Community Colleges – CUNY’S ASAP Program Avoids Disruptions to Improve Graduation Rates!

Dear Commons Community,

Louise Lennihan, Provost at the CUNY Graduate Center, alerted me to this article on CUNY’s ASAP program that appeared in The Atlantic. Accelerate Study in Associate’s Program (ASAP) was developed by the City University of New York with funding from Michael Bloomberg’s Center for Economic Opportunity.  ASAP was designed to address the poor completion rates of urban community college students. The national three-year graduation rate is 16 percent; and barely more than a third of community-college enrollees emerge with a certificate or degree within six years.  ASAP provides a lot of support services for its students all geared to keep them in school, to progress academically, and to graduate.  The program spends roughly $3,900 annually per student, on top of the $9,800 that the City University of New York community-college system spends on each of its full-time students every year.

In terms of accomplishing its goals:

“ASAP’s architects set a goal that the program’s top administrator described  as “insane”—a three-year graduation rate of 50 percent—and according to the university’s own data, the program has exceeded it. The social-policy research organization MDRC, which began an independent study of the program in 2010, calls ASAP’s record “unparalleled.” Researchers randomly assigned the study participants to either ASAP or the regular community-college track, and while three-year results won’t be ready until this summer, preliminary outcomes, just released, show the ASAP students to be dramatically outstripping the control group on every count—persistence, credits earned, and graduation rates. A third of the students who enrolled in ASAP in the spring of 2010 finished in two and a half years (compared with 18 percent of the control group). Nationwide, that’s the proportion of all community-college students who emerge with a credential in six years.”

In terms of curriculum, the program isn’t necessarily cutting-edge and scaling up such a comprehensive effort would be a challenge, and full-time college, of course, is never going to be for everyone. The article concludes that at a moment when proponents of “disruptive” technology are promising a transformation of higher education, ASAP offers a different path, based on the premise that disruptions on the way to degrees are exactly what students at lower-tier schools need to avoid. If America is serious about being an opportunity society, students  deserve the advantages of the old, steady way of going to college.



Many School Districts Have Not Recovered from the Great Recession!

Education Shortfall Great Recession

Click on to enlarge.

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has a featured article today highlighting the fact that many school districts have not recovered from the Great Recession of 2008.  By examining the number of school employees and especially teachers, data show that across the country, public schools employ about 250,000 fewer people than before the recession, according to figures from the Labor Department. Enrollment in public schools, meanwhile, has increased by more than 800,000 students. To maintain prerecession staffing ratios, public school employment should have actually grown by about 132,000 jobs in the past four years.  The article goes on to provide cases of specific school districts where class size has increased to 30 or more students, where students are sitting in hallways, and where inclusive classrooms (mixed general and special education students that supposed to have two teachers) have but one teacher.

“In a social studies class at Scott Middle School (Pennsylvania), Keith Lilienfeld tries to keep control of a class of 25 students, 10 who need special education services, four who know little or no English and others who need more challenging work than he has time to give.

“I’m up there putting out fires like you wouldn’t believe,” said Mr. Lilienfeld, who used to have the help of two or three classroom aides. “There’s only one of me, and there’s a need for about five of me in there.”

This is travesty perpetrated in part because of the funding system for public education in this country but also because  policy makers at federal and state levels have fixated their education reform efforts almost entirely on test scores, global competition, and curriculum.



Texas Gubernatorial Race: Can Wendy Davis Turn Around Almost Twenty Years of the GOP!

Dear Commons Community,

Probably one of the most closely watched gubernatorial races this year will take place in Texas with Democrat Wendy Davis challenging almost twenty years of Republican control of the state house. A Nov. 4 University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll had Davis trailing Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) by six points. Democrats have not won more than 42 percent of the vote in the last three elections, and the party’s last governor from Texas was Ann Richards (1991-95). The Huffington Post is reporting that Davis is getting important support from within her own party.

“A little more than two months into her campaign for Texas governor, state Sen. Wendy Davis (D) is getting a helping hand from one of her party’s most prominent forces in the U.S. Senate.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) sent out a fundraising email in support of Davis Saturday morning, praising Davis as someone who is “not afraid of a tough fight.”

Wendy Davis’ political star has been rising since her 11-hour filibuster helped defeat a controversial anti-abortion bill aimed at severely cutting access to abortion services across Texas, even her Republican colleagues had to express their admiration.

Davis’ emotional testimony appeared to gradually galvanize supporters in the state and across the country, hour by hour. Her supporters filled the state Capitol’s gallery, standing shoulder-to-shoulder in hallways and lining up down the steps outside.

This is a race to watch in 2014.


Will We Return to Washington Dysfunction After the New Year?

