New York Times Magazine Gets Makeover!

Dear Commons Community,

For those of us who read or peruse the New York Times Magazine every Sunday, get ready for a new look and feel.  For the first time in ages, the Magazine has been redesigned.  There will be new typefaces, logos, columns, and a host of “hammer and nail [not blowtorch] changes.” Here are samples of the changes as presented in a Times article this morning:

First Words: This column opens the magazine each week with a prolonged consideration of a telling word or phrase. A small group of writers will trade off in this slot, among them Virginia Heffernan, Colson Whitehead, Amanda Hess and Michael Pollan.

Search Results: Twice a month, the great and farseeing Jenna Wortham will use this space for a dispatch from Internet culture, which, let’s be honest, is the most vital engine of culture today.

The Ethicists: This page, which has been in existence since 1999, has undergone the most radical overhaul: We have reimagined it as a podcast. On their weekly show, produced with our friends at Slate, our three-ethicist panel of Kenji Yoshino, Amy Bloom and Jack Shafer will discuss and debate the best way to solve readers’ ethical quandaries. In print and online, you’ll be able to read an edited excerpt from that conversation

The Ons: In a monthly rotation, four different critics will take up four different subjects — Teju Cole on photography (which is featured this week); Adam Davidson on money; Troy Patterson on clothing; and Helen Macdonald on nature. Each of them can also be found continuing their studies of these subjects throughout the month online.

Finally, later this year, we’ll be beginning a regular series of evenings with The Times Magazine, events here in New York City at which some of the best stories and subjects from our pages come to life. But we’ll also be bringing The Times Magazine to stages around the country, with gatherings that celebrate some of our special issues. In June, our Design and Technology Issue will furnish the theme for a conference in San Francisco; in October, our Culture Issue will become a Culture Festival in New York; and in December, our Great Performers Issue will make its debut with a premiere screening and conversation in Los Angeles.”

Thank God the article did not mention any change to the crossword puzzle.



Nicholas Kristof: We Should Strengthen Unions, Not Try to Eviscerate Them.

Dear Commons Community,

Nicholas Kristof in his New York Times column yesterday fesses up that he used to be opposed to unions. He has now changed his mind because he has come to believe that a good deal of the income inequality in this country can be traced to the weakening of unions and collective bargaining.

“I disdained unions as bringing corruption, nepotism and rigid work rules to the labor market, impeding the economic growth that ultimately makes a country strong.

I was wrong.

The abuses are real. But, as unions wane in American life, it’s also increasingly clear that they were doing a lot of good in sustaining middle class life — especially the private-sector unions that are now dwindling.

Most studies suggest that about one-fifth of the increase in economic inequality in America among men in recent decades is the result of the decline in unions. It may be more: A study in the American Sociological Review, using the broadest methodology, estimates that the decline of unions may account for one-third of the rise of inequality among men.

“To understand the rising inequality, you have to understand the devastation in the labor movement,” says Jake Rosenfeld, a labor expert at the University of Washington and the author of “What Unions No Longer Do.”

Take construction workers. A full-time construction worker earns about $10,000 less per year now than in 1973, in today’s dollars, according to Rosenfeld. One reason is probably that the proportion who are unionized has fallen in that period from more than 40 percent to just 14 percent.

“All the focus on labor’s flaws can distract us from the bigger picture,” Rosenfeld writes. “For generations now the labor movement has stood as the most prominent and effective voice for economic justice.”

I’m as appalled as anyone by silly work rules and $400,000 stagehands, or teachers’ unions shielding the incompetent. But unions also lobby for programs like universal prekindergarten that help create broad-based prosperity. They are pushing for a higher national minimum wage, even though that would directly benefit mostly nonunionized workers.

I’ve also changed my mind because, in recent years, the worst abuses by far haven’t been in the union shop but in the corporate suite. One of the things you learn as a journalist is that when there’s no accountability, we humans are capable of tremendous avarice and venality. That’s true of union bosses — and of corporate tycoons. Unions, even flawed ones, can provide checks and balances for flawed corporations.”

Kristof’s conclusion:

“This isn’t something you often hear a columnist say, but I’ll say it again: I was wrong…we should strengthen unions, not try to eviscerate them.”



Ideologues Seek to Close Centers at the U. of North Carolina!

