Cable News (Fox News, CNN, MSNBC) Viewership Continues to Grow!

Dear Commons Community,

For those who enjoy news programs on cable TV, you are part of a growing trend. 

In a year that featured a number of prominent news stories — a presidential campaign upended by Donald Trump, civic unrest in Baltimore, Pope Francis’s visit to the United States and deadly terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif. — the number of people tuning in to the top 24-hour cable news channels went up, according to Nielsen.  As reported by the New York Times:

“Fox News once again dominated the competition in 2015, while CNN had significantly improved ratings and MSNBC had a slight bounce in viewers.

For the 14th consecutive year, Fox News led in total viewers and in the 25-to-54-year-old demographic crucial to advertisers. The network’s average of 1.8 million viewers in prime time placed it second among all cable channels, the highest finish for a cable news channel ever. (ESPN came in first.)

CNN had strong growth, with a total-day average of 490,000 viewers, representing its highest viewership in six years and a 23 percent bump over last year. In the crucial 25-to-54 demographic it was up 18 percent, and the network also had gains of better than 30 percent in prime time in both total viewers and in the 25-to-54 segment.

MSNBC had a 2 percent increase in average viewers, to a total-day average of 352,000, but it struggled elsewhere. Coming off a rough performance in 2014, the channel lost an additional 19 percent of its viewers in the 25-to-54 demographic in prime time and 18 percent in that demographic in total-day viewers this year.”

In sum, good, bad or indifferent, we cannot get enough of the news!




The Income-Defense Industry:  Alive, Kicking, and Growing Stronger!

Dear Commons Community,

Our country has seen the evils of the military-industrial complex and the education-industrial complex, the New York Times has a page-one article this morning, describing the income-defense industry, which consists of a high-priced phalanx of lawyers, estate planners, lobbyists and anti-tax activists who exploit and defend a dizzying array of tax maneuvers, virtually none of them available to taxpayers of more modest means.  The income-defense industry functions within both political parties and guards and funds it priorities well.  The article comments:

“In recent years, this apparatus has become one of the most powerful avenues of influence for wealthy Americans of all political stripes, … who give heavily to Republicans [and Democrats]…

All are among a small group providing much of the early cash for the 2016 presidential campaign.

Operating largely out of public view — in tax court, through arcane legislative provisions and in private negotiations with the Internal Revenue Service — the wealthy have used their influence to steadily whittle away at the government’s ability to tax them. The effect has been to create a kind of private tax system, catering to only several thousand Americans.

The impact on their own fortunes has been stark. Two decades ago, when Bill Clinton was elected president, the 400 highest-earning taxpayers in America paid nearly 27 percent of their income in federal taxes, according to I.R.S. data. By 2012, when President Obama was re-elected, that figure had fallen to less than 17 percent, which is just slightly more than the typical family making $100,000 annually, when payroll taxes are included for both groups.

The ultra-wealthy “literally pay millions of dollars for these services,” said Jeffrey A. Winters, a political scientist at Northwestern University who studies economic elites, “and save in the tens or hundreds of millions in taxes.”

Some of the biggest current tax battles are being waged by some of the most generous supporters of 2016 candidates. They include the families of the hedge fund investors Robert Mercer, who gives to Republicans, and James Simons, who gives to Democrats; as well as the options trader Jeffrey Yass, a libertarian-leaning donor to Republicans.”

The article goes on to give a number of examples of wealthy Americans gaming the system to their benefit and concludes:

“For the ultra-wealthy, “our tax code is like a leaky barrel,” said J. Todd Metcalf, the Democrats’ chief tax counsel on the Senate Finance Committee. ”Unless you plug every hole or get a new barrel, it’s going to leak out.”

Thank you to the New York Times for giving this issue such prominence.  It is eating away at all of our country’s democratic values and sense of fair play.



Universities Expanding/Adding Entrepreneurial Programs!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times today has an article  today on how colleges and universities are initiating and expanding entrepreneurial programs for students interested in founding and operating their own businesses.  The article comments:

“… colleges have become engaged in an innovation arms race. Harvard opened an Innovation Lab in 2011 that has helped start more than 75 companies. Last year, New York University founded a campus entrepreneurs’ lab, and this year Northwestern University opened a student start-up center, the Garage.

