NY Times Editorial Slams Governor Andrew Cuomo for Proposing Tax Credits for Donors to Private Schools!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times editorial yesterday slammed NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposal for tax credits for individuals donating to private and parochial schools. As stated in the editorial:

“Gov. Andrew Cuomo can talk passionately about improving New York’s “failing public schools,” but when he made that point at churches and a yeshiva last Sunday it was, at best, disingenuous. He was there to sell his bill that would help private and parochial schools, by offering big tax credits to their donors. This energetic effort for an expensive and possibly unconstitutional bill that Mr. Cuomo has named the Parental Choice in Education Act could cost the state more than $150 million a year. That money should be used to help almost 2.7 million public school students in the state, not given to wealthy donors subsidizing mainly private or religious schools.

Elizabeth Lynam, a budget expert for New York’s Citizens Budget Commission, called the bill “an extremely lucrative benefit likely to serve the state’s wealthiest taxpayers.” Many of the people who would get the credit already support their favorite private or parochial schools, she said. A tax credit to encourage them isn’t needed.

The bill would allow a 75 percent credit on donations of up to $1 million for each individual or corporation contributing to funds for students in private or parochial schools. That is a huge change from existing law, which offers far less lucrative tax deductions. Typically, for the wealthiest taxpayers, the maximum state tax deduction on $1 million is about $22,000. The Cuomo plan would cap the number of tax credits it gives out and create a complicated system of deadlines and requirements before donors could get the full benefits. Those difficulties add to the suspicion that only someone with a fancy accountant could easily take advantage of this tax bonus.

The $150 million pool includes millions of dollars in tax credits for donations that could provide scholarships to private or parochial students from families with incomes of up to $300,000 a year, which hardly targets the neediest students. And, in an attempt to attract support from the Assembly speaker ,Carl Heastie, and his Democratic majority, Mr. Cuomo has proposed $70 million for a tuition credit of $500 per child sent to nonpublic schools for families with incomes of up to $60,000. There would also be $10 million a year for public-school teachers, including those in charter schools, who could get up to $200 each in tax relief when they buy classroom supplies.

With this misguided bill, Mr. Cuomo may have found plenty of support from religious leaders and private school donors. But his efforts seems jarring, given his record of seeking more accountability in schools. The state has little say in private and parochial schools over testing, the teaching of basic subjects or other data collection required for assessing a good education.

Moreover, taxpayer support for religious education has been banned by the state Constitution for over a century. Exceptions were made long ago for universal needs like transportation and special education, but there are questions as to whether the kind of public support for religious schools the bill proposes would be prohibited.

Republicans in the majority in the State Senate are all for the governor’s bill. It will be up to Mr. Heastie and the Assembly to make sure it doesn’t pass.”

The Times is right. Tax credits for individuals donating to private and parochial schools would be anti-public education and probably would not stand up to a Constitutional challenge.



NYS High School Principal of the Year Carol Burris Resigns Citing Test-Heavy Teacher Evaluation Processes and Common Core!

Carol Burris

Dear Commons Community,

Education Week, the Long Island Herald, and Newsweek have articles reporting that New York State Principal of the Year in 2013, Carol Burris, is resigning in response to new teacher evaluation procedures and the Common Core. As reported:

“Carol Burris, a nationally recognized principal and a vocal opponent of the Common Core State Standards, announced recently that she will be resigning from her position after this school year, citing test-heavy teacher-evaluation processes as a key reason for her departure.

Burris, the principal of South Side High School in Rockville Centre, N.Y., has been recognized by several state and national associations and was named the New York High School Principal of the Year in 2013. Known as a proponent of rigorous curriculum, she’s drawn attention for mandating that nearly all students in her school take advanced classes, including International Baccalaureate courses.

In explaining her decision to resign, Burris said she was morally opposed to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to make student test scores count for as much as 50 percent of teachers’ evaluation ratings.

“I did not feel, in good conscience, that I could come back the following year and participate in that evaluation system,” she said, according to a Newsday report.

Provisions to create a new, more rigorous evaluation system were included in New York’s recently passed budget legislation. While Gov. Cuomo had originally proposed making student performance count for half of a teacher’s evaluation, the details of the new system have yet to be fleshed out, though test scores are expected to be a central component.

