Stephen Hawking: There are No Black Holes as We Imagined Them!

Black Hole

Dear Commons Community,

The journal, Nature, has an article based on a paper written by Stephen Hawking’s that fundamentally changes our view of a black hole.  As stated in the article:

“Most physicists foolhardy enough to write a paper claiming that “there are no black holes” — at least not in the sense we usually imagine — would probably be dismissed as cranks. But when the call to redefine these cosmic crunchers comes from Stephen Hawking, it’s worth taking notice. In a paper posted online, the physicist, based at the University of Cambridge, UK, and one of the creators of modern black-hole theory, does away with the notion of an event horizon, the invisible boundary thought to shroud every black hole, beyond which nothing, not even light, can escape.

“There is no escape from a black hole in classical theory, but quantum theory enables energy and information to escape.”

In its stead, Hawking’s radical proposal is a much more benign “apparent horizon”, which only temporarily holds matter and energy prisoner before eventually releasing them, albeit in a more garbled form.  “There is no escape from a black hole in classical theory,” Hawking told Nature. Quantum theory, however, “enables energy and information to escape from a black hole”. A full explanation of the process, the physicist admits, would require a theory that successfully merges gravity with the other fundamental forces of nature. But that is a goal that has eluded physicists for nearly a century. “The correct treatment,” Hawking says, “remains a mystery.”




David Brooks: It Takes a Generation to Expand Opportunities for Underprivileged Children!

Dear Commons Community,

In his New York Times column today, David Brooks reminds his readers that education is a way out of poverty but only if we look at the entire development of children from birth through college.  He calls for President Obama to think carefully through how to move underprivileged children into the middle class.  Here is an excerpt from his column:

“First, we’ve probably placed too much emphasis on early education. Don’t get me wrong. What happens in the early years is crucial. But human capital development takes a generation. If you really want to make an impact, you’ve got to have a developmental strategy for all the learning stages, ages 0 to 25.

Second, we’ve probably put too much weight on school reform. Again, reforming education is important. But getting the academics right is not going to get you far if millions of students can’t control their impulses, can’t form attachments, don’t possess resilience and lack social and emotional skills.

So when President Obama talks about expanding opportunity in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, I’m hoping he’ll widen the debate. I’m hoping he’ll sketch out a stage-by-stage developmental agenda to help poor children move from birth to the middle class.

Such an agenda would start before birth.”

He then warns that “a significant number of kids stay on track through the early years, but then fall off the rails as teenagers.”

My colleague, Jean Anyon, who studied the issues of poverty in urban schools for decades, would probably support a lot of what Brooks is saying.  Jean argued that many education issues were inextricably linked to larger social ills.

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



Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Budget Proposal for CUNY and SUNY!

Dear Commons Community,

Earlier this week, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Budget Proposal for next year attracted a lot of attention mainly because of his universal pre-K initiative.  He also made several modest proposals for public higher education.  The good news is that there are no budget cutbacks.  Below is an except describing his initiatives.  For those of you who follow this blog who are interested in instructional technology, there is specific language in the first initiative that refers to “use technology, including but not limited to the expansion of on-line learning”.



Major Initiatives

  • Expand and Launch Another Round of NYSUNY 2020 and NYCUNY 2020.  The Executive  Budget includes $110 million for a new and expanded round of NYSUNY 2020 and NYCUNY  2020 grants, $55 million for each university system. Funding will continue to be awarded through  a bottom-up competitive process by which campuses develop plans for improving academic outcomes, finding efficiencies, and promoting innovation and economic development. The initiative will give priority to plans that: use technology, including but not limited to the expansion of on-line learning, to improve academic success and job opportunities for students; leverage economic and academic opportunities through the START-UP NY program; and provide experiential learning opportunities that connect students to the workforce. This strategic investment will continue the Governor’s initiative to make our university systems into incubators of academic excellence and economic growth.


  • Offer a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Scholarship. The Executive Budget includes $8 million in funding for a new STEM scholarship program. Full tuition scholarships to any SUNY or CUNY college or university will be offered to the top ten percent of high school graduates if they pursue a STEM career and work in New York for five years. The scholarship will encourage the best and brightest students to pursue STEM college degrees and build their careers here in New York in one of the fastest-growing sectors of the economy.


  • Create a College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity.  The Executive Budget includes $15 million in capital resources to fund initial planning and development costs for a new College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity within SUNY. The College will create the world’s most comprehensive academic programs, research, and training opportunities for aspiring professionals, policy leaders,emergency managers and first responders. Through its affiliation with SUNY, the College can also serve as an economic driver for the State through the development of new companies and industries under the START-UP NY program.


