Judge Says State Cannot Withhold Aid to New York City Schools Over Teacher Evaluation Impasse!

Dear Commons Community,

In a major blow to Mario Cuomo’s efforts to withhold state aid to New York City public schools for the failure of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the United Federation of Teachers to reach agreement on a new teacher evaluation system, Justice Manuel J. Mendez of State Supreme Court in Manhattan, issued a ruling on barring the state’s education commissioner from deducting any school aid due the city until the matter is decided in court.  The New York Times is reporting that:

“State officials, for now, cannot stop $260 million in aid from flowing into New York City’s schools as a penalty for the city’s failure to iron out a plan for evaluating public school teachers, a state judge ruled this week.

The preliminary injunction was a blow to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s promise to withhold the money after the Bloomberg administration and the city’s teachers’ union missed a Jan. 17 deadline for developing an evaluation system for the 75,000 teachers, which is also a core element of the state’s winning a lucrative federal grant.

Though the financial penalty was intended to motivate the two sides to act, they did not, and the judge, Justice Manuel J. Mendez of State Supreme Court in Manhattan, issued a ruling on Tuesday barring the state’s education commissioner from deducting any school aid due the city until the matter is decided in court.

Justice Mendez, in a four-page decision made public on Thursday, ruled that “innocent children,” particularly the neediest among them, could be hurt by financial cuts, as the plaintiffs had argued. He also agreed with the plaintiffs’ central argument that the matter revolves around a child’s constitutional right to a sound basic education.

“This decision is a substantial victory for all of New York City’s students,” said Michael A. Rebell, a lawyer who filed suit against the state on Feb. 5 on behalf of a group including nine parents and their children. “The judge clearly indicated that the state’s irrational penalty places innocent children at academic risk.”

Reaction to the decision underscored the bitterness over the issue, first outlined in 2010 state law.

Catherine T. Nolan, a Democrat from Queens and the chairwoman of the State Assembly’s education committee, called the ruling “tremendous,” adding, “No one should ever use formula-driven aid to punish kids.”

Congratulations to Judge Mendez for making such a sound judgment and taking New York politics and bureaucracy out of the education of children.


Teacher Satisfaction at All Time Low – Enter the Policies of US DOE, Gates and Carnegie Foundations!

Dear Commons Community,

There were two very different articles in the media yesterday commenting on teacher issues.  The first was a report concluding teachers’ job satisfaction plummeted in 2012, reaching an all-time low, according to a survey released Thursday.  As reported by The Huffington Post:

“We’ve seen a continuous decline in teacher satisfaction,” said Dana Markow, vice president of youth and education research for pollster Harris Interactive, which conducted the poll for the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher.

Teachers’ job satisfaction has declined 23 percentage points in the five years since 2008, according to the long-running survey of educators and principals. Only 39 percent of teachers reported they were very satisfied, the least since 1987, the survey showed. The percentage of teachers who said they were very satisfied dropped five percentage points in 2012.

“This news is disappointing but sadly, there are no surprises in these survey results,” said Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union. “Teacher job satisfaction will continue to free fall as long as school budgets are slashed.”

The least satisfied teachers are those who work in schools that have slashed budgets, and who have less time for collaboration with peers and professional development than teachers at other schools. The poll found that 86 percent of teachers and 78 percent of principals reported their schools face budgeting problems, and 73 percent of teachers and 72 percent of principals said it’s hard to engage their communities to improve public schools.

The survey comes as states are implementing education reform policies favored by the Obama administration, raising teacher stress as they try to improve student achievement benchmarks. The changes, including teacher evaluations that stress students’ standardized test performance, curbs on tenure and Common Core learning standards, were passed by state legislatures in previous years, but beginning to take effect now. President Barack Obama proposed a new teacher satisfaction initiative in his 2012 State of the Union address, but failed to deliver on it.

