Republican National Committee Cancels Next Debate to Be Hosted by NBC!

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday, the Republican National Committee suspended the debate scheduled for Feb. 26 to be hosted by NBC News. The decision illustrated the G.O.P.’s distrust of the mainstream media and the way last Wednesday night’s debate was handled by CNBC.   As reported by the New York Times:

“The action came after a flurry of calls in which the candidates’ representatives conveyed their fury to party leaders over what they described as the hostile tone of the anchors moderating the debates.

“While debates are meant to include tough questions and contrast candidates’ visions and policies for the future of America, CNBC’s moderators engaged in a series of ‘gotcha’ questions, petty and meanspirited in tone, and designed to embarrass our candidates,” the party’s chairman, Reince Priebus, wrote in a letter to Andrew Lack, the chairman of NBC News.

The action by the party leadership seemed designed in part to redirect Republican anger away from the national committee, which many believe has bungled the debate process. The campaigns of Donald J. Trump and Ben Carson, who lead in many recent polls, have led many of the changes to the debate process so far, reflecting how insurgent candidates can sway the party, particularly as they confront traditional media companies that have long controlled the debate format.

The campaigns are also working to influence the format of coming debates and have planned a private meeting on Sunday evening in Washington. On the agenda: forcing both the committee and the networks to address their concerns, including format (such as the debates’ length and whether candidates have opening statements) and airtime for each candidate.”

This was inevitable since so much of the next day’s news coverage about the debate was more about its format and the moderators’ questions than about the candidates themselves.

Happy Halloween, Everybody!



NY Times Expose: Success Academy Advises Students Out and Uses “Got to Go” Lists!

Dear Commons Community,

Success Academy, the charter school network in New York City, has long been being accused that its accomplishments are due, in part, to a practice of weeding out difficult and low-performing students. The network has always denied it. But documents obtained by the New York Times and interviews with 10 current and former Success employees at five schools suggest that administrators in the network have singled out children they would like to see leave. Here is an excerpt from the Times article as reported by Kate Taylor:

‘At Success Academy Fort Greene, the same day that Ms. Ogundiran heard from the principal, her daughter’s name was one of 16 placed on a list drawn up at his direction and shared by school leaders.

The heading on the list was “Got to Go.”

Nine of the students on the list later withdrew from the school. Some of their parents said in interviews that while their children attended Success, their lives were upended by repeated suspensions and frequent demands that they pick up their children early or meet with school or network staff members. Four of the parents said that school or network employees told them explicitly that the school, whose oldest students are now in the third grade, was not right for their children and that they should go elsewhere.

The current and former employees said they had observed similar practices at other Success schools. According to those employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their jobs or their relationships with people still at the network, school leaders and network staff members explicitly talked about suspending students or calling parents into frequent meetings as ways to force parents to fall in line or prompt them to withdraw their children.

Last year, for instance, the principal of Success Academy Harlem 2 Upper, Lavinia Mackall, told teachers not to automatically send annual re-enrollment forms home to certain students, because the school did not want those students to come back, two former members of the school’s staff said. Ms. Mackall said that her comments had been misinterpreted and that she was trying to encourage parents to take the school’s requirements seriously, but that she also did not believe the school was right for all students.

In another example, a current employee said, a network lawyer in a conversation with colleagues described a particularly unruly student’s withdrawal as “a big win” for the school.

In a written response to questions, Success Academy’s spokeswoman, Ann Powell, said that the “Got to Go” list was a mistake and that the network quickly got wind of it and reprimanded Mr. Brown, the principal.”

Congratulations to Kate Taylor and the New York Times  for verifying what has been suspected for years among educators in New York City. Eva Moskowitz with her corporate sponsors have made a mockery of what the charter school movement was meant to be. Instead of accepting and educating all students, Success Academies have been skimming the better students from the public schools to enhance their performance records.


Merryl Tisch Resigns from the New York State Board of Regents!

