The Ecstasy and Agony of Civil Rights in the U.S.: Rosa Parks and the Voting Rights Act Challenge!

rosa parks

Dear Commons Community,

Washington D.C. honored Rosa Parks yesterday by unveiling her statue in a permanent place in the U.S. Capitol. President Barack Obama praised her as an enduring reminder of what true leadership requires, “no matter how humble or lofty our positions.”

Parks became the first black woman to be depicted in a full-length statue in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall. A bust of another black woman, abolitionist Sojourner Truth, sits in the Capitol Visitors Center.

“We do well by placing a statue of her here,” Obama said. “But we can do no greater honor to her memory than to carry forward the power of her principle and a courage born of conviction.”

A little ways from the Capital, the U.S. Supreme Court  began arguments in Shelby County v. Holder   that challenges the renewal of the Voting Rights Act. The Supreme Court’s conservative justices left the impression that they were willing to repudiate Congress’s power to enforce the right to vote by striking down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. As reported in the New York Times:

“Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires nine states (seven of them in the South) and parts of seven others with records of extreme discrimination against minority voters to get approval from the Justice Department or a special court in Washington before they can make any changes in how they hold elections. Without this provision, there would be no way to prevent new and devious efforts by local officials to block blacks and Hispanics from voting or to reduce their electoral power. In 2006, Congress overwhelmingly reauthorized the statute. It found that these places should remain “covered” by this “preclearance” requirement because voting discrimination remained both tangible and more concentrated and persistent in them than in other parts of the country. House members from those places strongly supported the renewal: of 110 members from covered jurisdictions, 90 voted for reauthorization.

But critics of Section 5 — like Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. — would rather not consider the real-life effects of voting changes on minority voters in historically discriminatory areas. Instead, they frame the issue in the Shelby case as whether Congress was wrong to renew the section “under the pre-existing coverage formula.” Their claim is that Section 5 stigmatizes covered districts, so that any such decision must be based on current data about severe discrimination in that place. The chief justice raised doubts about the section’s constitutionality in a 2009 Supreme Court opinion that resolved a Texas voting case on narrower grounds. He focused on the formula used in 1965 to determine which states and other places would be covered — places that had used a forbidden test or device in November 1964, like a literacy test or a poll tax, and had less than 50 percent voter registration or turnout in the 1964 presidential election. The statute’s coverage formula, he wrote, “is based on data that is now more than 35 years old, and there is considerable evidence that it fails to account for current political conditions.”

Justice Antonin Scalia went a step further by characterizing the Act as “perpetual racial entitlement.’

We lurch back and forth on racial issues in this country.  At times we can be very proud of what we do and at other times shake our heads and wonder.


Must See Video: Congressman Keith Ellison Tells Sean Hannity that He is “the worst excuse for a journalist I’ve ever seen.”

Dear Commons Community,

Last night on Sean Hannity’s own show, Congressman Keith Ellison (Democrat – Minnesota) slammed Hannity over and over again.  Refusing to backdown to Hannity’s intimidations, Ellison called him:

“the worst excuse for a journalist I’ve ever seen.”

“a shill for the Republican party,”

an “immoral” man, and

that Hannity was violating “every journalistic ethic” in the book.



New York City Mayoral Candidates Debate Education at Town-Hall Forum!!

Mayoral Candidates Debate

Dear Commons Community,

Republican and Democratic mayoral candidates were divided over education policy during a town-hall debate last night at the Central Synagogue on Lexington Avenue.  Sponsored by the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation and the Daily News, the event drew a packed house. I was able to attend the debate compliments of a ticket from my colleague, David Bloomfield.  Seven candidates were present including:  Tom Allon, Bill deBlasio, John Liu, Christine Quinn, Joe Lhota, Bill Thompson and John Catsimatidis.   All of the candidates were generally very critical of the present condition of the public schools although none of them mentioned Mayor Mike Bloomberg by name.  Here are some of the highlights:

Teacher Retention and Attrition

Quinn:  We should explore a teacher mentor system.  Mentioned CUNY as willing to set up an institute to establish such a system.

Lhota:  Adopt a merit pay system similar to Newark and we should stop vilifying teachers.


