Contact North on Blended Learning!

Dear Colleagues,

In its recent newsletter, Contact North, Ontario’s Distance Education and Training Network, has a brief piece supporting student preference for and engagement in blended learning courses.  It references two reports from EDUCAUSE (ECAR) and the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario.  Here is an excerpt:

“Blended learning is a teaching and learning strategy that combines online and classroom-based learning activities and resources to reduce in-class seat time for students in a face-to-face environment. Factors such as course content, guiding pedagogy, and instructional design determine the mix of online vs. face-to-face activity. One popular design is known as the “flipped classroom” in which students absorb and review the course content through online readings and activities prior to attending class. Classroom time is dedicated to discussion, case studies and other forms of active learning.

The 2013 study by Educause involving over 100,000 undergraduate students looked at their preferred learning environments and technology use. Nearly 4 out of 5 students in Canada (76%) and the US (79%) have taken a blended course. The great majority report they both prefer and learn the most from blended courses, which meet their expressed need for face-to-face communication with their instructors and anywhere, anytime access to course materials.

The recent report from the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) on the Queen’s University blended courses showed that students had a stronger engagement with the material and a more in-depth style of learning. The courses also required more work on the part of faculty and students and additional resources. A HEQCO study on hybrid learning at the college level revealed that both students and faculty responded positively to the hybrid format, while emphasizing that the skills and commitment of faculty are crucial to course success.

The Opportunity

For faculty, blended learning offers an opportunity for development, for experimentation with new pedagogies, technologies, and techniques. It demands a re-think of the course materials and teaching strategies, and offers more opportunities for class discussion and engagement.

The EDUCAUSE research above also showed that laptops are the most common technology used by students, with smartphone and tablet use increasing. Students are eager to use their technologies for learning – and blended learning fits that requirement. It also provides them with increased flexibility and convenience, allowing them to better combine learning with jobs, families, and other responsibilities. Using technology-based learning also enhances their skills related to independent learning, information management, and web research.”

Good recap of the expanded role that blended learning is playing in education.



Graduate Schools Providing More Funding But Enroll Fewer Doctoral Students!

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article (subscription required) describing initiatives that administrators of doctoral programs are taking  that provide more funding to students while at the same time reducing enrollments.  The article specifically mentions Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University, and the CUNY Graduate Center.  Here is an excerpt:

“Katherine S. Newman, dean of the Krieger school, says its limited finances meant that it had to make a tough call: “Take in fewer students, so we could support them at the robust levels that they need to be fully devoted to their research year-round and be competitive in an unprecedented job market.”

Other institutions have made similar choices. In response to the economic downturn, Columbia University cut its incoming cohort of graduate students in 2009 by 10 percent across its programs. Columbia had planned to return its graduate-student enrollment to prerecession levels once the economy turned around, but officials decided otherwise. The university instead increased the financial-aid packages that graduate students receive, which put the support in line with peers’ offers.

Elsewhere, the Graduate Center at the City University of New York has said that it would cut enrollment across its graduate programs by one-fourth by 2015, so that it could put more money toward helping Ph.D. students succeed through higher stipends and other assistance.”

The article goes on to describe that there was a good deal of faculty and student resistance to the “take in fewer students – provide more funding” proposal at Johns Hopkins.  The opposite was true here at the CUNY Graduate Center with general acceptance of the policy when it was announced two years ago by then President Bill Kelly.

My own opinion is that most administrators of doctoral programs would like to see their programs grow AND provide more funding to support their students.  However,  fiscal realities combined with a shrinking job market for doctoral students, provides a good rational for reducing enrollments at this time.


A Dean Discusses Doctoral Education Reform?

Dear Commons Community,

In today’s online edition, The Chronicle of Higher Education has a an article examining several current issues of doctoral education.  It is based on an email interview with a doctoral studies dean at a well-endowed private university.  The identities of the dean and the university are protected.  In a question and answer format, the article discusses curriculum revision, career opportunities, cost, innovation, and faculty conservatism.   Here is an excerpt:

What sorts of changes would you like to see in American graduate study?

“The biggest one is that our doctoral curricula need to be changed to acknowledge what has been true for a long time, which is that most of our Ph.D. students do not end up in tenure-track (or even full-time faculty) positions—and that many of those who do will be at institutions that are very, very different from the places where these Ph.D.’s are trained.

The changes will differ from program to program but might include different kinds of coursework, exams, and even dissertation structures. Right now we train students for the professoriate, and if something else works out, that’s fine. We can serve our students and our society better by realizing their diverse futures and changing the training we offer accordingly.