“Today’s students are hungry to make an impact, and we have to be responsive,” said Gordon Jones, the dean of a new College of Innovation and Design at Boise State University in Idaho and the former director of Harvard’s Innovation Lab.

Yet campus entrepreneurship fever is encountering skepticism among some academics, who say that start-up programs can lack rigor and a moral backbone.

Even a few entrepreneurship educators say that some colleges and universities are simply parroting an “innovate and disrupt” Silicon Valley mind-set and promoting narrow skill sets — like how to interview potential customers or pitch to possible investors — without encouraging students to tackle more complex problems.

“A lot of these universities want to get in the game and serve this up because it’s hot,” Mr. Jones said. “The ones that are doing it right are investing in resources that are of high caliber and equipping students to tackle problems of importance.”

In trying to develop rich entrepreneurial ecosystems, many institutions are following a playbook established years ago by Stanford and M.I.T., which involves academic courses, practical experience and an extended alumni advisory network…”

“…the quick start-up workshops offered on some campuses can seem at odds with the traditional premise of liberal arts schools to educate deliberative, critical thinkers.

“Real innovation is rooted in knowledge and durable concern and interest, not just ‘I thought of something that nobody ever thought of before,’” said Jonathan Jacobs, who writes frequently about liberal education and is the chairman of the philosophy department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice of The City University of New York. “That’s not educating people, frankly.”

It would appear that colleges and universities should indeed consider offering and expanding entrepreneurial programs but should do so after students have been exposed to a sound liberal arts foundation of courses.


The News Just keeps Getting Worse for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel!

Dear Commons Community,

Questions are being raised as to the tenure of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.  The news just keeps getting worse for him especially with regards to race, policing, and other issues in the Windy City.  As reported in the New York Times:

“GQ, the men’s magazine, just named Mayor Rahm Emanuel to its list of “The Worst People of 2015.” In Springfield, the Illinois capital, a fellow Democrat is pressing for a measure to permit Mr. Emanuel’s recall from office. And in Chicago, demonstrators bearing thousands of signatures last week demanded Mr. Emanuel’s resignation, then blocked traffic on Christmas Eve along the city’s glittering North Michigan Avenue shopping district, chanting, “Rahm’s got to go in 2016!”

Since the release last month of video showing a white Chicago police officer firing 16 shots into a black teenager, Laquan McDonald, Mr. Emanuel has been a mayor under siege. A debate over race and policing has swept through many cities this year, but its arrival here has pointed an especially bright spotlight on City Hall. And the fatal shooting of two people by the police [this past] Saturday morning, one of them a 19-year-old man with possible mental health problems and the other a 55-year-old bystander, intensified the scrutiny. Mr. Emanuel, who is vacationing in Cuba, issued statements saying that the city was grieving, that the public deserved answers, and that officers’ training for handling mental health crises must be re-examined.”

On public education, Emanuel has clashed with schoolteachers and:

“…set off the city’s first teachers’ strike in a quarter-century, drew special anger in 2013 for overseeing the closing of nearly 50 public schools, many of them in black and Latino neighborhoods.”

Emanuel needs to seriously rethink his viability as mayor and figure out what he needs to do to save his position.



As Graduation Rates Rise, Experts Fear Diplomas Come Up Short!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has a page-one article this morning questioning the euphoria surrounding the announcement that the national high-school graduation rate  had hit 82 percent in 2013-14, the highest on record.  Experts as well as data from several sources indicate that large percentages of high school graduates are not ready for college-level work.  As the article indicates, the most recent evaluation of 12th graders on a national test of reading and math found that fewer than 40 percent were ready for college level work. College remediation and dropout rates remain stubbornly high, particularly at two-year institutions, where fewer than a third who enroll complete a degree even within three years.   The article goes on to state:

“…districts use data systems to identify students with multiple absences or failed classes so educators can better help them. And an increasing number of states and districts offer students more chances to make up failed credits online or in short tutoring sessions without repeating a whole semester or more.

States also vary widely in diploma requirements. In California, South Carolina and Tennessee, the authorities have recently eliminated requirements that students pass exit exams to qualify for a diploma. Alaska, California, Wisconsin and Wyoming demand far fewer credits to graduate than most states, according to the Education Commission of the States, although local school districts may require more.