The second article appeared in the New York Post commenting on television ads (costing $250.000) put out by the non-profit group, Educators  4 Excellence (E4E), that calls on Mario Cuomo to enact a new teacher evaluation system in New York and to push aside the negotiating rights of the United Federation of Teachers.  There is no problem with individuals or groups voicing their opinions on television or any other media but E4E, a supposed grass-roots teacher activist group, receives significant funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates and  Carnegie Foundations to promote their education policy positions and without this type of funding would not be able to mount such costly ads.   E4E is another version of StudentsFirst, the Michelle Rhee profit center that seeks to influence education policy according to her “bash the teacher” policies that demoralized the Washington, D.C. school system when she was its superintendent.




Florida Atlantic Football Stadium to be Named for For-Profit Prison Company!

Prison Donor GEO Group

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has an article on its sports pages today on the naming of Florida Atlantic University’s new football stadium for a company that runs for-profit prisons.  The article comments:

“In recent years, where stadium naming rights could be sold, universities and professional sports teams have sold them — to airlines and banks and companies that sell beer, soda, doughnuts, cars, telecommunications, razors and baseball bats. This led to memorable examples like Enron Field, the KFC Yum! Center and the University of Phoenix Stadium.

On Tuesday, that trend took another strange turn when Florida Atlantic University, in Boca Raton, firmed a deal to rename its football building GEO Group Stadium. Perhaps that pushed stadium naming to its zenith, if only because the GEO Group is a private prison corporation.

For this partnership, there is no obvious precedent.

The university’s president described the deal as “wonderful” and the company as “well run” and by a notable alumnus. But it also left some unsettled, including those who study the business of sports and track the privatization of the prison industry. To those critics, this was a jarring case of the lengths colleges and teams will go to produce revenue, of the way that everything seems to be for sale now in sports — and to anyone with enough cash.

“This is an example of great donor intent, terrible execution,” said Paul Swangard, the managing director at the University of Oregon Warsaw Sports Marketing Center. “Here’s a guy with strong ties to the university, who wants to make a difference, and is mixing his philanthropic interest with a marketing strategy that doesn’t make any sense.”

The GEO Group, which is based in Boca Raton, secured the naming rights with a $6 million gift, paid out over 12 years through its charitable arm, the largest such donation in Florida Atlantic’s athletic history. In a news release, the university said the money would finance athletic operations, the stadium, scholarships and “academic priorities.”




Joe Scarborough Lashes Out at Rush Limbaugh and Fox News!

Dear Commons Community,

During yesterday’s Morning Joe program on MSNBC, host Joe Scarborough lashed out at the conservative “media culture” telling viewers that Rush Limbaugh and Fox News have not been good for the Republican party.   As reported in The Huffington Post:

“Scarborough urged Republicans to look beyond those two outlets. “Just for conservatives that think they have to stay in their own little media world, since Rush Limbaugh went on the air and became a national figure, Republicans have lost five out of the last six presidential elections in the popular vote,” he said. “Since Fox News went on the air in 1996, Republicans have lost four out of the five last —”

“Please keep doing what you’re doing,” co-host Mika Brzezinski joked.

“When Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon had to go up against a media culture that absolutely hated them… and there were no conservative outlets, they won 49 states,” Scarborough continued. He said that he turns to conservative outlets as well as mainstream media, but added, “for people who think they have to stay in the little box, I got bad news for you: it’s not working.”

The MSNBC host has been a vocal critic of conservative media, who he once said are “destroying the Republican party everyday,” he said in December. Scarborough has also raged against conservative bloggers — or as he calls them, “the Cheetos brigade” — for calling him and others a RINO (“Republican in name only”).

I would add that Rush Limbaugh and Fox News are making a fortune playing to the ears of the extreme right-wing conservatives.  They will never give it up.



David Brooks: What Big Data Can’t Do!

Dear Commons Community,

David Brooks has a column today cautioning about an over reliance on data-driven decision making.  In the of era big data and analytics, he is right in raising a yellow flag.   He opens with a vignette:

“Not long ago, I was at a dinner with the chief executive of a large bank. He had just had to decide whether to pull out of Italy, given the weak economy and the prospect of a future euro crisis.

The C.E.O. had his economists project out a series of downside scenarios and calculate what they would mean for his company. But, in the end, he made his decision on the basis of values.

His bank had been in Italy for decades. He didn’t want Italians to think of the company as a fair-weather friend. He didn’t want people inside the company thinking they would cut and run when times got hard. He decided to stay in Italy and ride out any potential crisis, even with the short-term costs.

