Howie Hawkins: Green Party Candidate for Governor of New York!

Dear Commons Community,

This week with a good deal of media coverage, incumbent Andrew Cuomo was nominated to be the Democratic candidate for governor of New York. He will face Republican Rob Astorino, who is currently Westchester County’s Executive. A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday found Cuomo with a 57 percent to 28 percent lead over Astorino. Enter Howie Hawkins as the Green Party candidate. His platform includes major proposals for education including:

  • Fully funded, full day, and developmentally appropriate Universal Pre-K and Kindergarten with certified and unionized educators.
  • Opt out of high-stakes testing for students, teachers, and schools.
  • Opt out of Common Core and Race To The Top.
  • Opt into common standards, curricula, and diagnostic tests written by professional teachers in the schools, not by outside corporate contractors.
  • Opt into teacher and school evaluation based on collaboration.
  • Opt into affirmative action to reduce school segregation by race and class, such as regional inter-district transfer programs.
  • State legislation to reduce class sizes and case loads.
  • Free Tuition at CUNY, SUNY, and Community Colleges.

I hope Hawkins is able to attract some media attention. He is the type of candidate who appeals to the most progressive Democrats who are disillusioned by Governor Cuomo’s policies regarding charter schools, Race to the Top, and teacher evaluations.

Good luck, Howie!


Don’t Call Them Dropouts: Characteristics of Students Who Do Not Graduate High School!

High School Dropouts Characteristics

Dear Commons Community,

Earlier this year, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan proudly proclaimed that 80 percent of young people were graduating high school, the highest percentage in American history.   A new report out this week from America’s Promise Alliance sought to discover what happened to the remaining 20 percent.

America’s Promise Alliance, a nonprofit created by former Secretary of State Colin Powell, found that students who fail to finish high school generally face a range of challenges. After interviewing more than 200 Americans who left high school and analyzing more than 3,000 survey responses, researchers found that these students often grew up in “toxic environments,” where they experienced traumatic events like violence in the home or at school. For example, 30 percent of the survey’s respondents reported having been abused, 22 percent reported having been homeless and 18 percent reported having spent time in juvenile detention.

The report, titled “Don’t Call Them Dropouts,” noted that the term “dropout” rarely encapsulated the experience felt by many of the students they interviewed. Many of the interviewed students who left high school eventually re-enrolled and passed a GED high school equivalency exam.


The above graph from the report compares the characteristics of those who left school at one point during their high school career, to the characteristics of typical students, who stay enrolled in high school until graduation. Those who left school were more likely to have been involved in illegal activity or to have faced an unstable home life.


Indiana University Leading Unizin Group to Develop a New “Learning Ecosystem”!

Dear Commons Community,

This information was passed on to me by my colleague, Joel Hartman (University of Central Florida), and appeared on the e-Literate website.

“Indiana University has been the driving force behind the creation of a new organization [Unizin] to develop a “learning ecosystem”.  At least ten schools are being  asked to contribute $1 million each over a three-year period to join the consortium. The details of what that $1 million buys are unclear at this point. The centerpiece for the short-term appears to be a contract with Instructure for use of the Canvas LMS. But there are also hints of ambitious plans regarding learning object repositories and learning analytics.

What is remarkable is the level of secrecy surrounding the project. Several sources from involved schools have indicated that very few people have been informed regarding their institutions’ prospective involvement. When school discussions do take place, care is being taken to keep them quiet. For example, a video recording of a presentation to faculty about Unizin at Colorado State University has since been removed from public access after it received some attention on Twitter (although e-Literate downloaded a copy of the video before it was removed from public access)…

…there are no definite commitments to join this group yet other than from Indiana, although University of Michigan and Colorado State University are beginning to socialize the idea on their respective campuses…The ten potential Unizin members (along with their current LMSs) are as follows:

  • Colorado State University (Blackboard)
  • Indiana University (Sakai)
  • Oregon State University (Blackboard)
  • Purdue University (Blackboard)
  • University of Florida (Sakai, with some use of Canvas)
  • University of Maryland (Canvas)
  • University of Michigan (Sakai)
  • University of Texas (Blackboard, with at least one campus in the process of moving to Canvas)
  • University of Wisconsin (Desire2Learn)
  • University of Utah (Canvas)

While the group seems only loosely connected to the Big 10′s Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC), the group does share some common key players with an earlier position paper by a CIC task force motivated by the perceived need to take back control of distance learning from MOOC providers such as Coursera.”

