Under Legislative Pressure, New York Delays Teacher Licensing-Test (edTPA) Deadline!

Dear Commons Community,

Education Week is reporting:

Under pressure from lawmakers, as well as some teacher colleges and the state teachers’ union, New York’s Board of Regents just approved a policy delaying a video-based teacher performance assessment (edTPA) of practice for new teachers.

It is the second delay for the exam in the Empire State—an action raising questions about whether the state will hold fast to its timelines for several other new content exams rolling out this spring.

Under the new policy, teacher candidates who fulfill all other licensing requirements by July 1, 2015, but fail the edTPA, short for teacher performance assessment, can be granted an initial certificate as long as they pass a writing-skills exam by that date.

Under the old policy, the exam was required for all candidates as of May 1 of this year.

The state assembly is still scheduled to hold a hearing on the edTPA tomorrow, and had been threatening to advance legislation to delay the exam if the education department didn’t move. That bill, introduced in both houses of the state legislature, would prevent the edTPA from being used to deny a license until July 2015.”

The edTPA was originally developed by Linda Darling-Hammond at Stanford University and is administered by Pearson Education.  It has come under scrutiny and criticism but also is seen as an upgrading of the certification requirements for new teachers.   To date,  the New York State Education department reports that the pass rate from the approximately 1,600 candidates who have submitted their edTPA portfolios and received their scores is 83 percent, far higher than what the original standards-setting projected.




Study at Ball State University: Students Prefer Laptops and Smartphones over Tablets!

Dear Commons Community,

Michael Hanley, a professor of advertising and director of Ball State’s Institute for Mobile Media Research, has conducted a series of surveys of the mobile technology buying habits of the students at his university.  His preliminary findings indicate that the students prefer smartphones and laptops over tablet computers.  As reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“Tablets are for entertainment purposes, not for writing papers and doing class projects—key components of higher education,” Mr. Hanley said in a news release about the study. “After graduation and getting a job, you can afford to splurge on entertainment.”

About 1,800 students volunteered to participate in six online surveys from February 2009 to February of this year. In 2014, 89 percent reported owning a smartphone, while only 29 percent owned a tablet. That number had dropped from 31 percent in 2013. Mr. Hanley called that trend “a slight but directional decline.” It indicates that “tablet use by students has not increased as the industry hoped it would, but has, instead, stalled and even begun a small decline,” he said.

Buying a tablet was also not a high priority for most students, according to Mr. Hanley’s research. A little more than 8 percent said they planned to buy one in 2014.”

These findings are interesting and make sense.  Smartphones are simple and less expensive for keeping one connected while laptops  are much more convenient for writing papers and doing class assignments.



South Africa Celebrates the 20th Anniversary of the Fall of Apartheid!

South AFrica Freedom Day

Dear Commons Community,

It is hard to believe that twenty years have passed since the demise of apartheid in South Africa.  Yesterday there were celebrations with songs, prayers and praise for those who guided their country into a more peaceful, tolerant era and an end to white rule on April 27, 1994.  As reported in The Huffington Post:

“The focus of the Freedom Day commemorations was in Pretoria at the Union Buildings, the century-old government offices where President Jacob Zuma and dignitaries, including foreign diplomats, gathered to reflect on the long struggle against apartheid and ensuing efforts to build a better country.

The anniversary precedes elections on May 7 that are likely to see the ruling African National Congress return to power with a smaller majority, reflecting discontent with the movement that opposed white domination before its candidate, Nelson Mandela, became South Africa’s first black president.

In a speech, Zuma said South Africa had a good story to tell, referring to its stable electoral system, its constitutional commitment to human rights as well as advancements in health care, welfare grants and water and electricity in the past 20 years. Close to 3 million houses have been built since 1994, women play a far more prominent role in public life, and crime has declined, even it remains an issue of “serious concern,” he said.

“We must not deny or downplay these achievements, regardless of our political differences or contestation at any given time, including the election period.” said Zuma…”

…The mood was festive at the Pretoria ceremony, where balloons were on display and many people waved small South African flags. Women ululated and the crowd sang the national anthem, which incorporates several of South Africa’s official languages in a show of unity. Some spectators wore African National Congress T-shirts, and danced the so-called “Freedom Dance,” which features a raised fist associated with Mandela’s show of defiance when he was freed in 1990 after 27 years in jail during apartheid.”

Happy Freedom Day!


inBloom to Close Down!

