NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña Adds Veteran Educators to Her Senior Staff!

Dear Commons Community,

In a press release yesterday, New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina added several experienced and accomplished educators to senior level positions.  As per the press release:

“Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña today announced new members of her leadership team at Department of Education (DOE) headquarters. Dorita Gibson, previously the Deputy Chancellor for Equity and Access, will assume the role of Senior Deputy Chancellor and the Chancellor’s second in command. With more than 30 years experience in the public school system, Dr. Gibson has served as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, regional and supervising superintendent, and Deputy Chancellor. In this new and expanded role, she will oversee all aspects of school support, Cluster and Network management, superintendents, support for struggling schools, District 79 programs, and school communications.

As head of Equity and Access under Chancellor Walcott, Deputy Chancellor Gibson oversaw District 79, a citywide network of over 300 alternative schools and programs serving over-age, under-credited youth; the Office of Adult and Continuing Education; and the Department’s Young Men’s Initiative work. She created the DREAM-SHSI program, which helps low-income middle school students develop skills for the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test, as well as the Summer Quest program, which provides students with summer learning opportunities aimed at closing the achievement gap. As she moves into the Department’s number two role, Dr. Gibson will bring her considerable expertise in expanding opportunities for underserved school communities.

Chancellor Fariña also appointed Phil Weinberg, previously the principal at the High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology in Brooklyn, as Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning. With more than a dozen years as a principal and nearly three decades of experience in New York City public schools, Mr. Weinberg will oversee all professional development and curriculum, performance and accountability, Common Core and college-readiness initiatives, Career and Technical Education, and instructional support. The high school Mr. Weinberg has led since 2001 has achieved a more than 35 percent increase in graduation rates since 2005. The recipient of a 2012 Sloan Award for Public Service, Mr. Weinberg previously served on the DOE’s Division of Academics, Performance, and Support Advisory Group.

In one of his first acts as Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning, Mr. Weinberg named Anna Commitante as his Executive Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development. A 27-year veteran educator, Ms. Commitante was previously a Deputy Cluster Leader of Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development. In her new role, she will provide leadership in curriculum development, assist schools as they transition to the Common Core Learning Standards, and direct a comprehensive professional development training program using research-based instructional methods.

“This is a new era for our schools, and these appointments send a clear message: our focus is on improving each and every classroom across the five boroughs. Having three educators with such extraordinary expertise about our City’s schools will help us channel all of our energy into quality instruction,” said Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. “Principals, teachers, and staff should know they will have leaders who will not only listen, but take action to support them. This is the first step in the process of making our school system more in touch, more responsive, and more mindful of those we work with and serve.”

“With more than three decades working on behalf of City students, I’m honored to take on this role as Chancellor Fariña’s second in command. My plan is to support schools no matter what their challenges may be – instructionally, operationally, or otherwise,” said Senior Deputy Chancellor Dorita Gibson. “As I work to support all of our schools, I will lead by listening. We’re taking a new tone – and we plan to back it up with action.”

“I started my career as a teacher over 28 years ago, and I’m so proud to be named to this instrumental new role today. I first became a teacher because I believed it was the most authentic way I could contribute to our community. In this new role as Deputy Chancellor, I have the ability to work with, support, and empower those on the ground doing the hard work of educating our students each day,” said Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning Phil Weinberg. “The most important thing to a student’s success is the quality of a teacher, and all of my focus will be on developing and streamlining ways to enhance instruction.”

“This is a time of renewal for our schools, and I’m thrilled to be in in this role to help our schools during this transition to Common Core,” said Anna Commitante, Executive Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development. “I’ve dedicated my career to the development of principals, teachers, and schools, and I look forward to continuing to do that. With our renewed focus on professional development, we will prepare our teachers like never before for the important work that lies ahead.”

These are excellent appointments that portend good things for the education of the children of the City of New York.



Higher Education Policy Seminar Series!