He wasn’t oblivious to data in making this decision, but ultimately, he was guided by a different way of thinking. And, of course, he was right to be. Commerce depends on trust. Trust is reciprocity coated by emotion. People and companies that behave well in tough times earn affection and self-respect that is extremely valuable, even if it is hard to capture in data.

I tell this story because it hints at the strengths and limitations of data analysis. The big novelty of this historic moment is that our lives are now mediated through data-collecting computers. In this world, data can be used to make sense of mind-bogglingly complex situations. Data can help compensate for our overconfidence in our own intuitions and can help reduce the extent to which our desires distort our perceptions.”

As someone who has written about data-driven decision making in education, I understand Brooks’ position.  There are certain decisions where values, trust, and relationship-building trump the data analysis.  And in this era of big data, there are a lot of variables that are extraneous and “noise” to used Nate Silver’s term, to the decisions at hand.





New York Times Editorial Takes a Shot at Online Learning!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York  Times in its editorial today takes a strong stance against poorly designed online courses.  Citing research from Columbia University’s Community College Research Center, it comments on the abysmal student attrition rates of some online courses:

“First, student attrition rates — around 90 percent for some huge online courses — appear to be a problem even in small-scale online courses when compared with traditional face-to-face classes. Second, courses delivered solely online may be fine for highly skilled, highly motivated people, but they are inappropriate for struggling students who make up a significant portion of college enrollment and who need close contact with instructors to succeed….

A five-year study, issued in 2011, tracked 51,000 students enrolled in Washington State community and technical colleges. It found that those who took higher proportions of online courses were less likely to earn degrees or transfer to four-year colleges. The reasons for such failures are well known. Many students, for example, show up at college (or junior college) unprepared to learn, unable to manage time and having failed to master basics like math and English.

Lacking confidence as well as competence, these students need engagement with their teachers to feel comfortable and to succeed. What they often get online is estrangement from the instructor who rarely can get to know them directly. Colleges need to improve online courses before they deploy them widely. Moreover, schools with high numbers of students needing remedial education should consider requiring at least some students to demonstrate success in traditional classes before allowing them to take online courses.”

The article goes on to mention blended courses as being more appropriate but cautions that these if poorly designed will not be of benefit to students who are struggling.

I agree with some of the editorial but I would comment further that any course (online or face-to-face) poorly designed will not benefit students who are not prepared for college.  As evidence, we can look at student attrition and graduation rates at community colleges and see that the majority of  these students do not do well in face-to-face courses either.  Especially difficult for these students are any mathematics-based courses.  At City University for instance, algebra for remedial students is most problematic.  In sum, I think the New York Times is right in raising the issue but in examining alternatives for many students with remedial needs the solutions might indeed lie with well-designed courses including those that blend online and face-to-face instruction.





Gifted and Talented or Just Better-Prepared Children?

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has an article exposing the problems of testing children for gifted and talented programs in New York City schools.  It focuses essentially on the issue that parents of many children as young as four-years old, are paying huge fees for test preparation tutoring services to improve scores.   The article comments:

“Assessing students has always been a fraught process….The city’s leading private schools are even considering doing away with the test they have used for decades, popularly known as the E.R.B., after the Educational Records Bureau, the organization that administers the exam, which is written by Pearson.

“It’s something the schools know has been corrupted,” said Dr. Samuel J. Meisels, an early-childhood education expert who gave a presentation in the fall to private school officials, encouraging them to abandon the test. Excessive test preparation, he said, “invalidates inferences that can be drawn” about children’s “learning potential and intellect and achievement.”

Last year, the Education Department said it would change one of the tests used for admission to public school gifted kindergarten and first-grade classes in order to focus more on cognitive ability and less on school readiness, which favors children who have more access to preschool and tutoring.

Scores had been soaring. For the 2012-13 school year, nearly 5,000 children qualified for gifted and talented kindergarten seats in New York City public schools. That was more than double the number five years ago. “We were concerned enough about our definition of giftedness being affected by test prep — as we were prior school experience, primary spoken language, socioeconomic background and culture — that we changed the assessment,” Adina Lopatin, a deputy chief academic officer in the Education Department, said.