Dear Commons Community,

After fifteen months of operation, inBloom, a student database start-up is closing down. inBloom is the corporation funded by the Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation ($100 million from Gates) to collect personal, identifiable student data. The software was created by Wireless Generation, part of Joel Klein’s Amplify, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. The data is stored on a “cloud” managed by amazon.com. As reported in the New York Times:  

“InBloom aimed to streamline personalized learning — analyzing information about individual students to customize lessons to them — in public schools. It planned to collect and integrate student attendance, assessment, disciplinary and other records from disparate school-district databases, put the information in cloud storage and release it to authorized web services and apps that could help teachers track each student’s progress.

But the program ran into strident opposition from a number of parents and privacy advocates. They warned that school district officials were unequipped to manage, or even audit, how outside vendors might use delicate material — like a student’s disability status. The resistance culminated a few weeks ago, when the New York State Legislature passed a budget that prohibited state education officials from releasing student data to amalgamators like inBloom.”

The closing of inBloom is a major victory for students, parents, teachers, and state and local government and a major loss for the US Department of Education that pushed inBloom on all of the states receiving Rush to the Top funding.  It is also a loss for the neoliberal, corporatization of public education movement promoted by Gates, Pearson, Joel Klein, and other private interests.


The Walton Foundation and Charter Schools!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has an article today detailing the Walton Foundation’s involvement in funding charter schools.  Using Washington, D.C. as an example, the article focuses on how “big money” foundations such as Walton seek to change public education into their own image.

“Washington DC Prep operates four charter schools with 1,200 students in preschool through eighth grade. The schools, whose students are mostly poor and black, are among the highest performing in Washington. Last year, DC Prep’s flagship middle school earned the best test scores among local charter schools, far outperforming the average of the city’s traditional neighborhood schools as well.

Another, less trumpeted, distinction for DC Prep is the extent to which it — as well as many other charter schools in the city — relies on the Walton Family Foundation, a philanthropic group governed by the family that founded Walmart.

Since 2002, the charter network has received close to $1.2 million from Walton in direct grants. A Walton-funded nonprofit helped DC Prep find building space when it moved its first two schools from a chapel basement into former warehouses that now have large classrooms and wide, art-filled hallways.

One-third of DC Prep’s teachers are alumni of Teach for America, whose largest private donor is Walton. A Walton-funded advocacy group fights for more public funding and autonomy for charter schools in the city. Even the local board that regulates charter schools receives funding from the Walton Family Foundation.

In effect, Walton has subsidized an entire charter school system in the nation’s capital, helping to fuel enrollment growth so that close to half of all public school students in the city now attend charters, which receive taxpayer dollars but are privately operated.

Walton’s investments here are a microcosm of its spending across the country. The foundation has awarded more than $1 billion in grants nationally to educational efforts since 2000, making it one of the largest private contributors to education in the country. It is one of a handful of foundations with strong interests in education, including those belonging to Bill and Melinda Gates of Microsoft; Eli Broad, a Los Angeles insurance billionaire; and Susan and Michael Dell, who made their money in computers. The groups have many overlapping interests, but analysts often describe Walton as following a distinct ideological path.

In addition to giving grants to right-leaning think tanks like the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, the Walton foundation hired an education program officer who had worked at the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative business-backed group. Walton has also given to centrist organizations such as New Leaders for New Schools, a group co-founded by Jon Schnur, a former senior adviser to President Obama’s transition team and to Arne Duncan, the secretary of education.”

 “…The size of the Walton foundation’s wallet allows it to exert an outsize influence on education policy as well as on which schools flourish and which are forced to fold. With its many tentacles, it has helped fuel some of the fastest growing, and most divisive, trends in public education — including teacher evaluations based on student test scores and publicly funded vouchers for students to attend private schools.

“The influence of philanthropy in terms of the bang for the buck they get is just really kind of shocking,” said Jack Schneider, an assistant professor of education at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass.

A separate Walton foundation that supports higher education bankrolls an academic department at the University of Arkansas in which faculty, several of whom were recruited from conservative think tanks, conduct research on charter schools, voucher programs and other policies the foundation supports.

Last year, the Walton Family Foundation gave $478,380 to a fund affiliated with the Chicago public schools to help officials conduct community meetings to discuss their plan to close more than 50 schools at a time when charters were expanding in the city.

And Walton played a role in a recent battle in New York, giving a grant to a charter advocacy group that helped pay for advertisements attacking Mayor Bill de Blasio after he denied public space to three schools run by Success Academy Charter Schools, a network in which students have gotten high scores on standardized tests.”

