Media Matters Wins War on Fox News!

Dear Commons Community,

Since its founding in 2004, the progressive watchdog group Media Matters for America has been a thorn in the side of Fox News. Its dozens of staffers monitor the network’s leadership, hosts, guests and financial dealings incessantly, calling out misinformation, conflicts of interest and evidence of a partisan agenda, in a bid to shed light on the workings of the right-wing echo chamber.  As reported in The Huffington Post:

“… Fox will no longer be the center of Media Matters’ universe. That’s because the group believes it has effectively discredited the network’s desire to be seen as “fair and balanced.”

“The war on Fox is over,” said Media Matters Executive Vice President Angelo Carusone. “And it’s not just that it’s over, but it was very successful. To a large extent, we won.”

According to its strategic plan for the next three years, a copy of which was provided to The Huffington Post, Media Matters envisions shifting its focus to new, increasingly influential targets, including Spanish-language media, social media streams, alternative online outlets and morning and entertainment sources. It will enhance its state media and issue-based monitoring, as well as continue its focus on right-wing radio and legacy outlets.

“We’ve always said, ‘Media Matters watches Fox, so you don’t have to,'” said Bradley Beychok, the group’s president. “That remains true. Fox News isn’t going to stop lying, so we’ll stay on that beat. But, our success regarding Fox News means that our talented team will carry out our mission in different ways consistent with a new strategic vision responsive to the transforming media environment.”

Media Matters has done a great service to the American people in exposing Fox News for what it is, essentially a mouthpiece for right-wing organizations.  To be clear:  Fox News has a right to its positions but its style is deplorable and laced with vitriol that destroys the political atmosphere.  Unfortunately it is the vitriol that sells its programming  to many of its viewers.




Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Complicated Legacy!

Dear Commons Community,

For the past several weeks, the spotlight on the New York City mayoralty has focused mostly on Bill de Blasio as the mayor-elect.  Current Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been largely silent now that de Blasio is making headlines as he starts making appointments of senior staff and department heads. Today’s Huffington Post, however, focuses on Bloomberg’s legacy as mayor.  In a word, it is complicated.  On the one hand:

“Bloomberg is now poised to leave office having dramatically reshaped the city, from its government to its skyline. He steered it through a series of crises, both natural and man-made, and his innovative public health policies appear to have added years to residents’ lives. The city has never been safer or cleaner, a teeming metropolis transformed into a must-see attraction for more than 50 million tourists a year.”

On the other hand:

“Bloomberg’s approach to governing as the billionaire businessman he is, employing hard data and the free market to drive much of the city’s renaissance, sometimes left him without an ability to connect with those who felt left behind. Income inequality grew during his years. The number of homeless has soared. And some ethnic and religious minorities complain that a steep drop in crime has come at the expense of their civil liberties.”

The article goes on to discuss gun control, smoking bans, new stadiums for the Yankees and Mets, stop and frisk, term limits, and income inequality.

The 71-year-old Bloomberg has said he will never again seek public office. He has vowed to not criticize de Blasio but made it clear he thinks the incoming mayor is inheriting a strong city. The article concluded:

“We still face great challenges and we always will,” Bloomberg said in a speech last week. “But I think it’s fair to say that we have never been better positioned to meet those challenges.”

My opinion is that he had twelve good years as mayor and deserves credit for making the city more attractive to tourists as well as to people who live and work here every day.  On a number of social issues especially his lack of response to income inequality, stop and frisk, his relations with city workers, and a mediocre record at best on public education will be better addressed by the incoming mayor.



With Budget Surplus: California Democrats Call for More Spending on Higher Education and a Transitional Kindergarten Program!

Dear Commons Community,

California’s Assembly Speaker John Pérez on Wednesday released a “blueprint” for the coming year that includes establishing a rainy-day reserve, paying down borrowing debts, bolstering higher education, and making a down payment on a transitional kindergarten program for all California 4-year-olds.  The blueprint’s release comes on the heels of a positive report from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office last month that forecast, absent any new actions by the Legislature, that the state would end the 2014-15 fiscal year with a surplus of $5.6 billion. As reported in The Huffington Post:

“The blueprint, Pérez said, lays out two primary objectives of the Assembly’s Democratic majority: ensuring long-term stability of state finances and spending on targeted programs designed to bolster the economy and increase opportunity.