Teacher Evaluation

deBlasio:  Student performance should be part of evaluation but keep in mind that most teachers are in the public schools for the right reasons.  There has been a corrosive effect on their morale due to standardized testing and a curriculum based on test preparation.

Thompson:  Parents and peers should be part of the evaluation system.


Small Schools

Allon: Supports small schools and choice but a major problem has been a lack of support for principals.  He also called for more instructional leadership and singled out the NYC Leadership Academy as having undermined teaching and learning.

Thompson:  Options are necessary but there is a need to involve the people in the community.


Charter Schools

Liu:  Choice has value but the deck is stacked in favor of the charters because they enroll fewer English language learners and children with special needs.  Also he would stop all co-locations of charters in public schools.  He dubbed the strategy a “shell game” — and ripped the popular practice of placing charter schools in public school buildings as a “mess that fermented tensions and divisions in the neighborhood.”

Lhota:  Charters provide choice.


Closure of Public Schools

Quinn: The present system sees the closure of a public school as an accomplishment when it should see it as a failure on its part to correct problems.   Several of the other candidates made a similar comment.

Catsimatidis:  Sometimes you have to shake things up.


School Funding

deBlasio:  Would raise taxes on all residents making in excess of $500,000 to set up a special school fund.  He would use the increased revenue to fund universal, all-day pre-k and after hours programs for middle schools.

Allon:  Raising taxes on the wealthy will drive them out of the City.  Look at contracts and private service providers.  Pearson is making “a mint” on public education.


High School Graduation and College Readiness

Lhota:  As a CUNY trustee for twelve years, he has seen that most NYC high school graduates are not ready for college.  In the past year, 81% of the applicants to CUNY who graduated from NYC public schools were not ready and needed remediation.

Liu:  We need to increase the number of college graduates among NYC residents. He would set a goal of increasing the percentage of college graduates in the City to 60% by 2025.


In sum, I thought it was a very important event for public education in New York City and that the candidates had done their homework.



Book: The Great Education-Industrial Complex: Ideology, Technology, and Profit!

Cover Final

Dear Commons Community,

A couple of weeks ago, one of the students in a class here at the CUNY Graduate Center asked me about education policy and the vying between the various levels of government (federal, state and local).   After giving a standard reply, I also mentioned that  most important was the problem of political influence at the various governing agencies and directed her to a book that my colleague, Joel Spring and I recently published entitled, The Great Education-Industrial Complex:  Ideology, Technology, and Profit (Routledge/Taylor & Francis).   It examines the structure and nature of national networks and enterprises that seek to influence public education policy in accord with their own goals and objectives.  As one reviewer mentioned:

“This book offers readers the alarming facts about the influence that private, for-profit organizations and companies  have on education policy and practices in the United States…The authors have written an important useful book in the name of reclaiming education for the good of our nation.”

It contains a number of case studies that document major education service companies,  corporate-sponsored foundations, for-profit colleges and others that engage in questionable practices in an effort to secure policies beneficial to their goals much of which in recent years centers on the promulgation of technology.  Joel and I bring very different perspectives to these issues.  And at two hundred pages, it is a quick read.



New Pro-Obama PAC: $500,000. Gets You Access to the President!

Dear Commons Community,

The White House is pushing back on suggestions that it is participating in a pay-for-access scheme, in which big-dollar donors to a pro-Obama PAC get a quarterly audience with the president.

Over the weekend, The New York Times reported that the newly formed Organizing For Action, a so-called social welfare group, would set up four meetings a year with Obama for individuals who gave more than $500,000. The funding setup was designed to give the new group the capital it needs to begin its advocacy efforts, which consist primarily of helping advance the administration’s agenda.

Ethically, however, it has raised questions for providing a gateway to big-money interests essentially to purchase a seat near the president. Obama has in the past decried this very type of culture as one of Washington’s major ills.

“That’s one of the reasons I ran for president,” Obama said on May 2, 2012.

This is a highly questionable practice that just does not look right!




Michael Tomasky: Republican Party Has Become a Machine of Rage, Hate, and Resentment!

