Charles Blow on “The Delusions of Rachel Dolezal”!

Dear Commons Community,

Charles Blow has a candid analysis in his New York Times column today, of the Rachel Dolezal story that has captured the American media by storm. Blow pulls no punches. He describes Dolezal as a woman with no known black heritage who through an elaborate scheme of deception and denial, claimed for years to be a product of black heritage. He further states:

“If this were simply a matter of a person appreciating, emulating or even appropriating the presentation and performance of a race other than the one society prescribes to her based simply on her appearance, it wouldn’t be a story.

But this isn’t simply that. This is about privilege, deceitful performance and a tortured attempt to avoid truth and confession by co-opting the language of struggle, infusing labyrinthine logic with the authority of the academy, and coat-tailing very real struggles of transgender people and transracial adoptees to defend one’s deception.

This is a spectacular exercise in hubris, narcissism and deflection.”

He concludes:

“…one can not only like and want to emulate the look of another racial group (though, one must be ever-questioning of oneself as to what motivates this, making sure that it isn’t the outgrowth self-hatred), but one can even prefer the culture that developed around that look.

But changing appearance and even cross-cultural immersion doesn’t alter the architecture of race that gave birth to and reinforced those differences in the first place.

Dolezal’s performance of blackness may have been born of affinity, but it was based on a lie — one she has never sufficiently recanted — and her feeble attempts to use professorial language and faux-intellectual obfuscations only add insult to the cultural injury.”


EDUCAUSE Bulletin – The Evolution Continues: Considerations for the Future of Research in Online and Blended Learning!

Dear Commons Community,

My colleague, Chuck Dziuban from the University of Central Florida, and I just had an article published as an EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR) Research Bulletin.  Below is a brief abstract.  The bulletin is available to EDUCAUSE subscribers at:

Feedback is most welcome!



The model of online learning that has evolved over the past 20 years relies on ubiquitous data communications that are owned and operated routinely by all segments of the population. Today, people use laptops, cell phones, and other portable devices daily to stay connected with family, friends, and their studies. Online education has become integral to how instruction is being delivered in colleges and universities. It is no longer a novelty and is becoming fully integrated into all teaching and learning. The purpose of this bulletin is to attempt to predict where the research in online and blended learning is going.

This research bulletin is adapted from chapter 13 in Charles D. Dziuban, Anthony G. Picciano, Charles R. Graham, and Patsy D. Moskal, Conducting Research in Online and Blended Learning Environments: New Pedagogical Frontiers (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group, 2015).



Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg to Give $100 Million to Cornell Tech!

Cornell Tech

Dear Commons Community,

Cornell Tech announced a $100 million gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies to construct The Bloomberg Center— the first academic building on the school’s Roosevelt Island campus.  The photograph above is an architect’s rendering of the Center.  The New York Times reported:

That building will be called the Bloomberg Center, solidifying Cornell’s ties to former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. Cornell Tech won a $400 million competition three and a half years ago to build an applied sciences campus on the island, in New York City, an initiative created by the Bloomberg administration.

“From my perspective, this is closure of a process that Mike Bloomberg and his team started some years ago by creating the applied sciences initiative,” Dr. David J. Skorton, the president of Cornell, said. “The Bloomberg Center will, in perpetuity, carry the name of the person whose idea the whole campus was.”

I did not agree with everything that Michael Bloomberg did when he was mayor of New York but Cornell Tech was one of his real winners.


Arthur Levine and MIT Start Online, Competency-Based Teacher Education Program!

Dear Commons Community,

The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, headed by Arthur Levine, one of the most visible critics of teacher-education programs, is creating its own graduate school and research center in the field in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The new venture, the Woodrow Wilson Academy for Teaching and Learning, will offer master’s degrees entirely through a competency-based program. It will provide instruction largely through online teaching, and will conduct research on new approaches to teacher education and school leadership. It will also distribute its course modules as free “open source” materials to any colleges that want to use them in their own master’s programs or in professional-development courses that teachers take throughout their careers. As reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Mr. Levine, a former president of Teachers College at Columbia University, has been known for his prior critiques of teacher-education programs, at one point calling the range of quality in graduate programs in school leadership “inadequate to appalling” and too often valued by their universities mostly as a “cash cow.”

For Mr. Levine, the new academy is a chance to put into practice much of what he has been advocating in his decade as a public critic, and to apply what the foundation has learned through its teaching-fellowship program, which has worked with state policy leaders and 28 schools of education during his eight-year tenure as president there.