Dear Commons Community,

Colin Chellman, Associate Dean, Institutional and Policy Research, here at the
City University of New York, sent out the notice below announcing the speakers for this semester’s higher education policy series.  These are usually interesting and well-attended events.



CUNY Office of Policy Research’s

Higher Education Policy Seminar Series

Spring 2014 Schedule

***Annual Lecture***     Feb. 20 (Thurs.), 6:00 pm:

David Conley (University of Oregon)

“Getting Ready for College, Careers, and the Common Core”

CUNY Graduate Center, 365 5th Avenue, Lower Level – Room C203


Mar. 6 (Thurs.), Noon:

Charles Clotfelter (Duke University)

“Colleges and Their Customers”

CUNY Graduate Center, 365 5th Avenue, Lower Level – Room C198


Mar. 27 (Thurs.), Noon:

Dylan Conger (George Washington University)

“The Impact of a Change in Tuition Policy on Undocumented Immigrant Students”

CUNY Graduate Center, 365 5th Avenue, Room 9204


Apr. 10 (Thurs.), Noon:

Peter Ewell (NCHEMS)

“Using State Unit-Record Databases to Investigate Student Success and Employment”

Macaulay Honors College, 35 West 67th Street, Lecture Hall

 RSVP for any seminar to:

Nicholas Kristoph Examines the Debate on Universal Pre-K!

Dear Commons Community,

In the New York Times today, columnist Nicholas Kristoph weighs the pros and cons of universal pre-K and concludes that the United States is far behind other industrialized countries.  Kristoph starts by echoing President Obama who commented at the State of the Union Address that  “Research shows that one of the best investments we can make in a child’s life is high-quality early education.”  Preschool may also be the only issue on which Republicans and Democrats agree: . A poll last year found that 60 percent of Republicans and 84 percent of Democrats support expansion of prekindergarten.

Kristoph reviews the research on preschool education.  He dismisses the Head Start Impact Study that concluded its educational gains fade away. “By third grade, when the research [Impact Study] ended, there was little detectable difference between those assigned to Head Start and those in control groups.”

He then reviews other studies that looked beyond cognitive gains at long-term improvements in life outcomes such as arrest rates and high school graduation rates.

“Other researchers have, and their findings are almost unanimous. One rigorous study led by Eliana Garces, then of U.C.L.A., found that Head Start graduates were more likely to graduate from high school and attend college than their peers. David Deming of Harvard found that children who attended Head Start were more likely to graduate from high school and less likely as young adults to be “idle” — out of a job and out of school.”

He also mentions the “sleeper effect” that children maybe learn self-discipline, patience or grit.

He finishes by mentioning that the United States is an outlier in early education. “We rank 28th out of 38 industrialized countries in the share of 4-year-olds in preschool. In Shanghai, with one of the top-performing school systems in the world, nearly all preschoolers participate in early education programs.”

Universal pre-K is an idea whose time has come.  We have major political voices (President Obama, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio) getting on the bandwagon.  All we have to do now is figure out how to pay for it.  (See Gail Collins’ column on financing universal pre-K.)


President Obama’s State of the Union Address – Good Oratory but Little New!

OBama State of the Union 2014

Dear Commons Community,

President Obama gave his state of the union address last night before the U.S. Congress.  His presentation was emotionally inspiring but there were few new proposals or ideas for moving the country forward.  It was a lot of what has been accomplished and little of what lies ahead other than he is willing to exercise more executive privileges to get something (maybe anything) done in Washington, D.C.

For those of us interested in education, he rehashed many of the policies (i.e., Race to the Top, early childhood education, community colleges, training for technology jobs, college affordability) that he has been promoting since he was elected.

The moment that generated the most response from his congressional audience was when he introduced Cory Remsburg, an Army Ranger, who suffered near fatal-wounds by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.  As described by the President:

“…on his tenth deployment, Cory was nearly killed by a massive roadside bomb in Afghanistan. His comrades found him in a canal, face down, underwater, shrapnel in his brain.

