Jean Anyon Obituary in the New York Times!

Dear Commons Community,

Today’s edition of the New York Times has an obituary of Jean Anyon, a colleague of ours here at the Graduate Center who passed away on September 7th.  It captures her views of the world of urban education and references well her book, Ghetto Schooling.   I like especially the last sentence of the obit:

“Attempting to fix inner-city schools without fixing the city in which they are embedded,” she wrote in Ghetto Schooling, “is like trying to clean the air on one side of a screen door.”


Bruce Chaloux!

Bruce Chaloux

Dear Commons Community,

On Saturday, the Sloan Consortium lost one of its leaders with the sudden passing of Bruce Chaloux.  Bruce assumed the position of Executive Director of the Consortium a little more than a year ago and was making great progress in moving its goals and programs forward. Bruce was totally committed to the Consortium’s mission of providing access to education via quality online learning.  Before coming to the Consortium, Bruce had a long career at the Southern Regional Education Board and Virginia Tech University.  Beyond the Consortium, Bruce supported a range of issues and causes related to educational opportunity.

Bruce and I had been colleagues for about fourteen years based mainly on our common interests in instructional technology and higher education.  I will miss Bruce and our discussions about family, grandchildren, and baseball.  Bruce was an avid Boston Red Sox fan and I a Yankee fan.  We gave each other a lot of good-natured ribbing about the ups and downs of our respective teams.

Our sincerest condolences go out to Bruce’s family especially his wife, Barbara!


Iran’s New President Hassan Rouhani: Tom Friedman Comments!


Dear Commons Community,

This week, the media swarmed over Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, mainly because of his  conciliatory comments about the Holocaust, Iran’s nuclear program, and his relations with the United States.  He has left many officials, reporters, and pundits wondering whether he is sincere.  Tom Friedman provides some insight into Rouhani’s positions and motives in his New York Times column today.   In addition to attending the usual press conferences, Friedman bases his analysis on a discussion with Rouhani’s chief of staff, Mohammad Nahavandian, who is an economist, earned his Ph.D. at George Washington University, and recently led the Iran Chamber of Commerce and Iran’s negotiating team to join the World Trade Organization. According to Friedman, Rouhani is here because Iran’s regime is both overextended and underintegrated.

“Today, Iran’s regime is overextended, expending men and money and energy every day to keep the Syrian regime alive, Hezbollah on its feet in Lebanon and its allies fortified in Iraq and Afghanistan. But while the regime is overextended, Iranians under age 30 — some 60 percent of the population — feel underintegrated with the rest of the world. They want to be able to study, work and travel in — and listen to music, read books and watch films from  — the rest of the world. That means lifting sanctions.”

Friedman’s comments:

“Geopolitics is all about leverage: who’s got it and who doesn’t. Today, the negotiating table is tilted our way. That is to Obama’s credit. We should offer Iranians a deal that accedes to their desire for civilian nuclear power and thus affirms their scientific prowess — remember that Iran’s 1979 revolution was as much a nationalist rebellion against a regime installed by the West as a religious revolution, so having a nuclear program has broad nationalist appeal there — while insisting on a foolproof inspection regime. We can accept that deal, but can they? I don’t know. But if we put it on the table and make it public, so the Iranian people also get a vote — not just the pragmatists and hard-liners in the regime — you’ll see some real politics break out there, and it won’t merely be about the quality of Iran’s nuclear program but about the quality of life in Iran.”

This seems like good advice and President Obama is wise in showing his willingness in  working with Rouhani.  We can only hope it leads to a more peaceful relationship between the two countries.


Signals: A Big Data Student Monitor Improves Graduation Rates at Purdue!