  • Establish a School of Pharmacy at Binghamton University. The Executive Budget includes $10 million in capital resources to fund initial planning and development costs for a new School of Pharmacy at Binghamton University. This initiative will help Binghamton continue to build its stature as a premier research university, expand enrollment, create jobs, increase economic activity in the region, and help meet health care workforce needs in the State.


  • Create the NY Genomic Medicine Network.As the next major investment of the “Buffalo Billion,” the Executive Budget will provide funding for the State University of New York at Buffalo to partner with the NY Genome Center in New York City in a network that connects the medical community in New York City with the computational infrastructure at the University at Buffalo and the research community at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. This initiative will lead to job creation and significant advances in the emerging field of genomic medicine, and develop Upstate New York in as a national center for genomic research and jobs.


  • Connect the NY Youth Works Program to Community Colleges.To encourage more employers to hire inner-city youth, the Executive Budget will tie the occupational training component of the NY Youth Works Program–an initiative established by Governor Cuomo to combat youth unemployment–to the Job Linkage Program. Businesses that want to hire under the NY Youth Works Program, but need training, could partner with a community college that will offer a specialized certification under the Job Linkage program.


89% of Americans Concerned about Advertisers Using Personal Data about Children!

Dear Commons Community,

Eighty-nine percent of Americans reported they are “very” or “somewhat” concerned about “advertisers using personal data about children to market to them,” according to a nationally representative survey conducted by the Benenson Strategy Group on behalf of Common Sense Media, an advocacy group for children and families. The survey asked questions of 800 registered voters, including 227 parents, by phone earlier this month, and has a 3.5 percent margin of error.  As reported in The Huffington Post:

“The poll found that while only 37 percent of the public has “seen, read, or heard” “some” or “a great deal” about schools collecting, storing and sharing information, including age, weight and grades, 90 percent are “somewhat” or “very” concerned about private companies having access to student data.

“Student privacy and the protection of data is about to explode as an issue in the United States,” said James Steyer, who heads Common Sense Media. “The numbers are off the charts. It’s clear that students’ personal and private information must not be for sale. Period…”

“As we started looking at the plan to wire all the classrooms in America and the increasing numbers of blended learning classrooms and all these schools going high-tech, we also saw that privacy concerns were going to emerge,” Steyer said. “Data is used to track achievement, but the issue is making sure data is only used for student advancement purposes.”

Companies like inBloom, a Gates Foundation-sponsored student database, have aroused suspicion in parents. InBloom launched with $100 million and a plan to work with states to track student information — including grades and addresses — from kindergarten through high school. According to Reuters, district administrators would have legal control over the information, but inBloom could share some of it with vendors.

Parents scared of potential misuse of their children’s data protested, and every state that had signed up to use inBloom’s services backed out — except for New York, which recently announced it would postpone its implementation due to technical reasons. A group of 12 parents in New York announced they would seek a restraining order to prevent the state from uploading student information to the company.”

As commented on in this blog, inBloom is owned by Rupert Murdoch who after the hacking scandal in Great Britain cannot be trusted to be involved in any aspect of our children’s lives let alone operating a student database.



Conservatives Quaking in their Boots at the Thought that Democrat Wendy Davis Might be the Next Governor of Texas!

Dear Commons Community,

Conservatives are quaking in their boots at the thought that Democrat Wendy Davis might be the next governor of Texas.  Rush Limbaugh (on his radio show) and Ann Coulter (on Foxnews) attacked Davis’ background claiming she has misrepresented her life as a young, struggling single parent.  Becky Haskins, a Republican who served with Wendy Davis on the Fort Worth City Council, came to her defense and decried the sexism of the Limbaughs of the world. Here is The Huffington Post report on this story:

“Conservatives are attacking Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis (D) for misrepresenting her background, in particular the hardships she faced as a young single mother. But one Texas Republican is defending Davis’ record, saying the gubernatorial candidate wouldn’t be subject to the same criticism if she were male.

On Sunday, a Dallas Morning News article pointed out some discrepancies in the stories Davis has told — including when she was divorced from her first husband, how long she lived in a trailer and how she paid for law school. In response, conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh have labeled her a “genuine head case” and claimed she had a “sugar daddy.”

Some pundits have even suggested that Davis was a negligent parent for leaving her children with her second husband while she attended Harvard Law School in the early 1990s.

Becky Haskins, a Republican who served with Wendy Davis on the Fort Worth City Council, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on Tuesday that Davis was a hard worker who did what she needed to do for her daughters.

