Juan Gonzalez on New York City’s Budget Surplus or the Rainy Day is Here!

Dear Commons Community,

Juan Gonzalez in his column earlier this week in the NY Daily News called on Mayor Michael Bloomberg to use upwards of $6 billion in budget surpluses and rainy day funds to avert proposed teacher layoffs, the closing of firehouses and other budget cuts slated for the coming year’s budget. The possibility of New York State surpluses and budget cuts were discussed earlier this year on this blog. It appears that Bloomberg would rather hold the jobs of teachers and firemen dangling as he attempts to negotiate more funding from New York State. We will hear more about this over the next several days as the City moves to adopt its budget.


More on High School Students Not Able to Do College Level Work!

Dear Commons Community,

Earlier this week, the New York State Education Department released new data showing that high school graduates even from some of the better or “A” schools in New York City were not able to do college-level work. This is a follow-up to data released in February (see my posting on this blog). Colleagues, Greg Johnson and Frank Gardella, at Hunter College have exchanged posts on this on the Hunter Faculty LISTSERV. Professor Gardella specifically addresses the problem for mathematics.

“The numbers should not be surprising when one looks at the way the
statistics are handled for the Regents in Mathematics. The score that appears on a student’s transcript is a Regents Scale Score. This is not a raw score or a percent derived from a raw score. It is a number that is arrived at using a Conversion Chart determined by the New York State Department of Education.

For example, in order to obtain a passing Regents Scale Score of 65 on this year’s Integrated Algebra 1 Regents, students had to have a raw score of 31 out of a possible 87. This meant that a student obtaining a 36% correct on the test was considered proficient. (The conversion chart for the scoring can be found at: http://www.nysedregents.org/IntegratedAlgebra/

Similar charts are developed for Integrated Geometry and Integrated Algebra 2/Trigonometry Regents.)

To obtain Regents Scale Score of 75 means that a student must have a raw score of 45 out of 87 or 52% correct.

What has occurred is that the State Department of Education has made 36% the passing grade for Integrated Algebra 1. Similar Conversion Charts are used in grading the Integrated Geometry and Integrated Algebra 2/Trig Regents. You do not need 65% correct to get a Regents Scale Score of 65.

History: Before 1999, when a student (like many of us) took the regents, if the student did not get 65% correct, the student failed. There was no Regents scale score. It was a raw score that equated to a percent. If you got 78 out of 100, you got 78%.

With the changes in New York as well as across the nation under No Child Left Behind legislation, states had to show progress each year (what is known as Annual Yearly Progress or AYP.) Each state was left to its own devices to decide on the proficiency of the students and the AYP.

New York developed a Regents Scale Scoring system that has been in use since 1999. Since then the state has basically equated a passing Regents Scale Score of 65 to a percent correct somewhere in the range of 30 to 40 % for the Integrated Algebra 1 Regents. ..”

Thank you, Professor Gardella. In essence, we have established an accountability system that has been gamed by education policy makers at the state and local levels to give the illusion that students have been doing better than they actually were.


Study Finds Students Who Aren’t Prepared For College Find Less Value In Books And Lecture Than Students Who Are Prepared

Dear Commons Community,

Two researchers, Jeffrey Henriques and Lyrissa Kusse at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, conducted a survey and concluded students who aren’t prepared for college find less value in books and lecture than students who are prepared. A summary of the study states:

“Students in three sections of introductory psychology, N = 1051, were asked about the utility of traditional, e.g. instructor, lectures and textbook, and nontraditional, e.g., clickers, podcasts and online lecture slides, teaching tools. Students who felt unprepared for college (25.9%) differed from their peers in their perceived utility of these tools. Both groups of students reported that novel teaching tools were less helpful than traditional teaching tools and while there was no group difference in the perceived usefulness of the novel tools, underprepared students found traditional teaching tools to be less helpful than did prepared students. When the individual tools were used to predict the amount of self-reported learning gains in these students, it was the traditional teaching tools that accounted for the greater proportion of variability in overall learning. These results suggest that, rather than adding new approaches to their teaching, instructors could best assist their underprepared students by helping them learn to make better use of traditional teaching tools.”

Interesting results and counter to some of the literature on the benefits of technology and new approaches to college teaching and learning.


Wal-Mart’s Authoritarian Culture and Sex-Discrimination!

