Chicago School Closings: Mayor Rahm Emanuel v. the Chicago Teachers Union!

chicago school closings II

Dear Commons Community,

Karen Lewis, President of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), is taking on Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his political allies over the closing of fifty public schools in Chicago.  A day after the mayor’s hand-picked board of education OKed the closure  to supposedly stymie a $1 billion budget shortfall, the Chicago Teachers Union renewed its promise to challenge Emanuel for the mayor’s seat in 2015.

“Clearly, we have to change the political landscape in the city,” CTU President Karen Lewis said according to the Sun-Times. “We have to go back to old-style democracy.”

Emanuel, who spent Wednesday’s vote working from his fifth-floor office at City Hall, was unwavering, saying, “I will absorb the political consequence so our children have a better future.”

The union’s plan includes ramping up political activity for the purpose of ousting Emanuel, though the plans don’t stop with the mayor: The CTU has also vowed to dismantle the mayoral-appointed school board and replace it with an elected one.

Lewis told NPR the “cowboy-mentality” of how the mayor wields power over the school board is “out of control.”

“We’re starting our deputy registration, and we will be registering voters across the city,” Lewis said.

True to their word, the union already had a voter registration drive on Thursday at South Side Church in the Grand Boulevard neighborhood.

Go for it, Karen!


CUNY Graduate Center’s 49th Commencement at Avery Fisher Hall Last Night!

Commencement 2013 2

Dear Commons Community,

It was a grand evening last night at the Graduate Center’s Commencement at Avery Fisher Hall.  President Bill Kelly and Provost Chase Robinson presided over the ceremonies for our 400 plus doctoral  and  masters degree graduates.  The main speaker was David Nasaw, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Distinguished Professor of History.   Honorary degrees were given to Lawrence Weiner,  a founding figure of conceptual art, who has had a flourishing career since the first presentation of his work in California in 1960. The Bronx-born artist, educated in the public schools of New York, is today a great exemplar of that brand of wide-ranging innovation that changes minds, challenges perceptions, and has helped to keep New York the cultural capital of the world.  And Robert Wilson,  widely acknowledged as the theatre’s leading avant-garde director and playwright, he is also a celebrated painter, sculptor, designer, and video artist, who has done trend-setting work as performer, choreographer, and sound and lighting director. He is perhaps best known for having created, with composer Philip Glass, the monumental and tradition-shattering opera Einstein on the Beach.

For me the special moment was when the fourteen Urban Education doctoral graduates came to the stage and  were hooded.  One of our graduates, Kirsten Cole, brought her young sons, Max and Zeke, down the aisle with her.

Congratulations to all!!!


Video: Teacher Resigns because her Profession No Longer Exists!

Dear Commons Community,

Upon learning that she would be involuntarily transferred to another Illinois school, Ellie Rubenstein, a fourth-grade, teacher submitted her resignation in the form of a video.

In the 10-minute spoken resignation, posted on Youtube Tuesday, Rubenstein explains why she is quitting and addresses several major problems she says she has faced as a teacher in the U.S. public education system.

“I was proud to say I was a teacher,” Rubenstein tells the camera, after describing how she abandoned a career in public relations to “do something meaningful” with her life. “But over the past 15 years, I’ve experienced the depressing, gradual downfall and misdirection of communication that has slowly eaten away at my love of teaching.”

“Raising students’ test scores on standardized tests is now the only goal, and in order to achieve it the creativity, flexibility and spontinaety that create authentic learning environments have been eliminated. … Everything I love about teaching is extinct,” she continues.

Rubenstein’s resignation stems from a dispute between four Lincoln Elementary School teachers — Rubenstein included — and North Shore School District 112 administrators. As Highland Park News reports, Rubenstein and her colleagues received letters detailing their mandated transfer to other schools in the district and were given 21 days to respond.

In the video, Rubenstein states that the letter cited a “poor climate” in the building as the reason for her involuntary transfer. “But the truth is, I’m just not a ‘yes man,'” she claims in her video.

Administrators contend, however, that such a transfer is not used to punish teachers, Highland Park News notes.

It is a sad state of affairs that so many of our public schools have been turned into  test-prep centers responding to mandates of the No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top policies of the U.S. Department of Education.