The other necessary change: We need to think seriously about the cost of graduate education. There is a perception that graduate students are simply a cheap labor force for the university, and that universities are interested in graduate students only because they perform work as teachers and laboratory assistants cheaper than anyone else.

At elite universities—or at least at elite private ones—that is simply not true, and I am glad that it is not. It is absolutely true that graduate students perform labor necessary for the university in a number of ways, but it is not cheap labor, nor should it be.

The cost of graduate education has repercussions for the humanities and social sciences, which is one reason you are seeing smaller admissions numbers and some program closings. It also has repercussions for the laboratory sciences, where I am seeing too many faculty members shift from taking on graduate students to hiring postdocs. Unfortunately, they regard postdocs as a less expensive and more stable alternative to graduate students, and postdocs come without the same burdens of education or job placement that otherwise fall on the faculty member who hires doctoral students.

I want to underline that I don’t think that graduate programs should be cheaper, but we can’t have an honest conversation about their future unless we acknowledge their cost.”

There are several other insightful comments in this piece that should be of interest to administrators, faculty, and students in doctoral programs.


How The Common Core Became Education’s Biggest Bogeyman?

Dear Commons Community,

We have heard a lot over the past year about the Common Core curriculum promoted by the U.S. Department of Education and most of the state education departments.  What was supposed to be an upgrading of education standards has become a political football that has incurred criticism if not wrath on the part of conservatives, liberals, mothers, teachers, and unions. The Huffington Post has a review of how the Common Core has evolved in an article entitled,  “How The Common Core Became Education’s Biggest Bogeyman?”    Here are several excerpts:

Shortly before Thanksgiving, Arne Duncan made a glib remark about the Common Core that quickly blew up.

Speaking before a gathering of state schools chiefs, the secretary of education dismissed growing opposition to the new national set of learning standards, saying “white suburban moms” were rising up against the Core simply because its more rigorous tests meant they were being told “their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were.”

The riff wasn’t all that different from Duncan’s usual words of support for the Common Core. He often says states have “dummied down standards” and insists officials need to tell students the truth about just how smart they are. But as soon as he named “white suburban moms” as part of the problem, his refrain became the gaffe heard ’round the mom-blogger world.

The pointed phrasing fed into parents’ bubbling anxiety about the Core, more fully known as the Common Core State Standards Initiative, an education push that aims to make sure students across the United States are learning the skills they need to succeed in a global economy. In recent months, as schools began teaching and testing students on the new standards — and telling families about their plans — what started as an effort by officials to remake American education has become a favored punching bag of pundits and parents alike…

If implemented effectively — that is, if the standards actually reach the classroom and teachers are given the materials, training and support they need — the Core will dramatically change what it means to be a student in American public schools. Its supporters hope it will create more effective teachers and, in the long run, help the U.S. improve its international educational standing after a decade of stagnation. They say this new education paradigm could also be game-changing for the U.S. economy, as American schools begin to teach lessons in sequences similar to those of higher-performing countries around the world, such as Finland and Singapore.

Yet it appears that after three years of relative quiet, the initiative is poised to become a political football, both imperiling its implementation and potentially undermining any good its supporters think it could do. What’s at stake is the classroom experience and outcomes for over 40 million kids, as states and local school districts find themselves caught in the middle of this debate and continue to face troubles transitioning to a complex new system. In New York, the transition has . been so rocky that the state’s teachers union president said this week that he would pursue a no-confidence vote on education commissioner John King over his handling of Common Core implementation…


Detractors across the political spectrum have associated the Common Core with, at various points, “zombies,” “Hitler” and “vampires.” Some Republican officials who helped create the standards are having trouble holding down support as their constituents argue the Core represents yet another way for federal officials to micromanage their lives. Right-wing organizers are channeling this anger into a campaign to take down the Core. Earlier this month, FreedomWorks posted an action plan to fight against the standards, a campaign that will culminate with a march on Washington, D.C., this summer. The American Principles Project plans to spend at least $500,000 on the cause, Politico reported.

Meanwhile, proponents of the Core also face grounded concerns from academics, parents and some left-wing politicians about the true rigor of the standards and the limits they could place on higher-performing students.

New attention to the Common Core is admittedly overdue, and the vitriol perhaps inevitable. In a sense, the initiative was conceived in a political vacuum: The standards were quietly drafted and implemented over the last five years by a relatively small group of experts and officials around the country and with limited public input. This meant the process went fairly smoothly — initially, creators were able to secure the backing of 48 governors, from red and blue states alike.

