Technology Consultant, Verizon and IBM Rip Off NYC Public Schools!

Dear Commons Community,

William Lanham, a technology consultant, surrendered to authorities yesterday, accused of stealing  $3.6 million over six years from the NYC Department of Education “to finance flashy cars and real estate speculation”.   The NY Times is also reporting that there was a certain amount of duplicity in Lanham’s consulting scheme by major corporate subcontractors including Verizon and IBM.

Mr. Lanham, who was being paid $200,000 a year by the city, used layers of contractors and subcontractors to hide his scheme, and each of them profited a little from it, according to the federal complaint. He hired several people, including a brother, to work on the city contract, then billed another company for those hires, marking up the invoices. The company, for its part, charged Verizon or I.B.M., the two major vendors, more than what it had paid Mr. Lanham.

According to a report by Richard J. Condon, a special investigator for the city schools, Verizon and I.B.M., in turn, billed the Education Department, also marking up the amounts. Verizon marked up the bills by $800,000, and I.B.M. by $400,000, said Mr. Condon’s report, which he had forwarded to the federal authorities. “I.B.M. and Verizon, by their silence, facilitated this fraud,” the report said.

Our public schools have enough struggles in trying to develop their technology infrastructure and surely do not need individuals and major corporations ripping them off.  While there will always be unsavory individuals who will anything to scam a buck, Verizon and IBM should be ashamed of themselves to have participated in this scheme.





Gates Foundation and Pearson Join to Produce Online Reading and Mathematics Courses!

Dear Commons Community,

The NY Times is reporting that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the foundation associated with Pearson, the giant textbook and school technology company, announced a partnership yesterday to create online reading and math courses aligned with the new academic K-12 standards that some 40 states have adopted in recent months.  Twenty-four new courses will be developed that use video, interactive software, games, social media and other digital materials to present math lessons for kindergarten through 10th grade and English lessons for kindergarten through 12th grade, Pearson and Gates officials said.

The financial resources of these two foundations and the corporations that they represent have the potential to change significantly the delivery of online digital instruction for K-12 students.  We will hear a lot about this venture as the courses are developed.   As a major marketing strategy, four of the twenty-four courses will be offered free.



Sarah Palin on Katie Couric’s Resignation from the CBS Evening News!

Dear Commons Community,

The media has had all-out coverage of Katie Couric’s resignation from the CBS Evening News for several weeks now.   Elected officials, fellow news people, and celebrities have weighed in on her decision, most of whom wish her well.   Possibly one of the more hilarious comments came from Sarah Palin during an interview with Greta Van Susteren (Fox News) where she says that “I think I read about it in a newspaper …one of many newspapers I read..”   Here is a video clip of Palin’s comments.





New College of Applied Science?

Dear Commons Community,

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is advancing his idea for a new college of applied science.  This college would essentially be an engineering school with a focus on applied research and development.   Part of the justification for such a school is the Mayor’s assertion that New York City does not have a top-ten ranked engineering school.   Columbia University’s School of Engineering is the highest ranked school in the City at No. 16.

Besides Columbia, the City is already home to several engineering schools at NYU, Cooper Union and City College.   Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal has detractors who suggest that it would be more beneficial to invest in the existing programs.

In response to the Mayor’s call for proposals, Columbia, joined by the City University of New York, has proposed a 1,200-student, 80-professor institute for communication technologies in West Harlem. New York University  joined by CUNY, Carnegie Mellon, the University of Toronto and I.B.M., has suggested a center for urban science that would be home to 300 students and 100 researchers in Brooklyn or on Roosevelt Island.

All in all, an interesting idea!  It is also good to see the private and pubic institutions in the City collaborating.



Texas Wild Fires!

Dear Commons Community,

A fellow volunteer firefighter sent me the URL with photos of the Texas wild fires that have scorched millions of acres and have resulted in losses of hundreds of millions of dollars.  They have also sadly claimed the lives of two volunteer firefighters.     If you would like to contribute to a fund, the Texas Forest Service has established the VFD Emergency Assistance Fund to help volunteer fire departments battling the wildfires. Donations are tax deductible and can be earmarked for particular departments, counties or regions. All proceeds (100 percent) will be distributed to volunteer fire departments via grants for firefighting expenses.

To donate or if you have questions about how you can help, email



Maureen Dowd on the Beatification of Pope John Paul II!

Dear Commons Community,

Maureen Dowd had a most serious column yesterday weighing in on the upcoming beatification of the late Pope John Paul II on May 1st.  She considers his qualities and shortcomings and concludes that his beatification is premature.  Here is a part of her analysis:

“Certainly, John Paul was admirable in many ways… he was a moral force in the fight against totalitarianism, touring his homeland and giving Poles the courage to resist the Soviet Union…

After Communism collapsed, John Paul offered a stinging critique of capitalism, presciently warning big business to stop pursuing profits “at any price.”

“The excessive hoarding of riches by some denies them to the majority,” he said, “and thus the very wealth that is accumulated generates poverty.”

As progressive as he was on those issues, he was disturbingly regressive on social issues — contraception, women’s ordination, priests’ celibacy, divorce and remarriage. And certainly, John Paul forfeited his right to beatification when he failed to establish a legal standard to remove pedophiles from the priesthood, and simply turned away for many years.”

The last comment on the priesthood and pedophilia weighs heavily.  Ms. Dowd asks:

“How can you be a saint if you fail to protect innocent children?”




Charter Schools are the Latest Imperfect Panacea!

Dear Commons Community,

For those us who study/follow K-12 education issues, charter schools is one of the battlegrounds pitting pro-choice advocates against public school advocates especially teachers unions.  I have generally favored charter schools as long as they are developed equitably with minimal screening of the students who are admitted and are not used to segregate student populations or skim the better students from the public school system.

One of our colleagues, Alan Sadovnik from Rutgers University, has a an insightful commentary in the online version of the Teachers College Record that carefully analyzes the issue and makes the case that the hype of movies such as “The Cartel” and “Waiting for Superman” are essentially attacks of neo liberals who want to place the failure of some public schools on teachers unions and other school-based factors.   Citing research pro and con on the achievement of students in charter schools, he concludes that charter schools have performed no better or worse than public schools with similar populations.

However, Dr. Sadovnik’s most important contribution in this commentary is in making the case that socioeconomic factors that occur outside the school are important determinants for student success.  In dispelling the message of “The Cartel” and “Waiting for Superman”, Sadovnik posits that:

“Both films perpetuate the “No Excuses” ideology of Abigail and Stephen Thurnstrom, Whitney Tilson of Democrats for Educational Reform, and others who accuse those who believe poverty affects student achievement of being racist, having low expectations for low-income students, and believing that schools alone cannot reduce the achievement gap. As sociologists of education have consistently argued, for example in No Child Left Behind and the Elimination of the Achievement Gap (2007), a collection of articles by some of the most respected sociologists of education in the country, this is a simplistic argument that ignores four decades of research.”

His conclusion:

“the current wave of school reform debates omits at their peril, the central lessons of social science research over the past four decades, from James Coleman onward, that family background remains the most important predictor of school success, and as both Jean Anyon (2005) and David Berliner (2006) have consistently demonstrated that unless the 800 pound gorilla of poverty is addressed simultaneously, school reform will be doomed to failure. And this is not an excuse, but a reality”.

Well-done piece, Dr. Sadovnik!