France to Tax the Super-Rich at 75 Percent!

Dear Commons Community,

Hoping to avoid the social unrest that has occurred in Spain and Greece, France will implement a series of new tax policies to increase its revenues.  As reported by the Reuters News Service:

“Socialist President Francois Hollande unveiled higher levies on business and a 75-percent tax for the super-rich on Friday in a 2013 budget aimed at showing France has the fiscal rigour to remain at the core of the euro zone.

The package aims to recoup 30 billion euros ($39 billion) for the public purse with a goal of narrowing the deficit to 3.0 percent of national output next year from 4.5 percent this year – France’s toughest belt-tightening in 30 years.

But the budget dismayed business and pro-reform lobbyists by hiking taxes and holding France’s high public spending at the same level rather than cutting it as Spain, Greece and Italy have done to chip away at their debt mountains.

With record unemployment and a barrage of data pointing to economic stagnation, there were also fears the deficit target will slip as France falls short of the modest 0.8 percent economic growth rate on which it is banking for next year.

“We do not want France to be delivered shackled to the markets as has happened to other neighbouring countries that have succumbed to the temptation of letting their budgets get out control,” Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici said of France’s determination to stick to its deficit goal.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault dismissed fears about possible slippage, insisting the 0.8 percent growth target for next year was “realistic and ambitious”.

Hollande’s aim is to achieve the savings without hitting the purchasing power of low-income families. But France’s main employers’ group said the measures would backfire by weakening the competitiveness of French industry.”

It will be interesting to see how this plays out and whether it becomes a model for other countries including the U.S.A.  that are struggling with burgeoning debt.


Irving Adler Dies: New York City School Teacher – Victim of 1950s’ Red Scare!

Dear Commons Community,

My colleague, Steve Brier, sent along the news that Irving Adler, a former New York City teacher who became a prolific writer of books on math and science for young people after being forced from the classroom during the Red Scare of the early 1950s, died on Saturday in Bennington, Vt. He was 99.

From his New York Times obituary:

“Mr. Adler joined the American Communist Party in 1935, when he was 22. Sixteen years later, when he was chairman of the math department at Straubenmuller Textile High School on West 18th Street in Manhattan, he was subpoenaed to testify before a Senate subcommittee investigating Communist influence in the nation’s schools. He refused to answer the senators’ questions, citing his rights under the Fifth Amendment.

Within weeks, he was taken away from his students.

“I was teaching a class when the principal sent up a letter he had just received from the superintendent announcing my suspension, as of the close of day,” he recalled in 2009. He was later dismissed.

Mr. Adler was among more than 1,150 teachers who, in the anti-Communist furor of the cold war, were investigated under New York State’s Feinberg Law. Enacted in 1949, the law directed the Board of Regents to list organizations it considered subversive and deemed membership in those organizations prima facie evidence for firing any public school employee.

Called into the office of the school superintendent, William Jansen, Mr. Adler was asked, “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” Once again, he refused to answer. He was one of 378 city teachers ousted under the Feinberg Law and, based on his last name, became the lead plaintiff in the case known as Adler v. Board of Education.

In March 1952, after the case rose rapidly through the lower courts, the United States Supreme Court held in a 6-to-3 decision that there was “no constitutional infirmity” in the Feinberg Law, as Associate Justice Sherman Minton wrote in his opinion. Associate Justices William O. Douglas, Hugo Black and Felix Frankfurter dissented, declaring that the law “turns the school system into a spying project.”

The decision stood until 1967, when, in Keyishian v. Board of Regents, the Supreme Court reversed it with a 5-to-4 ruling that the Feinberg Law and similar statutes were unconstitutional. Dozens of dismissed teachers were eventually reinstated, and in 1977 Mr. Adler began receiving his annual pension of $14,901.”




The College Rankings Racket: Joe Nocera Comments!

Dear Commons Community,

New York Times columnist, Joe Nocera, comments on the rankings phenomenon that grips high-schoolers and their parents every year as they try to decide to what colleges to apply.  He especially takes aim at the U.S. News and World Report that annually ranks Harvard, Princeton, M.I.T. in the top ten.