Dear Commons Community,

There has been a slight thaw in the relationship between Democrats and Republicans in Washington, D.C. in the past several weeks as the House and the Senate have been able to draft and pass a budget bill.  On the minds of many is whether this is a signal for our senators and representatives to put the past behind them and move forward with solving the problems confronting our country.  According to an editorial in today’s New York Times, the answer is NO.

“The budget deal that Congress approved and sent to President Obama on Wednesday may bring some relief to agencies burdened by sequester cuts all year, but it does nothing to bring the two political parties closer together. Republicans immediately reverted to their obstructionist agenda, making it clear that the budget compromise with Democrats was a brief aberration.

Paul Ryan, the House budget chairman, defied the Tea Party by negotiating the deal with his Senate counterpart, Patty Murray, but he quickly announced plans to “get something” in exchange for raising the debt limit early next year. “We’re going to decide what it is we can accomplish out of this debt limit fight,” he said on Fox News. One of those demands, he suggested, could be the president’s approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, or unspecified “reforms” (meaning cuts) to social-welfare programs. The White House will once again refuse to pay the ransom, leading to yet another standoff.

While Mr. Ryan prepares his list of demands, Senate Republicans are still stomping around their chamber, infuriated that they can no longer block the president’s nominees with filibusters. Rather than accept the reality that a simple-majority vote will now be used to confirm nominees, Republicans have chosen to erect a continuing series of procedural roadblocks, delaying confirmations and votes, and even preventing committees from meeting.

Mr. Obama’s nominees will eventually get confirmed, but that doesn’t mean that this show of rage won’t cause real damage. Because this congressional session is nearly over, the delays will prevent the Senate from confirming all of the nominees before time runs out. Three were approved on Friday; a vote on Janet Yellen to be chairwoman of the Federal Reserve had to be put off until Jan. 6. Six other nominations will have to be resubmitted to the Senate next year, adding weeks or months to the process.

There is nothing urgent about any of them,” said Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. The Democrats “took away our right to influence the nominations, so it’s up to them if they want to stay here until Sunday night.” Filling these jobs — deputy secretary of veterans affairs, deputy interior secretary, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness — is far less important to Republicans like Mr. Alexander than preserving their right to prevent nominees from getting a vote. Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, accused Democrats of expecting a “rubber stamp” from Republicans on nominations.

A rubber stamp? No one is stopping Republicans from voting against any nominee. They simply won’t be able to block appointments with only two-fifths of the Senate, which they have been able to do more often in the last five years than at any point in congressional history. Now, having lost that wrecking ball, they are trying to bring about dysfunction in other ways.

The public made clear how it felt about destructive tactics when Republicans shut down the government in the fall, but the lesson never seems to get through. Both Mr. Ryan and Mr. McConnell still embrace the politics of confrontation, the only form of governing that their party seems to understand.”

Peace on Earth and Good Will to…!


More Immigrants in New York City than Any Other City in the World!

Immigrants Table III

Click table to enlarge.

Dear Commons Community,

New York City has the largest immigrant population of any city in the world.  There are more foreign-born New Yorkers than there are people living in Chicago, or roughly the same as the populations of Philadelphia and Phoenix combined.   As reported in The Huffington Post:

“In just 30 years, what was a city with a population of primarily European origins has now become a place with no dominant race/ethnic or nationality group,” reads the Department of City Planning report, The Newest New Yorkers, which uses data from an American Community Survey conducted between 2007 and 2011. “Indeed, New York’s unmatched diversity epitomizes the world city.”

The city’s largest foreign-born group hails from the Dominican Republic… The foreign-born Chinese population in New York City has grown 34 percent in the last 11 years. The Chinese population in New York City is the largest outside of China itself, according to WNYC.”

The report is over 300 pages long and contains a trove of tables and charts on New York City demographics.

Well worth a look.


Immigrant Table II

Click table to enlarge.

President Obama Advised to Let Market Forces Determine the Future of MOOCs and Online Education!

Dear Commons Community,

While massive open online courses could help increase access to higher education while driving down its costs, President Obama should not intervene in order to push the MOOC movement in that direction.  That’s the advice the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology has offered the president in a letter, that focuses on education technology—and MOOCs in particular.  As reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“Although the new technologies introduced by MOOCs are still in their infancy, and many questions and challenges remain, we believe that they hold the possibility of transforming education at all levels by providing better metrics for educational outcomes, and better alignment of incentives for innovation in pedagogy,” the letter’s authors write.

The letter acknowledges the concerns that have been raised about MOOCs and online courses generally, and notes that it is still unclear whether online courses can actually reduce the cost of higher education. But over all the letter strikes an optimistic note…The council’s advice to the president is to hang back for the time being and “let market forces decide which innovations in online teaching and learning are best,” rather than leaping to subsidize a favorite.”