Though she was once a supporter of the common core, and even co-authored a book on working with the standards in schools, Burris has become an outspoken and oft-cited critic of the framework, arguing that it is unclear, untested, and overly complicated.

Though she is leaving her school position, Burris is not expected to retire from K-12 education scene. She said she plans to devote more of her time to fighting the changes she sees as harmful to education, including the standards and the new teacher-evaluation system. “I think it’s time for me to step outside of the system and advocate for schools full time,” she told LIHerald.com.”



What Is ‘Personalized Learning’? Video Series Aims to Go Beyond Hype!

Dear Commons Community,

Personalized learning is one of the current instructional technologies that is receiving a lot of attention. An education blog whose authors believe there’s too much hype around “personalized learning” technology has posted a series of video case studies about the trend, hoping to help get beyond overheated rhetoric.  They provide a look at five colleges trying high-tech classroom experiments and wrestling with how new teaching methods change the role of students and teachers.

As reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“The videos were produced by the education-technology blog e-Literate, with the support of a $350,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The case studies, divided into short segments covering different topics, together resemble a MOOC. That’s no accident, says Michael Feldstein, founder of the blog and a host of the videos, who hopes that some teaching-with-technology centers will use the videos in their professional-development workshops.

He wants videos to provide more nuance than can be found in several recent popular books about the future of education. “It’s just hard to convey a visceral sense of what’s going on in the day-to-day educational lives of teachers and students with the written word,” he said in a post about the videos.

Most projects featured in the videos are also supported by the Gates Foundation, but in an interview, Mr. Feldstein said the foundation had given him and the other host, Phil Hill, editorial independence. “We told them that if we decide that this personalized-learning software doesn’t work, that’s what we’re going to publish,” he said. “We look at what’s working and what’s not.”

Worth a look!



New York State Student Testing Opt-Out Movement Growing!

Opt Out Testing Graphic New York State 2015Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has a featured article this morning reviewing the student testing opt-out movement that has  gained ground in New York.  Across the state, a small, vocal movement urging a rejection of standardized exams took off this year, maturing from scattered displays of disobedience into a widespread rebuke of state testing policies. The graphic above  illustrates how it has grown over the past three years. As reported in the New York Times:

“At least 165,000 children, or one of every six eligible students, sat out at least one of the two standardized tests this year, more than double and possibly triple the number who did so in 2014, according to an analysis by The New York Times.

As the vanguard of an anti-testing fervor that has spread across the country, New York’s opt-out movement has become a political force. Just two months ago, lawmakers from both parties, at the behest of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, increased the role of test scores in teacher evaluations and tenure decisions. Those legislators are now tripping over one another to introduce bills that guarantee the right to refuse to take tests.

At the same time, some education officials and advocacy groups fear the opt-out movement will reverse a long-term effort to identify teachers and schools — and students — who are not up to par, at least as far as their test performance goes. Of particular concern is that without reliable, consistent data, children in minority communities may be left to drift through schools that fail them, without consequences…

Many local parents, however, said they had their children skip the tests not because they were afraid of the results, but because they felt they put too much stress on students, for example, or because they wanted to make a statement on behalf of teachers.

In March, Governor Cuomo, dismayed at the large percentage of teachers getting high ratings, succeeded in tying teacher evaluations and tenure decisions more closely to the tests. Some testing opponents point to Mr. Cuomo’s effort as a moment that galvanized parents to opt out. But Jim Malatras, his director of state operations, said the rise in test refusals did not signal a political miscalculation on the part of the governor. This kind of reaction, Mr. Malatras said, was to be expected from any substantial shift in policy.

“I don’t think this does anything to change the accountability push,” he said.

But Robert Pondiscio, a senior fellow and vice president for external affairs at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education policy organization, said that rather than enforcing the rules, government officials might very well retreat.

“You could write a really good history of education writ large about our tendency in this country to go from one extreme to the other, and this has all the hallmarks of that,” Mr. Pondiscio said. “This is not a prediction, but it would not surprise me to see New York, or someplace else, go from testing every kid within an inch of their life to testing nobody, ever.”



Kentaro Toyama on: Why Technology Will Never Fix Education?

