Alliance for Excellent Education Report: Teachers Continue to Leave the Profession!

Dear Commons Community,

A new report, published by the Alliance for Excellent Education in collaboration with the New Teacher Center (NTC), a non-profit that helps schools and policymakers develop training for new educators, found that about 13 percent of the nation’s 3.4 million teachers move schools or leave the profession every year, costing states up to $2 billion. Researchers estimate that over 1 million teachers move in and out of schools annually, and between 40 and 50 percent quit within five years.

This high turnover rate disproportionately affects high-poverty schools and seriously compromises the nation’s capacity to ensure that all students have access to skilled teaching, says On the Path to Equity: Improving the Effectiveness of Beginning Teachers.

“Teacher attrition hits states and school districts in the wallet, but students and teachers pay the real price,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “The monetary cost of teacher attrition pales in comparison to the loss of human potential associated with hard-to-staff schools that disproportionately serve low-income students and students of color. In these schools, poor learning climates and low achievement often result in students—and teachers—leaving in droves.”

The report cites the well-established principle that teaching quality is the most powerful school-based factor in student learning—one that outweighs students’ social and economic background in accounting for differences in student learning. It also notes that chronic gaps remain in disadvantaged students’ access to effective teaching—a scenario that unmistakably harms students, but also has an impact on teachers.



Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited: Game Changer or Come-On!

Dear Commons Community,

Amazon earlier this week announced an All-You-Can-Read service: Unlimited Kindle. It offers a collection of over 600,000 eBook titles for a low price of $9.99 per month. If this truly includes all Kindle books—it is a game changer. However, if it only means access to a limited number of “less popular” books, it is not much of an offer. Brian Mathews, Associate Dean for Learning & Outreach at Virginia Tech,  raised this issue in yesterday’s online edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education. He raised a number of interesting possibilities regarding the cost of textbooks, the collections of college libraries, and how university trustees might encourage administrators to adopt policies favoring Kindle Unlimited books. For example:

“Amazon will get a lot of publicity from this service and the message that sticks will be “all the books in the world for the low price of $9.99.” Even if it’s not true — that’s the likely perception that will prevail.

Librarians need to be prepared to talk about this. I can imagine the defense that will arise:

  • Not everything will be available online.
  • It doesn’t include journals and other mediums.
  • It’s a propriety / closed format.
  • Do we really want one company controlling the distribution of knowledge?
  • What if they raise the price to $99.99 a month?
  • You are forced into a licensing deal—if you stop payment everything vanishes, instantly.
  • Authors and publishers will be forced to negotiate with Amazon, which won’t be in their best (financial) interests.
  • There is no guarantee about the long-term preservation of knowledge.
  • What happens when Amazon is surpassed by someone else?”

Mathews’ conclusion:

“Amazon is going to have to provide access to major publishers, like Random House, Wiley, Springer, and Elsevier, and some university presses like MIT and UC in order for this to have any impact on academic libraries. I can see Kindle Unlimited creating an appetite (and expectation for everything) but we have to see if Amazon can actually deliver on the licensing.”

I just did a check on five textbooks I have use in my classes and none of them were available in the Kindle Unlimited collection.


School Life Expectancy Around the World!

School Life Expectency

Dear Commons Community,

On average, kids in Australia can expect to spend up to 15 more years in school than kids in Niger.

A new report from Cornell University, international business school INSEAD and the World Intellectual Property Organization looks, in part, at global “school life expectancy,” that is to say, how many years students around the world can expect to spend in school. Titled “The Global Innovation Index 2014,” the report shows wide variations in school life expectancy around the world.

While kids in places like Australia and New Zealand can expect to spend nearly 20 years in school, from the primary school level until the tertiary, or post-high school level; kids in places like Pakistan and Ethiopia can expect to spend less than 10 years in school.

Above is a map of the report’s results. The United States ranked thirteenth at almost 17 years of schooling.  In terms of overall global innovation, the United States ranked sixth.


My Brother’s Keeper to Expand: Program for Black and Latino Boys!

Dear Commons Community,

President Obama will announce today that 60 of the nation’s largest school districts are joining his initiative to improve the educational futures of young African-American and Hispanic boys, beginning in preschool and extending through high school graduation. As reported in the New York Times:

“The districts, which represent about 40 percent of all African-American and Hispanic boys living below the poverty line, have committed to expand quality preschool access; track data on black and Hispanic boys so educators can intervene as soon as signs of struggle emerge; increase the number of boys of color who take gifted, honors or Advanced Placement courses and exams; work to reduce the number of minority boys who are suspended or expelled; and increase graduation rates among African-American and Hispanic boys.