“If this involved a man running for office, none of this would ever come up,” Haskins told the Star-Telegram. “It’s so sad. Every time I ran, somebody said I needed to be home with my kids. Nobody ever talks about men being responsible parents.”

“They wouldn’t be talking about Wendy if she weren’t a threat,” Haskins added.

Davis’ main Republican opponent in the Texas governor’s race, state Attorney General Greg Abbott, accused her of “systematically, intentionally and repeatedly deceiv[ing] Texans for years about her background.”

Davis has admitted that she was 21 when she divorced her first husband, not 19 as previously stated. (She was 19 with a baby when the two were separated.) She has also acknowledged that her second husband paid for a portion of her education.

In a Monday release from her campaign, Davis responded to Abbott’s attacks with defiance.

“[The attacks] won’t work, because my story is the story of millions of Texas women who know the strength it takes when you’re young, alone and a mother,” Davis said in the release. “I’ve always been open about my life not because my story is unique, but because it isn’t.”

And in an email to her supporters sent Tuesday, Davis said, “You’re damn right it’s a true story.”


Harvard and MIT Release an Evaluation of Seventeen MOOCs Developed by edX!

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education is reporting on an evaluation of seventeen MOOCs developed by edX and offered at Harvard and MIT.  The results (see Executive Summary below) are similar to other preliminary reports on MOOCs.   The Chronicle summarized the results as follows:

“The papers released on Tuesday draw on data from 17 MOOCs offered by Harvard and MIT in 2012 and 2013. A number of academics have begun studying aspects of the MOOC phenomenon, but few academic papers have been published so far.

The first of the working papers, which was written jointly by researchers at both universities, provides an overview of the data from those 17 MOOCs. Some findings:

  • 841,687 people registered for the 17 MOOCs from Harvard and MIT.
  • 5 percent of all registrants earned a certificate of completion.
  • 35 percent never viewed any of the course materials.
  • 54 percent of those who “explored” at least half of the course content earned a certificate of completion.
  • 66 percent of all registrants already held a bachelor’s degree or higher.
  • 74 percent of those who earned a certificate of completion held a bachelor’s degree or higher.
  • 29 percent of all registrants were female.
  • 3 percent of all registrants were from underdeveloped countries.

Some of these findings reinforce what others have already observed about MOOCs: Few of those who sign up for a course end up completing it. Most MOOC students already hold traditional degrees. Students who sign up for MOOCs are overwhelmingly male.”

In sum, these courses seem more attuned for adult and continuing education and are appealing to students who are looking to develop skills rather than enroll in a traditional college education.  I am sure we will see more MOOC evaluations in the coming year.



Executive Summary

In the year from the fall of 2012 to the summer of 2013, the first 17 HarvardX and MITx courses launched on the edX platform. In that year, 43,196 registrants earned certificates of completion. Another 35,937 registrants explored half or more of course content without certification. An additional 469,702 registrants viewed less than half of the content. And 292,852 registrants never engaged with the online content. In total, there were 841,687 registrations from 597,692 unique users across the first year of HarvardX and MITx courses. (See Table 2.)

The most typical course registrant is a male with a bachelor’s degree who is 26 or older; however, this profile describes fewer than one in three registrants (222,847, 31%). A total of 213,672 (29%) registrants report their gender as female; 234,463 (33%) report a high school education or lower; 45,884 (6.3%) report that they are 50 or older; and 20,745 (2.7%) have IP or mailing addresses from countries on the United Nations list of Least Developed Countries. Small percentages are not small numbers. The diversity of registrants resists singular profiles; registrants are notable for their differences. (See Table 3 and Table 4.)

Course certification rates are misleading and counterproductive indicators of the impact and potential of open online courses. (See Figure 1.)

o Large numbers of non-certified registrants access substantial amounts of course content.

o Open online registration is not equivalent to enrollment in conventional courses, where traditional enrollment generally entails monetary costs, opportunity costs, and accountability.

o Certification rates can be useful indicators when enrollments are limited. For a fixed number of registrants, higher certification rates accurately reflect larger numbers of certified registrants. For open online courses that support large-scale enrollment, there is no forced tradeoff between numbers of certified and non-certified registrants—both numbers can increase freely by design. In these circumstances, focusing on certification rates alone penalizes desirable activities like browsing and exploring courses, which open online courses are generally designed to support.

o Pressure to increase certification rates may decrease the impact of open online courses, by encouraging instructors and administrators to suppress or restrict registration, lower certification standards, deemphasize recruitment of target subpopulations, or disregard interventions that may disproportionately increase numbers of non-certified registrants over certified registrants.

