”

It was the second time during his trip to South America that Francis, the first pope from the region, used a major speech to excoriate unbridled capitalism and champion the rights of the poor.

In Bolivia last Thursday, he urged the downtrodden to change the world economic order, denouncing a “new colonialism” by agencies that impose austerity programs and calling for the poor to have the “sacred rights” of labor, lodging and land.

“Putting bread on the table, putting a roof over the heads of one’s children, giving them health and an education, these are essential for human dignity,” he said.

He urged politicians and business leaders “not to yield to an economic model which is idolatrous, which needs to sacrifice human lives on the altar of money and profit.”

He said those charged with promoting economic development must ensure it had “a human face” and he blasted “the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.”

“Corruption is the plague, it’s the gangrene of society,” he added during a heavily improvised speech at the rally.”

Viva el Papa!