President Obama announced in February a five-year, $200 million initiative, known as My Brother’s Keeper, to help black and Latino youths. The new efforts, which will also seek support from the nonprofit and private sectors, are being coordinated by the Council of the Great City Schools, which represents large urban school districts. Michael Casserly, executive director of the organization, said that while a handful of districts had already made some progress in helping black and Latino boys improve their academic performance, “we need to move these numbers and improve these futures as a collective if the nation as a whole is to make any progress on this front. It’s not enough for us to do well in a small number of cities…”

The president will also announce on Monday that various organizations have committed funds to develop mentoring programs for young black and Latino youths or to design new school models for disadvantaged communities.

These include the National Basketball Associations, AT&T and the Emerson Collective — founded by Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of Apple’s founder Steve Jobs — to make grants and investments in education initiatives.”

This initiative is well-directed.


Income Inequality: World Bank, Luxembourg Income Study Center, Thomas Piketty!

Dear Commons Community,

In the past few years, the issue of income inequality has become a major rallying cry among social, political, and economic activists seeking to redistribute wealth in the United States and around the world.  Occupy Wall Street in 2011 was one of several populist movements that captured the essence of this issue.  Thomas Piketty, in his current best seller, Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century, has stoked the issue further. However, a recent study by the World Bank and the Luxembourg Income Study Center, offers that globally, income inequality has been falling. As reported in today’s  New York Times

“Income inequality has surged as a political and economic issue, but the numbers don’t show that inequality is rising from a global perspective. Yes, the problem has become more acute within most individual nations, yet income inequality for the world as a whole has been falling for most of the last 20 years. It’s a fact that hasn’t been noted often enough.

The finding comes from a recent investigation by Christoph Lakner, a consultant at the World Bank, and Branko Milanovic, senior scholar at the Luxembourg Income Study Center. And while such a framing may sound startling at first, it should be intuitive upon reflection. The economic surges of China, India and some other nations have been among the most egalitarian developments in history.”

With regard to the United States, income inequality has been rising due to a number of factors including those that have influenced the global income situation.

“International trade has drastically reduced poverty within developing nations, as evidenced by the export-led growth of China and other countries. Yet contrary to what many economists had promised, there is now good evidence that the rise of Chinese exports has held down the wages of some parts of the American middle class. This was demonstrated in a recent paper by the economists David H. Autor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, David Dorn of the Center for Monetary and Financial Studies in Madrid, and Gordon H. Hanson of the University of California, San Diego.

At the same time, Chinese economic growth has probably raised incomes of the top 1 percent in the United States, through exports that have increased the value of companies whose shares are often held by wealthy Americans. So while Chinese growth has added to income inequality in the United States, it has also increased prosperity and income equality globally.

The evidence also suggests that immigration of low-skilled workers to the United States has a modestly negative effect on the wages of American workers without a high school diploma, as shown, for instance, in research by George Borjas, a Harvard economics professor. Yet that same immigration greatly benefits those who move to wealthy countries like the United States. (It probably also helps top American earners, who can hire household and child-care workers at cheaper prices.) Again, income inequality within the nation may rise but global inequality probably declines, especially if the new arrivals send money back home.”

Assuming that all of the above is correct, while we can take heart that global income inequality is abating, here in the United States the situation is getting worse and is affecting our democratic principles to say nothing about the lives of the vast majority of Americans especially those living at or near poverty levels.  Thomas Piketty in his extensive analysis of the issue cautions that the top one percent has used their wealth to influence government policy in this country to the point that “a drift toward oligarchy is real and gives little reason for optimism about where the United States is headed.” (p. 514, Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century).



Diane Ravitch Calls on the Media to Sound the Alarm and to Address the Policies of the U.S. Dept. of Education!

