Halloween Treat: Digital Copies of the Frankenstein Notebooks Go Live at the New York Public Library Tonight!


Dear Commons Community,

On this Halloween night,  in a ceremony at the New York Public Library,  digital editions of the Frankenstein notebooks will go online, marking the official debut of the Shelley-Godwin Archive.  As reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required):

“[In 1816,] Mary Shelley brought to life the story of Victor Frankenstein and his creature in notebooks that passed back and forth between her and her husband, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who made some changes and additions. Now held by the Bodleian Library, at the University of Oxford, the notebooks are essential reading for anyone who wants to know more about the birth of Frankenstein, but for decades they have been very hard to see.

The archive is the offspring of a partnership among the Bodleian, the New York Public Library, and the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, or MITH, located at the University of Maryland at College Park. Like Victor Frankenstein, the organizers have a grand ambition. They want to stitch together elements from different collections—especially the rich holdings of the Bodleian and the New York Public—and bring to life a major new digital resource, not just for scholars but for anyone interested in Mary and Percy Shelley or in Mary’s parents, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft… “We’re bringing those distributed manuscripts together and putting them online for everyone,” says Neil Fraistat, a professor of English at the University of Maryland, where he directs MIT

They decided to put the Frankenstein notebooks online first because the story has such a grip on the popular imagination and because they had excellent scholarly editions to build on. …

When the site rises to life [tonight], “you’ll be able to experience Frankenstein, all of the known drafts, all of the known fair copy, and you’ll be able to see it several different ways,” …You’ll be able to go through the pages of the notebooks, one by one,” as Mary and Percy worked on them, or order the sections in narrative sequence, as if reading through the novel.

Readers will be able to separate out Mary’s contributions from Percy’s, down to the level of specific words. “Let’s say you’re interested in the word ‘monster,'” Mr. Fraistat says. “You can search and find every instance of the word ‘monster’ in the drafts and fair copy,” along with every instance where that word was added or struck out by one Shelley or the other. “You can get some really interesting analysis going,” he says.”

Trick or Treat!


Harper Reed: Big Data is Bunk!

Dear Commons Community

Harpur Reed, who served as chief technology officer in President Obama’s 2012 campaign, skewered the use of big data for applications such as student tracking and modeling.  As reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education, during his keynote address at a State University of New York-sponsored conference on big data and higher education, Reed said

“Big Data is bullshit!”

Mr. Reed is generally bullish on the power of data. But, with apologies to the technology companies sponsoring the SUNY event, Mr. Reed skewered their industry’s promotion of the buzzwords “Big Data.”

“The ‘big’ there is purely marketing,” Mr. Reed said. “This is all fear … This is about you buying big expensive servers and whatnot.”

“The exciting thing is you can get a lot of this stuff done just in Excel,” he said. “You don’t need these big platforms. You don’t need all this big fancy stuff. If anyone says ‘big’ in front of it, you should look at them very skeptically … You can tell charlatans when they say ‘big’ in front of everything.”





Barbara Bowen’s Messsage to the CUNY Faculty on the Proposed Policy of Expressive Activity!

Dear Commons Community,
Below is a reprint of a letter that PSC President Barbara Bowen sent to the faculty this morning regarding a proposed Policy on Expressive Activity.    It raises important awareness to this issue and should be read carefully by the entire CUNY community.
Dear Colleague:

The CUNY Administration has developed a draft “Policy on Expressive Activity,” to be considered for adoption sometime after January 1 by the CUNY Board of Trustees. You can read it here. The draft policy proposes severe limitations on how the fundamental and distinct freedoms of speech and assembly may be exercised at the City University. Anyone who knows the importance of freedom of expression at CUNY or who understands the essential character of a university has a stake in whether the policy is adopted.

Proposed on the heels of faculty opposition to Pathways and student protests about tuition increases, the policy reads as an attempt to silence dissent and to stifle protest before it starts.

As drafted, the proposed “Policy on Expressive Activity” goes beyond existing regulations on individual and collective action at CUNY. It would ban demonstrations from the interior of CUNY buildings, forcing demonstrators into “designated areas”; it would require 24 hours’ advance notice of demonstrations involving as few as 25 people; it would limit the distribution of “materials” on campus to areas designated by the administration; and it would give college presidents or their designees the sole power to determine if a demonstration is “disruptive”—and to call the police onto campus to stop it. “Freedom of expression and assembly,” the proposed policy states, “are subject to the need to maintain safety and order.” The union takes extremely seriously the University’s responsibility to maintain a safe environment for those who work and study here. But safety is not the same as “order”; safety does not require repression.