Dear Commons Community,

Since 2007, students enrolled in at least one class with Signals, a big data/learning analytics tracking program, saw a higher graduation rate than did students who were not in classes with the software, according to data from Purdue. Retention rates for those enrolled in classes with the tracking software were also higher than for those in classes without the technology. Students who had two or more Signals classes graduated within six years at a rate 21.48 percent higher than students who did not take Signals courses.  As reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“Signals, a data-mining and analysis program, keeps track of how students approach class work. Taking in about 20 data points from Blackboard or other course-management systems, such as whether or not a student has completed online reading or watched online lectures, it measures the data against test and assignment grades, and “signals” students how they are doing with green, yellow, or red lights for each course. The signals are scheduled throughout each course by the instructor.

Matt Pistilli, a research scientist for teaching and learning technologies at Purdue, works specifically on student and faculty success. He says students have responded very well to the program.

“In this era of Big Brother, they aren’t concerned that we know all this information about them,” he says. “They want this to help them instead.”

By contract, he says, faculty members have been a little harder to work with. “Like Blackboard or a video conference or other pieces out there, this is just one more thing” they have to deal with, he says. Some faculty members also believe that students “who come to college should be self-motivated self-learners.”

With the software, a professor is able to “see the extent to which students have accessed materials, spent time engaged with the course, or viewed online lectures,” according to Mr. Pistilli. This is not done automatically but instead happens when an individual instructor logs in to see how students are doing.”

Anyone interested in learning more about big data and student monitoring, I published an article in JALN last year on the subject that includes references to Purdue’s Signals program.



Florida Colleges Make Plans for Students to Opt Out of Remedial Work

Dear Commons Community,

Entering college freshmen in Florida needing remediation will soon have the option of bypassing basic skills courses if they wish.   Florida state lawmakers voted in May to make such courses optional for most students. Starting next year, recent high-school graduates and active-duty military members in Florida will have the choice of whether to take the courses or even the tests meant to gauge students’ readiness for college-level work.  According to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required):

“…the prospect has sent a wave of anxiety across the state’s 28 community and state colleges, which all have open admissions. Their fear: that an influx of unprepared students could destabilize introductory courses and set those who will struggle up for failure. The colleges have become ground zero in a national battle over remedial education, a field whose current models aren’t working, say even its most ardent supporters. Several organizations—including Complete College America and Jobs for the Future, both backed by groups including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Lumina Foundation—have been pushing to reduce the number of students who end up in noncredit remedial courses. Based on the argument that remedial education, as currently delivered, is ineffective, the groups have persuaded lawmakers in Connecticut, Tennessee, and other states to pass laws channeling more students directly into credit-bearing courses…

…Colleges have until March to present the state with a plan for how they’ll overhaul remedial education, offering new options to support less-prepared students. Those plans must take effect by the fall of 2014, but colleges will start rolling them out next spring.

Across Florida, colleges are struggling with the new mandate. William D. Law Jr., president of St. Petersburg College, concedes that remedial education hasn’t been working but thinks that allowing students to place themselves is asking for trouble.

“When you ask an 18-year-old student, ‘Would you like to opt out of developmental math?’ I’m guessing I know the answer more often than not,” he says. “I’m really worried about what this is going to look like two to three weeks into the semester, when students have that ‘aha!’ moment and say, ‘I should have chosen a different level.”


Video: Mariano Rivera Says Goodbye to Yankee Stadium with Hugs, Tears and Cheers!

Dear Commons Community,

It was a special night at Yankee Stadium when baseball’s most acclaimed relief pitcher, Mariano Rivera,  made an emotional exit in his final appearance at the big ballpark in the South Bronx.  Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte came to the mound to remove him with two outs in the ninth inning on Thursday night.

“It’s time to go,” Jeter appeared to tell Rivera.

For Yankee fans, it was a heart-fluttering moment!



Wendy Davis, Texas State Senator and Abortion Rights Advocate, Running for Governor of Texas!

Dear Commons Community,

Democrat Wendy Davis, the state senator who catapulted to national prominence last summer with a filibuster over access to abortion, is running for Texas governor.