This could be an interesting development and worth following.



David Brooks on Democracy v. the Guardian State!

Dear Commons Community,

In his column today, David Brooks reflects on the state of democracy round the world and posits whether or not “guardian states” are more responsive to social and economic change.  He comments:

“It’s now clear that the end of the Soviet Union heralded an era of democratic complacency. Without a rival system to test them, democratic governments have decayed across the globe. In the U.S., Washington is polarized, stagnant and dysfunctional; a pathetic 26 percent of Americans trust their government to do the right thing. In Europe, elected officials have grown remote from voters, responding poorly to the euro crisis and contributing to massive unemployment.

According to measures by Freedom House, freedom has been in retreat around the world for the past eight years. New democracies like South Africa are decaying; the number of nations that the Bertelsmann Foundation now classifies as “defective democracies” (rigged elections and so on) has risen to 52. As John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge write in their book, “The Fourth Revolution,” “so far, the 21st century has been a rotten one for the Western model.”

The events of the past several years have exposed democracy’s structural flaws. Democracies tend to have a tough time with long-range planning. Voters tend to want more government services than they are willing to pay for. The system of checks and balances can slide into paralysis, as more interest groups acquire veto power over legislation…”

A new charismatic rival is gaining strength: the Guardian State. In their book, Micklethwait and Wooldridge do an outstanding job of describing Asia’s modernizing autocracies. In some ways, these governments look more progressive than the Western model; in some ways, more conservative.

In places like Singapore and China, the best students are ruthlessly culled for government service. The technocratic elites play a bigger role in designing economic life. The safety net is smaller and less forgiving. In Singapore, 90 percent of what you get out of the key pension is what you put in. Work is rewarded. People are expected to look after their own.

These Guardian States have some disadvantages compared with Western democracies. They are more corrupt. Because the systems are top-down, local government tends to be worse. But they have advantages. They are better at long-range thinking and can move fast because they limit democratic feedback and don’t face NIMBY-style impediments.”

Mr. Brooks makes several important points.  However, a “guardian state” is only as good as the guardians.  As he indicates, they can be corrupt or worse.  The same is true of a democracy.  In the United States, the problem with our democracy is that it has been co-opted by moneyed interests and influence peddling that are not illegal but surely are close cousins of  “corrupt”.



As Presidential Salaries Rise at Public Universities – Student Debt and Adjunct Faculty Rise Also!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has an article referring to a recent study from the Institute for Policy Studies that concludes that at the 25 public universities with the highest-paid presidents, both student debt and the use of part-time adjunct faculty grew far faster than at the average state university from 2005 to 2012.  As reported in the article:

“The study, “The One Percent at State U: How University Presidents Profit from Rising Student Debt and Low-Wage Faculty Labor,” examined the relationship between executive pay, student debt and low-wage faculty labor at the 25 top-paying public universities.

The co-authors, Andrew Erwin and Marjorie Wood, found that administrative expenditures at the highest-paying universities outpaced spending on scholarships by more than two to one. And while adjunct faculty members became more numerous at the 25 universities, the share of permanent faculty declined drastically.”

The key findings are as follows:

Since the 2008 financial crisis, executive pay at “the top 25” (see Appendix 2) has risen dramatically to far exceed pre-crisis levels. Over the same period, low-wage faculty labor and student debt at these institutions rose faster than national averages. In short, a top-heavy, “1% recovery” occurred at major state universities across the country, largely at the expense of students and faculty.