Dear Commons Community,

Nelson Lichtenstein, a professor of history at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the author of “The Retail Revolution: How Wal-Mart Created a Brave New World of Business” has an op-ed piece in the NY Times on the U.S. Supreme Court Decision on Monday that ruled against a sex-discrimination suit brought by 1.6 million present and former women employees. For those of us who do not know the inside operation of Wal-Mart, Professor Lichtenstein provides valuable insight. For instance, he makes the point that:

“the sex discrimination at Wal-Mart that drove the recent suit is the product not merely of managerial bias and prejudice, but also of a corporate culture and business model that sustains it, rooted in the company’s very beginnings. In the 1950s and ’60s, northwest Arkansas, where Wal-Mart got its start, was poor, white and rural, in the midst of a wave of agricultural mechanization that generated a huge surplus of unskilled workers. To these men and women, the burgeoning chain of discount stores founded by Sam Walton was a godsend. The men might find dignity managing a store instead of a hardscrabble farm… [and that]

Wal-Mart is no longer an Ozark company; it is a cosmopolitan, multinational operation. But that avoids the more essential point, namely that Wal-Mart views low labor costs and a high degree of workplace flexibility as a signal competitive advantage. It is a militantly anti-union company that has been forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to current and former employees for violations of state wage and hour laws. “

He concludes that the reasons why Wal-mart discriminates against women stem from “the tens of thousands of experienced Wal-Mart women who would like to be promoted to the first managerial rung, salaried assistant store manager. But Wal-Mart makes it impossible for many of them to take that post, because its ruthless management style structures the job itself as one that most women, and especially those with young children or a relative to care for, would find difficult to accept.

Why? Because, for all the change that has swept over the company, at the store level there is still a fair amount of the old communal sociability. Recognizing that workers steeped in that culture make poor candidates for assistant managers, who are the front lines in enforcing labor discipline, Wal-Mart insists that almost all workers promoted to the managerial ranks move to a new store, often hundreds of miles away.

For young men in a hurry, that’s an inconvenience; for middle-aged women caring for families, this corporate reassignment policy amounts to sex discrimination. True, Wal-Mart is hardly alone in demanding that rising managers sacrifice family life, but few companies make relocation such a fixed policy, and few have employment rolls even a third the size.

The obstacles to women’s advancement do not stop there. The workweek for salaried managers is around 50 hours or more, which can surge to 80 or 90 hours a week during holiday seasons. Not unexpectedly, some managers think women with family responsibilities would balk at such demands, and it is hardly to the discredit of thousands of Wal-Mart women that they may be right.”

Thank you, Professor Lichtenstein. Very helpful in understanding the world’s largest retailer.


CUNY Board of Trustees Public Hearing at Hostos Community College

Dear Commons Community,

Sandi Cooper, Chair of the University Faculty Senate, shared her notes (below) on the public hearing of the CUNY Board of Trustees that was held yesterday at Hostos Community College. This is the last public hearing on several important matters including transfer policy, general education requirements, and budget cuts, on which the Trustees will deliberate on Monday, June 27th.


June 20, 2011 at Hostos Community College
5:00 p.m. – 8:15 pm

About 64 or the 92 people who signed up to speak at the above captioned hearing did appear, the main item addressed was the Transfer Resolution which the Board will vote on at its June 27 2011 meeting. People lined up outside for several hours in the hot sun awaiting the opportunity to sign in to speak but discovered that well over a dozen students had preceded them. Faculty were not aware that the students were holding a meeting at Hostos prior to the hearing and evidently were given priority to sign up – which annoyed a number of faculty since they were informed that sign up began at 4 pm. However the Vice Chair of the Board insisted that speakers were called in the order that they were signed up … this, of course, is true. The question is was the original sign up a level playing field.

As expected the students representing the University Student Senate, groups of disabled students, the LGBT student organization and a few individuals found nothing but merit in the CAPPR resolution. They recounted tales of funds unavailable from NYS VESED, for instance, for disabled students, if they were expected to retake the same course. Their concerns were losing credit for courses from one college to another; financial problems; difficulty in graduating. Some asserted that the resolution would put CUNY in line with national practice.

Faculty witnesses agreed that a transfer problem existed, that it needed remediation BUT that transfer and general education were two separate categories. One did not have to diminish general education, especially in the senior colleges, to have an accepted common core of 30 credits; nor did the unique and new assertion that all courses should transfer face the reality that AAS degrees were largely career training paths with few liberal arts courses. Moreover, the resolution asserts that there will be NO graduation requirements allowed and asserts that the large majors will have a common set of three entry courses. Faculty viewed this as an unwarranted intrusion into their professional training and responsibility. Resources for better advisement and improved IT were what faculty saw as crucial to smooth transfer.