“It’s not that these aren’t great universities. But c’mon. Can you really say with any precision that Princeton is “better” than Columbia? That the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (No. 6) is better than the California Institute of Technology (No. 10)?  That Tufts (No. 28) is better than Brandeis (No. 33)?

Of course not. U.S. News likes to claim that it uses rigorous methodology, but, honestly, it’s just a list put together by magazine editors. The whole exercise is a little silly. Or rather, it would be if it weren’t so pernicious.

Magazines compile lists because people like to read them. With U.S. News having folded its print edition two years ago, its rankings — not just of colleges, but law schools, graduate schools and even high schools — are probably what keep the enterprise alive. People care enough about its rankings to pay $34.95 to seek out the details on the U.S. News Web site…

The rankings exacerbate the status anxiety that afflicts so many high school students. The single-minded goal of too many high school students — pushed by parents, guidance counselors and society itself — is to get into a “good” school. Those who don’t land a prestigious admission feel like failures. Those who do but lack the means often wind up taking on onerous debt — a burden that can last a lifetime. And U.S. News has largely become the measure by which a good school is defined. “U.S. News didn’t invent the social dynamic,” says Carey. “What it did was very accurately empiricize them.”

He concludes with a story of a graduate of Stuyvesant High School here in New York City.

“Not long ago, I saw an article written by a recent graduate of Stuyvesant High. Stuyvesant, widely considered the most prestigious public high school in New York — one driven in no small part by the imperative of its students to get into a prestigious college.

The author, who was not part of the cheating scandal, had succeeded in getting into a “Desirable University,” as she put it, but her parents had been unable to afford the tuition. She wound up, deeply embittered, at a state school. Whenever people would bring up the subject of college, she wrote, she would “mutter something about not wanting to talk about it.” Although she claimed to have made her peace with her education, she ended her article by vowing to save enough so that her children wouldn’t have to suffer the same fate.

How sad. Maybe someday she’ll understand that where you go to college matters far less than what you put into college. Maybe someday the readers of the U.S. News rankings will understand that as well.”






The Biggest Problem in American Government: Party Politics!

Dear Commons Community,

Mickey Edwards, who served in the House of Representatives from 1977 to 1993 from Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District, has an op-ed piece in today’s New York Times blasting the partisanship of the American political system.   As the author of The Parties Versus the People: How to Turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans, he has considered the issue well and lays it squarely on the line that Democrats and Republicans alike are destroying our system of government.  Here is a sample:

“… we have created a system that seriously undermines democratic principles and gives us instead a government that is unable to deal with even the most urgent problems because the people have been shoved aside in the pursuit of partisan advantage. In some ways our system has come to resemble those multi-party parliamentary systems in which the tail (relatively small groups of hard-liners) is able to wag the dog. What Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison all agreed on was the danger of creating political parties like the ones we have today, permanent factions that are engaged in a constant battle for advantage even if that means skewing election results, keeping candidates off the ballot, denying voters the right to true representation and “fixing” the outcome of legislative deliberations.”

He concludes:

“Our current system, with parties controlling who gets on the ballot, what districts they run in, and what happens to large amounts of potential campaigns funds, rewards incivility and discourages cooperation. If we allow that system to continue, it is we who must share the blame for a government that can no longer function.”




New York to Have the World’s Tallest Ferris Wheel on Staten Island!

Dear Commons Community,

New York will build a new Ferris wheel on Staten Island joining a number of other major cities such as London and Singapore that have such attractions.   The New York Wheel will be the tallest  Ferris wheel  on the planet at 625-feet and cost $230 million. It will  grace a spot on Staten Island overlooking the Statue of Liberty and the downtown Manhattan skyline. Designed to carry 1,440 passengers at a time, it’s expected to draw 4.5 million people a year to a setting that also would include a 100-shop outlet mall and a 200-room hotel.  As a comparison, the Wonder Wheel in Coney Island in Brooklyn is 150 feet tall.

