Five Young Women Gymnasts Win Gold in London!

Dear Commons Community,

There will be many stories of victories, losses, and redemptions in this year’s Olympics but those of the United States women’s gymnastics team will be among the most happy in London.   As described by several media outlets:

The five teenagers put forth a series of stunning performances that kept them in first place from start to finish, with a slim lead eventually turning into a landslide. Still, with hearts pounding, they saved their celebration until it was official.

Minutes later, when the United States appeared at the top of the leader board announcing that the Americans had won the Olympic team gold medal, the gymnasts could no longer contain their joy. As chants of U-S-A roared throughout the arena, they smothered each other in hugs and wiped away happy tears.

“We knew that we could do it because we did it at worlds, but you just never know,” said 16-year-old McKayla Maroney, who competed only on vault. “Now I can’t believe I have an Olympic gold medal hanging around my neck. It’s really unbelievable.”

The Olympic victory was a long time coming — it was the first one for the United States women’s team since the Magnificent Seven’s gold at the 1996 Atlanta Games.



In an Otherwise Blah Race for the White House – Mitt Romney Provides a Couple of Interesting Moments!

Dear Commons Community,

In an otherwise blah presidential race, Mitt Romney has provided a couple of interesting moments.  Last week, in a well-publicized foot-in-mouth comment, he managed to insult the British because of their handling of the Olympics.  Yesterday, he offended Palestinian leaders by suggesting that cultural differences explain why the Israelis are so much more economically successful than Palestinians.  The New York Times commented:

“His remarks drew a pointed rebuke from the Palestinian leadership, which angrily noted that Mr. Romney had failed to mention the years of trade restrictions imposed by Israel.

The comments came after he questioned London’s preparations for the Olympic Games while in that city, drawing criticism from the British prime minister and others. And they once again overshadowed a trip that was designed to show his dexterity on the foreign policy front, as his remarks put him in the choppy crosscurrents of Israel-Palestinian affairs where American presidents have often served as mediators.”

In addition, a number of politicians and the media continue to push Romney to release his past income tax returns.  Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader was quoted as saying:

“His poor father must be so embarrassed about his son,” Reid said, in reference to George Romney’s standard-setting decision to turn over 12 years of tax returns when he ran for president in the late 1960s.

Saying he had “no problem with somebody being really, really wealthy,” Reid sat up in his chair a bit before stirring the pot further. A month or so ago, he said, a person who had invested with Bain Capital called his office.

“Harry, he didn’t pay any taxes for 10 years,” Reid recounted the person as saying.

“He didn’t pay taxes for 10 years! Now, do I know that that’s true? Well, I’m not certain,” said Reid. “But obviously he can’t release those tax returns. How would it look?”

Thank you Mr. Romney for giving us voters something to think about!




False Promises of For-Profit Colleges!

Dear Commons Community,

The fallout from the study released yesterday entitled,  For Profit Higher Education: The Failure to Safeguard the Federal Investment and Ensure Student Success by the U.S.  Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, chaired by Sen. Tom Harkin, is all over the media today.  Anyone interested in this sector of higher education will cringe at the findings.  It will also cement in many people’s minds that for-profit colleges are nothing but rip-offs preying on vulnerable student populations.  This is unfortunate since some of these institutions provide a valuable service and are an important outlet for many students to develop career skills.  However, some of the bad apples  are threatening to rot the entire barrel of for-profit higher education. Below is a reprint from today’s New York Times editorial on the study and referring to the “oily subgroup of for-profit schools”.



False Promises!

New York Times July 31, 2012

It has long been clear that an oily subgroup of for-profit schools were doing very well for themselves by recruiting students who had no real chance of graduating, pocketing their federal financial aid and leaving the students with valueless credentials — or none at all — and crippling debt.

A dismaying study released this week by Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat of Iowa, suggests that this predatory behavior — which costs taxpayers tens of billions of dollars a year — may extend well beyond the unscrupulous few to the industry as a whole. The study reveals a disturbing pattern in which companies use misleading tactics to lure poorly informed students into certificate and associate degree programs that average about four times the cost of similar programs in comparable community colleges.