There are considerable differences in average demographics across courses, in terms of gender (13%-49% female), college degree attainment (54%-85%), median age (23-30), and percentage from the US (16%-36%). These differences are best appreciated in the context of the diversity of course offerings, the intentions of the instructor teams, and the outreach and dissemination efforts of course teams. In spite of average differences, all large-scale courses had hundreds of registrants with only high school degrees or who are under 15, and also had hundreds of registrants with postdoctoral degrees or who are over 50. (See Figures 3-8, and Tables 2-6.)

Unlike conventional courses, open online enrollment occurs continuously throughout courses, with enrollment rates rising as course launch dates approach and then declining more quickly after launch dates pass. Exploration and certification is more likely among registrants who enroll near the launch dates, but viewing likelihood is stable through the run of the courses. Course exploration and certification may benefit from synchronous course schedules and the cohorts that they build. Managing asynchronicity to maintain registrant involvement regardless of enrollment date is an ongoing challenge for instructors and a fertile area for future research. (See Table 5, Figure 8, and Figure 9.)

New metrics, far beyond grades and course certification, are necessary to capture the diverse usage patterns in the data. A simple comparison of grades and viewed content shows thousands of users who fit a range of profiles. Of particular interest may be those students who accessed substantial course content but did not participate in assessments. Metrics include course chapters accessed, forum usage, total numbers of “clicks,” and numbers of active days in the course. (See Table 6 and Figure 13.)

The average percentage of registrants who cease activity in these open online courses is highest in the first week at around 50%. The average percentage of registrants who cease activity in the second week declines sharply to 16% for registrants who persist to that point, and these percentages continue to decline over subsequent weeks. This indicates that registrants who are active after the first week have a relatively high chance of visiting again in subsequent weeks. (See Figure 12.)

Over four thousand registrants earned more than one certificate across HarvardX and MITx, including 1,912 who earned at least one certificate from both institutions. A total of 76 registrants earned 5 or more certificates from the first 17 courses.


Cuomo and de Blasio Agree that New York State Will Have Universal Pre-K But Who Pays is the Question!

Dear Commons Community,

Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled the state’s budget yesterday and the main new initiative is a proposal for all-day, pre-K for all school districts in New York State.  This is welcome news.  However, it appears that how this proposal is funded will set up a confrontation between the Governor and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio who made universal pre-K a critical part of his campaign platform.  Under the Governor’s plan, universal pre-K will be paid from general state revenues;  de Blasio’s plan calls for a tax on the richest New Yorkers.  As reported in the New York Times, this will not be resolved easily since Cuomo has promised no new taxes and de Blasio feels that he has a mandate given his huge victory in November.  Here is the New York Times take on the issue:

“Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Tuesday unveiled a budget plan containing a glittering prize for Mayor Bill de Blasio: money for the prekindergarten classes that he had made a centerpiece of his insurgent bid for mayor.

Mr. de Blasio sent back a calm, but firm message: Not good enough.

It was the latest twist in a battle that has captivated New York politics, with consequences that could reach far beyond the issue of childhood education, and a clear signal that the tension between the state’s two most powerful Democrats is not likely to abate any time soon.

Mr. Cuomo, a centrist accustomed to governing by the art of the possible, is confronting a new challenge in the form of Mr. de Blasio, a staunch liberal who has channeled the impatience of a national left fed up with leaders who trade ideology for compromise.

The mayor electrified liberals with his campaign promise to provide prekindergarten classes in New York City by raising taxes on wealthy residents. The governor, facing re-election in the fall, has repeatedly pledged to reduce taxes this year.

The two men, whose relationship dates back to the Clinton administration, were widely expected to agree on a middle ground. But Mr. de Blasio rebuffed that approach on Tuesday when he said that Mr. Cuomo’s counteroffer — $1.5 billion over five years for a statewide program, but no tax surcharge — would not meet his needs.

“The people in the city have given me a mission,” the mayor declared at a City Hall news conference, saying that the governor’s willingness to embrace a prekindergarten program was “encouraging,” but “different than what we intend to do.”

A tax on the wealthy, Mr. de Blasio said, “was the No. 1 proposal I put forward in an election that I won with 73 percent of the vote.”

Pausing for effect, he added, “I think the jury is in.”

Such a rebuke to Mr. Cuomo is highly unusual in a state whose governor has long been seen as the unrivaled master of deal-making.”

We shall see who prevails but the happy news is that it looks like New York toddlers will have full-day, pre-K soon.