College and university administrators praised the plan’s proposal to not only fund a promised 5 percent increase in state funding for higher education next year but to also provide additional funds to expand enrollment.

“After years of disinvestment in higher education caused by a severe economic downturn, the Chancellor’s Office welcomes the recognition by Speaker Pérez that California community colleges play a central role in the economic vibrancy of our state,” said Vice Chancellor Dan Troy.

University of California Vice President Patrick Lenz said additional state funding above the 5 percent increase “will address enrollment growth — potentially adding an additional 2,200 freshmen and community college transfers.”

California was one of the nation’s leaders in providing a high-quality, low-cost public higher education system but one that suffered in recent years due to the Great Recession of 2008. It is good to see that California has turned around its fiscal fortunes and is hoping to reinvest in its educational institutions.  Speaker Pérez’s proposal is a good starting point in what will likely be a long budget process.



New York State Senate Education Committee Report Calls for Less Testing, Less Data Collection, More Professional Development, and Better Implementation of Curriculum!

Dear Commons Community,

Senator John Flanagan (2nd Senate District), Chairman of the New York State Senate Standing Committee on Education, issued a report of findings and recommendations related to the Education Committee’s recent series of statewide public hearings entitled: The Regents Reform Agenda: “Assessing” Our Progress.

The five hearings – held in Long Island, Syracuse, Buffalo, New York City and Albany – gathered extensive testimony from a broad cross-section of educational stakeholders around the State on concerns related to the implementation of the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS) by the State Education Department (SED).

The Executive Summary lists the following recommendations:

Action for the NYS Department of Education

• Expediting waivers from the Federal government (US Department of Education) to relax onerous and rigid testing restrictions placed on certain students, such as Students With Disabilities and English Language Learners (ELL);

• Producing all missing or incomplete curriculum modules immediately;

• Aligning assessments proportionally to curriculum actually implemented;

• Delaying operation of the Education Data Portal (EDP) for one year; and

• Increasing funding for the professional development of teachers.


Action for the NYS Legislature

• “P-2 Bill” – which would ban standardized testing on students in Pre-K through 2nd grade;

• “Unnecessary Testing” Bill – which would require the Commissioner of Education to expedite a review of APPR plans solely to eliminate unnecessary student assessments;

• Privacy Bill – which would strengthen protections of personal information stored on the state-wide data portal, establish significant civil and criminal penalties for unauthorized disclosure of personal information and create independent oversight within SED on matters related to privacy; and

• Truth-In-Testing Bill – would require the Commissioner of Education to report on the effectiveness of common core tests and require an independent audit to review and evaluate the common core testing program.

Senator Flanagan and his committee have done New York State, its residents, and especially its children, a great service.


American Education-Industrial Complex: Pearson Foundation To Pay Penalty for Using its Resources to Promote Products!

Dear Commons Community,

The American education-industrial complex is alive and well at the Pearson Foundation. As reported in the New York Times:

“The Pearson Foundation, the charitable arm of one of the nation’s largest educational publishers, will pay $7.7 million to settle accusations that it repeatedly broke New York State law by assisting in for-profit ventures.

An inquiry by Eric T. Schneiderman, the New York State attorney general, found that the foundation had helped develop products for its corporate parent, including course materials and software. The investigation also showed that the foundation had helped woo clients to Pearson’s business side by paying their way to education conferences that were attended by its employees.

Under the terms of the agreement to be announced on Friday, the money, aside from $200,000 in legal expenses, will be directed to 100Kin10, a national effort led by a foundation, the Carnegie Corporation, to train more teachers in high-demand areas, including science, technology, engineering and math.

“The fact is that Pearson is a for-profit corporation, and they are prohibited by law from using charitable funds to promote and develop for-profit products,” Mr. Schneiderman said in a statement. “I’m pleased that this settlement will direct millions of dollars back to where they belong.”