Two-Year Colleges at Risk of Being Separate and Unequal Institutions!

Dear Commons Community,

Community colleges “are in great danger of becoming indelibly separate and unequal institutions in the higher-education landscape,” a Century Foundation task force warns in a report  released earlier this morning.   To deal with what it calls “the increasing economic and racial isolation of students” at community colleges, the group also calls for major changes in how two-year colleges are financed and operated.  As stated at the Century Foundation website:

“Education has always been a key driver in our nation’s struggle to promote social mobility and widen the circle of people who can enjoy the American Dream. No set of educational institutions better embodies the promise of equal opportunity than community colleges. Two-year colleges have opened the doors of higher education for low-income and working-class students as never before, and yet, community colleges often lack the resources to provide the conditions for student success. Furthermore, there is a growing racial and economic stratification between two- and four-year colleges, producing harmful consequences. Bridging the Higher Education Divide: Strengthening Community Colleges and Restoring the American Dream, faces those grave realities in unblinking fashion. Led by co-chairs Anthony Marx, the president of the New York Public Library and former president of Amherst College, and Eduardo Padron, the president of Miami Dade College, the task force recommends ways to reduce the racial and economic stratification and create new outcomes-based funding in higher education, with a much greater emphasis on providing additional public supports based on student needs.”

In an article reviewing the report, The Chronicle of Higher Education commented:

“Among its recommendations, the group urges states and the federal government to provide additional funds to two-year colleges that serve the neediest students, much in the way the federal Title I program works for elementary and secondary schools. In states where constitutional guarantees of education might extend to higher education, the report suggests that advocates even consider filing lawsuits to require such “adequate funding” of community colleges.

To “bring greater clarity to all types of public support for higher education,” the report also asks the U.S. Departments of Education and of the Treasury to jointly study how tax exemptions for donations to colleges and for institutions’ endowment earnings indirectly subsidize colleges—an effort that would highlight how such policies disproportionately benefit wealthier four-year institutions.

The report is premised on the notion that community colleges, which enroll about 44 percent of the nation’s college population, are in many cases not serving students well now and will be ill equipped to handle future demands without radical change.

Along with the financial recommendations, the report outlines a series of educational proposals. The proposals are aimed at shifting the patterns that result in four-year colleges’ enrolling disproportionably more wealthy and white students while two-year colleges enroll a higher proportion of needy and minority students.”

These are important issues which will resonate at community colleges across the country including here at the City University of New York.




Joe Nocera Analyzes Apple’s Tax Strategies!

Dear Commons Community,

Apple is the latest corporation that has had to explain its tax strategies namely the shifting of income to foreign countries to avoid paying taxes here in the United States.  In a hearing before the U.S. Senate, Apple CEO Tim Cook explained the necessity for what it does as based on the need to compete in the global market place.   Joe Nocera, in his New York Times column, analyzes Mr. Cook’s position and finds it lacking.

…”as documented both by The Times and the Senate subcommittee, Apple is as much an innovator in tax avoidance as it is in technology. Take, for instance, a scheme known as The Double Irish, which it largely invented and which many American companies have since replicated. This strategy, which was the primary focus of Tuesday’s hearing, involves setting up a shell subsidiary in an offshore tax haven — a k a Ireland — and transferring most of Apple’s intellectual property rights to the dummy subsidiary. The subsidiary, in turn, charges “royalties” that allows it to capture billions of dollars in what otherwise would be taxable profits in the United States. In Ireland, according to Apple, it pays an astonishing 2 percent in taxes, thanks to a deal it has with the government. (The Irish government denies giving Apple a special deal.)

Here is another whopper from Mr. Cook on Tuesday. He said that his company not only doesn’t violate the letter of the law, that it doesn’t even violate the spirit. He may be right on the first part, but he is wrong on the second. As the subcommittee’s chairman, Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat, pointed out to me on Wednesday, one of the main goals of American corporate tax policy is to tax profits in the jurisdiction where they are produced.

“That intellectual property and patents are the crown jewels of the company,” Levin said. “The Irish subsidiary had nothing to do with creating those crown jewels. It has no employees. It has no offices. Yet most of Apple’s profits are now offshore because they were able to utilize a shift of their intellectual property to a tax haven.”