“Anybody can throw bricks,” said Mr. Levine. Now he’ll focus on the question: “Can you change it?”

The teaching academy will start out small; 25 students will attend free in the first class, beginning in the fall of 2017. After that, the academy hopes to enroll about 200 students who will each pay about $15,000 for a degree earned by satisfying the required competencies set out in several modules. The program will focus at first on training teachers for mathematics, and the sciences, working directly with two MIT professors: Eric Klopfer, an expert in the use of computer games and simulations to understand science, and Vijay Kumar, MIT’s associate dean of digital learning.

To develop the competencies, the academy will work with Charlotte Danielson, whose Framework for Teaching rubrics are employed in many school districts around the country. (In some cases the rubrics are controversial because they aren’t grounded in curricula.) MIT will provide the STEM knowledge as well as expertise in technology and cognitive development.

In addition to the program for STEM educators, Mr. Levine said the academy would offer a master’s in school leadership, modeled on the M.B.A. in education leadership that the Wilson foundation has been promoting in three states. He said he envisioned the research side of the academy as the “Bell Labs of education.”

The academy for teaching and learning is backed by more than $7 million, including $2 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, $3 million from the Amgen Foundation, and $2 million from the Wilson foundation. Mr. Levine said he hoped to eventually raise $30 million for the effort.”

Mr. Levine indeed has thrown a lot of bricks at teacher education. His new program will likely have appeal to students who would seek alternate routes to teacher certification. Also the clinical portion needs to be fleshed out particularly in terms of the supervision.


Michael Hansen: Three Challenges for Community Colleges!

Dear Commons Community,

Michael Hansen, President of the Michigan Community College Association, was recently interviewed on the challenges facing community colleges. He sheds light on these challenges and shares his thoughts on what college leaders need to do in order to navigate them and achieve long-term sustainability and growth. Here is an excerpt:

“As I [Hansen] see it, there are 3 main challenges facing community colleges today: the completion agenda; declining enrollment; and divestment by state legislatures.

The business model that has supported community colleges essentially since their inception was built on an access mission for most institutions. Providing an affordable postsecondary opportunity to anyone interested in bettering their lives is sustainable so long as significant student support services such as advising, counseling, tutoring, effective remediation and other structural redesigns that are created to support successful completion are not required. While almost all community colleges now have mission statements that incorporate this new emphasis on completion and success, the new business model required to fund these goals has lagged behind.

Increasing completions is achievable, it’s just very expensive. On top of that, at least in recent years (the last five, specifically) community colleges have been subject to the well-known and well-documented phenomenon of the counter-cyclical pattern of enrollment and the performance of the economy. In essence, as the economy improved recently, enrollments declined. Clearly, this sometimes dramatic decline in enrollment (as high as 10 percent a year for five years) is more easily managed by colleges who either rely more heavily on the use of adjuncts and other short-term, contract based staff, and/or those who are less dependent on tuition revenue for their overall financial support. A college that receives 70 percent of its revenue from tuition is clearly more sensitive to enrollment declines than a college that may only be 30 percent reliant on tuition revenue (the other components of revenue being state appropriation and local funding).

Finally, while community colleges in the 90’s—at least in Michigan—grew accustomed to annual increases in state funding that exceeded and often doubled the rate of inflation, since the start of the new century appropriations have been either negative, flat, or just under the annual rate of inflation. Ultimately, this means that state funding for community colleges in Michigan today is at about at the same level is was 15 years ago.”

His conclusion:

“I think the world of higher education is changing so rapidly right now that it’s almost too early to know what the right adaptation will look like, and what changes will prove to be the most sustainable and supporting.

…the successful institutions are constantly scanning and monitoring their environment and moving forward based on assumptions they see for the future. As those assumptions change, institutions need to change. But staying as far ahead of the curve as possible is certainly a more predictive measure for success than continuing to do business as it has always been done. “

Sound advice!


Paul Krugman on Democrats Being Democrats!

Dear Commons Community,

On Friday, House Democrats shocked almost everyone by rejecting key provisions needed to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an agreement the White House wants but much of the party doesn’t. On Saturday Hillary Clinton formally began her campaign for president, and surprised most observers with an unapologetically liberal and populist speech.  WHAT?  Democrats being Democrats? Paul Krugman analyzes these events in his New York Times column today.

“…The Democratic Party is becoming more assertive about its traditional values, a point driven home by Mrs. Clinton’s decision to speak on Roosevelt Island. You could say that Democrats are moving left. But the story is more complicated and interesting than this simple statement can convey.