What a sad state of affairs that foundations such as Walton, Gates, and Broad are allowed if not encouraged to undermine public education in our country.



Ending Legacy Admisssions at Elite Universities!

Dear Commons Community,

Evan J. Mandery, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, has an op-ed piece in today’s New York Times , calling for an end to legacy admissions at elite universities.  For readers not familiar with the term it is the practice of giving preferences to children of alumni when making admissions decisions.   Mandery builds his case as follows:

“Reviewing admission data from 30 top colleges in the Economics of Education Review, the researcher Michael Hurwitz concluded that children of alumni had a 45 percent greater chance of admission. A Princeton team found the advantage to be worth the equivalent of 160 additional points on an applicant’s SAT, nearly as much as being a star athlete or African-American or Hispanic.

At Harvard, my alma mater, the legacy acceptance rate is 30 percent, which is not an unusual number at elite colleges. That’s roughly five times the overall rate….

The disparity is so great it makes the most sense to conceptualize college applications to elite colleges as two separate competitions: one for children whose parents are legacies, the other for children whose parents aren’t.”

Manery’s conclusion:

“Elite colleges defend legacy as necessary to fund-raising. It isn’t. Neither Oxford nor Cambridge nor M.I.T. considers legacy. Their prestige is intact, they attract great students, and they have ample endowments. Moreover, technology has transformed fund-raising. Presidential candidates raise money through grass-roots campaigns; colleges can, too.

Legacy evolved largely as a doctrine to legitimize the exclusion of Jews from elite schools. It endures today as a mechanism for reinforcing inequality, with particularly harsh consequences for Asians, and fundamentally contradicts the rhetoric of access in which elite colleges routinely engage.

Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Princeton and Columbia collectively have endowments of about $100 billion. They have the means to end this abhorrent practice with a stroke of a pen and the financial resources to endure whatever uncertainty ensues. Just a hunch, but I think the economically diverse students admitted to these great colleges would be successful and generous to their alma maters, not in the hope of securing their child a place in a class, but out of genuine appreciation of a legacy of equal access.”

Congratulations Professor Mandery for this well-done piece!


Washington Becomes First State To Return to No Child Left Behind!

Dear Commons Community,

Washington has the distinction of being the first state to return to the federal government’s disastrous No Child Left Behind guidelines enacted during George W. Bush’s presidency.  NCLB was so bad that once President Bush was out of office,  43 states including Washington asked for waivers from its requirements. However, current US Department of Education guidelines are not much better.    As reported in The Huffington Post:

“Washington’s standing became precarious because it did not meet the federal government’s new guidelines, which tie students’ standardized test scores to teacher evaluations. In February, Washington’s legislature killed a bill that would have brought the state into compliance with those teacher evaluation requirements. Current state law says that teacher evaluations can rely on standardized test scores but does not require it. Despite [Arne] Duncan’s explicit warning that failure to comply could mean loss of the state waiver, the bill failed with bipartisan opposition.

So yesterday, Duncan announced the state’s waiver will not be renewed, requiring the state to return to the Bush-era education law.”

What a shameful state of affairs when the education of children has to be decided between two sets of deeply flawed federal policies.   The US Department of Education continues to demonstrate that the US Constitution was right in leaving the governance of education to states and localities.


Requiring Computer Programming instead of a Foreign Language!

Dear Commons Community,

There is a brief piece (subscription required) in The Chronicle of Higher Education on the movement in the United Kingdom and some states to replace foreign language requirements in high schools with computer coding. This is not a new issue and has evolved a number of times in the past. In the 1970-80s, there was a movement to substitute the BASIC programming language for foreign language.  Today, the same concept is being promoted with HTML.  Without a doubt, learning a computer language is a worthwhile activity.  It requires syntax, rules, and organization, all of which are beneficial but it is not the same as learning a foreign language. In addition to grammar, vocabulary, and syntax, learning a foreign language also integrates learning about other cultures and people. In my mind, it is a much richer educational experience.  Below is an excerpt from the article which essentially reaches the same conclusion.



We are nearly five months into Britain’s “Year of Code,” an effort to promote computer-coding skills among Britons young and old. The British media’s coverage spiked in February, when the campaign’s director admitted she couldn’t code a computer to save her life, but has ebbed since.

Still, I’ve been taking advantage of some of the Year of Code offerings (which are not restricted to British residents), and spent a few hours last week at codecademy.com learning enough HTML and CSS to create a bare-bones personal Web page and enough JavaScript to produce some rudimentary animation. Neither was a particularly arduous experience, nor particularly rewarding; it was a bit like dipping into Turkish using the back pages of a Lonely Planet guide to Istanbul: You take in some vocabulary and grammar rules, but unless you start using what you’ve learned in a more practical way, it doesn’t really come to life.