It appears that Mr. Cook’s Apple story has worms!


Republican Senator Ted Cruz: “I don’t trust the Republicans”

Dear Commons Community,

The Huffington Post is reporting that Texas Republican and Tea Party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz made a remarkable admission on the floor of the U.S. Senate Wednesday, admitting in a dispute with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that not only does he not trust Democrats, he doesn’t trust Republicans, either.

McCain had challenged Cruz, as well as fellow Tea Party Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Mike Lee (Utah) and Rand Paul (Ky.), to let the Senate appoint conferees to work out a federal budget with the GOP-controlled House for the first time in four years.

The Tea Party members, however, are insisting on a highly unusual set of pre-conditions first, including requiring that the conferees be barred from raising the debt limit. Normally, McCain argued, the Senate gives them instructions, but recognizes that there needs to be room for negotiations in conferences.

McCain said their refusal amounts to not trusting the Republicans who lead the House to stand by their stated opposition to raising the debt limit without major cuts.

Surprisingly, Cruz agreed.

“Let me be clear. I don’t trust the Republicans,” Cruz said, casting it as a broader distrust of a government that has rung up more than $16 trillion in debt. “And I don’t trust the Democrats. And I think a whole lot of Americans likewise don’t trust the Republicans and the Democrats because it is leadership in both parties that has gotten us in this mess.”



R.O.T.C. Returns to City College!


Dear Commons Community,

After a forty-year absence, Reserve Officers Training Corps  (R.O.T.C.) returned to City College yesterday.  As reported in the New York Times:

“The Great Hall of City College, a carved stone and stained glass chamber so collegiate Gothic it could be mistaken for one in Cambridge, Mass., or Cambridge, England, is crowned by a mural that enshrines scholarship as an Olympian endeavor.

But at a ceremony on Tuesday, the hall was filled not with graduates in cap and gown but by Army officers in dress uniform. They were there to signal the return of the Reserve Officers Training Corps, a program that has not operated at City College for some four decades, and which was ended when students there led a successful drive to evict it.

The most important military figure in the room, and certainly the most famous alumnus of City College’s R.O.T.C. program, was in civilian attire. Colin L. Powell, the retired general and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in whose honor the college’s division of social sciences was recently renamed, was on hand to offer his benediction and to serve as inspiration.

Speaking from a podium where a color guard had solemnly planted a row of flags, the chancellor of the City University of New York, Matthew Goldstein, said, “The leadership program offered by Army R.O.T.C. is a perfect complement to CUNY’s own educational mission of access, excellence and service, and reinforces the very ideals of our democracy.”

Then, in a scene reminiscent of an armistice ceremony, he, Maj. Gen. Jefforey A. Smith and Dr. Lisa Staiano-Coico, the college’s president, sat at a table and passed documents back and forth, signing them with ceremonial pens as 14 cadets stood behind them in formation.

R.O.T.C. first arrived at City College, which is part of CUNY, in 1919, as a compulsory two-year program. The students of City College, who at the time were all men, did not take well to it. According to S. Willis Rudy’s history of the college, in 1925 students voted 2,092 to 342 to oppose the program. Eight years later, when the college’s president suspended classes so that everyone could attend R.O.T.C.’s military drills, 400 students protested, and 21 were eventually expelled.

In the 1950s, according to Mr. Powell’s book, “My American Journey,” City College’s R.O.T.C. program was the largest in the United States. But by 1971, with anger mounting over the Vietnam War, it had attracted so many student protests that the Faculty Senate voted to abolish the program, as did many other colleges during the same period.

R.O.T.C. cadets participate in drills and other practical exercises and take 24 credits of elective study in courses emphasizing leadership skills and military history, all as a path toward service as an officer in the Army. Those who commit to military service are eligible for scholarships and stipends. Dr. Staiano-Coico said she first heard the idea to reinstate R.O.T.C. from veterans she encountered on campus while interviewing for the college’s presidency…

CCNY’s Faculty Senate voted by a wide majority to allow R.O.T.C. back. But three professors stood outside the ceremony holding antiwar placards, protesting what they see as the remilitarization of their school.

“Bringing back R.O.T.C. cheapens our curriculum,” said one of them, Bill Crain, a psychology professor.