For months, he lay in a coma. The next time I met him, in the hospital, he couldn’t speak; he could barely move. Over the years, he’s endured dozens of surgeries and procedures, and hours of grueling rehab every day.

Even now, Cory is still blind in one eye. He still struggles on his left side. But slowly, steadily, with the support of caregivers like his dad Craig, and the community around him, Cory has grown stronger. Day by day, he’s learned to speak again and stand again and walk again – and he’s working toward the day when he can serve his country again.

“My recovery has not been easy,” he says. “Nothing in life that’s worth anything is easy.”

The audience gave Cory a standing ovation and tears could be seen in the eyes of a number of our representatives.


Cory Remsburg 2014


Pete Seeger Dies at the Age of 94!

Dear Commons Community,

Pete Seeger, folk singer, songwriter, and environmentalist, who spearheaded an American folk revival and spent a long career championing folk music as both a vital heritage and a catalyst for social change, died Monday. He was 94 and lived in Beacon, N.Y.  As reported in his New York Times obituary:

“Mr. Seeger’s career carried him from singing at labor rallies to the Top 10 to college auditoriums to folk festivals, and from a conviction for contempt of Congress (after defying the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s) to performing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at an inaugural concert for Barack Obama.

For Mr. Seeger, folk music and a sense of community were inseparable, and where he saw a community, he saw the possibility of political action…

Mr. Seeger was indicted in 1957 on 10 counts of contempt of Congress. He was convicted in 1961 and sentenced to a year in prison, but the next year an appeals court dismissed the indictment as faulty. After the indictment, Mr. Seeger’s concerts were often picketed by the John Birch Society and other rightist groups. “All those protests did was sell tickets and get me free publicity,” he later said. “The more they protested, the bigger the audiences became.”

He toured the world, performing and collecting folk songs, in 1963, and returned to serenade civil rights advocates, who had made a rallying song of his “We Shall Overcome.” Like many of Mr. Seeger’s songs, “We Shall Overcome” had convoluted traditional roots. It was based on old gospel songs, primarily “I’ll Overcome,” a hymn that striking tobacco workers had sung on a picket line in South Carolina.

During the late 1960s Mr. Seeger started an improbable project: a sailing ship that would crusade for cleaner water on the Hudson River. Between other benefit concerts he raised money to build the Clearwater, a 106-foot sloop that was launched in June 1969 with a crew of musicians. The ship became a symbol and a rallying point for antipollution efforts and education.

In May 2009, after decades of litigation and environmental activism led by Mr. Seeger’s nonprofit environmental organization, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, General Electric began dredging sediment containing PCBs it had dumped into the Hudson. Mr. Seeger and his wife also helped organize a yearly summer folk festival named after the Clearwater.”

For those of us growing up in the 1960s, Pete Seeger’s music inspired our generation and generations to come.




New York State United Teachers Union Votes No to the Common Core and No Confidence in Education Commissioner John King!

Dear Commons Community,

The board of directors for the New York State United Teachers, meeting over the weekend, voted to withdraw support for the Common Core as it is being implemented in New York and declared “no confidence” in the state’s education commissioner, John King.   As reported in The Huffington Post:

“The Common Core Standards have been adopted in 45 states in an effort to make sure students across the country are being held to the same benchmarks. The initiative –- and the standardized tests that are being used in conjunction with it -– are supposed to emphasize critical thinking and deeper learning.

According to the union, the Common Core implementation process is being rushed and conducted without adequate transparency in New York. Though King has recently attempted to open the lines of communication on the subject through a series of forums around the state, the NYSUT contends he has continually ignored the voices of parents and educators.

In a statement released over the weekend, the board of the NYSUT said it would like to see the state make major changes in the Common Core’s implementation process, including putting a moratorium on consequences for students and teachers in connection to the program’s high-stakes tests. Other proposed changes include the release of test questions associated with the Common Core for teachers to utilize for instruction purposes, and more engagement with local parents.