Several faculty addressed the likely cuts to adjunct employees resulting from the impending budget cuts, protesting that the services of long time, devoted part time faculty were being targeted. A Bronx C. C. Faculty member observed that the cuts in the adjunct budget at the very time when enrollment was increasing clearly meant a diminution of quality teaching.

The texts of the speakers’ presentations will eventually be available electronically and are public knowledge.

Sandi E. Cooper, Chair
University Faculty Senate — CUNY

Gay Marriage Bill Nearing a Vote in New York!

Dear Commons Community,

The gay marriage vote is nearing a showdown in New York. To recap where we are. New York would be the sixth and the most populous state to legalize same-sex marriage. The measure that would make gay marriage legal, introduced by Governor Andrew Cuomo, is currently one vote shy of passage in the state Senate. The state Assembly approved the bill by a wide margin last week, and today (Monday) is the last day of the legislative session before summer recess.

A major opponent of the bill is New York’s Archbishop, Timothy Dolan, who reiterated his and the Catholic Church’s opposition to gay marriage on Sunday, vowing to oppose “any radical bill to redefine the very essence of marriage.” Maureen Dowd commented yesterday in her NY Times column that: “Certainly his effort to kill the gay marriage bill, just one vote away from passing in Albany, shows a lot of gall. The archbishop has been ferocious in fighting against marriage between same-sex couples, painting it as a perversity against nature.”

The most cutting comment from Dowd is: “If only his [Dolan’s] church had been as ferocious in fighting against the true perversity against nature: the unending horror of pedophile priests and the children who trusted them.



My Dad!

Dear Commons Community,

On this Father’s Day, I remember my dad, Amadeo, who died in 1973 at the age of 64.    He was born and raised in Brooklyn and met my mother, Philomena, in the early 1930s.  For most of his life, he worked very hard in the warehouses on 12th Avenue in Manhattan.  When he came home from work, he was totally exhausted, had dinner and would fall asleep on the couch for the rest of the evening.  He never owned a car and never had a vacation other than visiting relatives on Long island.  Our big treat for the year was a day trip to Coney Island.    We lived with aunts, uncles, and cousins in my grandmother’s house in the South Bronx on 152nd Street and Morris Avenue.   There was never a lack of love or attention for me and my two brothers as we were growing up.  One thing my father encouraged which was most important for the three of us was that school was important and we had to go to college.  We did.

Thank you, Dad!


Reading at the Beach!

Dear Commons Community,

My wife, Elaine, and I are getting ready for our two-week vacation on Nantucket.  Beach house, surf, sand and a lot of summer reading.  Below is a short piece from the NY Times that asks the important question:  Can you actually read at the beach?


A Book at the Beach!

Beach season is upon us, which means that lists of summer beach reading have begun to appear. They include books that are fat and credential-building, books that are fat and breezy, and books that Bertie Wooster would be reading if he were going to the South of France. The lists lead to an important question. Can you actually read at the beach? Or do you merely hold a book before your face as a blind for better beach-watching?

We have trouble reading at the beach. The sun moves. The wind tugs at the page as though it has finished it sooner than we have. Condiments and ice cream drip on the cover. One dip in the ocean and seawater, from still wet hands and knees, seeps into the pages.

This is why we loved the old mass-market paperbacks. They were cheap, dispensable, and at the beach they swelled up like the pulp they were. When dried, they never regained their shape. They looked forever like beach reading.

And then there is the new challenge of beach reading on an electronic apparatus. There are few things worse for an iPad, Kindle, Nook or Kobo than sand, salt spray and suntan lotion. On the beach, some of these appliances work better as a rear-view mirror than a reading device.

Our approach is to leave them home and go looking through the attic for an old Mickey Spillane. And if there are seals or surfers, dogs with Frisbees, shorebirds or tide pools, even sailboats in the distance, even that gets set aside. It’s enough if there are merely other people on the beach. We recline in the shade, hidden behind sunglasses, and watch America at ease on a soon to be summer day.

CUNY’s New Gen Ed Proposal – Website!

Dear Commons Community,

Manfred Philipp, our colleague at Lehman College and past chair of the University Faculty Senate, has sent out an email alerting us to the Board of Trustees pending actions vis-a-vis general education requirements.  A  website is available that provides a  recap of the new Gen Ed proposal as well as resolutions from a number of CUNY faculty governing bodies and the Professional Staff Congress.   CUNY’s Board of Trustees deliberations will be watched as it moves closer to voting on this important issue.  Beyond general education and college transfer policies, at stake are shared governance prerogatives in matters of academic policy and curricula.  See my previous posts on this issue.