But in the three years since states began adopting the standards, the political landscape around education has changed to reflect the overall polarization of partisan politics. The Core’s most high-profile supporter, President Barack Obama, was reelected. But during the 2012 campaign, his opponent branded the Core as a federal overreach, pushing Obama to walk a fine line between bragging about it and falling prey to those sensitivities. “We’ve convinced nearly every state in the country to raise their standards for teaching and learning,” Obama said in one debate, but he was careful never to mention the Common Core by name. At the state level, new governors and legislatures took office and found they had inherited their predecessors’ ideas about how to educate their children — ideas they didn’t necessarily agree with…

The fight against the Core is spreading. In November, an upstate New York mother organized a Common Core protest day, asking parents to keep their kids home from school. The Baltimore County teachers union filed a grievance against its board over Common Core implementation. A few months earlier, a Maryland parent was thrown out of a school board meeting for protesting the standards. Tea party groups including the American Principles Project have organized their members against the Core, and conservative radio personality Glenn Beck has called it a product of extreme leftist ideology.”

These critiques puzzle the Core’s proponents. “This whole agenda, the Common Core, is pretty much a Republican agenda,” said Holliday, the schools chief of Kentucky, an Independent. “I find it interesting when some factions of the Republican Party push back so hard on this work.” In early January, Idaho’s Republican Governor Butch Otter pledged to press on with implementing the Core despite the negative response from his base. “It’s the right thing to do,” he said.

But the pushback has led to reflection on the part of some of the Core’s creators. It seems that by not involving enough stakeholders on the front end, they opened themselves up to much of the current criticism. “There should have been a deeper state-level engagement in terms of their communities,” said Minnich, the CCSSO president. “The discussions may not have been deep enough.”

Most Americans weren’t informed about the process as it happened, and they still aren’t. According to a Gallup poll this fall, only 38 percent of the populace had ever heard the term “Common Core State Standards.” Perhaps a more deliberately public debate could have avoided some of the attacks that now threaten to undermine what was meant to be a promising change..”

This article has covered well many of the issues associated with the Common Core.  In sum, the Common Core meant well but was very poorly presented to the American people. In addition, its implementation was rushed in many states without enough planning.  The push-back against it especially as directed to the U.S. Department of Education is justified.


Independent Budget Office Report: New York City Charter Schools Enroll Fewer Special Education and ELL Students!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York City Independent Budget Office issued a report  yesterday examining attrition and retention of students in charter schools and nearby traditional district schools. While the sample was small, the most telling statistic was that 80% of special-needs kids who enroll as kindergartners in city charter schools leave by the time they reach third grade.  The publicly funded, privately operated charter schools, which enroll 6% of city students, hold on to general education students at a slightly higher rate than district schools, according to the study, which covered retention rates for kindergarten through third grade. The report followed students from 2008 to 2011.  About 70% of students attending charter schools in the 2008-2009 school year remained in the same school three years later, compared with 61% of kids at district schools.

Critics have said for years that charters push out needy kids and serve fewer difficult students. The report comments (see Table I) that the main differences regarding student composition between charters and traditional public schools lie in the rates of serving special education students and English language learner (ELL) students. About 7 percent of kindergarten students in nearby traditional public schools are special education students; the share in charter schools is less than 1 percent. The difference in rates of serving ELL students is similarly large—18 percent in traditional public schools compared with 4 percent in charter schools. These differences have been noted in other studies of charter schools in New York City.



The Chris Christie Media Frenzy!

Chris Christie Bridge

Dear Commons Community,

The media frenzy of the week was the coverage of Chris Christie and what has evolved into “bridgegate”.  The New Yorker’s upcoming edition will have the above cover and has set up a website that recaps its coverage of the Christie story. Even a right-wing publication such as the New York Post published damning articles on the events that led to the closing of lanes on the George Washington Bridge. The Daily News recapped the story in its editorial yesterday:

“The plotting behind the George Washington Bridge lane closures was elaborate and the attempted cover-up was the iron-fisted work of top Port Authority aides to New Jersey Gov. Christie, who’s now revealed as fool, knave or both.

More than 900 pages of internal memos, reports and communications released by a state Assembly committee prove beyond doubt that the governor’s now-fired Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly and Christie PA hatchetman David Wildstein put the scheme in motion in August, several weeks before the lane closures took place.

It defies belief that Kelly was alone in the machinations in Christie’s inner circle. Meanwhile, as he ordered GWB managers to say nothing to police and fire officials — or to PA Executive Director Pat Foye — Wildstein concocted documents to suggest it was all part of a legitimate traffic study.