Dear Commons Community,

Michael Tomasky in the Daily Beast yesterday weighed in on the need for the Republican Party to reform itself.  Since Mitt Romney lost the presidential election in November 2012 to Barack Obama, the discussion of reforming the Republican Party has been long and on-going.  Michael Tomasky’s take on it is that the Party cannot be thinking about changing its policies on immigration, gay marriage, etc. but fundamentally has to stop being a machine of rage, hate and resentment.    To quote from his piece:

“God knows, policy positions are a problem. But they are not the problem. The problem is that the party is fanatical—a machine of rage, hate, and resentment. People are free to scoff and pretend it isn’t so, but I don’t think honest people can deny that we’ve never seen anything like this in the modern history of our country. There’s a symbiosis of malevolence between the extreme parts of the GOP base and Washington lawmakers, and it is destroying the Republican Party. That’s fine with me, although I am constantly mystified as to why it’s all right with the people I’m talking about. But it’s also destroying the country and our democratic institutions and processes, which is not fine with me.

The party can change all the positions it wants, but until people stand up and yell “Stop!” to this fanaticism, it won’t mean anything. In fact, the problems feed into each other, because the idea that today’s Republican Party can change its stripes on same-sex marriage or immigration is absurd, and it is absurd precisely because of the rage and fanaticism I’m talking about, much of which is directed at brown people and gay people. Such a party cannot change its stripes on these issues until the mindset and world view are changed.”

Tomasky further points to conservative media as feeding the hatred:

“We all know the problem. It’s Rush Limbaugh and his imitators and Roger Ailes and his network. They drive this hatred daily, and they intentionally misinform and lie; you think it’s an accident that polls always find Fox viewers the least connected to empirical reality? Pushing this fury and constructing this alternate reality is great for business. But it’s horrible for America. And the “serious” conservative pundits by and large try to pretend it doesn’t exist, or it’s not that bad, or MSNBC does the same thing in reverse. Well, it does exist, it is that bad, and no, MSNBC does not do the same thing in reverse. MSNBC has an agenda, but it doesn’t craft its messages in such a way as to make it viewers hate half the country.”



Union Membership Fell by 2.7 Percent or More than 400,000 in 2012!

Dear Commons Community,

Last year, the number of union members in the U.S. fell by more than 400,000, or 2.7%. This decline was just a drop in the bucket compared to the long-term collapse of organized labor over the past several decades. In the past few years, states like Wisconsin and Michigan have passed legislation like “right-to-work” laws and even banned collective bargaining, further undermining public and private unions.  As reported by 24/7 Wall Street:

“Unionization in this country varies widely from state to state. In places like New York and Alaska, more than 20% of workers were union members in 2012. In states like Arkansas and North Carolina, the number was closer to 3%. The concentration of unions in states has a lot to do with their employment base and political atmosphere. But one thing is clear, only seven states have seen the percentage of workers in unions increase in the past 10 years, and things are not looking up for organized labor.”

Based on data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and calculations by,  the states with the strongest and weakest union membership are as follows;

Strongest Unions – New York, Alaska, Hawaii, Rhode Island and Washington

Weakest Unions – North Carolina, Arkansas, South Carolina, Mississippi, and Virginia




Education Secretary Arne Duncan visits New York Harbor School on Governors Island, praises ‘visionary’ institution!

Harbor School

Dear Commons Community,

The Daily News had an article yesterday describing the visit of Arne Duncan, along with Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and teachers union boss Michael Mulgrew, to the New York Harbor School, which houses 400 students and prepares them for careers in marine biology and robotics. Duncan spoke highly of the campus and the kids, saying that if more schools like this existed, “think of what our graduation rate would be.” Duncan’s visit comes after Obama praised P-TECH (Pathways in Technology Early College High School) in Brooklyn during his State of the Union speech a couple of weeks ago.

The Harbor School, located on Governors Island,  is indeed one of the jewels in the New York City public education system.  One of my former students, Nathan Dudley, who graduated from Hunter College’s Administration and Supervision Program, was the founding principal and visionary for the school. He left his post this past summer to work at the central office.   P-Tech is a joint project of the NYC Department of Education, CUNY and IBM.

Those of us involved in K-12 education in whatever capacity see the positive stories of the Harbor School and P-Tech over and over again and wish there were more of them in New York and cities around the country.  Unfortunately we also see high schools in the poorest areas of the city that were developed in some cases in great haste that do not have any science laboratories so that students in these schools will never have the opportunity to take a hands-on science course.

Regardless we are glad that we are getting it right for some of our students.  We need to work harder to get it right for all of them.