Dear Commons Community,

An advisory panel of the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors has recommended closing three academic centers, including a poverty center and one dedicated to social change, inciting outrage among liberals who believe that conservatives in control of state government are targeting ideological opponents in academia. As reported in the New York Times:

“Conservatives are cheering the move, seeing it as a corrective to a higher education system they believe has lent its imprimatur to groups that engage in partisan activism.

“They’re moving in the right direction, though I don’t think they went far enough,” said Francis X. De Luca, president of the Civitas Institute, a conservative think tank based in Raleigh. “A lot of these centers were started up with a specific advocacy role in mind, as opposed to an educational role.”

But critics say the moves by a panel whose members were appointed by a Republican-dominated Legislature reflect the rightward tilt of state government.

“It’s clearly not about cost-saving; it’s about political philosophy and the right-wing takeover of North Carolina state government,” said Chris Fitzsimon, director of NC Policy Watch, a liberal group. “And this is one of the biggest remaining pieces that they’re trying to exert their control over.”

The impassioned response is the latest manifestation of a deep ideological rift in North Carolina that was exacerbated by the 2010 elections, when Republicans took control of both houses of the Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction. They soon enacted an ambitious conservative agenda in what had been one of the South’s more moderate states.

The fate of the 17-campus public university system was bound to be affected: While many here take pride in its carefully cultivated rise to the top tier of American public education, conservatives have long groused about some campuses, particularly the flagship school at Chapel Hill, as out-of-touch havens of liberalism.

Since the recession began, the state government has also subjected the system to budget cuts leading to the loss of hundreds of positions.
Twenty-nine of the 32 university board members were appointed by the Legislature after the Republicans’ 2010 gains. Last year, lawmakers instructed the board to consider redirecting some of the funding that goes to the system’s 240 centers and institutes, which focus on topics ranging from child development to African studies.

The advisory group’s report, which is likely to be considered by the full Board of Governors next Friday, recommends closing the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at Chapel Hill; North Carolina Central University’s Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change; and East Carolina University’s Center for Biodiversity.”

It is sad commentary that one of the truly great public university systems in our country is being forced to submit to the whims of ideologues.


Janet Napolitano: U. of California to Postpone Tuition Increase for One Year!

Dear Commons Community,

Various media including the Associated Press are reporting that University of California President Janet Napolitano is postponing a proposed tuition increase as a good faith gesture stemming from her ongoing negotiations with Gov. Jerry Brown to resolve their standoff over higher education funding.

Speaking at the University of Southern California, Napolitano said she was also hopeful the university system will be able to forestall any tuition increase for the next academic year.

Napolitano and Brown have been working in private to consider some of the proposals the governor believes will allow the university to serve more students without increasing tuition or receiving a significant budget hike.

The Board of Regents approved raising tuition to up to 5 percent each of the next five years at Napolitano’s urging in November unless the state gave the university more money.


New York Times to Re-Enter the Education Business!

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education is reporting that the The New York Times is re-entering the world of education with a new effort called NYT EDUcation. While there were few details, The Chronicle reported:

“The Times is collaborating with the CIG Education Group, which helps create branded academic institutions like Sotheby’s Institute of Art, to develop the program. Michael Greenspon, general manager of news services and international for the Times, said the effort had come from the business side rather than the newsroom.

Journalists on the Times staff are busy with their day jobs and would not be required to participate, though he said he could see them offering guest lectures or particularly interested staff members becoming otherwise involved—as long as it did not conflict with their editorial duties.

The Times has tried and failed at such educational efforts before. Its Knowledge Network, an online-education program the newspaper started in 2007 in collaboration with Stanford University, the University of Southern California, and other colleges, was suspended in 2012.

NYT EDUcation differs from the Knowledge Network primarily in its business model. “The Knowledge Network relied primarily on the New York Times brand alone, and I think the combination of the New York Times brand with the educators and the practitioners that CIG brings just is a combination that we alone could not beat,” Mr. Greenspon said.

When the Times suspended the Knowledge Network, it wasn’t trying to get out of the education game completely, he said.

“We took a step back, we didn’t take a step out,” Mr. Greenspon said. “For us, it was really just trying to figure out what was the right way to get back in.”

Though the plan is to offer courses starting this fall, the development of the courses is still in its very early stages. Officials did not say what topics would be covered, who would be teaching them, or how much the courses would cost.

“All the options are on the table,” said Michael Chung, chief executive of CIG. Some courses could be online, others could meet face to face, or they could be hybrids, he added.”