  • The student debt crisis is worse at state schools with the highest-paid presidents. The sharpest rise in student debt at the top 25 occurred when executive compensation soared the highest.
  • As students went deeper in debt, administrative spending outstripped scholarship spending by more than 2 to 1 at state schools with the highest-paid presidents.
  • As presidents’ pay at the top 25 skyrocketed after 2008, part-time adjunct faculty increased more than twice as fast as the national average at all universities.
  • At state schools with the highest-paid presidents, permanent faculty declined dramatically as a percentage of all faculty. By fall 2012, part-time and contingent faculty at the top 25 outnumbered permanent faculty for the first time.
  • Average executive pay at the top 25 rose to nearly $1 million by 2012– increasing more than twice as fast as the national average at public research universities.

How did we let this situation evolve in American higher education?



Death by a Thousand Cuts: Racism, School Closures, and Public School Sabotage!

School closures

Click to enlarge.

Dear Commons Community,

The Huffington Post has an article on a new report from the Journey For Justice Alliance calling out charter school advocates and school reformers for proliferating widespread public school closings which have disproportionately affected black and Latino children.

The Journey for Justice Alliance  has partnered with the Advancement Project to file three federal complaints with the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights, alleging that the impact of school shutdowns is racially discriminatory and thus violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. The complaints are also backed by the nation’s two largest teachers’ unions.

According to their report, New York, Detroit, and Chicago — cities with large minority populations — have in recent years each closed  more than 100 public schools despite mass demonstrations and community protests. Here is the overview from the Report:

“We, the members of Journey for Justice, are comprised of thousands of youth, parents, and other concerned citizens from communities of color across the United States. We write this report because we need the American people to know that the public education systems in our communities are dying. More accurately, they are being killed by an alliance of misguided, paternalistic “reformers,” education profiteers, and those who seek to dismantle the institution of public education. Some are being killed quickly; others are still in the early stages. But it is, at this point, quite clear that there will soon be little to nothing left of our public school systems – and many more like ours – unless current trends are disrupted.

As can be seen in Figure 1, America’s predominantly Black and Latino communities are experiencing an epidemic of public school closures. For example:

  • In New Orleans, beginning in the Fall of 2014, there will only be five public schools left in the entire city.
  • Detroit, New York, and Chicago have all had more than 100 public schools closed in recent years.
  • Columbus (OH), Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Houston, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Kansas City, Milwaukee, and Baltimore have all had more than 25 public schools closed in recent years.”

This type of action is long overdue. Many urban school districts in the United States have unbridled enthusiasm for closing neighborhood schools and replacing them with charter schools that have little ties to the community.  Furthermore, most of these charters do no better in student performance than the public schools they replaced.



The Hechinger Report: What School Children Think about Instructional Technology!

Dear Commons Community,

The Hechinger Report has a short piece on student attitudes of instructional technology.   Based on interviews with students in Quakertown, Pennsylvania, a rural area outside of Philadelphia, the article presents a balance view of instructional technology issues.  For example:

“The pluses and minuses of cyber learning prompted a heated debate between two high school students, Cheyenne Knight, 18, and Brian Benes, 17. Both spend part of their day completing cyber lessons in a lab at Quakertown Community High School.

Although Knight enjoys her online classes, she is sometimes concerned that they’re not as rigorous as “live” classes. “You can take tests with your notes right in front of you,” Knight said. “You don’t have to memorize anything.”

“But in the real world, it’s not like somebody’s going to be watching over your shoulder,” Benes said.

“You don’t have that live, face-to-face contact,” she countered. “If you’re in cyber, you’re not learning social interaction.”

“The majority of social interaction in class is negative,” Benes responded. “It’s not necessary, and we’re getting enough because we’re here,” he added, gesturing to the dozen students gathered in the lab.

At that point their teacher, Nicole Roeder, who had been grading work on a computer across the room, joined the debate. “It’s true there may be certain things you don’t get, but there are other things you do,” she said. “I think there’s some give and take.”

Like many things in life, there are positives and negatives.  For instructional technology, the prudent approach is to provide options for students and not force the technology upon them.