New Stanford University CREDO Study on New York City’s Charter Schools!

Dear Commons Community,

A new study by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) concludes that New York City charter schools are outperforming other charter schools across the country.  As highlighted in a New York Times editorial:

“From a national standpoint, the 20-year-old charter school movement has been a disappointment. More than a third of these independently run, publicly funded schools are actually worse than the traditional public schools they were meant to replace. Abysmal charter schools remain open for years, even though the original deal was that they would be shut down when they failed to perform. New York City’s experience, however, continues to be an exception.

For the second time in three years, a rigorous study by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes shows that the typical New York City charter school student learns more in a year in reading and math than his or her peers in their neighborhood district schools. The difference, over a typical year, amounts to about a month’s more learning in reading — and a whopping five months’ more learning in math.

That is good news, especially given the fact that about three-quarters of the city’s charter school children come from poor families. But a mixed picture emerged when the Stanford researchers measured charter schools on students’ learning growth (year-to-year improvement) as well as their overall achievement, as compared with the city as whole.

The data show that not all charter schools shared equally in the gains in reading. Nearly half, in fact, turned out to be slow-growth schools that may not be helping low-achieving students improve their reading skills quickly enough. This could lead to those students falling further and further behind.

The Stanford center rocked the education world in 2009 with a national study finding that only 17 percent of charter schools offered students a better education, as measured by test scores, and that an astounding 37 percent offered a worse one. Against this standard, New York is doing well, according to the new study, especially in math, where 63 percent of the charter schools studied outperformed their traditional district schools and only 14 percent performed worse. In reading, however, only 22 percent of the charter schools outpaced their public school counterparts, while 25 percent lagged behind their peer district schools.”

What the New York Times editorial failed to mention was that the New York City charter schools are not representative of traditional schools in terms of the percentages of English Language Learners and Special Education students that they enroll.  To quote from the CREDO study:

“a lower proportion of New York City’s charter school population is designated as special education compared to all traditional public schools (TPS), and this proportion is also lower than that of the feeder TPS population. The cause of this difference is unknown. Parents of children with special needs may believe that the TPS sector is better equipped to educate their children and therefore will be less likely to opt out for a charter. An alternate possibility is that charter schools and traditional public schools have different criteria for categorizing special education. In the aggregate, charter schools enroll a smaller share of English language learners than the feeder schools and all of TPS. As with Special Education students, it is not possible to discern the underlying causes for these figures.”  (p. 12)

Below is a table from the report comparing the demographics of traditional public schools (TPS), Feeder Schools and Charter Schools in the study.

I would offer that either because of  the admissions selection criteria or the push-out policies that some charter schools in New York City engage in cherry-picketing the students they want in their schools.



Charter Schools CREDO Table Student Populations

 Click to enlarge




New Book: The Idea of the Digital University…the Battle for the Soul of Higher Education!

Dear Commons Community,

I just finished a book entitled, The Idea of the Digital University:  Ancient Traditions, Disruptive Technologies, and the Battle for the Soul of Higher Education, by Frank McCluskey and Melanie Winter.  Both authors have had extensive experience in non-profit and for-profit private higher education.  Frank is a colleague of mine who has done a good deal of work in online learning.  While retired now, his last position was as provost at the American Public University System.  Melanie’s expertise is as an administrator dealing with digital records.

This book covers a lot of ground and provides a good review of higher education’s past, present and future.  Frank has his Ph.D. in philosophy from the New School having specialized in Hegel and so there are several excellent references to classical philosophies and their relationship to education.  The book also provides insights into the growth of online learning including the current MOOC movement.  I particularly enjoyed Chapter 15.  Entitled How Traditional Non-Profits and Modern Online For-Profits Can Find a Balance…, it provides an even-tempered look at what each sector has to offer the other.  For instance, McCuskey and Winter argue that if the non-profit sector had  “a clearer idea about profit and return on investment, college cost would not have sky-rocketed”.   On another point they comment that the development of metrics and data analysis “must be done in the context of shared governance and an understanding of faculty control over academics.  This has not always been the case in the for-profit sector.”

In sum, this was well worth the read and a good addition to the literature that attempts to decipher where higher education is going as a result of the rapid expansion of digital instruction.