Officials at Pearson and the foundation defended their work.

“We have always acted with the best intentions and complied with the law,” they said, in a joint statement. “However, we recognize there were times when the governance of the foundation and its relationship with Pearson could have been clearer and more transparent.”

The case shed a light on the competitive world of educational testing and technology, which Pearson has come to dominate. As federal and state leaders work to overhaul struggling schools by raising academic standards, educational companies are rushing to secure lucrative contracts in testing, textbooks and software.

The inquiry by the attorney general focused on Pearson’s attempts to develop a suite of products around the Common Core, a new and more rigorous set of academic standards that has been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia.

Around 2010, Pearson began financing an effort through its foundation to develop courses based on the Common Core. The attorney general’s report said Pearson had hoped to use its charity to win endorsements and donations from a “prominent foundation.” That group appears to be the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.”

Pearson and Gates represent much of what is wrong with the current school reform efforts.  Their interests are primarily in developing products and the promotion of corporate involvement and profit-making in the nation’s public schools.

For shame!


11 Education Policies from Highly-Ranked Countries!

Dear Commons Community,

The Huffington Post in an article on improving public education compiled eleven policies from countries that consistently rank high on international tests such as the PISA.  Below is a reprint of those eleven policies. It could be time for the United States to look at some of the specific protocols and methods that these top-performing countries are using to educate their children.


1. Effectively teaching students how to conceptualize

According to CNN’s OECD special advisor on education policy, Andreas Schleicher, only two percent of American students can generalize and use advanced math in creative ways. The highest math performance on the PISA requires not only that students know how to do math, but also that they know when to apply certain mathematical principles. In Shanghai the percentage of students who can conceptualize math skills is over 30 percent. Educators in the Chinese province of Shanghai seem to understand that it’s not exactly about what a person knows, but what that person can do with their knowledge.

2. Making schooldays shorter

Students in Finland, which tops the Pearson assessment of education quality, are only taught for 600 hours a year. Compared to the usual 1,080 hours of teaching in other countries, Finland uses the extra hours to give teachers enough time to carefully prepare their lesson plans.

3. Diverting more government spending toward education

Singapore, which scored second highest in math on the international exam, makes sure that 20 percent of its national budget is spent on education. That’s compared to the two percent that the United States devotes from its national budget to schooling, which is dwarfed by defense spending. The higher amount of money that Singapore devotes allows teachers to be paid better salaries than lawyers and even engineers. Talk about placing extreme value on education.

4. Keeping students with one teacher and class every year

In Finland, a consistent top-performing country on the PISA, students often stay together in one class for several years with the same teacher, unlike how most U.S. elementary schools are run. They believe this allows the teacher to follow development over several grade levels, and it provides a “family-like environment” for the students to learn in. The U.S. implements a different education philosophy and decides to train teachers to instruct specific grade levels under the belief that instructors in separate grade levels require different skill sets and training.

5. Paying teachers more

Singapore, Finland and South Korea all pay teachers much more than the general average American starting salary of $39,000. This allows for more rigorous training and requirements in order to become a successful teacher. Higher pay allows for more selectivity, ensuring that teachers are serious about the profession. These countries also offer competitive compensation in order to keep and attract people who are highly skilled and passionate about teaching the country’s youth.

6. Directing better schools to help out failing schools

The educators in Shanghai know the value of teamwork: One of their educational initiatives asks better-performing schools to pair up with lower-performing schools to help improve quality. It’s called “empowered administration,” in which a stronger school takes over a weaker one and sends a team of experienced administrators to create better management.

7. Instilling a strong sense of belief and determination in students

In a survey, 84 percent of Japanese students said they not only believe they have the ability to succeed, but that they are willing and able to do whatever it takes to achieve success. Only half of American students said they feel that way. The reason for Japan’s different mentality could be due to the fact that students in Asian countries tend to believe achievement is a product of hard work, whereas Americans are taught to believe that intelligence is inherited.