Dear Commons Community,           

Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, New York’s top education policymaker and an ardent supporter of the Common Core national academic standards, announced on Monday that she will step down in March to help free New York from a “quagmire” of unpopular testing and teacher evaluation requirements.  As reported by Newsday:

“Tisch has headed the 17-member Board of Regents for the past seven years, confirmed what colleagues had speculated about for months — that she would not seek to retain the chancellor’s job or be re-elected to the board. Her five-year term ends April 1.

“At the heart of successful reform is the ability to admit mistakes and make adjustments,” Tisch said as she met first with fellow Regents in Albany to announce her planned departure and then with reporters. “Let’s show the state a way out of the quagmire.”

A Regent for nearly 20 years and a member of one of New York’s most prominent philanthropic families, Tisch became best-known in 2013 as a defender of increasingly unpopular education reforms. She and then-Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. were confronted by angry parents and teachers at a series of tumultuous public forums. At times, they were shouted down.

The state’s most unpopular move, one encouraged by federal authorities, was to link student scores on challenging new tests to teachers’ job evaluations. In April, more than 200,000 students statewide in grades three through eight, including more than 70,000 on the Island, were pulled out of state English and math exams by their parents — the largest such boycott in the nation.

The grassroots revolt against testing — or the opt-out movement, as it is known — has built steadily since the 2012-13 school year, coinciding with the expansion of Common Core-based curriculums in New York’s 700-plus school districts.

In recent months, Tisch and other state education officials attempted to quiet public unrest — for example, by switching test-production companies and announcing that next spring’s exams would be shorter.”

Tisch was basically a good Regent except that she failed to see the tide turn against standardized testing and became overly committed to the test policies forced upon the states by the US Department of Education.


President Obama and USDOE Ease Two Rules for Student Borrowers!

Dear Commons Community,

President Obama and USDOE Secretary Arne Duncan announced two new rules yesterday aimed at protecting student borrowers and helping to reduce some of the cost of going to college.  As reported by The Huffington Post:

“College students will be shielded from some fees when accessing federal student aid funds, while borrowers with older student loans will be eligible for slightly more generous repayment plans under new rules the U.S. Department of Education finalized Tuesday.

The rule governing banking products on college campuses sought to reverse what consumer advocates have decried as the increasing monetization of the federal student aid disbursement system, in which banks and other financial services firms teamed up with colleges to levy fees on students wishing to access federal student loans and grants. Students are supposed to be able to receive their loans and grants without having to cough up money for the privilege.

The Education Department is now forcing colleges to restrict or ban certain fees, such as overdraft charges on some accounts. The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is weighing new rules governing overdraft fees in the wider U.S. banking system.

The repayment rule enables borrowers with older loans to save a bit more money on their monthly federal student loan payments, reducing for some the required monthly payment from 15 percent of their discretionary income to 10 percent, with the possibility of loan forgiveness after 20 or 25 years of steady payments. The Education Department reckons the rule helps 5 million borrowers previously ineligible to cap their payments at 10 percent of their discretionary earnings; about 1 million existing borrowers, and another 1 million future borrowers, are projected to enroll.

Taken together, the two proposals represent an effort by the Obama administration to ease the cost of going to college. They come as Education Secretary Arne Duncan prepares to leave the department after presiding over a near doubling of federal student debt, and as consumer groups increasingly complain of a department that in many cases has not properly policed the colleges and financial companies making money off student aid recipients.”

These are small but helpful steps for student borrowers.



Carmen Fariña:  New York City to Fund Free SAT College Entrance Exams!

Dear Commons Community,

As part of her overall strategy to increase the number of students applying to college, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced yesterday that New York City will begin offering the SAT free to all public high school juniors. The test will be given during the school day — not on a Saturday, as is now the common practice.  As reported in the New York Times:

“Education officials said that by removing barriers to entry — like the required fee and the very act of signing up — the hope is that students who might not otherwise have taken the test will do so.

“The opportunity to go to college should never be decided by students’ backgrounds or ZIP codes,” Ms. Fariña said in a statement. “I only became the first person in my family to go to college because a teacher let me know it was an option and supported me through the application and enrollment process so I could follow my dreams of becoming a teacher.”