The attraction stands to change the profile of the least populous and most remote of the city’s five boroughs, a sometime municipal underdog that has taken insults from New Jersey and was once known for having the world’s largest landfill.

“It’s going to be a real icon. The Ferris wheel will be Staten Island’s Eiffel Tower,” Sen. Charles Schumer enthused.

As a visible addition to the skyline around the harbor, the wheel “gives Staten Island an identity beyond its role as a suburban community,” while letting it tap into the stream of tourist money in a city that drew 50.9 million visitors last year, said Mitchell Moss, a New York University urban policy professor.


Educators Question What to do with MOOCs!

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that college faculty and administrators are questioning what to do with massive open online courses (MOOCs).  In the last several months, a number of universities have signed contracts with Coursera, a private company specializing in offering MOOCs.  However, as the Chronicle article states, the worth of these courses are being debated.

“At many colleges, the faculty itself is divided over whether to embrace MOOC’s. “You have a division between some faculty members who are very excited about the potential of technology and really running with this, and people who are just trying to explore it” more cautiously, said Mark F. Smith, a senior higher-education policy analyst at the National Education Association.”

The University of Southern California’s president, C.L. Max Nikias, outlined the university’s goals for online education in a message to the campus. It noted that MOOC’s were off the table.

“Other universities are increasingly offering online courses for free, with scant concern for whether enrollees ever complete a course,” he wrote. “Our goal, by contrast, is to ensure that the educational experience is reserved for only those students with the requisite interest and ability to meet our faculty’s high expectations.” He added that Southern Cal “does not intend to join the growing ranks of institutions that seek to franchise undergraduate education through the Internet or through smaller satellite campuses abroad.”

While I tend to embrace the benefits of technology in instruction, I am curious as to how the MOOC model(s) will evolve.  As with many other aspects of instruction, much depends upon the quality of the teacher(s) and instructional designers regardless of technology.


Connecticut Senate Candidate Linda McMahon: Let’s Sunset Social Security!

Dear Commons Community,

The Huffington Post has a short piece on remarks made by Linda McMahon, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Connecticut.

McMahon, the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, has consistently dodged questions about cutting government entitlement programs in her two Senate runs.

Speaking before a group of Tea Party supporters in Waterford, Conn. earlier this year, however, McMahon said she would consider making major changes to Social Security, from raising the retirement age to means-testing benefits. She also proposed introducing a “sunset provision” — the legislative term for putting an expiration date on a law unless it is renewed.

It’s unclear what McMahon meant when she spoke about a “sunset provision” for Social Security, and her campaign did not directly address the word in a statement. McMahon’s spokesman defended the candidate’s record on entitlement programs and attacked her opponent, Chris Murphy.

“Linda McMahon is committed to reforming entitlements without breaking the promises we’ve made to our seniors,” said Todd Abrajano. “Linda McMahon will never vote for a budget that cuts Social Security for seniors, …

At the April Tea Party gathering, McMahon said in response to a question about how to “strengthen” Social Security and Medicare that “we cannot continue doing things the way we are doing with Social Security. We’re just simply going to be bankrupt.”

The candidate later continued, “In other words, I believe in sunset provisions when we pass this kind of legislation, so that you take a look at it 10, 15 years down the road to make sure that it’s still going to fund itself. Social Security will run out of money if we continue to do what we’re doing, if we rob the trust fund, if we think that there’s any money there.”



Maureen Dowd: Republicans Have Outsourced their Brains to Right-wing Think Tanks!!

Dear Commons Community,

Maureen Dowd calls out Mitt Romney for his lack of vision on foreign policy and depending upon the same neo-con advisors that destroyed George W. Bush’s presidency.   Here is a sample from her New York Times column:

“Romney and Paul Ryan haven’t spent time thinking and speaking a lot about foreign policy. They have simply taken the path of least resistance and parroted the views of their neocon advisers. They talk all tough at Iran and Syria and label the president a weak apologist and buildup bogymen and rant about how America must dictate events in the Middle East. That’s not a doctrine; it’s a treacherous neocon echo.