“Educators understand that introducing new standards, appropriate curriculum and meaningful assessments are ongoing aspects of a robust educational system. These are complex tasks made even more complex when attempted during a time of devastating budget cuts,” NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi said in a statement. “[The state education department’s] implementation plan in New York State has failed.”

On a national scale, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten supports the Common Core mission but has condemned places like New York for disastrous implementation processes. Weingarten supports the actions of the NYSUT, which is an AFT affiliate, and told The Huffington Post that she is not surprised by the vote.

“NYSUT’s position is perfectly consistent with where they’ve been. They said over and over to John King you have to do the following 10 things, there are 10 kinds of adjustments that need to be made,” Weingarten said over the phone.

The National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, has also supported the NYSUT vote, despite generally backing the Standards.

“The new Common Core State Standards provide real opportunities for the students in our nation’s public school system, but we owe it to them to provide teachers with the time, tools, and resources to get it right. Educators in New York were given no choice but to make a strong statement against the inadequate implementation of the standards,” NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said in a statement Monday.”

NYSUT is correct in its position.  The Common Core which holds promise for improving education in our public schools was poorly implemented in New York. Teachers were not trained, new materials not developed, and assessment tests rushed.  Students, teachers and parents have felt like victims of the Common Core when they should been beneficiaries.



New York Times Editorial Calls for Fine-Tuning School Evaluation System!

Dear Commons Community,

A New York Times editorial (see full text below) today recommends that Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Farina fine-tune the public school evaluation system initiated in the prior Michael Bloomberg administration. The evaluation system based on calculating a letter grade (A thru F) for each school has been criticized as confusing and not transparent mainly because parents as well as most people outside of the NYC Department of Education, cannot figure out what these grades mean.

The A-to-F school evaluation system is a small element of the issues that need fixing in our public education system.  There are far more important concerns that should be a priority for the new administration.   First, the establishment of universal pre-K should remain a central focus.  This has the potential of significantly improving education for all children in New York City. Second, a thorough review of the testing mania that was imposed on the public school system be revisited with an eye towards developing new and fewer assessments of teaching and learning.  And to establish pedagogical practices that do not depend upon teaching to the test.  Third, the Common Core curriculum has  elements that may prove beneficial but its rushed and poor implementation has cast grave doubt on its usefulness.  To be fair, the implementation was imposed by John King and the New York State Board of Regents.  Regardless, the local school systems including New York City need to clean-up the public relations nightmare created at the state level and implement curriculum improvements whether the Common Core or something else that can advance the education of all students.

In sum, de Blasio and Farina should concentrate on improving teaching and learning and defer spending significant energy or resources on salvaging a flawed school evaluation system.



Getting an Accurate Fix on Schools

New York Times (January 26, 2014)

New York state test data to be released later this spring will include sobering news for Mayor Bill de Blasio and his new schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña. The data show that only one in four New York City students who started high school in 2009 and graduated in 2013 performed well enough on the Regents exams to meet the state definition of college readiness. Racial and ethnic breakdowns are not yet available. But they are likely to mirror last year’s statistics, which showed striking racial disparities: Only about 11 percent of black and about 12 percent of Hispanic graduates were deemed college-ready.

Mr. de Blasio, who has had a field day bashing his predecessor over this problem, must now find a way to solve it by ramping up the quality of education for poor and minority children. For starters, the city must preserve, at least in part, the controversial school evaluation system that Michael Bloomberg introduced in 2006.

Mr. de Blasio has rightly decided to junk the simplistic, deeply unpopular A-through-F grading system that is used to rate schools. But there is much about the evaluation system that’s worth preserving, including its tight focus on the issue of equity, which means holding schools accountable for how well they educate poor and minority children who are too often written off and left behind.