According to the study, taxpayers poured about $32 billion into for-profit colleges in the most recent year — much of it spent on marketing or pocketed as profit. Meanwhile, 96 percent of their students were forced to take out loans, as opposed to about 13 percent in community colleges and 48 percent in four-year public colleges. A majority leave without degrees. And while the for-profit sector accounts for only about 13 percent of enrollment nationally, it accounts for nearly half the loan defaults.

The companies are clearly doing far better than the students. Publicly traded companies that operate for-profit colleges had an average profit margin of 19.7 percent, while paying an average of $7.3 million to their chief executives in 2009, the report says.

This is a politically charged issue, with the Democrats generally favoring tougher regulation and the Republicans favoring the for-profits as a useful alternative to overcrowded community colleges and important sources of vocational education. The good ones may be both. But too many of them look like nothing more than profit centers. Congress, which has largely been looking the other way on this issue, needs to rouse itself.


U.S. Senate Report Condemns Practices of For-Profit Colleges!

Dear Commons Community,

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and the U.S.  Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee yesterday released a report based on a comprehensive investigation of 30 of the biggest for-profit college companies. It’s full of stark revelations about this controversial, troubled industry. (An excerpt from the Executive Summary highlighting key findings follows the main text of this posting).

“In this report, you will find overwhelming documentation of exorbitant tuition, aggressive recruiting practices, abysmal student outcomes, taxpayer dollars spent on marketing and pocketed as profit, and regulatory evasion and manipulation,” Mr. Harkin, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said in a statement on Sunday. “These practices are not the exception — they are the norm. They are systemic throughout the industry, with very few individual exceptions.”

A New York Times article comments:

“Over the last 15 years, enrollment and profits have skyrocketed in the industry. Until the 1990s, the sector was made up of small independent schools offering training in fields like air-conditioning repair and cosmetology. But from 1998 to 2008, enrollment more than tripled, to about 2.4 million students. Three-quarters are at colleges owned by huge publicly traded companies — and, more recently, private equity firms — offering a wide variety of programs.

Enrolling students, and getting their federal financial aid, is the heart of the business, and in 2010, the report found, the colleges studied had a total of 32,496 recruiters, compared with 3,512 career-services staff members.

Among the 30 companies, an average of 22.4 percent of revenue went to marketing and recruiting, 19.4 percent to profits and 17.7 percent to instruction.

Their chief executive officers were paid an average of $7.3 million, although Robert S. Silberman, the chief executive of Strayer Education, made $41 million in 2009, including stock options.”

Presently, there is stalemate in Washington on holding this industry accountable, because the big money that it spends on lobbying, lawyering, and campaign contributions has bought the allegiance of many congressional Republicans and  Democrats and has thwarted federal regulations. Thus determined reform efforts by the Obama Administration, and principled leaders like Senators Harkin, Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Kay Hagan (D-NC), and Representatives Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Maxine Waters (D-CA), and Keith Ellison (D-MN), have largely been blocked.

Senator Harkin and his Committee should be commended for taking on the for-profit college industry and its deep-pocket investors.




Executive Summary

• A 2-year investigation by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions demonstrated that Federal taxpayers are investing billions of dollars a year, $32 billion in the most recent year, in companies that operate for-profit colleges. Yet, more than half of the students who enrolled in in those colleges in 2008-9 left without a degree or diploma within a median of 4 months.

• .For-profit colleges are owned and operated by businesses. Like any business, they are ultimately accountable by law for the returns they produce for shareholders. While small independent for-profit colleges have a long history, by 2009, at least 76 percent of students attending for-profit colleges were enrolled in a college owned by either a company traded on a major stock exchange or a college owned by a private equity firm. The financial performance of these companies is closely tracked by analysts and by investors.