Universities should uphold the highest standards for freedom of speech and assembly.  As institutions devoted not just to the transmission of knowledge but to the production of new ideas, universities are inherently places of exploration, debate, dissent and, sometimes, protest. If CUNY is to be an intellectually vibrant university, it must recognize that “expressive activity” is a vital part of campus life, not a danger to be confined to narrow limits.

The PSC leadership believes it is important that every member of the faculty and staff have an opportunity to read the proposed policy, which we received informally this month—though not from CUNY. The draft, however, is dated June 27. The proposed policy potentially affects all of us, and our students. We urge you to discuss the draft policy in your union chapter meetings in preparation for further union action. The PSC leadership has begun to develop a comprehensive response to the proposed policy, using every possible means—including protest—to challenge it.  On October 24, the union sent CUNY a formal demand to bargain on the policy, as we believe it would have an impact on the terms and conditions of employment of the faculty and staff we represent. Union officers are also in discussion with the University Faculty Senate leadership and have asked First Amendment lawyers for their review. The PSC’s executive council and delegate assembly will fully examine the draft policy and consider resolutions in response at their next meetings.

CUNY was founded in 1847 as the result of disruption and dissent; several of its colleges have been saved from closing during fiscal crises because of protest and assembly. Chilling restrictions on “expressive activity” have no place here. I welcome your comments on the proposed policy and will update you as the union continues to act in response.


In solidarity,
Barbara Bowen
President, PSC/CUNY

SAT Scores for America’s Teaching Force Are on the Rise!

SAT Scores Teachers

Dear Commons Community,

Harvard University’s Education Next journal released a paper this morning that investigated the academic qualifications of new teachers.  Authored by the University of Washington’s Dan Goldhaber and Joe Walch,  it found that the average SAT scores have increased  over the last decade.

Goldhaber and Walch looked at teacher SAT scores in 1993,  2001  and 2008, and found that the average SAT scores of first-year teachers in 2008 was 8 percentile rank points higher than those of new teachers in 2001 and five points higher than those i 1993.  That increase makes first-year teachers in 2008 more likely to come from the top-scoring half of SAT takers.  The significance of an increase of 8 percentile points can be debated but surely can be considered a step in the right direction.

The paper commented:

“Over the past 20 years, there has been a strong policy push toward getting smarter people into the teacher workforce. Enacted in 2001, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), for instance, emphasized academic competence by requiring that prospective teachers either graduate with a major in the subject they are teaching, have credits equivalent to a major, or pass a qualifying test showing competence in the subject. Newly created alternative pathways to certification have sought to bring more academically accomplished individuals into the profession. More recently, the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) released new standards for teacher training programs: among them, each cohort of entrants should have a collective grade-point average (GPA) of 3.0 and college admission test scores above the national average by 2017 and in the top one-third by 2020.”

The paper also provides interesting findings on SAT scores for STEM and non-STEM majors:

“It is not surprising that the academic caliber of teachers varies a good deal by subject area, given that STEM majors tend to have higher SAT scores than non-STEM majors. For all three cohorts, STEM majors’ SAT score average is about 100 points higher in each year than that of non-STEM majors, and a far higher proportion come from the top 20 percent of the distribution. For both the 1993 and 2000 cohorts, teachers score lower on average than non-teachers among both STEM majors and non-STEM majors, in some cases by as much as 7 SAT percentile rank points. However, in the case of the 2008 cohort, scores for teachers were slightly higher for both STEM majors (by about 3 percentile rank points) and non-STEM majors (by about 2 percentile rank points) than for non-teachers. In other words, we find that high-scoring STEM majors are relatively more likely to become teachers in 2008 than they were in earlier cohorts.”

For those interesting in teacher education issues, the paper is well worth a read!



American Academy of Pediatrics Recommends Limiting Media for Children!