The comparison with foreign language-learning is appropriate at the moment because a number of U.S. states are moving toward letting high-school students substitute computer coding classes for foreign-language requirements. (In Texas and Oklahoma, it’s done and dusted.) Advocates of the change argue that, aside from coding’s being a wildly useful skill at the moment, learning it exercises some of the same abilities as learning Spanish, French, or Chinese: pattern recognition, memorization, and concentration, to name a few.

Skeptics agree that coding is a skill worth teaching, but question the comparison with foreign languages. Yes, it involves recognizing and working within certain sets of rules—but then, so does math.

It’s of course invidious to suppose that you can’t learn both a foreign language and how to code, but there’s only so much time in a school day. My concern centers on the learning process. From what I know of coding, precision is essential. An extra <p> somewhere in your work can throw the whole thing into disarray. Foreign languages are very different: Even native speakers make hundreds of “mistakes” in a day, and it’s the rare one that actually trips up communication. Understanding this is critical to learning a foreign language. If you constantly aim for exactitude, you won’t speak a word; and if you don’t speak a word, you’ll never improve. It’s a lesson worth applying elsewhere in life, and I’m not sure you get it from coding.

U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Michigan’s Ban on Affirmative Action!

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday, the Supreme Court upheld Michigan’s ban on affirmative action.  The Court’s 6-2 decision upheld a voter-approved change to the Michigan state Constitution that prevents public colleges from using race as a factor in its admissions. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was joined by John Roberts and Samuel Alito, said, “One of those premises is that a democracy has the capacity — and the duty — to learn from its past mistakes; to discover and confront persisting biases; and by respectful, rationale deliberation to rise above those flaws and injustices.” In other words, it’s not necessarily a race thing. “It is demeaning to the democratic process to presume that the voters are not capable of deciding an issue of this sensitivity on decent and rational grounds,” he wrote. The ruling provides a boost for other education-related affirmative action bans in California and Washington.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor delivered the dissent that said the decision infringed upon groups’ rights by allowing Michigan voters to change “the basic rules of the political process … in a manner that uniquely disadvantaged racial minorities.”

“In my colleagues’ view, examining the racial impact of legislation only perpetuates racial discrimination,” Sotomayor added. “This refusal to accept the stark reality that race matters is regrettable. As members of the judiciary tasked with intervening to carry out the guarantee of equal protection, we ought not sit back and wish away, rather than confront, the racial inequality that exists in our society.”

Sotomayor outlines well the problems associated with this decision and that it supports a “tyranny by the majority” form of democracy..


Dispelling the Myth of the ‘Digital Native’!

Dear Commons Community,

Two professors, Eszter Hargittai and Brayden King, from Northwestern University, have developed a 10-week course entitled Managing Your Online Reputation which seeks to educate and protect young people from how they represent themselves on the Internet.   As reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“…the course developed by Ms. Hargittai and Mr. King uses cautionary tales, it also seeks to train students to build robust, productive online identities through which they can engage topics of interest, command audiences, and advance their careers. The course draws on social-science research about reputation and crisis management. The professors believe it to be one of a kind…”

Critical to this course is dispelling the myth of the young savvy digital native as promoted by Mark Prensky and others:

“…Ms. Hargittai and Mr. King say that the familiar narrative about tech-smart young people is false. Their course grew out of years of research conducted by Ms. Hargittai on the online skills of millennials. The findings paint a picture not of an army of app-building, HTML-typing twenty-somethings, but of a stratified landscape in which some, mostly privileged, young people use their skills constructively, while others lack even basic Internet knowledge.

In one multiyear study that Ms. Hargittai conducted on students’ Internet use at the University of Illinois at Chicago, about one-third of the survey respondents could not identify the correct description of the ‘bcc’ email function. More than one-quarter said they had not adjusted the privacy settings or content of social-media profiles for job-seeking purposes.

“It is problematic that there are so many assumptions about how just because a young person grew up with digital media, which in fact many have, that they are automatically savvy,” Ms. Hargittai says. “That is simply not the case. There are increasing amounts of empirical evidence to suggest the contrary.”

This course appears to be a most worthwhile endeavor for assisting students in understanding the dangers as well as the benefits of the Internet.  Dispelling the myth of the digital native is most apropos.