• .Congress has failed to counterbalance investor demands for increased financial returns with requirements that hold companies accountable to taxpayers for providing quality education, support, and outcomes. Federal law and regulations currently do not align the incentives of for-profit colleges so that the colleges succeed financially when students succeed.

• .For-profit colleges have an important role to play in higher education. The existing capacity of non-profit and public higher education is insufficient to satisfy the growing demand for higher education, particularly in an era of drastic cutbacks in State funding for higher education. Meanwhile, there has been an enormous growth in non-traditional students—those who either delayed college, attend part-time or work full-time while enrolled, are independent of their parents, or have dependents other than a spouse. This trend has created a “new American majority” of non-traditional students.

• .In theory, for-profit colleges should be well-equipped to meet the needs of non-traditional students. They offer the convenience of nearby campus and online locations, a structured approach to coursework and the flexibility to stop and start classes quickly and easily. These innovations have made attending college a viable option for many working adults, and have proven successful for hundreds of thousands of people who might not otherwise have obtained degrees.

• .But for-profit colleges also ask students with modest financial resources to take a big risk by enrolling in high-tuition schools. As a result of high tuition, students must take on significant student loan debt to attend school. When students withdraw, as hundreds of thousands do each year, they are left with high monthly payments but without a commensurate increase in earning power from new training and skills.

• .Many for-profit colleges fail to make the necessary investments in student support services that have been shown to help students succeed in school and afterwards, a deficiency that undoubtedly contributes to high withdrawal rates. In 2010, the for-profit colleges examined employed 35,202 recruiters compared with 3,512 career services staff and 12,452 support services staff, more than two and a half recruiters for each support services employee.

• .This may help to explain why more than half a million students who enrolled in 2008-9 left without a degree or Certificate by mid-2010. Among 2-year Associate degree-seekers, 63 percent of students departed without a degree.

• .The vast majority of the students left with student loan debt that may follow them throughout their lives, and can create a financial burden that is extremely difficult, and sometimes impossible, to escape.

Is Algebra Necessary? Andrew Hacker Op-Ed in New York Times!

Dear Commons Community,

Andrew Hacker , emeritus professor of political science at Queens College, City University of New York, and a co-author of “Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids — and What We Can Do About It.” has  an op-ed piece in today’s New York Times asking the question:  Is Algebra Necessary?  Actually his question extends:

“beyond algebra and applies more broadly to the usual mathematics sequence, from geometry through calculus. State regents and legislators — and much of the public — take it as self-evident that every young person should be made to master polynomial functions and parametric equations.”

Hacker goes on:

“There are many defenses of algebra and the virtue of learning it. Most of them sound reasonable on first hearing; many of them I once accepted. But the more I examine them, the clearer it seems that they are largely or wholly wrong — unsupported by research or evidence, or based on wishful logic. (I’m not talking about quantitative skills, critical for informed citizenship and personal finance, but a very different ballgame.)

This debate matters. Making mathematics mandatory prevents us from discovering and developing young talent. In the interest of maintaining rigor, we’re actually depleting our pool of brainpower. I say this as a writer and social scientist whose work relies heavily on the use of numbers. My aim is not to spare students from a difficult subject, but to call attention to the real problems we are causing by misdirecting precious resources.

The toll mathematics takes begins early. To our nation’s shame, one in four ninth graders fail to finish high school. In South Carolina, 34 percent fell away in 2008-9, according to national data released last year; for Nevada, it was 45 percent. Most of the educators I’ve talked with cite algebra as the major academic reason.”

Hacker raises a serious issue that has been the subject of many curricula discussions. Whether our education system (primary, secondary, and postsecondary) is ready to change our mathematics requirements is difficult to say.  In any case, Hacker’s  piece is well worth the read.


College Attainment Rate Increases Slightly: State by State Analysis!

Dear Commons Community,

The number of 25 to 34-year-olds who have college degrees around the nation has gradually been increasing.  All told, the percentage of 25-34 year olds with some kind of postsecondary degree rose half a percentage point from 38.8 percent to 39.3 percent. America used to be No. 1 in the world for the percentage of adults with college degrees but has recently slid to 16th. President Obama has called for America to increase the number of degree-holders to 60 percent by the end of the decade.