Dear Commons Community,

The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a policy brief  that recommends limiting children’s use of  media including television, cell phones, and computers.  The report cites a Kaiser Family foundation  study indicating that the average 8- to 10-year-old spends nearly 8 hours a day with a variety of different media, and older children and teenagers spend > 11 hours per day.  The brief recommends that parents should:

  • Limit the amount of total entertainment screen time to 1 to 2 hours per day.
  • Discourage screen media exposure for children < 2 years of age.
  • Keep the TV set and Internet-connected electronic devices out of the child’s bedroom.
  • Monitor what media their children are using and accessing, including  any Websites they are visiting and social media sites they may be using.
  • Coview TV, movies, and videos with children and teenagers, and use this as a way of discussing important family values.
  • Model active parenting by establishing a family home use plan for all media.  As part of the plan, enforce a mealtime and bedtime “curfew” for media devices, including cell phones. Establish reasonable but firm rules about cell phones, texting, Internet, and social media use

The Academy is making an important contribution to our dialogue of media use and children.  I am not sure that we don’t need something similar for adults.



Forget Teaching to the Test — at this Washington Heights Elementary School, Parents Canceled It!

Dear Commons Community,

A Washington Heights elementary school has canceled the new standardized multiple-choice tests for its youngest public school students — after more than 80% of parents opted to have their kids sit out the exam.

In an apparently unprecedented move, Castle Bridge School parents — representing 83 of the 97 students — rejected the new city requirement that affects 36 schools that serve only K through second grade. As reported in the New York Daily News:

“My feeling about testing kids as young as 4 is it’s inhumane,” said PTA co-chairwoman Dao Tran, mother of first-grader Quyen Lamphere, 5. “I can only see it causing stress.”

The state now requires schools to factor test scores — in one form or another — into their teacher evaluations, which are new this year in the city.

Students at the 36 “early education” schools are too young to take the regular state reading and math exams, so the littlest kids are sitting down for different tests.

As the Daily News reported earlier this month, such exams, given to kids as young as 4, require students to fill in bubbles to show their answers.

It’s like the SAT for kids barely older than toddlers. And parents resent it.

“Our principal does a good job,” said PTA co-chairwoman Elexis Pujolos, mother of kindergartner Daeja, 4, and first-grader AJ, 6. “A test could not possibly measure what she is able to.”

Congratulations to the parents at the Castle Bridge School for being so involved with their children’s education and taking a stand against the insanity of high-stakes, standardized testing.


Washington Monthly List of “Best Bang for the Buck” Lists Two CUNY Colleges as 2nd and 3rd!

Dear Commons Community,

The Washington Monthly List of “Best Bang for the Buck” colleges ranked Queens College and Baruch College as second and third.  While many of us in academia view these lists with suspicion even as an “insult to the intellectual, social and civic value of education” a New York Times article reports that the “best buy” rankings are the fastest-growing sector of the college rankings industry among high school students and their parents who are anxious about finances.  James Myskens, the president of Queens College,  said he was elated with the 2nd place ranking but “if it isn’t balanced by other perspectives, it’s dangerous.”

“…As he spoke during an interview, students in the next room were participating in a study group about the Middle East, learning how to engage with opponents without getting bogged down in accusation and retribution. Face-to-face interactions like that can be the most enriching part of college, Dr. Muyskens said, but they never make it into any algorithm of value.”



New York Times Endorses Bill de Blasio for Mayor!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has endorsed Bill de Blasio for mayor.  This is a major decision on the part of its editorial staff.   The Times endorsed Christine Quinn during the brutal Democratic Party primary and was much more aligned with her platform especially with regard to education.    In today’s endorsement, education is mentioned in passing and instead concentrates on public safety, poverty, affordable housing, and budget management. Here is an excerpt:

“During the Democratic primary scramble, the largest and most rancorous in decades, we gave our endorsement to Christine Quinn, citing her record as the City Council speaker. But it was Mr. de Blasio who proved far better at connecting with voters — and at being a persuasive advocate for his ideas. The ideas are good ones: Mr. de Blasio is right on public safety, and on the need to rein in the Police Department’s unconstitutional use of stop-and-frisk tactics and restore its frayed ties to the community. He is right about the crisis of affordable housing, and he has the most comprehensive plan to attack it. His goal of expanding access to preschool education is a noble priority for the city.

And he is giving a voice to the forgotten New Yorkers — the 46 percent living in or near poverty, the 50,000 living in homeless shelters, the millions living outside the zones of economic security and gentrified affluence. The city has had many successes in the Bloomberg years, but its rebirth is incomplete.

Public advocate is in many ways a negligible job, but Mr. de Blasio has used its bully pulpit well, to push for progress on affordable housing, health care and other issues, raising their profile (and, not accidentally, his own). His résumé — as regional housing official for President Bill Clinton, manager of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s first Senate campaign, eight-year member of the City Council — has been called scant preparation to run an enterprise of 300,000 employees and a $70 billion budget. But Mr. Bloomberg also had limited government experience; he learned on the job, filled his administration with highly capable professionals, and became an effective mayor.