New Documentary “Ivory Tower” about the Stratification of American Higher Education!

Dear Commons Community,

Joe Bruni has a preview of a new documentary entitled, Ivory Tower, due  to be released next month.  According to Bruni, the documentary delves into the issue of American higher education’s role in maintaining the stratification of social class in our society.  Specifically:

“…as I watched it, one theme in particular kept capturing my attention. One set of questions kept coming to mind. How does our current system of higher education square with our concerns about social mobility? What place do the nation’s universities have in our intensifying debate about income inequality? What promise do they hold for lessening it?

The answers in “Ivory Tower” and beyond it aren’t reassuring. Indeed, the greatest crisis may be that while college supposedly represents one of the surest ladders to, and up through, the middle class, it’s not functioning that way, at least not very well.”

Bruni goes on to describe the inequities that exist in admissions into the most selective colleges.  In sum, these schools attract and admit students from the most privileged families.

Bruni also refers a companion piece by Paul Tough in The Times Magazine that  illuminates another troubling way in which college favors the rich. “Whether a student graduates or not seems to depend today almost entirely on just one factor — how much money his or her parents make,” Tough writes, adding, “About a quarter of college freshmen born into the bottom half of the income distribution will manage to collect a bachelor’s degree by age 24, while almost 90 percent of freshmen born into families in the top income quartile will go on to finish their degree.”

None of this is new to those of us who work in higher education.  Polices and practices such as  legacy admissions have exacerbated the problem for decades.  However, as someone who has devoted an entire career to public higher education, I am glad we have a robust and well-endowed private sector in this country.  These colleges and universities are recognized as among the best in the world and they set a standard for all of us to aspire.  They are also relatively free of governmental intervention either at the federal or state level which can stifle sound education practice.  If they can only figure out how to make their admissions more equitable, they would be the true shining lights in the higher education sphere.



60th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education!

Brown Rockwell Painting

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday, May 17th, was the 60th Anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education Decision that declared segregated public schools “unconstitutional”.  In perhaps the most important decision of the 20th century, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously decreed  that in the field of public education, “the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”   As many of us know, this decision changed the face of education throughout the country but especially in the South.   The strategy to use the courts to challenge segregation in public education began in the 1930s with the NAACP under the leadership of  Charles Hamilton Houston.  Houston was the dean of Howard University Law School.  Thurgood Marshall, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, was recruited by Houston.  Houston died in 1950 and never saw the fruits of his decades of labor.  For anyone wanting to read about the case, one of the more informative books, Richard Kluger’s Simple Justice is highly recommended.   A foundation created by the family of Oliver Brown, the lead plaintiff in the case, and led by his daughter Linda Brown,  has a plethora of resources.

The Brown Decision paved the way for much progress in education and race relations in this country but there is still much to be done in creating a truly equitable public school system.


In South Africa: Meetings and Lance!

Lance Bunt Small

Dear Commons Community,

This morning I met with the Director of Academic Development and Support at the Vaal Triangle Campus, Esmarie Strydom, and her staff to discuss issues regarding technology integration and blended learning.  Marieta Jansen van Vuuren demonstrated several “smart guides” that are designed to support specific courses.  A smart guide is an electronic version of a study guide that includes a syllabus, topic presentations, activities, and resource materials that students can use to navigate through a course.  They were well-done.  Lance Bunt, a part time member of Esmarie’s staff and a full-time student is pictured above with me after I had given him a replica cap of the New York Fire Department.  Lance is quite a talented young man who has a keen eye for media design. He has attended several of my workshops and presentations while in South Africa.

I had lunch with Linda Du Plessis, Vice-Rector (Provost in our parlance) of the Vaal Campus and Aldine Oosthuyzen, Director of Information Technology.   We discussed a number of topics including technology planning, distance education, and learning management systems.

I had dinner at an Indian Restaurant with Marieta Jansen van Vuuren, her husband, Adriaan, and her son, Etienne.  Adriaan is an executive with one of the leading steel companies in South Africa, and Etienne is a law student.  A most pleasant evening.