I agree fully with the Council’s letter.  I also appreciate that it recognizes that MOOCs are not synonymous with online learning and that there was a vibrant online learning movement years before the arrival of the MOOCs.


Recent WICHE/WCET Study – Faculty Developing their Own Course Materials!

Dear Commons Community,

The Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education (WICHE) and the Western Cooperative for Education Technologies (WCET) published the results of a study (below is the Executive Summary) entitled, “Managing Online Education Survey”.    Among the more important findings:

  • Institutions that offer both on-campus and online courses and were able to report completion rates said that about 5 percent fewer students completed online courses than traditional courses.
  • More than 85 percent of responding institutions have adopted standards of some kind for their online courses. In more than half the cases, the standards are those of a regional accrediting agency.
  • More than 83 percent of respondents said “the vast majority” of online-course content had been developed by faculty members at the institutions offering the courses, despite “the emergence of licensed content by publishers and ‘open content’”—content that’s free for anyone to use. The survey also found that about 60 percent of institutions “use open content, but in only a few courses.”

Among 225 responses, 65 percent “were not able to provide an on-campus rate and 55 percent did not report an online rate” for course completion, according to a summary of findings. “If institutions wish to improve course completion, they will need to collect these statistics,” the authors of a report on the survey results wrote. “It’s hard to improve what is not measured.”

One of the most telling findings for me is the  reporting that 83 percent of respondents said that “the vast majority of online course content had been developed by faculty members”.  This indicates that just as faculty have traditionally developed their own content and materials for their on-campus courses, increasingly they are also doing so for their online courses.  With the availability of free open content providers such as Khan Academy and MERLOT, this finding does not bode well for companies  (i.e., MOOCs) that charge substantial fees for their materials.



WCET Managing Online Education 2013

Executive Summary

The Managing Online Education survey was conducted by WCET (the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies) in partnership with BCcampus, Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium, and eCampusAlberta in the Spring of 2013. The focus of this survey is on practices that promote quality in online education, especially in terms of an institution demonstrating leadership or providing services that enhance faculty and student success. Key findings include:

  • Institutions are Adopting Standards. More than 85 percent of responding institutions have implemented some form of “standards” or “best practices” in their online courses. The distance education standards from the U.S. regional accrediting agencies have been adopted (either partially or fully) by 58 percent of the respondents, followed by state or provincial standards at 49 percent, and Quality Matters at 42 percent.
  • Course Completion Rates Averaged 3-5 Percent Better for On Campus Over Online Courses.When looking at all responses, the difference in course completion rates was  three percent in favor of on-campus courses (81% completion for on-campus and 78% for online). When looking only at institutions that provided both on-campus and online completion rates, the difference was 5 percent.With the rise of MOOCs, the issue of  course completion has risen in visibility.  Coursera, a MOOC provider, reported that only 1 in 20 students “who signed up for a Coursera MOOC earned a credential signifying official completion of the course.”  Some have confused MOOC completion rates with those of “traditional” online courses. These results show that online course completion rates track more closely with those in of on-campus courses than is found in MOOCs.
  • Institutions Don’t Know Their Course Completion Rates. Institutions had trouble providing course completion rates for both online and on-campus courses. Sixty-five percent were not able to provide an on-campus rate and 55 percent did not report an online rate.  If institutions wish to improve course completion, they will need to collect these statistics. It’s hard to improve what is not measured.
  • Online Course Content is Developed by Faculty. Even with the emergence of licensed content by publishers and “open content,” 83 percent of respondents said that more the vast majority of their courses use content developed by their own faculty. About 60 percent of institutions use open content, but in only a few courses.
  • Many Institutions Require Faculty Development in Teaching Online and Require  Reviews of New Courses. More than half of institutions (58%) require new online faculty to participate in faculty development prior to teaching their first online courses. About half of new (53 percent) and existing (48 percent) online courses are subject to a required review.
  • Institutions are Providing Academic Support Services at a Distance.The vast majority of institutions offer library services and advising to online students. Fewer, but still a majority, offer tutoring services.
  • 24/7 Technical Services are Not the Norm. Only about one-third (30 percent) of institutions offer 24/7 technical support for students. Given that students work all hours on online courses, the lack of support could hamper their success in the course.
  • More Assistance for Those with Disabilities Needed. In meeting the needs of those online students with disabilities, it is alarming that sixteen percent have no policy on this subject and another thirty-six percent rely on the faculty to provide support. Therefore, at least half of the responding institutions have no systematic way to assure that students with disabilities are well-served.
  • Institutions are Working on Curbing Online Academic Cheating. More than three quarters of institutions have a policy on “academic integrity” (preventing cheating on assessments) for online learners. About 40 percent use technologies to authenticate the identity of online learners.
  • Student Orientations to Online Learning are Rarely Required. Only about one quarter (22 percent) of respondents require their online students to take an orientation prior to their first online course, even though research suggests that experience aids in online course success.