According to one analysis of requirements for the class of 2014, 32 states did not require that all graduates take four years of English and math through Algebra II or its equivalent, which is often defined as the minimum to be prepared for college.

“Students and their families rely on and trust the high school diploma as a signal of readiness,” said Alissa Peltzman, the vice president of state policy at Achieve, a nonprofit that performed the study. “It needs to mean something. Otherwise, it’s a false promise for thousands of students.”

Over the past decade in California, several large urban districts adopted coursework guidelines aligned to entrance requirements at the state’s public universities. Los Angeles initially required that students earn at least a C in those classes, but the number of students on track to graduate plummeted. Now grades of D or higher are accepted.

“It’s a push and pull between rigorous standards that are harder to meet,” said Russell W. Rumberger, a professor of education at the University of California, Santa Barbara, “and less rigorous standards that are easier to meet but don’t necessarily ensure that you know that much.”

Here in New York City, there has been an over-reliance on credit recovery programs designed to help students make up courses that they needed to graduate.   Students are able to pass the credit-recovery courses to graduate but do not show improvement on college readiness tests as determined by the City University of New York and other colleges.

While we can take some comfort that graduation are going in the right direction, concerns about the readiness of high school students remain a key issue and need to be addressed.



Did the Coleman Report Underestimate the Effect of Economic Status on Educational Outcomes?

Dear Commons Community,

Those of us who teach and follow education research issues know that the Coleman Report of 1966 entitled, Equality of Educational Opportunity, was one of the seminal studies on the effects of economic status and other indicators on student outcomes.  This report has been debated long and hard for decades but its results continue to be cited.  Earlier this year, two researchers John L. Rury and Argun Saatcioglu from the University of Kansas, published the findings of their inquiry on the subject specifically examining whether the Coleman Report underestimated the effect of economic status on educational outcomes.  Their article has been listed as one of the most popular articles in the Teachers College Record for 2015.  It is available at:  (subscription required).

Here is an excerpt of the findings.

“…the Coleman proxy does not mis-measure economic status. It appears simply to under-measure economic status, since it overlaps substantially with the IPUMS income measure, despite its weaker performance as a predictor of educational outcomes.  

The foregoing account leaves little doubt that the Coleman Report underestimated the effect of economic status on the educational accomplishments of children in the mid-1960s.  Recent analyses by Geoffrey Borman and his collaborators have demonstrated that Coleman also underestimated the contributions of school-level factors to student success, particularly in achievement. But in replicating Coleman’s analysis, Borman et al also used his measures of social and economic status.  (Borman and Dowling, 2010; Konstantopoulos and Borman, 2011)  While our analysis cannot consider direct measures of achievement as an outcome, we do point to limitations in Coleman’s “Economic Standing” factor in accounting for variation in educational attainment.  Given this, it seems quite likely that the Coleman Report also underestimated the relationship of economic status to educational achievement at the time, as did the recent Borman et al re-analysis of the EEO Survey data.”  

As suggested earlier, we do not believe that the findings of this brief analysis fundamentally change the tenor of Coleman’s findings.  Even with its limitations, his measure of “Economic Level” combined with parental education indicators was robust enough to demonstrate that socio-economic status was the principal determinant of educational success, a finding replicated in the Borman et al work.  Indeed, our analysis suggests that parental education was a far more decisive factor, perhaps compensating somewhat for the weakness in his economic status measure. Thus we do not want to suggest that a dramatic reconsideration of the effect of income on school outcomes is in order. Rather than a fundamental reassessment of Coleman, we believe this discussion offers an instructive episode in the history of educational research, pointing to the need for precise measures of economic status in large-scale analyses of educational outcomes…  

If there is a lesson in this, it is that researchers should be quite deliberate in constructing proxy measures for social and economic status.”

Congratulations to Rury and Saatcioglu.   They have made an important addition to our knowledge base on this issue.




Latest Issue of Online Learning Now Available!

Dear Commons Community,

The December 2015 issue of Online Learning has just been published and is available as a free download at:

It contains 12 articles and book reviews on online and blended learning in K-12 and higher education environments.  It is well worth a read.

Online Learning is the successor to the very popular, Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks (JALN), the official publication of the Online Learning Consortium.