Will the Tennessee Promise of Free Community College Work?

Dear Commons Community,

Educators and policy makers are intensely watching the roll-out of the Tennessee Promise for next year, the program that provides a free community college education for every high school graduate.  Basically it is in the student application process stage right now but early results seem impressive.  As reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required):

“Nearly 90 percent of high-school seniors in Tennessee applied [to the program], and more than 9,000 adults have volunteered to serve as mentors for those applicants.

It’s a large-scale experiment, and higher-education experts and policy makers across the nation will be watching to see if the lure of tuition-free college attracts students—and keeps them in college long enough to complete a degree or vocational program.

The early results are encouraging, but they’re far from a guarantee of success. While two-year colleges are bracing for enrollment increases, more students in classrooms won’t necessarily translate into an increase in college completions—the real goal of the Promise.

If enrollments increase too much, community colleges may struggle with the cost of adding enough instructors. An influx of students who are unprepared for the rigors of college learning may lead to more dropouts along the way. And some students still may not have enough financial support to attend full time (a requirement of the program) without working, hampering their academic progress.”

It also appears that the program will not cost as much as initial expected since:

“State officials estimate that the average Tennessee Promise student will receive a little less than $1,000 per year. In fact, many students who sign up for the program will not get any money through the program because they are eligible for a full Pell Grant of $5,700—nearly $2,000 more than the cost of full-time tuition at a community-college in Tennessee.

The Tennessee Promise is a “last dollar” scholarship, which means that the state will cover only the tuition costs left after a student applies for other forms of financial aid, such as a Pell Grant or the state’s Hope Scholarship, which has a minimum grade-point-average requirement.

That last-dollar approach keeps the cost of the Promise relatively low and politically palatable in a conservative state whose lawmakers are stingy about government spending. The money also comes from state lottery proceeds, not tax dollars—another detail that makes the program easier for legislators to swallow.

The small amount of money is meant to send a big message, said Governor William E. Haslam during an interview in his office. For most families, “the funding gap is not that big, but they don’t know that,” he said. “We want to push down that barrier.”

The critical issue for this program is whether these students will be successful and graduate. It will not do them any good if the program becomes a revolving door with many students admitted only to drop out because they cannot meet academic requirements or they feel pressured to address other personal, financial, and family needs. On the other hand, if it does works, it will be the model for states throughout the country.



National Education Policy Center Policy Memo and Petition:  13 Years of Failed High Stakes Testing!

Dear Commons Community,

An anti-testing backlash is growing in this country with parents and educators increasingly demanding changes to the No Child Left Behind Act.  A new National Education Policy Center Policy Memo published yesterday points out that the mistakes in NCLB may be repeated, as lawmakers in Washington, D.C. begin discussions on its reauthorization.

NCLB was “an ineffective solution to some very real problems,” according to the new NEPC Policy Memo. The memo, Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act: Time to Move Beyond Test-Focused Policies, discusses the broad research consensus that standardized tests are ineffective and even counterproductive when used to drive educational reform. It is the basis of an online petition inviting education researchers to express their support for moving toward opportunity-based reform approaches.

The memo is authored by Professor Kevin Welner of the University of Colorado Boulder, who is NEPC’s director, and by William Mathis, who is managing director of NEPC and serves on the Vermont State Board of Education.

Thirteen years of intense focus on test-score improvement has yielded few if any benefits. Yet negative, unintended consequences have continued to mount—in the form of narrowed and less engaging curriculum, constrained instruction, and deprofessionalized teachers and teaching, Welner and Mathis point out. Presidents Bush and Obama can equally share the blame for this sad state of affairs.

This year is critical for public education in this country.  The issues presented in the reauthorization of the NCLB will have severe ramifications for our children if not addressed properly.



White House and Congress Begin Battle of No Child Left Behind!

Dear Commons Community,

The first salvos have been launched in the upcoming war between the White House and the U.S. Congress on the rewrite of No Child Left Behind.  The White House over the weekend pushed back against House Republicans who want to limit the federal government’s role in education.

President Obama said a GOP House education bill would be a “huge step backward” and “virtually eliminate accountability” in making sure federal education money helps impoverished communities…After an economic crisis that hit school budgets and educators hard, we cannot just cut our way to better schools and more opportunity,…”

Last week, Republicans on the House Education Committee pushed through a bill that would leave it to states to decide how to improve failing schools and would replace several federal programs with a single, flexible local grant program. The legislation was considered an update to the bipartisan No Child Left Behind law signed in 2002 by President George W. Bush.