In remarks prepared for  the summer meeting of the National Governors Association in Williamsburg, Va., on Friday, July 13, Education Secretary Arne Duncan praised governors for increasing college completion but also  challenged states to maintain support for higher education while urging colleges and universities to hold down tuition.

“Every capable, hard-working, and responsible student should be able to afford to go to college. That’s not a Democratic dream or a Republican one. It’s the American Dream,” Duncan said.

Duncan also released new numbers showing college attainment state-by-state based on census bureau data from 2009 to 2010.  According to a state-by-state breakdown by the Census Bureau, the top 5 states with highest attainment rates as of 2010 are:

  • Washington D.C.  (68.8%)
  • Massachusetts (54.3%)
  • North Dakota (50.8%)
  • Minnesota (49.8%)
  • New York (49.6%)

We will likely hear much more about college attainment and completion rates next year especially if President Barack Obama is re-elected.


Mayor Bloomberg Does Not Support a Ban on Chick-fil-A!

Dear Commons Community,

On Friday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he would not support a ban against the beleaguered fast-food chain Chick-fil-A, whose owner, Dan Cathy, has drawn controversy by vocally opposing same-sex marriage. Mr. Bloomberg said he firmly believed in a business’s right to sell fried chicken to the masses, regardless of its owners’ beliefs.    Chick-fil-A has been criticized by several prominent mayors including Thomas M. Menino of Boston and Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, who have been “incensed” by Chick-fil-A’s donations to groups that fight same-sex marriage.

“It’s inappropriate for a city government, or a state government, or the federal government to look at somebody’s political views and decide whether or not they can live in the city, or operate a business in the city, or work for somebody in the city,” the mayor said on his Friday morning radio show. Mr. Bloomberg’s comments put him on the same side of the debate as many evangelical Christians and the American Civil Liberties Union. “I don’t agree with the A.C.L.U. on a lot of things, but in this case they happen to be right,” the mayor said.

The mayor said that if Chick-fil-A wanted to open a New York City store, “they got to find a space, and clear it with the Buildings Department, the health department, get a grade for their food — you know, ‘A,’ hopefully — and put it up.”

I would have to say that Mayor Bloomberg is amazingly consistent in his support of corporate and business interests.




Most States Have Waivers from No Child Left Behind: Now What!

Dear Commons Community,

As posted previously, most states have now been granted waivers from the U.S Department of Education’s No Child Left Behind requirements and are free to set their own standards regarding student outcomes, progress and teacher evaluations in their public school systems.

In exchange for the education waivers, schools and districts promised to set new targets aimed at preparing students for colleges and careers. Congress has tried and failed repeatedly to reauthorize the education law over the past five years because Democrats and Republicans cannot agree on an appropriate role for the federal government in education.

The New York Times is reporting today that:

“A report being issued on Friday by the liberal Center for American Progress shows that while some states have proposed reforms aimed at spurring schools and teachers to improve student performance, others may be introducing weaker measures of accountability.

“The increased flexibility of the waivers means that some states will experiment and move ahead,” said Jeremy Ayers, associate director of federal education programs at the organization, “while others may backtrack.”

The Obama administration has granted waivers to 31 states and the District of Columbia, freeing them from some of the most burdensome provisions of the law, including the requirement that all students must be proficient in reading and math by 2014”

In addition,

“In reviewing the state waiver applications, the center found that 14 states plan to use growth in student test scores for 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.

Teachers unions and state education officials have fought over how much weight to accord to student test scores. In New York, the two sides battled for more than two years before settling on a system earlier this year that would base 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation on student achievement measures.”

The issues raised by the waivers are most important but should not detract from the major problems that NCLB fostered on American public education.  While well-intentioned,  NCLB was deeply flawed and did more harm than good for the children in our schools.