Dear Commons Community,

In a blog posting yesterday, Diane Ravitch called on the free press to sound the alarm when private interests seek to undermine, exploit, monetize, and control our public schools. Here is an excerpt:

“What is most astonishing is to see the almost total indifference or ignorance of the mainstream media to an unprecedented and well-coordinated effort to privatize public education. Reporters don’t care that certain individuals and corporations are accumulating millions of dollars in taxpayer funding while schools are cutting their budgets and closing their libraries and increasing class sizes. Reporters don’t care that state authorities are allowing schools to open whose founders are not educators and may even be high school dropouts. Nor do they care when charter corporations claim to be “public schools,” yet refuse to permit the state to audit their expenditures, and in some states, refuse to share financial information with their own board. Has anyone tried to explain how a school can be “public” if its financials are not? Reporters know, but don’t care, that major charter chains contribute millions of dollars to state legislatures to make sure that no one investigates their use of public funds. A few reporters in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida have dared to pry into the cozy relationship between the charters and the legislature, but their exposes are followed by silence and inaction.

If present trends continue, the U.S. will have a dual system of education in another decade. Some cities will have few public schools, only charters that choose their students and exclude those with disabilities and those who can’t speak English. The few remaining public schools in urban districts will enroll the charter school rejects.”

Sound the alarm!



Cornell Tech: A New Campus Rises on Roosevelt Island in New York City!

Dear Commons Community,

Cornell Tech, a new joint venture between Cornell University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, has begun to take shape on Roosevelt Island in New York City. The first buildings will be occupied in 2017. However, the spaces in these and in future buildings will bear little resemblance to other college facilities. There will be few classrooms, practically no faculty offices and lots of open spaces designed to foster collaboration among students and faculty. Dan Huttenlocher, dean of Cornell Tech, in an interview with  The Chronicle of Higher Education comments:

“Walls divide people and define spaces. They restrict movement. They discourage exchange. And they’re a pain to move if your needs change, especially when they’re stuffed with cables, ducts, and other infrastructural accessories.

Mr. Huttenlocher is certain his needs will change [and] is overseeing the creation of an institution dedicated to technological innovation, academic experimentation, and the kind of serial flexibility those two principles require.

“My goal as the dean is to create an environment where everything can be repurposed.”

He and his team are in the tenuous middle stages of planning and building exactly that: the chameleon campus, a space where interchangeability permeates everything. As Cathy Dove, Cornell Tech’s founding vice president, puts it, “We want to embody the principle of iteration”

The fundamental question is:

“How do you create a new institution in an age where everything—office design, intelligent infrastructure, cloud computing, classroom technology—presents some opportunity to break with the past? What do you build? What do you wire? What kind of interactions do you encourage? Some institutions might create committees to try to anticipate specific changes. Cornell Tech is determined to do the opposite. Those responsible for building the campus of the future won’t pretend to know what the future holds. They only hope they’re building something malleable enough to handle it.”

The article goes on to describe the first academic building. The second, third, and fourth stories of the five-level structure are undefined, dominated by large, uninterrupted spaces. Classrooms? Faculty offices? The building will have little of the former and none of the latter. Instead there are “office zones,” which will be filled with workstations; those seeking some form of enclosure can enter a “huddle room,” “swing space, “collab” room, or “hub lounge.” The entrepreneurial patois, conspicuous as it sounds, reflects a real attempt to break down traditional academic boundaries.

All of this sounds most interesting and  a great place to learn, teach, and share.



How E-Reading Threatens the Humanities!

Dear Commons Community,

Naomi S. Baron, a professor of linguistics and executive director of the Center for Teaching, Research & Learning at American University, has an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, commenting on reading printed text versus reading with an e-reader. Provocatively titled, “How E-Reading Threatens the Humanities”, Baron makes the case that certain types of reading such as “deep reading” which is necessary for philosophy, literature, and history is better done using print mainly because there is less distraction as might be the case with an electronic device. Here is an excerpt:

“…there is another essential consideration affecting interest in humanistic inquiry: how we are doing our reading. I contend that the shift from reading in print to reading on digital devices is further reducing students’ pursuit of work in the humanities. Students (and the rest of us) have been reading on computers for many years. Besides searching for web pages, we’ve grown accustomed to reading journal articles online and mining documents in digital archives. However, with the coming of e-readers, tablets, and smartphones, reading styles underwent a sea change.

…What’s the problem? Not all reading works well on digital screens.

For the past five years, I’ve been examining the pros and cons of reading on-screen versus in print. The bottom line is that while digital devices may be fine for reading that we don’t intend to muse over or reread, text that requires what’s been called “deep reading” is nearly always better done in print.”

Baron goes on to cite a survey she conducted of college student preferences:

“My survey research with university students in the United States, Germany, and Japan reveals that if cost were the same, about 90 percent (at least in my sample) prefer hard copy for schoolwork. If a text is long, 92 percent would choose hard copy. For shorter texts, it’s a toss-up.