And yet test prep companies leapt to action, printing new books tailored to the new test and organizing classes.”

Why have we allowed testing in this country to rule everything we do in education.  Increasingly, it has devolved into a corrupted sorting process that favors those with access to resources than a tool for teaching and learning.



China’s Higher Education System: False Hope for the Rural Poor!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has a featured article on China’s higher education system as seen through the eyes of one rural family.  Essentially a father and mother struggled for much of their adult lives in a village in Shaanxi Province to save the money necessary to send their daughter to college.  Working in coal mines and in the fields as laborers, they forsook many comforts for themselves in order to do whatever was necessary to insure that their daughter was accepted into a college.  The tragedy of the story is that the daughter now in a polytechnic school (similar to an American community college),  is seriously thinking about dropping out because she does not think there will be good job upon graduation.

The problem is indicative of the incredible rapidity with which the Chinese higher education system expanded over the past decade.   Many schools were built and others expanded enrollments.  However, China’s economy has grown extensively based on cheap labor and manufacturing and  has not produced enough higher-paying jobs that require college degrees.  The article mentions that as many as 50-60 percent of college graduates from some colleges are unemployed.

The article provides many excellent insights into the plight of rural families, an education testing system that favors wealthy families from large urban areas, and an economy that does not fulfill the hopes and aspirations of poor parents for their children.


Incomes Flat during the 2009-2011 Economic Recovery but Not for Top 1%:

Economic Recovery

Click on image to enlarge.

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times is reporting that incomes rose more than 11 percent for the top 1 percent of earners during the 2009-2011 economic recovery, but not at all for everybody else, according to new data.

The study, produced by Emmanuel Saez, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, shows overall income growing by just 1.7 percent over the period. But there was a wide gap between the top 1 percent, whose earnings rose by 11.2 percent, and the other 99 percent, whose earnings declined by 0.4 percent. The article states:

“Mr. Saez concluded that “the Great Recession has only depressed top income shares temporarily and will not undo any of the dramatic increase in top income shares that has taken place since the 1970s.”

The disparity between top earners and everybody else can be attributed, in part, to differences in how the two groups make their money. The wealthy have benefited from a four-year boom in the stock market, while high rates of unemployment have continued to hold down the income of wage earners.

“We have in the middle basically three decades of problems compounded by high unemployment,” said Lawrence Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute, a left-of-center research group in Washington. “That high unemployment we know depresses wage growth throughout the wage scale, but more so for the bottom than the middle and the middle than the top.”

In his analysis, Mr. Saez said he saw no reason that the trend would reverse for 2012, which has not yet been analyzed. For that year, the “top 1 percent income will likely surge, due to booming stock prices, as well as retiming of income to avoid the higher 2013 top tax rates,” Mr. Saez wrote, referring to income tax increases for the wealthy that were passed by Congress in January. The incomes of the other “99 percent will likely grow much more modestly,” he said.”

In sum:  the rich get richer and the poor get poorer!




Meteor Crashes in the Russian Urals: Hundreds of People Hurt!

Dear Commons Community,

All the media are reporting that a meteor streaked across the sky above Russia’s Ural Mountains on Friday morning, causing sharp explosions and injuring hundreds of people, most of them hurt by broken glass.  The Huffington Post reported that:

“There was panic. People had no idea what was happening. Everyone was going around to people’s houses to check if they were OK,” said Sergey Hametov, a resident of Chelyabinsk, about 1500 kilometers (930 miles) east of Moscow, the biggest city in the affected region.

“We saw a big burst of light then went outside to see what it was and we heard a really loud thundering sound,” he told The Associated Press by telephone.

Fragments of the meteor fell in a thinly populated area of the Chelyabinsk region, the Emergency Ministry said in a statement.

Interior Ministry spokesman Vadim Kolesnikov said more than 400 people had sought medical treatment after the blasts, and at least three had been hospitalized in serious condition. Many of the injuries were from glass broken by the explosions.

Kolsenikov also said about 600 square meters (6000 square feet) of a roof at a zinc factory had collapsed.”

Not often that a meteor crashes in a populated part of the world.