Dear Commons Community,

Kentaro Toyama, an associate professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Information, and a fellow at the Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values at MIT, has an article in today’s Chronicle of Higher Education, casting severe doubt on whether technology will ever “fix” education. He refers to education technology’s Law of Amplification: “While technology helps education where it’s already doing well, technology does little for mediocre educational systems; and in dysfunctional schools, it can cause outright harm.” Here is an excerpt:

“One problem is a widespread impression that Silicon Valley innovations are necessarily good for society. We confuse business success with social value, though the two often differ. Just for example, how is it that during the last four decades we have seen an explosion of incredible technologies, but America’s poverty rate hasn’t decreased and inequality has skyrocketed? Any idea that more technology in and of itself cures social ills is obviously flawed. Yet without a good framework for thinking about technology and society, it’s easy to get caught up in hype about new gadgets.

The Law of Amplification provides one such framework: At heart, it affirms that technology is a tool, which means that any positive effects depend on well-intentioned, capable people. But this also means that good outcomes are never guaranteed. What amplification predicts is that technological effects follow underlying social currents.

MOOCs offer a convenient example. Proponents cite the potential for MOOCs to lower the costs of education, based on the assumption that low-cost content is what is needed. Of course, the Internet offers dirt-cheap replicability, and it undeniably amplifies content producers’ ability to reach a mass audience. But if free content were all that was needed for an education, everyone with broadband connectivity would be an Ivy League Ph.D.”

He concludes:

“So what is to be done? Unfortunately, there is no technological fix, and that is perhaps the hardest lesson of amplification. More technology only magnifies socioeconomic disparities, and the only way to avoid that is nontechnological:  Either resolve the underlying inequities first, or create policies that favor the less advantaged.”




Former Reagan/Bush Official Bruce Barlett: Fox News Hurting the Republican Party!

Dear Commons Community,

Fox News is hurting the Republican Party, according to a study conducted by Bruce Barlett, who worked in senior-level positions for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. The study found that Fox viewers tended to be less informed about current affairs than people who watch mainstream news — and even people who don’t watch the news at all.

As reported in The Huffington Post:

“Republican voters get so much of their news from Fox, which cheerleads whatever their candidates are doing or saying, that they suffer from wishful thinking and fail to see that they may not be doing as well as they imagine, or that their ideas are not connecting outside the narrow party base,” Bartlett said.

Citing a host of other studies, Bartlett found that Fox News viewers tended to have misguided beliefs about the Iraq War, the Affordable Care Act and other major issues. He also noted that Fox’s audience tended to hold a bias against Muslims.

“It appears that right-wing bias, including inaccurate reporting, became commonplace on Fox,” Bartlett said. This is especially problematic, he said, because “many conservatives now refuse to even listen to any news or opinion not vetted through Fox, and to believe whatever appears on it as the gospel truth.”

The Daily Show recently put together a compilation of some of the network’s most egregious inaccuracies. Among them: NASA scientists fabricated data to prove climate change exists, Obama sent more forces to fight Ebola than ISIS, and the Affordable Care Act will eventually lead to single-payer health care. “

Barlett is trying to do the Republican Party a favor but it is doubtful that Fox News will listen. There is too much money to be made by catering to the biases of uninformed viewers.



Hillary Clinton: Top 25 Hedge Fund Managers Make More Money than All Kindergarten Teachers in America!

Dear Commons Community.

Reuters is reporting this morning that Hillary Clinton came out swinging against hedge fund managers by comparing their salaries to kindergarten teachers.

“Speaking to about 60 supporters at a house party in Iowa, Clinton said “the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top” like chief executives and hedge fund managers.

“In fact, I heard a statistic the other day that really made a big impact on me. The top 25 hedge fund managers together make more money than all the kindergarten teachers in America,” she said.

Clinton, the Democratic front-runner for the presidential nomination in 2016, has previously criticized hedge fund managers as examples of the income disparity she says she wants to end.

Her latest comments came only days after news that the former secretary of state and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, have earned at least $30 million since January 2014, including more than $25 million for delivering about 100 speeches.