Historically, the rankings compared a school’s test scores with those of the district as a whole. But under that system, demographics ruled the day; wealthy schools invariably were ranked at the top and poor schools at the bottom. Commendably, the Bloomberg administration devised a way to control for demographically driven differences that enabled it to reach the bedrock question of how much a given school actually improves student learning from year to year. Despite its imperfections, the system found that schools with similar populations of poor and minority children posted vastly dissimilar results. This, in turn, allowed officials and teachers to zero in on a school’s weaknesses, with positive results. The data show that over the last two years, nearly 80 percent of the lowest-performing schools improved their ratings after receiving help in the areas where they were weak.  

The A-through-F rating system has several deficiencies. First, it lacks transparency; many people find it hard to understand how reams of complex information are crunched down into a single grade. Second, when people think of letter grades, they think of an overall quality rating, not a rating based largely on special factors. As a result, parents, lawmakers and others were confused when a school at which the overwhelming majority of students were performing well received a mediocre rating because it saw less improvement than schools at which students were not doing as well. It would be better to do away with the overall grade and continue to report a separate rating for each relevant metric — say, one each for overall performance, success with disadvantaged students and so on.

The Bloomberg administration acknowledged shortcomings in the evaluation system, especially at the elementary and middle school levels, where too much weight had been given to testing and too little weight to nontest indicators of school performance (thus forcing weaker schools to spend far too much time teaching students how to take tests). The new evaluation system must give significant weight to how well schools are preparing students for the next level and keeping children on track for college readiness.

The report cards can be improved and revised. But their basic purpose — providing a plausible system for measuring student progress — cannot be abandoned. If it is, city officials will never know how well students are doing until, on graduation day, they find that too many of them do not have the skills they need to go to college.

Retrieved from:

New York Times Editorial Blasts the Koch Brothers and Moneyed Interests!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times editorial today blasts the Koch Brothers and the moneyed-interests that seek to control our democracy by spending hundreds of millions of dollars on conservative candidates and causes.  The editorial appears below in its entirety and is quite candid in its assessment.  It is also a nice complement to my earlier posting this morning on billionaire, Thomas Perkins.



The Koch Party

New York Times (January 25, 2014)

Only a few weeks into this midterm election year, the right-wing political zeppelin is fully inflated with secret cash and is firing malicious falsehoods at supporters of health care reform.

As Carl Hulse of The Times reported recently, Democrats have been staggered by a $20 million advertising blitz produced by Americans for Prosperity, the conservative advocacy group organized and financed by the Koch brothers, billionaire industrialists. The ads take aim at House and Senate candidates for re-election who have supported the health law, and blame them for the hyped-up problems with the law’s rollout that now seem to be the sole plank in this year’s Republican platform.

In one typical example, the group’s ad against Representative Gary Peters of Michigan, a Democrat who is running for an open Senate seat, is full of distortions and lies. It accuses Mr. Peters of lying when he said the law bars cancellations of insurance policies. Mr. Peters happened to be right, as millions of people who once faced losing all insurance after they got sick now appreciate. The 225,000 Michigan residents who the ad said received “cancellation notices” were actually told that they could change to a better policy; they were not told they could no longer have insurance, as the ad implies. And though the ad said health care costs are “skyrocketing,” national spending on health care is now growing at the slowest pace ever recorded, in part because of the reform law.

Democrats intend to counter this campaign with the facts, but few of the candidates have the money to do so now. As a result, the campaign is taking a serious political toll, increasing the chances that Republicans who support a repeal of the law will win back the Senate majority this fall.

Naturally, Democrats are using the campaign to increase their own fund-raising, begging donors to give unlimited amounts to left-leaning super PACs and advocacy groups. But it is unlikely that they will be able to match the resources or the cunning of the Kochs, who are using vast pools of money earned through corporate revenues to build a network unrivaled in complexity and secrecy. This weekend, they are bringing together some of the biggest Republican bank accounts at a resort in Palm Springs, Calif., to collect money and plan this year’s strategy.

As Politico described it on Friday, they have already set up an operation so sophisticated it rivals “even the official Republican Party in its ability to shape policy debates and elections.” Its components include a political consulting firm to recruit, train and support like-minded antigovernment candidates, which will be active in the congressional primaries. There is also a center that provides technology and administrative services to right-wing groups and candidates, an office that compiles and analyzes voter data and a youth advocacy group.