Digital reading also encourages distraction and invites multitasking. Among American and Japanese subjects, 92 percent reported it was easiest to concentrate when reading in hard copy. (The figure for Germany was 98 percent.) In this country, 26 percent indicated they were likely to multitask while reading in print, compared with 85 percent when reading on-screen. Imagine wrestling with Finnegan’s Wake while simultaneously juggling Facebook and booking a vacation flight. You get the point.”

Baron provides interesting commentary but I am not sure that we are not in a transition period of people adjusting to electronic reading over print. I read both hard copy and electronically although I tend to prefer print for certain material.



Rupert Murdoch Tries to Buy Time-Warner but Is Rejected!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times and other media are reporting that Rupert Murdoch has made a bid to buy Time Warner that would set in motion a massive merger of entertainment media conglomerates. As reported:

“21st Century Fox, owned by Murdoch, offered to purchase Time Warner for $80 billion, but was turned down.

21st Century Fox eventually confirmed that it had made an offer, but said it was not currently in discussions with Time Warner.

Time Warner (which includes CNN) issued a statement of its own, explaining why it had rejected the deal:

‘In making its determination, the Time Warner Board considered, among other things, that: The execution of Time Warner’s strategic plan will continue to drive significant and sustainable value for Time Warner stockholders; the unique value of Time Warner’s industry-leading businesses including its portfolio of networks and its film studio and television production business is only going to increase; there is significant risk and uncertainty as to the valuation of Twenty-First Century Fox’s non-voting stock and Twenty-First Century Fox’s ability to govern and manage a combination of the size and scale of Twenty-First Century Fox and Time Warner; and there are considerable strategic, operational, and regulatory risks to executing a combination with Twenty-First Century Fox.’

It would be a horror for anything owned by Murdoch to expand its control of news and media in this country. Murdoch is still trying to live down the hacking scandals dubbed “Hackgate”, “Rupertgate”, or “Murdochgate” that involved the now defunct News of the World and other British newspapers published by News International, a subsidiary of Murdoch’s News Corporation. If that isn’t bad enough, how about imagining a scenario where Fox  News’ Sean Hannity takes over Wolf Blitzer’s spot on CNN.



Echoing Thomas Piketty: Robert Reich on The Rise of the Non-Working Rich!

Dear Commons Community,

Robert Reich, Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration and now the Chancellor’s Professor of Pubic Policy at the University of California, Berkley, has a blog posting reviewing the tax policies during the Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush presidencies that have resulted in “the largest inter-generational wealth transfer in history”. Here is an excerpt:

“The wealth is coming from those who over the last three decades earned huge amounts on Wall Street, in corporate boardrooms, or as high-tech entrepreneurs.

It’s going to their children, who did nothing except be born into the right family.

The “self-made” man or woman, the symbol of American meritocracy, is disappearing. Six of today’s ten wealthiest Americans are heirs to prominent fortunes. Just six Walmart heirs have more wealth than the bottom 42 percent of Americans combined (up from 30 percent in 2007).

The U.S. Trust bank just released a poll of Americans with more than $3 million of investable assets.

Nearly three-quarters of those over age 69, and 61 percent of boomers (between the ages of 50 and 68), were the first in their generation to accumulate significant wealth.

But the bank found inherited wealth far more common among rich millennials under age 35.

This is the dynastic form of wealth French economist Thomas Piketty warns about. It’s been the major source of wealth in Europe for centuries. It’s about to become the major source in America – unless, that is, we do something about it.”

I am presently reading Piketty’s book and Reich is correct in his assertions and sounding the alarm.   Echoing Piketty, Reich recommends:

“First, restore the estate tax in full.

Second, eliminate the “stepped-up-basis on death” rule. This obscure tax provision allows heirs to avoid paying capital gains taxes on the increased value of assets accumulated during the life of the deceased. Such untaxed gains account for more than half of the value of estates worth more than $100 million, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Third, institute a wealth tax. We already have an annual wealth tax on homes, the major asset of the middle class. It’s called the property tax. Why not a small annual tax on the value of stocks and bonds, the major assets of the wealthy?

We don’t have to sit by and watch our meritocracy be replaced by a permanent aristocracy, and our democracy be undermined by dynastic wealth. We can and must take action — before it’s too late.”