Clinton is on her second swing through Iowa, a state that holds one of the first party nominating contests and where she chose to campaign last month immediately after announcing her candidacy. She told the gathering at Mason City, in the north of the state, that her early campaign stops had convinced her that drug addiction and mental health issues should be a focus of her White House bid. Clinton is due to discuss helping small businesses at an event at a bike shop on Tuesday. “


Brooklyn Law School Professor Joseph Crea Celebrates 100th Birthday after Six Decades of Teaching!

Dear Commons Community,

The Associated Press had a brief piece on Brooklyn Law School Professor Joseph Crea who celebrated his 100th birthday yesterday.

“When Brooklyn Law School professors and alumni refer to an “institution,” they might very well be talking about Professor Joseph Crea. Colleagues and friends gathered yesterday to celebrate his 100th birthday at the school where he has taught for over six decades.

Crea began working at the law school as a librarian after his 1947 graduation and started teaching the next year. Besides teaching tax, tort, commercial and other aspects of law to generations of students, he wrote a legal research guide and served on a mayoral committee for selecting marshals.

Crea taught until September. He continues advising faculty members, sitting on the admissions committee and attending faculty meetings.

His career interest dawned when he found a pile of abandoned law books on a roadside in the 1930s.”

Happy Birthday, Professor Crea, and many more!


New York Times Exposes Axact as a Diploma Mill Issuing Bogus Degrees!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has a page-one featured article this morning exposing Axact, a Pakistani Company specializing in issuing fake high school diplomas and college degrees. What makes this story so remarkable is the size and scope of the bogus operation. According to the New York Times report, Axact has created hundreds of virtual schools, colleges, and accreditation agencies that only exist on the Internet that will issue almost any diploma or degree for a price. High school diplomas, undergraduate and graduate degrees including PhD and medical credentials are all available for little or no study. The article makes the point that nothing in this virtual academic realm, appearing to span at least 370 websites, is real — except for the tens of millions of dollars in estimated revenue it gleans each year from many thousands of people around the world, all paid to a Pakistani software company.

The article mentions:

“The heart of Axact’s business, however, is the sales team — young and well-educated Pakistanis, fluent in English or Arabic, who work the phones with customers who have been drawn in by the websites. They offer everything from high school diplomas for about $350, to doctoral degrees for $4,000 and above.”

The extent of the enterprise is incredible:

“Axact’s role in the diploma mill industry was nearly exposed in 2009 when an American woman in Michigan, angry that her online high school diploma had proved useless, sued two Axact-owned websites, Belford High School and Belford University.

The case quickly expanded into a class-action lawsuit with an estimated 30,000 American claimants.”

What a sad state of affairs that there are so many people desperate for an easy way to a degree!



Let the Young Children Learn Through Play!

Dear Commons Community,

David Kohn, a freelance science writer, had op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times, sounding the alarm about the movement in early childhood education away from an emphasis on play to didactic teaching. Here is an excerpt:

“TWENTY years ago, kids in preschool, kindergarten and even first and second grade spent much of their time playing: building with blocks, drawing or creating imaginary worlds, in their own heads or with classmates. But increasingly, these activities are being abandoned for the teacher-led, didactic instruction typically used in higher grades. In many schools, formal education now starts at age 4 or 5. Without this early start, the thinking goes, kids risk falling behind in crucial subjects such as reading and math, and may never catch up.

The idea seems obvious: Starting sooner means learning more; the early bird catches the worm.

But a growing group of scientists, education researchers and educators say there is little evidence that this approach improves long-term achievement; in fact, it may have the opposite effect, potentially slowing emotional and cognitive development, causing unnecessary stress and perhaps even souring kids’ desire to learn.

One expert I talked to recently, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, a professor emerita of education at Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., describes this trend as a “profound misunderstanding of how children learn.” She regularly tours schools, and sees younger students floundering to comprehend instruction: “I’ve seen it many, many times in many, many classrooms — kids being told to sit at a table and just copy letters. They don’t know what they’re doing. It’s heartbreaking.”

Kohn cautions that:

“The stakes in this debate are considerable. As the skeptics of teacher-led early learning see it, that kind of education will fail to produce people who can discover and innovate, and will merely produce people who are likely to be passive consumers of information, followers rather than inventors. Which kind of citizen do we want for the 21st century?”

Unfortunately, federal education policy for the past fourteen years has mainly promoted the passive, listen and repeat robotic form of instruction for all primary and secondary education.