8. Capping class sizes

The fewer students in a classroom, the more individual and specialized attention they receive. That’s why the government of Nova Scotia in Canada made the decision that, starting in September 2014, most elementary school class sizes will be capped at 25 students. This is a stark comparison to many American public elementary schools that do not have class size limits. In 2010, budget cuts forced the school board in Georgia to expand class sizes to 40 kids in a classroom.

9. Making sure parents take a more constructive role in children’s education

Studies have found that parents in China care more about their children’s education than American parents. More importantly, Chinese parents place more emphasis on their child’s effort, whereas American parents focus more of their child’s ability. When their child fails, Chinese parents focus on improving their effort, while American parents are quick to blame the child’s intelligence, or the teacher or school.

10. Giving the kids a break

With only two major breaks each year (winter and summer), American students are bound to get worn out. School years in New Zealand are divided into four terms that have two-week breaks in between. They also have a six-week summer break. By divvying up the breaks instead of having two large ones, New Zealand allows students to retain more information, because they have balanced opportunities to relax and regroup their thoughts.

11. Stressing engagement and positive relationships between students and staff

According to a study by Northwest Regional Educational Library, students will attend school more if they feel that they are fully engaged and have positive relationships with teachers and fellow classmates. Perhaps Americans should study Japan’s educational model, which calls for educational institutions to take a more active role in their students’ lives: Their attendance rate is extremely high, at 99.98 percent. The average attendance rate in the U.S. is at 92%.

New York Times: MOOCs Being Rethought!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has an article discussing MOOCs, their recent failures, and speculating about their future.  This topic has been well-covered in other media such as The Chronicle of Higher Education. The Times article references several studies that found serious shortcomings with MOOC implementations and particularly the experiment at San Jose State University.

“And perhaps the most publicized MOOC experiment, at San Jose State University, has turned into a flop. It was a partnership announced with great fanfare at a January news conference featuring Gov. Jerry Brown of California, a strong backer of online education. San Jose State and Udacity, a Silicon Valley company co-founded by a Stanford artificial-intelligence professor, Sebastian Thrun, would work together to offer three low-cost online introductory courses for college credit.

Mr. Thrun, who had been unhappy with the low completion rates in free MOOCs, hoped to increase them by hiring online mentors to help students stick with the classes. And the university, in the heart of Silicon Valley, hoped to show its leadership in online learning, and to reach more students.

But the pilot classes, of about 100 people each, failed. Despite access to the Udacity mentors, the online students last spring — including many from a charter high school in Oakland — did worse than those who took the classes on campus. In the algebra class, fewer than a quarter of the students — and only 12 percent of the high school students — earned a passing grade.”

The article is right that it is too early to count the MOOCs out.  They will evolve and develop into new models probably as content providers for blended learning environments.  This was the focus of a talk I gave at the CUNY IT conference on Friday entitled, Blending Learning Meets MOOCs:  Education’s Digital Future.


Graduate School Deans Discuss Employment after the Ph.D.!

Dear Commons Community,

More than 600 graduate-school deans and administrators gathered in San Diego last week for the annual meeting of the Council of Graduate Schools.  The major issues discussed centered around growing concerns about an academic job market that offers less hope of tenure-track positions, issues of diversity, and student debt.   According to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the major issue was post-graduation employment:

“A session about tracking down the employment of former Ph.D. students drew a standing-room-only crowd. Speakers at another session laid out how they had garnered resources to help prepare graduate students for future careers. And a Stanford University professor urged attendees to reconsider what professional success looks like in the academy.

Against that backdrop, the council announced that it would conduct a one-year study to determine the feasibility of a large-scale, systematic approach to tracking the career pathways of graduates in the humanities, social sciences, and STEM disciplines—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The council, with grant money from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, plans to survey its 500 member institutions to find out how they track alumni, and will produce a white paper that explores the demand for longitudinal placement data. It will also hold a two-day workshop for graduate deans, Ph.D. students, and researchers.