Two Democrats with knowledge of her decision told The Associated Press yesterday that Davis would announce her candidacy next week. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they did not want to pre-empt her official campaign launch on Oct. 3, which will take place in her home district of Fort Worth.

A Davis campaign had been widely expected, but she has held off making her decision public. Davis campaign spokesman Hector Nieto would not confirm that she is running.

“As Sen. Davis told grass-roots supporters last week via email, she’s made a decision and she looks forward to making her decision public on Oct. 3,” Nieto said.

Good luck to Senator Davis!


American High School Students Not Ready for College: Latest SAT Results!

Dear Commons Community,

Only 43 percent of test-takers in 2013 met the SAT’s definition of being prepared for college, a statistic that has remained stagnant since 2009.  The 1.6 million test-takers averaged 496 in reading, 514 on math and 488 on writing, according to a Thursday report released by the College Board, the company behind the college entrance exams. The College Board defines the college-ready benchmark as 1550 out of 2400, a score the organization says indicates a 65 percent likelihood of a student earning a first-year college GPA of a B-minus or above.  A Huffington Post article commented:

“What, exactly, these numbers mean is up for debate. The college readiness statistics are just one more piece of the puzzle in assessing the state of America’s schools, and the release comes amid a national hand wringing about just how bad public education really is and what direction it should take. Most states are beginning to teach to a new set of national standards known as the Common Core, but many parents and politicians are either unaware or skeptical.

For its part, the College Board is interpreting high schoolers’ performance on its test as a call for improvement. To be truly prepared for college, the company maintained in a call with reporters, students need access to higher-level courses — such as the Advanced Placement program, another College Board offering.

“While some might see stagnant scores as no news, we at the College Board see this as a call to action,” College Board President David Coleman said during the call.

Opponents of a focus on testing in schools were quick to pounce on the stagnant SAT results. “Proponents of ‘No Child Left Behind,’ ‘Race to the Top,’ and similar state-level programs promised the testing focus would boost college readiness while narrowing score gaps between groups,” Bob Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, said in a statement. “The data show a total failure according to their own measures. Doubling down on unsuccessful policies with more high-stakes K-12 testing, as Common Core exam proponents propose, is an exercise in futility, not meaningful school improvement.”

Minority students showed some score increases in 2013. This year, 15.6 percent of African-American students taking the test met the benchmark, the College Board reported, compared to 14.8 percent last year. In 2013, 23.5 percent of Latino students met the benchmark, up from 22.8 percent in 2012.

Representatives of the education establishment were optimistic. “While certainly the flat scores are nothing to celebrate, when you did down deeper into the data, we see a lot of encouraging news,” said Jim Hull, a senior policy analyst for the National School Boards Association. “Our public schools are doing a much better job preparing our poor and minority students for college.”

In its report, the College Board noted that 78 percent of those who meet the SAT college-ready benchmark enroll in four-year colleges, compared to 46 percent of those who don’t.

Others were skeptical of the College Board. “No doubt that far too many students are not college-ready, and the College Board’s appeals to have more students take a more rigorous curriculum is important,” said Mark Schneider, a vice president of the American Institutes of Research who previously oversaw the U.S. Education Department’s statistics arm.”However, this does not mean that the CB’s suite of products (PSAT/SAT/AP) is causally connected to college success. This report skirts way too close to that causal link than it should.”

Any reports coming out of the College Board have to be taken with a grain of salt especially now that David Coleman is its president.  Mr. Coleman has long been on the side of bashing public education, promoting the Common Core, and perpetuating a test, test, test approach to teaching and learning.


Credit Recovery Being Abused in New York City Public Schools!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Daily News and the New York Post had articles yesterday questioning the excessive use of credit recovery programs in the New York City public schools.  Public high school students across the city earned more than 50,000 credits in 2011-12 for credit recovery or what some term “quickie versions” of high school classes they’d previously failed.