You see, ever since Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, Democrats have been on the ideological defensive. Even when they won elections they seemed afraid to endorse clearly progressive positions, eager to demonstrate their centrism by supporting policies like cuts to Social Security that their base hated. But that era appears to be over. Why?

Part of the answer is that Democrats, despite defeats in midterm elections, believe — rightly or wrongly — that the political wind is at their backs. Growing ethnic diversity is producing what should be a more favorable electorate; growing tolerance is turning social issues, once a source of Republican strength, into a Democratic advantage instead. Reagan was elected by a nation in which half the public still disapproved of interracial marriage; Mrs. Clinton is running to lead a nation in which 60 percent support same-sex marriage.

At the same time, Democrats seem finally to have taken on board something political scientists have been telling us for years: adopting “centrist” positions in an attempt to attract swing voters is a mug’s game, because such voters don’t exist. Most supposed independents are in fact strongly aligned with one party or the other, and the handful who aren’t are mainly just confused. So you might as well take a stand for what you believe in.

But the party’s change isn’t just about politics, it’s also about policy.

On one side, the success of Obamacare and related policies — millions covered for substantially less than expected, surprisingly effective cost control for Medicare — have helped to inoculate the party against blanket assertions that government programs never work. And on the other side, the Davos Democrats who used to be a powerful force arguing against progressive policies have lost much of their credibility.

I’m referring to the kind of people — many, though not all, from Wall Street — who go to lots of international meetings where they assure each other that prosperity is all about competing in the global economy, and that this means supporting trade agreements and cutting social spending. Such people have influence in part because of their campaign contributions, but also because of the belief that they really know how the world works.

As I said, you can describe all of this as a move to the left, but there’s more to it than that — and it’s not at all symmetric to the Republican move right. Democrats are adopting ideas that work and rejecting ideas that don’t, whereas Republicans are doing the opposite.”

Wise commentary!   Outspoken  progressive Democrats such as  Elizabeth Warren and Bill de Blasio have it right!


Hillary Clinton Wows Audience at Massive Rally in New York!

Hillary Clinton Rally

Dear Commons Community,

Hillary Clinton wowed her audience yesterday at a massive rally on Roosevelt Island in New York,  called for a new era of shared prosperity in America, and said that workers can trust her to fight for them.

In the first major speech (full text) of her second campaign for president, Clinton portrayed herself as a fierce advocate for those left behind after the recession. She cited President Barack Obama, and former Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Bill Clinton, her husband, and said they embraced the idea that “real and lasting prosperity must be built by all and shared by all.”

“It’s America’s basic bargain,” Clinton said. “If you do your part, you ought to be able to get ahead, and when everybody does their part, America gets ahead too.

“That bargain inspired generations of American families, including my own,” the former secretary of state and first lady said.

Her speech was well-received.  She was clear, articulate, and confident in what she was saying.


Hillary Clinton Rally II

Hillary Clinton Rally III

Democrats Calling for Debt-Free College Education!

Dear Commons Community,

In the past week, several Democrats opened again the idea of “debt-free” college.  Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley told supporters in an email “every student should be able to go to college debt-free,” according to Politico Morning Education.  Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has formally proposed a bill to make state colleges tuition-free.  It is also expected that Hillary Clinton will be proposing debt-free college shortly.  Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) laid out her plan on Wednesday that would create a pathway for a debt-free college education.  As reported in The Huffington Post: 

“In a speech at the Shanker Institute and the American Federation of Teachers headquarters in Washington, D.C., Warren called for restoring bankruptcy options for student loans, eliminating government profits for public student loans and new proposals to get colleges to have some “skin in the game” on whether their graduates are buried in debt.

“We can’t make change by nibbling around the edges,” Warren said in her speech,according to a copy of remarks. “It’s time to dramatically reform higher education, to move the whole system toward greater affordability for everyone. And while not every college needs to graduate every student debt-free, every kid needs a debt-free option — a strong public university where it’s possible to get a great education without taking on loads of debt. It’s time to open the doors of opportunity wider and to invest in our future.”

Much of Warren’s plan is focused more on state universities than private ones. The Massachusetts Democrat and former Harvard University professor has repeatedly said she wants to focus on bringing down costs for students at public colleges. Her speech builds on a resolution she and other congressional Democrats introduced in April calling for debt-free public college.