“For several years we’ve been hearing from deans that they want more information about outcomes,” said Debra W. Stewart, president of the Council of Graduate Schools. “We know without question that in the aggregate the graduate degree pays off. But people don’t go to graduate school in the aggregate. What we don’t know is what people actually do over time with their degrees.”

That kind of data on a program level would give graduate schools the information they need to understand the full range of job opportunities for Ph.D. holders and to improve programs to make students more employable, Ms. Stewart said. Students could also make more-informed decisions about whether attending graduate school is the right move.

The feasibility study will conclude in December 2014 with a report from the council that recommends next steps.”

For those of us teaching in doctoral programs, employment of our graduates is indeed emerging as a major issue.   Here at the CUNY Graduate Center, the long-range plan called for a reduction in admissions in all doctoral programs by about 14% by 2015, in anticipation of a more limited job market.


Wall Street Journal Op-Ed: Warren, de Blasio, and National Politics!

Dear Commons Community,

An op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal by Jon Cowan and  Jim  Kessler, both affiliated with Third Way,  questions whether populist, left of center Democrats can win national elections.  It specifically posits that Democrats should avoid putting candidates such as Bill de Blasio, the Democratic mayor-elect of New York City, or Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic senator from Massachusetts, on national tickets:

The Democratic Party should embrace the economic populism of New York Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Such economic populism, they argue, should be the guiding star for Democrats heading into 2016. Nothing would be more disastrous for Democrats.

While New Yorkers think of their city as the center of the universe, the last time its mayor won a race for governor or senator—let alone president—was 1869. For the past 144 years, what has happened in the Big Apple stayed in the Big Apple. Some liberals believe Sen. Warren would be the Democratic Party’s strongest presidential candidate in 2016. But what works in midnight-blue Massachusetts—a state that has had a Republican senator for a total of 152 weeks since 1979—hasn’t sold on a national level since 1960.

The political problems of liberal populism are bad enough. Worse are the actual policies proposed by left-wing populists. The movement relies on a potent “we can have it all” fantasy that goes something like this: If we force the wealthy to pay higher taxes (there are 300,000 tax filers who earn more than $1 million), close a few corporate tax loopholes, and break up some big banks then—presto!—we can pay for, and even expand, existing entitlements. Meanwhile, we can invest more deeply in K-12 education, infrastructure, health research, clean energy and more.”

Third Way describes itself at its website as: 

“Third Way represents Americans in the “vital center” — those who believe in pragmatic solutions and principled compromise, but who too often are ignored in Washington.

Our mission is to advance moderate policy and political ideas. Our agenda includes: a series of grand economic bargains, a new approach to the climate crisis, progress on social issues like immigration reform, marriage for gay couples, tighter gun safety laws, and a credible alternative to neoconservative security policy.”  Members of its honorary co-chairpersons are mostly past or present Democrats elected to national office such Gabrielle Giffords and Kathleen Sibelius.”

Cowen and Kessler raise an important issue on the practicality of winning an election.  However, I am glad that we have officials such as de Blasio and Warren, who present populist agendas that counteract the extreme elements of the Republican Party.  Both would be long-shots in 2016 or beyond for national office but they should not be reined in now.  Their positions need to be heard in 2013.


New York City Schools Chancellor Selection Heating Up: Farina, Cashin, Darling-Hammond!

Dear Commons Community,

Now that Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has appointed Bill Bratton as police chief, his next high-profile appointment will be the New York City schools chancellor.  The media are reporting a number of potential candidates.  Among them are:

  • Carmen Farina, a former deputy New York city schools chancellor;
  • Kaya Henderson, Washington, D.C., schools chancellor;
  • Barbara Byrd-Bennett, Chicago schools CEO;
  • Joshua Starr, Montgomery County (Maryland) Superintendent;
  • Kathy Cashin, New York State Regent and former community school board superintendent;
  • Linda Darling-Hammond, Professor of Education at Stanford University (formerly at Teachers College).

All of the above have had experience working in New York City.  My sense is that someone like Carmen Farina, Joshua Starr, or Kathy Cashin, may be the best fit for Mayor-elect de Blasio.

We shall see!