British Phone Hacking Scandal: Indictments Handed Down!

Dear Commons Community,

As a follow-up to the phone hacking scandal involving Rupert Murdoch and his New Corporation-owned tabloids in the United Kingdom, eight senior level News Corporation employees including former editors Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks, were indicted on criminal charges for their participation in the hacking activities.  The New York Times is reporting that:

“The indictments did not surprise executives at News Corporation, the New York media conglomerate that owns the British papers, who are readying the split of the company’s newspapers from its more lucrative entertainment assets. The charges, in part, played into the timing of Mr. Murdoch’s finally agreeing to the split, which his top lieutenants had proposed for years, a person familiar with the thinking at the company said.

“You don’t get an indictment like this without a lot of preliminary discussions,” said this person, who could not comment on the record about private discussions. “They knew exactly, exactly what was coming and how bad it would look.”

“Alison Levitt, chief legal adviser at the Crown Prosecution Service, traced the scope of what lies ahead with a broad account on Tuesday of the number of confirmed victims of the phone hacking — more than 600, by the prosecutors’ count.

Sue Akers, the senior Scotland Yard officer overseeing the police investigations, told the Leveson inquiry on Monday that the police had notified 2,615 people that they may have been targets of the voice-mail interceptions.

In addition to Milly Dowler, a 13-year-old schoolgirl who disappeared in 2002 and was found murdered and who police said her cellphone was hacked, a number of prominent people in government and the entertainment industry are among the victims.

The article also commented that:

“Besides shaking Mr. Murdoch’s global empire to its core, the British scandal has forced News Corporation to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in legal costs, out-of-court settlements and payoffs to employees who have been laid off, Mr. Murdoch testified this year…And that price, analysts say, is likely to exceed a billion dollars as lawsuits and settlements proliferate.”

What is most troublesome, is that phone hacking was not the work of a rogue individual or two but was the basic mode of the operation of the newspapers involved.  Murdoch and his cohorts deserve the shame that have been heaped upon them and their companies.






Joel Klein’s New Education Venture – Amplify!

Dear Commons Community,

Joel Klein, former chancellor of the New York City School System, recently announced that he would be heading Amplfy, a new education venture for the News Corporation.  The New York  Times reported that:

Amplify is teaming up with AT&T to deliver digital learning products through 4G tablets for schools.  In an interview, Mr. Klein said Amplify’s products would use educational games aligned with the Common Core learning standards and customized so teachers can pinpoint a student’s individual strengths and weaknesses.

“So that if one child is having trouble with fractions and another child is already in the middle of algebra, even if they’re in the same class they can move forward and progress,” Mr. Klein said.

Education publishers, including CTB/McGraw-Hill and Pearson, and software companies are racing to develop similar digital products for iPads and other tablets that can customize instruction and analyze classroom data. When asked how Amplify would distinguish itself in a crowded landscape, Mr. Klein, the company’s chief executive officer, said: “This is not digitizing textbooks. This is really creating a very interactive curriculum.”

This venture will not be without problems.  As the article mentions:

“Whether schools will be impressed enough by the product and comfortable enough with the News Corp. name to switch to Amplify is a whole other story…also Mr. Klein — who frequently clashed with the city’s powerful teachers’ union when he was chancellor — may be associated with an ideology that could cause discomfort for some school leaders.  [This is an understatement]

Amplify’s products will be made by Wireless Generation, the Brooklyn-based education technology company that was bought by News Corporation in 2010. Wireless Generation also helped design ARIS, the web-based platform for tracking information about student achievement and teachers in the New York City public schools. Mr. Klein spearheaded the project, which came under scrutiny when it didn’t live up to expectations.  Wireless Generation also lost its effort to build a statewide data system when its contract was rejected by the state comptroller.”

Surely gaming has a place in our curricula and should be part of our efforts to improve education.  And I would like to say that I wish Mr. Klein, Amplify, Wireless Generation and the News Corporation well but all of them have too much baggage to be a part of these efforts.