With this change, which will take effect in the spring of the 2016-17 school year, the city joins several statewide efforts to increase the number of students taking college entrance exams, like the SAT or ACT. States including Kentucky, South Carolina and Wisconsin have students take the ACT to fulfill their high school testing requirements.”

This is an excellent move on the part of the Schools Chancellor.  




Scott Walker:  The Governor Who Just Keeps Taking!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times editorial today comments on Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and recently signed legislation that protects public officials like himself from political corruption investigations.  Here is the full editorial entitled, The Revenge of Scott Walker:

“Only weeks after giving up on his lackluster presidential campaign in the face of national indifference, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin is back to making mischief in his home state. Last Friday, Mr. Walker signed a bill to protect public officials like himself from an effective and well-established tool for rooting out political corruption.

The tool, known as the John Doe law, lets prosecutors conduct secret investigations into possible crimes by executing search warrants and compelling people to testify. It is essentially a grand jury proceeding, with a judge rather than jurors deciding whether there is enough evidence for an indictment.

Mr. Walker has been a target of two John Doe investigations in recent years. The first, which looked into misconduct by his aides or associates while he served as Milwaukee county executive, led to six convictions. The second involved allegations of illegally coordinated fund-raising between Mr. Walker’s campaign for governor and conservative political groups. In July, a deeply split Wisconsin Supreme Court — several of whose justices were backed by the same groups in their election campaigns — shut down the investigation, adopting an unprecedented reading of the state’s campaign-finance laws to find no problem with the activities in question. Mr. Walker was not charged in either case.

Under the new law, which passed on party-line votes in the Republican-controlled Legislature, neither of these investigations would be permitted. Bribery, official misconduct, campaign-finance violations and many other election law offenses — all are now exempt from a law that has served Wisconsin well, and without controversy, since the mid-19th century.

For years, the John Doe law has been crucial in combating political corruption in both major parties, but because Mr. Walker was a rising conservative star, there were predictable howls from right-wing forces about politically motivated fishing expeditions, search warrants executed in the middle of the night and gag orders against witnesses.

Don’t be fooled. Grand juries conduct investigations like this every day, at much greater expense and inefficiency, and rarely to any protest. (There is a reasonable case against the gag orders, but lawmakers could easily have fixed that part of the law by itself.) The real difference here is that the John Doe law was being used against powerful politicians and individuals.

The law will continue to apply in cases involving violent or drug-related crimes. Where it will not apply is corruption cases against politicians, for whom the new law carves out an unexplained and unjustified exception.

Mr. Walker and his allies are also moving to dismantle the state’s nonpartisan Government Accountability Board, which enforces election, lobbying, and ethics laws. Lawmakers are also working to codify into law the State Supreme Court ruling in July that effectively obliterated the state’s modest campaign-finance regulations and smoothed the way for powerful special interests to pour ever more money into Wisconsin politics.

It is a relief that Mr. Walker won’t be able to impose his warped ideas about democratic accountability on the rest of the country. But for the Wisconsinites who are stuck with him until 2018, America’s gain is their loss.”

It is a relief indeed that this pathetic politician will not be influencing national politics.  It is sad that he has been allowed to make ruinous decisions in the great state of Wisconsin.


Amid Controversy, Margaret Spellings Selected as the New President of the UNC System!

Dear Commons Community,

On Friday, former U.S. secretary of education Margaret Spellings was selected as the new president of the University of North Carolina system. While some faculty members and students across the state expressed guarded hope for her leadership, many of them remained concerned over what had been a messy and divisive search process. As reported on by The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“Ms. Spellings will replace Thomas W. Ross, who was pushed out by the system’s Republican-led Board of Governors this year in what many observers called a politically motivated ouster. She will take office on March 1 and will be paid $775,000 annually — $175,000 more than Mr. Ross’s salary.

Ms. Spellings served as a secretary of education under President George W. Bush and is perhaps best known in higher-education circles for creating the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, which ushered in a new focus on college accountability. Her sudden emergence this month as the top contender to succeed Mr. Ross amplified criticisms many had aired about what was already a tumultuous search.