In 2012, as The Washington Post reported, the Koch network raised $407 million, which was secreted among 17 groups with cryptic names and purposes that were designed to make it impossible to figure out the names of donors the Kochs worked with. As one tax expert told The Post, “it’s designed to make it opaque as to where the money is coming from and where the money is going.”

The Democrats have smaller versions of these operations, though they are more focused on building a super PAC to collect unlimited donations supporting Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2016, and they lack the resources to compete with the Kochs at this stage.

The clandestine influence of the Kochs and their Palm Springs friends would be much reduced if they were forced to play in the sunshine.

The Internal Revenue Service and several lawmakers are beginning to step up their interest in preventing “social welfare” organizations and other tax-sheltered groups from being used as political conduits, but they have encountered the usual resistance from Republican lawmakers. Considering how effectively the Koch brothers are doing their job, it’s easy to see why.

Retrieved from:

Billionaire Venture Capitalist Thomas Perkins Compares Treatment of Super Rich by Progressives in America to the Treatment of the Jews in Nazi Germany!

Dear Commons Community,

The media are jumping all over venture capitalist Thomas Perkins who wrote a letter to the editors at the Wall Street Journal, comparing the plight of the rich to the Holocaust, called “Progressive Kristallnacht Coming?”.

“I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its ‘one percent,’ namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the ‘rich,'” Perkins wrote.   Thomas Perkins, one of the founders of venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, was comparing the call for taxes on the super rich to the slaughter of millions in the Holocaust.

“From the Occupy movement to the demonization of the rich embedded in virtually every word of our local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent,” Perkins continues. “There is outraged public reaction to the Google buses carrying technology workers from the city to the peninsula high-tech companies which employ them. We have outrage over the rising real-estate prices which these ‘techno geeks’ can pay.”

Perkins ends his letter with: “This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent ‘progressive’ radicalism unthinkable now?”

It is incredible that someone of such accomplishment would make this comparison and that a major newspaper would actually print it but then again the Wall Street Journal is now owned by Rupert Murdoch.



Sen. Elizabeth Warren Urges New York Democrats to Keep to a Progressive Agenda!

Dear Commons Community,

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts) rallied a congregation of progressive supporters in Midtown Manhattan on Thursday night, in a rousing appearance designed to put pressure on the state’s moderate Democrats, including Governor Andrew Cuomo.

“I feel the spirit in the room tonight,” Warren told the crowd of several hundred activists, who rose from their church pews to give her a long, loud standing ovation as she took to the podium inside Saint Peter’s Church. “I love being in this room. I love being part of a movement, because it is a movement that will make a difference.”

Warren was making her first public appearance in New York City since she was elected to the Senate.

As reported in The Huffington Post:

“…[Warren] inserted her voice into state debates over campaign finance reform, universal preschool and income inequality. She praised policy proposals backed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and newly elected New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio — and indirectly referenced tensions between two of the state’s highest-profile Democrats.

In his State of the State address earlier this month, Cuomo said he would push for campaign finance reform again, after it stalled in the state legislature last year. Warren, a favorite of Democratic Party reformers, added some pressure of her own.

“Your governor has said, ‘Let’s attack money in politics head-on. Let’s go for campaign finance reform,’” Warren said. “All I can say is go, go, go, GO!”

The senator also spoke positively about de Blasio’s proposal to raise taxes on city residents who earn $500,000 a year or more in order to fund a universal prekindergarten program.

“The mayor is saying we’re going to have universal preschool. Here. In New York. Yes!” Warren said.

“But the reality is, you gotta pay for it,” she added. “And to pay for it, that meant a little less money in the pockets of those who have outsize influence. The mayor should be commended because he put it straight on the table and said, ‘This is about our values. This is about how we build our future.’”

It is absolutely about values and not just the politics of getting re-elected.