Mr. Powell, a former secretary of state, passed the protesters on his way into the hall. “Don’t agree,” he said, “but you’re entitled.”


MOOC Professors Claim No Responsibility for How Courses Are Used!

Dear Commons Community,

The debate over MOOCs continues.  The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article referencing the ethical issues MOOC professors might have if their courses are used “to dismantle academic departments”.   On one side, there is a group of philosophy professors at San Jose State University who last month slammed Michael Sandel, a government professor at Harvard, for offering a MOOC through another provider, the nonprofit edX. The administration at San Jose State is encouraging its faculty members to use edX courses in their own teaching.  In an open letter, the philosophy professors warned that such collaboration could mark beginning of a long-term effort to “replace professors, dismantle departments, and provide a diminished education for students in public universities.”

In response, the article quotes Mohamed A. Noor, a professor of biology at Duke University, who teaches a MOOC through Coursera, called  Introduction to Genetics and Evolution. To be clear, Mr. Noor says he believes dismantling departments and replacing them with MOOCs would be “reckless.” But the Duke professor also believes that, in such a case, “the fault lies with the reckless administration,” and not the professor who furnished the MOOC to the vendor that furnished the MOOC to the administration.

The article has several other references well-worth reading for those interested in keeping up with MOOC issues.



Massive Tornado Levels Oklahoma Town!


Oklahoma Twister II

Dear Commons Community,

A 2-mile-wide tornado tore through the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore on Monday, killing at least 51 people while destroying entire tracts of homes, piling cars atop one another, and trapping two dozen school children beneath rubble.  It was the deadliest U.S. tornado since one killed 161 people in Joplin, Missouri, two years ago.

The devastating twister killed at least 51 people and maybe as many as a hundred including seven elementary school students.  At Plaza Towers Elementary School, a brave teacher made the ultimate sacrifice by risking her life to save her students. The teacher laid across six children, using her body as a shield to protect her young students from the violent tornado.

Rescuers discovered the bodies of seven children believed to have drowned in a pool of water at Plaza Towers Elementary. Authorities fear up to 30 more children at the elementary school are dead.

Right before the storm hit at 3 p.m., around 30 children — 4th, 5th, and 6th graders — were taken from their school to a nearby church for shelter. A reporter asked a medic about the injuries at the elementary school, but the medic “just shook his head.”

Along with Plaza Towers Elementary School, the massive tornado also destroyed another school, Briarwood Elementary.

Our hearts and prayers go out to the people of Moore!



The NYC Public Schools After Mayor Bloomberg!

Dear Commons Community,

Over the past few weeks, candidates for New York City mayor have been critical of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his administration of the New York City public schools.  While the Democratic candidates have been most vocal in their criticism, even the Republican candidates have not been complimentary.  Today’s New York Times editorial offers its take on this all important issue:

“Mr. Bloomberg’s schools chancellor, Dennis Walcott, called the criticism an “unconscionable” assault on the Education Department and accused the candidates of lacking vision. On Saturday, at a conference in Brooklyn for school administrators, he foretold a “tragedy” if the next mayor did not continue Mr. Bloomberg’s policies.

But after 12 years, this mayor’s ideas are due for a counterargument. The critiques the candidates are offering hardly shock the conscience, and their complaints about the Bloomberg administration can be heard from teachers and parents in any school in the city.

The school system has indeed gone overboard in relying on standardized testing. Tests need to be a means to the end of better instruction, not the pedagogical obsession they have become. Yes, Mr. Bloomberg has shown disdain for consultation, as in his rush to close underperforming schools without the full and meaningful involvement of affected communities. The system needs to strengthen neighborhoods’ connection to schools and reconnect with parents who feel shut out. And while charter schools can be a path to excellence, they can also cause problems. Shoehorning them into existing school buildings over local objections can alienate parents and reinforce among students a harmful sense of being separate and unequal.”

The Times editorial is on target.  For those of you who are interested in this topic, the Ph.D. Program in Urban Education at the Graduate Center and Brooklyn College will be hosting a conference tomorrow night on The NYC Public Schools After Mayor Bloomberg.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

4:00 pm – 8:00 pm

CUNY Graduate Center, 9th Fl., 365 5th Ave. at 34th St., New York

The conference is free and open to the public on a first come basis.