At nine schools, including two schools that earned A’s and two that earned B’s on the city’s high-stakes report cards, one of every 10 credits awarded in 2011-12 was for credit recovery.

Though the practice helps kids who’ve fallen behind to move forward, critics argue it has artificially boosted the city’s graduation rate and sometimes requires only flimsy homework assignments.

The New York Post citing senior New York Education officials was particularly critical in its coverage of the practice:

“The city is abusing a system that was intended to help struggling high-school students get back on track, by allowing kids to earn credits even if they don’t show they’ve mastered a subject, state education officials charged yesterday.

They said they’re mulling public hearings on the misuse by large urban districts of the practice, known as credit recovery, which has allowed kids who failed a course to make up the credits simply by completing computer programs or brief term papers afterward.

The concerns come as city graduation rates have ballooned in recent years — from 47 percent in 2005 to 61 percent last year. Over the same period, the percentage of kids deemed college-ready also grew, but by a smaller margin.

“What’s clear . . . is that there’s a lot of pressure on people to graduate kids, and so people will say to kids, ‘Hey, do this computer program for 10 hours, write me a five-page paper and I’ll check it off that you passed,’ ” State Education Commissioner John King told The Post.

He said his Education Department has also asked state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to check whether districts are complying with protocols for credit recovery that were approved by the Board of Regents last year.

These include requiring makeup courses to be approved by a three-person school panel, and ensuring that the work conforms to state standards.”

It appears that an audit of the practice is in order.


Busy Day in NYC Mayoral Race: President Obama Endorsement, Sandinistas, and Eva Moskowitz “Shamelessly” Plans Protest March!

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday was a most busy day in the  coverage of the New York City mayoral election.

First, President Barack Obama enthusiastically endorsed Bill de Blasio, the Democratic Party candidate, stating:

“…Mr. de Blasio’s platform of “progressive change” would make him “a great mayor.” He also cited three of Mr. de Blasio’s top priorities — financing prekindergarten education, making housing more affordable and preserving community hospitals.

“Bill’s agenda for New York is marked by bold, courageous ideas that address the great challenges of our time…”

Second, the New York Times ran a front-page article on Bill Blasio chronicling his early years as an activist including time spent in Nicaragua during the Sandinista regime:

“Mr. de Blasio, who studied Latin American politics at Columbia and was conversational in Spanish, grew to be an admirer of Nicaragua’s ruling Sandinista party, thrusting himself into one of the most polarizing issues in American politics at the time. The Reagan administration denounced the Sandinistas as tyrannical and Communist, while their liberal backers argued that after years of dictatorship, they were building a free society with broad access to education, land and health care.

Today, Mr. de Blasio is critical of the Sandinistas’ crackdown on dissenters, but said he learned from his time trying to help the Central American country.

“My work was based on trying to create a more fair and inclusive world,” he said in a recent interview. “I have an activist’s desire to improve people’s lives.”

Mr. de Blasio became an ardent supporter of the Nicaraguan revolutionaries. He helped raise funds for the Sandinistas in New York and subscribed to the party’s newspaper, Barricada, or Barricade. When he was asked at a meeting in 1990 about his goals for society, he said he was an advocate of “democratic socialism.”

Mr. de Blasio’s Republican opponent, Joe Lhota, was quick to jump on the story and questioned whether a democratic socialist was fit to be mayor of New York.

Third, the Daily News ran a story on Eva Moskowtiz, who is planning a day of protest against Bill de Blasio’s position on charter schools. The article describes Moskowitz as “shamelessly” sending children to protest de Blasio on October 8th.  If elected, De Blasio has vowed to end the practice of giving charter schools rent-free space in NYC public schools, a practice which he says gives the charter school operators an unfair advantage in containing costs.  The article mentions that Ms. Moskowitz has also been the target of criticism for paying herself an outsized salary. The most recent tax filings  show she earns at least $475,000 — about twice the salary of city Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott.

This race is just beginning to heat up.