The White House counters that the legislation would enable states to divert federal education dollars to unrelated projects like prisons and sports stadiums.  As reported in The Huffington Post:

“In a conference call with journalists, a senior White House adviser stopped short of saying President Barack Obama would veto the bill. Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said the administration is hopeful the Senate will draft an acceptable bill that has bipartisan support.

As with any legislation, the devil will be in the details but President Obama will have difficulty securing support from traditional Democratic Party loyalists such as the NEA and the AFT.  Duriing Obama’s tenure, teachers and school administrators have been besieged by one U.S Department of Education mandate after another and would welcome a change away from federal policy that emphasizes assessment, testing, and teacher evaluation.



Save the Wisconsin Idea!

Dear Commons Community,

Christine Evans, an assistant professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, has an op-ed piece  in the New York Times today, calling out Governor Scott Walker for his attack on the University of Wisconsin.   Earlier this year, Walker proposed a budget that would cut $300 million of funds to the University of Wisconsin system and shift power over tuition from the Legislature to a new public authority controlled by appointed regents. The initial draft of Mr. Walker’s budget bill also proposed to rewrite the university’s 110-year-old mission statement, known as the Wisconsin Idea, deleting “the search for truth” and replacing it with language about meeting “the state’s work-force needs.”  Evans comments:

“[Walker’s] attack, surely meant to impress possible donors to the governor’s potential presidential campaign, squanders the inheritance of all Wisconsinites: an affordable, top-ranked university system that attracts students and scholars from around the world and is a major contributor to the state’s economy. Criticism prompted the governor to restore the Wisconsin Idea’s wording, but the budget cuts remained.

Mr. Walker’s action implies that Wisconsinites no longer share their parents’ and grandparents’ values. He suggests that a university system with a mission to “educate people and improve the human condition” is no longer a priority here. He is wrong.

Evans, who teaches history, also defends the importance of the humanities in a college education, and concludes:

“We should reject Mr. Walker’s claim that he knows best what the limits of Wisconsin students’ education should be. As my students understand, the humanities train critical thinkers and citizens. That may be inconvenient for politicians who see their constituents as merely a “work force,” but it is definitely good for our democracy, as well as our economy.

Students like mine are the ones who will be hurt most directly by Mr. Walker’s proposed changes. The experiences of the Wisconsin system and that of other state universities show that when state funding is cut, regents raise tuition sharply to compensate. Students pay more and get less. This has already happened in Louisiana, where Gov. Bobby Jindal has implemented similarly drastic cuts to the public university system. During his time in office, tuition at public universities in the state has nearly doubled.

The Wisconsin Idea has been a national model for over a century. Mr. Walker’s assault on it is meant as a model, too — a guide for dismantling the public universities we’ve all inherited.”

Walker is considering a run for the Republican nomination for president.  He is not likely to win it but he is probably the leading candidate among the right-wing factions of the party.



Eli Broad Foundation to Suspend National Prize for Urban School Systems!

Dear Commons Community,

Billionaire Eli Broad has suspended a $1-million prize to honor the best urban school systems out of concern that they are failing to improve quickly enough.

The action underscores the changing education landscape as well the evolving thinking and impatience of the 81-year-old philanthropist.

The $1 million award was pulled amid concerns that the schools are failing to improve quickly enough, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday.

The Broad Prize for Urban Education was established 13 years ago to encourage success in raising student achievement.

“We’ve seen some of that, but not enough and not fast enough,” said Bruce Reed, president of the Los Angeles-based Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.

Last year, there were co-winners: Orange County Public Schools in Florida, which won praise for rapid improvement; and Gwinnett County Public Schools in Georgia, honored for sustained high performance.

Broad is no longer certain that he wants to reward traditional school districts at all, according to the newspaper.

The billionaire recently established a $250,000 prize for charter organizations, an award that will continue. Charters are publicly funded and independently managed.

Eli Broad also attracted lots of attention in 2012 for being among donors whose money was channeled anonymously through several organizations before landing in a committee that unsuccessfully tried to defeat Proposition 30 in California, a temporary tax increase that prevented deep budget cuts to education.

Broad’s suspension of his prize is no great loss.  His foundation has an ideological agenda based on privatization and corporatization of  public education.  This prize essentially was for school districts that followed his agenda.