Institutions with online courses are taking many steps to improve both the instructional and out-of-class experience both for faculty and students. Much effort is spent on adopting and implementing practices that are based on “best practices” developed by local, regional, or national groups. As is the case with all of higher education, there is room for improvement. Perhaps the needed improvement is not as much as some critics might claim




50 Educators Sign Letter to Catholic University Protesting Koch Foundation’s $1 Million Gift!

Dear Commons Community,

Fifty leading Roman Catholics in higher education have signed a letter protesting a $1-million donation that will enable the Catholic University of America’s School of Business and Economics to hire four visiting scholars to do research on “principled entrepreneurship,” The Washington Post reported.

“The letter says the gift sends “a confusing message” because the donor—the Koch Foundation, which is affiliated with the brothers Charles and David Koch—is known for its support of conservative and libertarian causes, and so offers a “stark contrast” with the church’s “traditional social-justice teachings.” The letter cites a recent message from Pope Francis in which he criticizes ideologies that “defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace.”

In response the university issued a statement on Monday declaring the letter’s signers as “presumptuous on two counts”—first by asserting a role as “arbiters of political correctness” and second by redefining Catholic teachings “to suit their own political preferences.”

Among the signers of the protest letter are Susan Ross, chairwoman of the theology department at Loyola University Chicago and a past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America; Miguel Diaz, former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican and a professor of faith and culture at the University of Dayton; and the Rev. Stephen Privett, president of the University of San Francisco.”

I side with the letter signers.   It is disheartening that a venerable higher education institution such as Catholic University feels the necessity  to accept gifts from the likes of the Koch Brothers.   Administrators at Catholic University would also do well to revisit a similar situation/gift to Florida State University in 2011  that caused an uproar when the Koch Brothers insisted on having a substantial voice in the faculty hiring process.


140 NYC School Principals Sign Letter Calling for Mayor-elect de Blasio to Scrap School Reform Program of Mayor Bloomberg!

Dear Commons Community,

It was just a matter of time before educators (teachers, principals) would start calling on Mayor-elect de Blasio to dismiss many of the policies of Michael Bloomberg.  As reported in The Daily News:

“More than 100 New York City principals are in full-fledged revolt against key Bloomberg administration reforms of the last 12 years.

In an open letter to Mayor-elect de Blasio, the principals call for “completely” overhauling the new teacher and principal evaluations, among other changes.

They want to see the school system transformed “after years of detrimental educational policies and practices,” the letter signed by 140 principals said.

“We are hoping for considerable change,” said Julie Zuckerman, a co-author of the letter and principal of Castle Bridge School in Manhattan, where city tests that form a key part of the evaluations were canceled after more than 80% of parents opted out.

The principals also want to reduce the use of test scores to the minimum required by federal law, including the elimination of the high-stakes letter grades for schools — a move de Blasio has supported during the campaign.”

The number of principals signing this letter is impressive but to be fair, not all of Michael Bloomberg’s education policies were detrimental to the New York City public schools or to its children.  Bloomberg’s biggest failure was hiring Joel Klein as the schools chancellor who never established a working relationship with any of the main public school constituents (teachers, principals, or parents).  Klein’s arrogance and dismissiveness of the opinions of experienced educators created a horrific environment that lasted well after he left the school system.  Rumor has it that de Blasio will name a new schools chancellor this week.



Sherry Turkle: Selfies and Possessing the Moment!

Dear Commons Community,

Sherry Turkle, professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less From Each Other, has an op-ed piece in today’s New York Times observing our fascination with preserving “the moment”.  Coming after President Obama’s selfie with UK Prime Minister David Cameron and  Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service, Turkle traces how our social/emotional connection to our mobile connections have evolved from not just one of sharing but also of trying to possess the moment.  She writes:

“Technology doesn’t just do things for us. It does thing to us, changing not just what we do but who we are. The selfie makes us accustomed to putting ourselves and those around us “on pause” in order to document our lives. It is an extension of how we have learned to put our conversations “on pause” when we send or receive a text, an image, an email, a call. When you get accustomed to a life of stops and starts, you get less accustomed to reflecting on where you are and what you are thinking.”

On President Obama’s selfie:

“We have every reason to believe that President Obama revered Nelson Mandela and thought deeply about his relationship with what Mandela stood for. But when he took a selfie at Mandela’s memorial service last Tuesday, he showed us how he, too, lives in our culture of documentation. It is easy to understand how he, like most of us, did not allow himself an uninterrupted time of reverie.”