Then, when the closures backed up traffic for hours and threw Fort Lee into chaos, impeding emergency vehicles, Wildstein spurned pleas for help. His “study” concluded that if you close toll booths, vehicular lines get longer. Duh.

When Foye discovered what was going on, based on a press inquiry, he ordered a stop to the madness with a memo that went to Christie’s top guys, Wildstein, deputy executive director Bill Baroni and Chairman David Samson.

Then came the cover-up and Samson’s complete abdication of responsibility.

The PA’s highly paid press staff was ordered to refuse to answer all media questions. They maintained omerta until Foye’s memo leaked to The Wall Street Journal. At that point, Wildstein immediately notified Christie’s top press staffer that the cover-up was unraveling. That puts the knowledge right in Christie’s inner circle.

Even then, Baroni held to the “study” fable in an unsworn appearance before the Jersey legislature. And Christie on Thursday continued to give it credence, saying:

“There still may have been a traffic study that now has political overtones to it as well . . . We’re going to find out, but I don’t know, because Sen. Baroni presented all types of information that day to the legislature — statistics and maps and otherwise — that seemed evidence of a traffic study, so why would I believe that anybody would not be telling the truth about that?”

Why? The most likely answer: Christie was hoping for plausible deniability. That’s why the question still remains: What did the governor know and when did he know it?”

All of this is sad. While not a Christie supporter, I thought he represented a reasonable Republican who was able to reach across the aisle to work with Democrats for the good of his state.  I also thought he would have made a formidable candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 as opposed to some of the Tea Partiers who are waiting in the wings.


New York: A Tale of Two Cities – One Chart Says it All!

New Yorkers Make a Majority of the MoneyClick to enlarge.

Dear Commons Community,

Since Bill de Blasio was elected on a platform of  A Tale of Two Cities, one rich and one poor, New York City’s media have been covering everything he says regarding socio-economics and the struggles of the common folks in the Big Apple.  The chart above courtesy of The Concentration of Wealth in New York City, Laird W. Bergad, CUNY, says it all.   The top 20% have had a great twenty-year run and now have the majority share of all income while the bottom 80% have 46% of the income.

Bill de Blasio is right-on..


President Obama in a Speech on Poverty and Opportunity Referred to a Student at Hunter College!

Dear Commons Community,

President Obama in a speech commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the War on Poverty this afternoon told a story of  Roger Brown, a student at Hunter College, who is the first in his family to go to college.  During his comments, President Obama referred to Hunter as “one of the best colleges” in the country.  His comments about Roger start at about the 20:30 mark.

Hooray for Roger and hooray for Hunter.


Ph.D. Students: What You Should Be Doing in Your Third Year?

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a brief article today for Ph.D. students on what they should be doing in their third year of study.  Here is an excerpt:

“Career planning needs to happen throughout the graduate-school experience. There may have been a time when doctoral students could blithely ignore the practicalities of the job market until the final year of their studies, but those days are long gone (if they ever truly existed).

Today, to be competitive, new Ph.D.’s are expected to have published in peer-reviewed journals, to have secured grants, and to have taught independently (or nearly so). Securing a strong postdoc—an essential step for Ph.D.’s in the sciences—is a decision that must be thought out well in advance. Doctoral students must lay the groundwork for completing those tasks long before they graduate.

For most doctoral students at U.S. universities, completing the coursework is a mark of the third year (students in some science disciplines finish their courses at the end of the second year). Once you’ve reached this stage, and are no longer evaluated on class material, you will take a first step toward becoming an independent researcher who is at least partly, if not entirely, responsible for generating his or her own ideas.”

Good, practical advice!


California to Consider Free Preschool for All Children!

Dear Commons Community,

Reuters is reporting that a top California lawmaker unveiled a $1 billion proposal on Tuesday to fund free public preschool for all children in the state, the latest challenge by Democratic leaders to fiscal restraints imposed by Governor Jerry Brown.

The plan by Senate Democratic leader Darrell Steinberg to offer pre-kindergarten to California 4-year-olds comes as he and other Democratic lawmakers try to push Brown to raise spending on social services, including education, in next year’s budget.

“The era of cutting education in California is over,” Steinberg told a news conference at a Sacramento elementary school. “The issue is, how can we prudently invest?”

He said children who attend high quality preschools do markedly better throughout their educations, are more likely to attend college and less likely to commit crimes as adults.

The proposal marks the latest effort by Democratic lawmakers to stake out progressive political ground at a time when Brown, also a Democrat, has charted a more centrist path. A similar plan is under consideration in the state assembly backed by Democratic Speaker John Perez, a spokesman said.