It’s amazing that many of the neocons who were involved in the Iraq debacle are back riding high. (Foreign Policy magazine reports that 17 of Romney’s 24 special advisers on foreign policy were in W.’s administration.) But no one has come along to replace them, or reinstitute some kind of Poppy Bush-James Baker-Brent Scowcroft realpolitik internationalism.

The neocons are still where the G.O.P. intellectual energy is, and they’re still in the blogosphere hammering candidates who stray from their hawkish orthodoxy. Democrats have claimed the international center once inhabited by Bush senior and his advisers.

On foreign and domestic policy, Republicans have outsourced their brains to right-wing think tanks. It’s one thing for conservatives at the American Enterprise Institute and other think tanks to sit around and theorize about the number of people who are “dependent” on government programs and to deplore the trend, or to strategize on privatizing Medicare. If you’ve got a lot of people on government programs, their response is not to help those people get off the programs, it’s to cut the programs.

The Romney campaign has turned conservative theory into ideology and gone off the cliff with it. If you want to inspire, lead and unite people, it won’t fly to take ideologically driven findings and present them unvarnished to voters.

Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and the neocons were inspired by deus ex machina theories baked at the A.E.I. to try and force democracy on Iraq, assuming that people would just become better — and incredibly grateful to us.

Now the neocons inside Romney’s head are pushing the same idea: that we can whack countries in the Middle East and they’ll behave.

As Dan Senor, a top foreign policy adviser to both Romney and Ryan, told Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC on Tuesday about Iran: “We’re not saying the military action should be used. But we are arguing that the threat of military action should be credible so it focuses the Iranian leadership on reaching some diplomatic solution.”

That was exactly the argument the same neocon gaggle used when they were pushing an invasion of Iraq. But somehow the diplomatic part got superseded. “



Teachers’ Unions Supporting Republicans!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has an article today entitled, Seeking Allies, Teachers’ Unions Court G.O.P. Too, reporting that a number of teachers’ unions throughout the country are supporting local Republican candidates. for office.

“Over the past few years, even as Republicans have led efforts to thwart unions, lawmakers previously considered solid supporters of teachers’ unions have tangled with them over a national education agenda that includes new performance evaluations based partly on test scores, the overhaul of tenure and the expansion of charter schools.

As these traditional political alliances have shifted, teachers’ unions have pursued some strange bedfellows among lawmakers who would not appear to be natural allies.

In Illinois, the top two recipients of political contributions from the Illinois Education Association through June 30 were Republicans, including a State House candidate who has Tea Party support and advocates lower taxes and smaller government.

William Seitz, a Republican state senator in Ohio who is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative business-backed group, has received more money this year from the Ohio Education Association than from any other donor. Teachers’ organizations in Georgia and Texas have also donated to numerous Republicans.

In all, teachers’ groups donated $1.23 million to Republican state candidates through June 30, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics

Teachers’ unions in New York State have devoted close to a quarter of their political contributions this year to Republicans, while the United Federation of Teachers in New York City has donated exclusively to Democrats.”

To me this makes good political sense.  The unions should  support candidates regardless of party who support school reform efforts that view teachers as partners and respect them for their professional skills and knowledge.


Segregated Schools Persist and Increase: New National Report from the Civil Rights Project!

Dear Commons Community,

Brian Jones, a student in the Ph.D. Program in Urban Education shared this information with colleagues yesterday.  Important concern after decades of desegregation decrees and judicial oversight.



Brian Jones Posting on the Introduction to Research in Urban Education Course Website.

From the website:
“In the latest of its widely-cited reports analyzing segregation trends in the nation’s public schools, and the first since the beginning of the Obama Administration, the Civil Rights Project today released three new studies showing persistent and serious increases in segregation by race and poverty, with very dramatic results in the South and West, the nation’s two largest regions where students of color now comprise the majority of public school enrollment. Nationally, the average black or Latino student now attends school with a substantial majority of children in poverty, double the level in schools of whites and Asians.”

Here’s the main website:

There’s one main report and two smaller ones. The main one is here:…separation-deepening-double-segregation-for-more-students/orfield-kuscera-hawley-e-pluribus-2012.pdf