We’re confident Mr. de Blasio can do the same, as he will have to, and quickly. There will be budget holes to fill and deals to strike with dozens of testy municipal unions.”

New Yorkers are confident too!



Obama in Brooklyn Praises P-Tech High School!

Dear Commons Community,

President Barack Obama visited New York City yesterday, more precisely P-Tech High School in Brooklyn.  The school, Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-Tech)  was touted by Obama in his 2013 State of the Union address.  P-Tech is  a collaboration between New York public schools, the City University of New York and IBM, where students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate’s degree.  President Obama’s visit was described  by the New York Times:

“Mr. Obama, dressed in shirt sleeves, was showered with cheers by the visibly energized students and a cadre of New York politicians as he took the podium at Pathways in Technology Early College High School. “Hello Brooklyn,” he said, before starting into his argument for creating more schools like the one he was visiting, casting them as essential in preparing the next generation for competition in a shrinking world marketplace.

“This country should be doing everything in our power to give more kids the chance to go to schools just like this one,” the president said, calling the school, known as P-Tech, a ticket into the middle class.

“In previous generations, America’s standing economically was so much higher than everybody else’s that we didn’t have a lot of competition,” he added. “Now, you’ve got billions of people from Beijing to Bangalore to Moscow, all of whom are competing with you directly. And they’re — those countries are working every day, to out-educate and outcompete us.”

Mr. Obama’s wish list included preschool availability for every 4-year-old in the United States, access for every student to a high-speed Internet connection, lower college costs, redesigned high schools that teach the skills needed in a high-tech economy and greater investment in teachers.”

Without a doubt, P-Tech is a good model for urban school districts, however, it is but one of many small schools opened during Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s tenure as mayor.  Bloomberg created 654 new schools — of which 173 were charter schools — and shuttered 164 schools for low academic performance. While many of the new schools have demonstrated improved student performance, many have also been the source of a good deal of community friction and distrust with the New York City Department of Education especially when new schools are co-located in the same buildings and take away space from traditional schools.


New York State Seeks to Scale Back Student Testing!

Dear Commons Community,

New York State Education Department Commissioner John King announced yesterday that he would be proposing modest reductions in the number of tests required of K-12 students.  As reported in the New York Times:

“Under the plan, students struggling in English would be given exams in their native languages. A math test would be eliminated for some eighth graders. Students with disabilities would take tests matched to their level of instruction, not their age.

The proposals are modest, but they represent a rare concession from state leaders, who have faced attacks from parents and teachers in recent weeks over the rollout of a tougher set of standards known as the Common Core.

John B. King Jr., the state education commissioner, said that there was “more testing than is needed” in some districts and that some schools were too focused on rote memorization in preparing for exams.

“The amount of testing should be the minimum necessary to inform effective decision-making,” Dr. King wrote in a letter to superintendents and principals on Thursday.

Critics of high-stakes testing, however, said on Friday that the plan amounted to tweaks around the edges that would do little to change the culture of schools.

“It’s duplicitous,” said Monty Neill, executive director of FairTest, a group based in Massachusetts that opposes the use of high-stakes tests. “The political intention is to try to get students and parents to accept the bad system.”

Dr. King is also looking to eliminate some tests administered by local school districts. As part of the plan, the state would offer grants to districts to study the usefulness of exams and to eliminate redundancies.

The state would also seek to do away with a class of exams known as field tests, which are administered for the purpose of weeding out bad questions from future tests.

Elected officials and parents have denounced field tests in recent years, calling them unnecessary exercises that benefit testing companies and exhaust students. In New York City, a small number of families have protested field tests by boycotting the state exams.

In place of stand-alone field tests, the state would embed more field test questions into math and reading exams. That would require the Education Department to seek more money so it could print more versions of each exam. That could cost $12 million a year.

The department will pursue the changes over the next few months. In January, it will ask the federal government to allow English-language learners to take language arts exams in their native language; currently, students who have been in the United States for at least a year must take those exams in English.

The state will also seek permission for some 57,000 eighth-graders studying algebra to take a Regents exam in lieu of a traditional math test. Those students are currently required to take both.”

This is a step in the right direction but much more needs to be  done to remove the yoke of high stakes testing in New York that burdens schools, teachers, and most importantly, students.