NYC School’s Deputy Shael Polakow-Suransky to Become Next President of Bank Street College!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times is reporting that Shael Polakow-Suransky, currently the Deputy New York City Schools Chancellor, will become Bank Street College’s new president.

“Shael Polakow-Suransky, who helped lead an overhaul of city schools under former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and became an advocate of more rigorous and routine testing, will become the next president of Bank Street College of Education, the school will announce on Tuesday [today].

Mr. Polakow-Suransky, 42, the second-in-command at the city’s Education Department under the previous two chancellors, will take charge of Bank Street on July 1, becoming its seventh president, after the retirement of Elizabeth D. Dickey. He will be the first alumnus of the school, which was founded in 1916, to serve as president.

He is leaving the Education Department after the appointment last month of a new schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, who has yet to name a team but has made clear her intention to break from the policies of the Bloomberg era.

At Bank Street, located in Morningside Heights, Mr. Polakow-Suransky hopes to offer more opportunities for the school’s 1,000 graduate students to test their skills in classrooms and receive guidance from experienced educators, he said.

“There’s a real opportunity here to define what teacher education should look like,” Mr. Polakow-Suransky said in a telephone interview.

He added that he would work with the city to train more teachers in early childhood education, as Mayor Bill de Blasio pushes a plan to offer prekindergarten classes for all 4-year-olds.

Mr. Polakow-Suransky was born in South Africa, attended an experimental high school in Ann Arbor, Mich., and studied education at Brown University.

After serving as a teacher and principal in New York, Mr. Polakow-Suransky became a top official in the city’s Education Department in 2004, where he was a rare hybrid: a staunch defender of testing who spoke frankly about the limits of data. He called tests necessary exercises but argued that they should be of higher quality and more nuanced, incorporating essays and classroom projects.

Mr. Polakow-Suransky ascended to the department’s No. 2 position in 2010, when Mr. Bloomberg appointed Cathleen P. Black, a magazine executive, as chancellor, and he stayed on in that role after Ms. Black resigned in 2011 and was replaced by Dennis M. Walcott. He was once considered a candidate to be the city’s next schools chancellor, but his strong ties to Mr. Bloomberg made him an unlikely choice for Mr. de Blasio, who campaigned in contrast to the former mayor.

Mr. Polakow-Suransky said that he had considered staying on under Ms. Fariña, whom he met when she taught a Bank Street course in 1999, but felt drawn to a new challenge. He will most likely leave the department in four to six weeks.

In a statement, Mr. de Blasio offered praise for Mr. Polakow-Suransky.

“He’s a true educator whose commitment to the city’s students over the last two decades has been remarkable,” he said. “We look forward to working together for many years to come.”


Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy: Newly Discovered Audiotape Found!

King Kennedy

Dear Commons Community,

On this day we show our respect for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, a man of peace who fifty years ago ignited our country to attempt to deal with its racial problems. In November 2013, we remembered the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  The media are reporting that an audiotape of an interview with the Martin Luther King, Jr., discovered in a Tennessee attic, sheds new light on a famous phone call John F. Kennedy made to King’s wife more than 50 years ago.  As reported in The Huffington Post:

“Historians generally agree that Kennedy’s phone call to Coretta Scott King expressing concern over her husband’s arrest in October 1960 – and Robert Kennedy’s work behind the scenes to get King released – helped JFK win the White House that fall.

King himself, while appreciative, wasn’t as quick to credit the Kennedys alone with getting him out of jail, according to a previously unreleased portion of the interview with the civil rights leader days after Kennedy’s election.

“The Kennedy family did have some part … in the release,” King says in the recording, which was discovered in 2012. “But I must make it clear that many other forces worked to bring it about also.”

A copy of the original recording will be played for visitors at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis for a “King Day” event on Jan. 20.

King was arrested a few weeks before the presidential election at an Atlanta sit-in. Charges were dropped, but King was held for allegedly violating probation for an earlier traffic offense and transferred to the Georgia State Prison in Reidsville, Ga.

The Kennedys intervened, and King was released. Their intervention won the support of black voters who helped give Kennedy the winning edge in several key states.

Despite their help, however, King was careful not to give them too much credit.

“I think Dr. King was aware in the tape that he probably did more for John F. Kennedy than perhaps John F. Kennedy did for him,” said Keya Morgan, a New York-based collector and expert on historical artifacts. Morgan acquired the reel-to-reel audiotape from Chattanooga, Tenn., resident Stephon Tull, who discovered it while cleaning out his father’s attic.”