Many faculty-governance leaders were reserving comment on Ms. Spellings’ fitness for her new role, given that they had not yet been granted their request to meet with her. They had repeatedly asked the search committee for the opportunity to speak with presidential candidates before Mr. Ross’s successor was chosen. No such meetings were ever scheduled, though faculty members have not been closely involved in past presidential searches in the state.

But faculty leaders continued to be vocal in condemning the board’s handling of the search, which has been fraught with public criticism and sharp disagreements among board members. The system’s Faculty Assembly released a fiery statement on Thursday describing the board’s attitude toward faculty members as one of “ill-informed indifference.”

Several members of the assembly read out a statement after the announcement saying that the board had “yet to explain why it removed the current president” and had “yet to explain why students, staff, and faculty were precluded from the review process. We think most citizens would agree with us that this is probably not a good thing.”

I would agree that this is probably not a good thing.  It appears that ideological not educational interests have driven the selection process.  Regardless, we hope that for the sake of our UNC faculty colleagues and the students that her tenure as president is successful.



Tony Blair: U.S. Led Invasion Responsible for the Emergence of the Islamic State IS) Militant Group!

Dear Commons Community,

The Associated Press is reporting that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has said the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was partly responsible for the emergence of the Islamic State militant group in the Middle East. A reported by the AP:

“Blair told CNN that “there are elements of truth” in the assertion that the war caused the rise of IS.

“Of course you can’t say those of us who removed Saddam in 2003 bear no responsibility for the situation in 2015.”

He added that the Arab Spring had also played a role in creating instability that allowed the Islamic fundamentalist militant group to flourish.

Blair’s decision to take Britain into the Iraq war — based on what turned out to be false claims about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction — remains hugely divisive, and contributed to his Labour Party’s loss of power in 2010.

Blair insisted that removing Saddam was the right thing to do, but apologized, as he has before, for failures in post-war planning.

“I apologize for the fact that the intelligence we received was wrong,” he said in clips released before the broadcast.

“I also apologize for some of the mistakes in planning and, certainly, our mistake in our understanding of what would happen once you removed the regime.”

Can we hear from George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld?



Maureen Dowd:  Hillary Clinton Never More Alluring than When Pasty-Faced, Nasty-Tongued White Men Bully Her!

Dear Commons Community,

Maureen Dowd in her New York Times column entitled, The Empire Strikes Back, presents Hillary Clinton as the ultimate victim who can turn any attack on her into a positive.   Here is an excerpt:

“Nobody plays the victim like Hillary.

She can wield that label like a wrecking ball.

If her husband humiliates her with a girlfriend in the Oval Office, Hillary turns around and uses the sympathy engendered to launch a political career. If her Republican opponent gets in her space in an overbearing way during a debate, she turns around and uses the sympathy engendered to win a Senate seat. If conservatives hold a Salem witch trial under the guise of a House select committee hearing, she turns around and uses the sympathy engendered to slip into the H.O.V. lane of a superhighway to the presidency.

Hillary Clinton is never more alluring than when a bunch of pasty-faced, nasty-tongued white men bully her.

And she was plenty alluring during her marathon session on Thursday with Republican Lilliputians, who were completely oblivious to the fact that Hillary is always at her most potent when some Neanderthal is trying to put her in her place…

It was a revealing display of hard-core conservatives in their parallel universe, where all their biases are validated by conservative media. They crawled out of the ooze into the sea of cameras, blinking and obtuse. Ohio’s Jim Jordan, bellowing. South Carolina’s Gowdy, sweating. Alabama’s Martha Roby, not getting the joke. And Indiana’s Susan Brooks, allowing that “most of us really don’t know much about Libya.”

Hillary acted bemused, barely masking her contempt at their condescension. She was no doubt amazed at what an amateur job they were doing at character assassination.”

Dowd goes on to summarize and comment on the back and forth questions and answers that made up the 11-hour House Select Committee interrogation last week.  In the final analysis, Hillary won!  Onto the Democratic nomination and presidential election!