Warren’s plan also reinforces a continued push by progressives on the small field of 2016 Democratic presidential contenders. The New York Federal Reserve has found a correlation between state budget cuts and higher tuition at state universities, and a Government Accountability Report this year concluded student tuition now pays more than state funding does for public college spending.

Warren’s plan had three points she said would increase accountability for colleges. First, the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute has called for colleges to have “skin in the game,” Warren noted, suggesting that one component should be a cost for colleges when too many of their graduates default on their student loans.

Second, Warren said, the federal government should “require schools to spend a minimum proportion of their federal financial aid revenues on expenses directly related to education. Call it the rule against ‘taxpayer waste.'” She elaborated briefly that this means controlling how much schools can spend on administrators and marketing departments.

And third, Warren called for a “shared savings” to reward colleges that graduate students within four years.”

Congratulations to Warren and others for making these proposals but they are very unlikely to have much of a chance of passing in the Republican-controlled Congress. At an event in Washington on Tuesday, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate education committee, dismissed debt-free college as political pandering.


Bill de Blasio and Carmen Farina Deliver:  Almost 70,000 Offered Seats in Pre-K!

de Blasio Pre K

Dear Commons Community,

As was reported earlier this week, nearly 70,000 kids have been accepted for prekindergarten classes for next fall in New York City public schools. Without a doubt this is the most significant reform of public education in the city since mayoral control was established in 2001.  As reported in The Daily News:

“[de Blasio] said 69,393 student swould get letters offering seats starting this week — including a set of quadruplets, who got their letters personally from the mayor — at an Inwood school.

“For the first time in the history of this city, we will have a full-day, high-quality pre-K seat for every child who needs one. Every single child,” de Blasio said. “Literally every family that applied got an offer of a seat.”

Some 70% of families who applied got their first choice, and 82% got one of their top three choices. But 15% didn’t get any of the up to 12 programs they requested, and were instead offered spots elsewhere.

Little Abril, Antonio, Minerva, and Oliver Capellan, who will turn 4 this year, were the only set of quadruplets to apply — and they nabbed seats at Inwood’s Public School 5, which caters to kids learning English.  The tots played with puppets and chattered in Spanish over dignitaries giving speeches, as their mom said pre-K would be a godsend…

“It’s a gift,” said Lenny Capellan, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, who said she never could have afforded private care. “It’s hard work to take care of them. It’s very expensive to take care of school for my children, very, very expensive.”

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said the eager quads are already showing their growing skills. “They’re ready to learn. So imagine a year with these kids not in school. It’s a wasted year. It’s a wasted opportunity,” she said.”

This is the kind of reform that the children and their parents deserve.  A “godsend” indeed!


Cooper Union President and Five Trustees Quit!

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education is reporting this morning that the fight over the future of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, an arts and engineering college in New York City, came to a head this week as five members of its Board of Trustees abruptly resigned and its president agreed to step down at the end of the month.  The resignations mark the latest chapter in a years-long battle over tuition at the college, which historically has offered full scholarships to all undergraduates.  As reported in The Chronicle (subscription required):

“Cooper Union announced in 2013 that it would start charging tuition to undergraduates for the first time in over a century, citing dire financial straits brought to light two years earlier by Jamshed Bharucha, four months into his presidency there.

Faculty members, students, and alumni were outraged. A coalition of critics sued the college in hopes of reversing the new tuition policy, which took effect last fall.

In April the board offered to force Mr. Bharucha from office in a bid to settle the lawsuit and to ward off an investigation by the New York attorney general into the board’s management of the college’s finances. (That investigation remains open, the attorney general’s office said on Wednesday in a statement.)

The resignations might ease some of the dysfunction in the Cooper Union leadership, but the college’s problems are far from solved. The new tuition policy, nominally the subject of the conflict, does not appear to be going away.

“It can’t,” said Mark Epstein, one of the trustees who quit this week. “There’s not enough money coming in to keep up with expenses.”

Much of Cooper Union’s revenue stems from New York City’s historic Chrysler Building, whose land the college owns. But the college has been spending beyond its means for years, and a recent capital campaign came up well short of its goal.

According to Mr. Epstein, Cooper Union would need an infusion into the endowment of at least $400 million to allow it to revert to a tuition-free model. The new tuition policy is “not going to go away if Jamshed goes away,” he said. “It’s a financial problem, not an administrative problem.”

“There’s an old saying in crisis communications: Sometimes the gods demand a sacrifice,” said Gene Grabowski, “And that’s what we’re seeing here.”