The People’s Mayor Bill de Blasio Proposes Paid Parental Leave for 20,000 Workers!

Dear Commons Community,

Earlier this week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that 20,000 non-unionized public employees would receive six weeks of fully paid parental leave starting in 2016.  The policy, which Mr. de Blasio plans to impose through an executive order, is one of the most generous among cities and states nationwide. It will cover new parents, including those who adopt or take in foster children. It will not cover the vast majority of the city’s 300,000 unionized workers; any deal with those employees will need to be hashed out in collective bargaining.

Its $15 million yearly price tag is to be offset by capping city employees’ total annual vacation days at 25 instead of 27, and eliminating a scheduled 0.47 percent pay raise in 2017 for managers.  A New York Times editorial praised this move by de Blasio as long overdue.  Below is the full editorial. 

Mr. de Blasio has set an example for states, localities and corporate America to emulate.  He continues to show why he is the people’s mayor.



New York Times

Paid Parental Leave Comes to New York City



The United States is one of just a small handful of countries that do not provide paid leave for new mothers and fathers — and the only major industrialized nation that does not. On Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio took a smart, if modest, step to counter this shameful fact by giving 20,000 non-unionized public employees six weeks of fully paid parental leave starting in 2016.

The policy, which Mr. de Blasio plans to impose through an executive order, is one of the most generous among cities and states nationwide. It will cover new parents, including those who adopt or take in foster children. It will not cover a vast majority of the city’s 300,000 unionized workers; any deal with those employees will need to be hashed out in collective bargaining.

Its $15 million yearly price tag is to be offset by capping city employees’ total annual vacation days at 25 instead of 27, and eliminating a scheduled 0.47 percent pay raise in 2017 for managers.

Unfortunately, the policy doesn’t extend to workers who choose not to have children, but may still have elderly parents or other family members who require their care. This reflects the limitations of a mayoral executive order, and highlights the importance of statewide legislation to provide paid family leave for all workers, as California,New Jersey and Rhode Island have done through disability insurance programs.

In those states, public support for the policy is high, and among California businesses surveyed,90 percent said it has had either a positive effect or no effect on their productivity, profit, morale and costs.

The New York State Assembly passed a family-leave bill earlier this year, to be funded through increased contributions to the workers’ compensation fund, but it did not get through the State Senate. In February, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has supported family leave, suggested there wasn’t enough “appetite” for it in Albany. But Mr. Cuomo has already proved that he can move political mountains when he wants to, and he should assert his power on this issue.

Paid family leave remains uncommon, with only 12 percent of private-sector workers having access to this benefit and low-wage workers being the least likely to have it, according to the federal Labor Department. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for certain workers, but that is not a viable option for the tens of millions of Americans who depend on a weekly paycheck. One study found that nearly one in four new mothers returned to work within two weeks of giving birth.

Some American companies, especially in the technology sector, have come to understand that even six weeks does not come close to the amount of time necessary for new parents to bond with their children. Facebook,NetflixGoogle and others have recently offered four months or more paid parental leave to their employees. And that is still paltry compared with many other countries around the world, where new parents can get a year or more of paid leave. But by America’s embarrassingly low standard, any progress is meaningful.

Contrary to the unfounded claims of some businesses and politicians, paid family leave in general — and paid parental leave in particular — is good for families, good for the economy and good for society. Mr. de Blasio, in addition to doing the right thing by many New York City residents, has issued a challenge to Mr. Cuomo and state lawmakers.

There is no reason for them to delay any longer.



The Atlantic:  The Republican Party and the Revolt of the Middle Class!

Dear Commons Community,

The January/February 2016 issue of The Atlantic has an article on the revolt that is occurring in the Republican Party during the current presidential nomination process.  Specifically, it analyzes the popularity of Donald Trump with the GOP’s traditional middle-class base, a large percentage of whom are rejecting the Party’s establishment who desperately want a corporate, Wall Street friendly type of candidate similar to Mitt Romney.    Here is an excerpt:

“The angriest and most pessimistic people in America are the people we used to call Middle Americans. Middle-class and middle-aged; not rich and not poor; people who are irked when asked to press 1 for English, and who wonder howwhite male became an accusation rather than a description.

You can measure their pessimism in polls that ask about their expectations for their lives—and for those of their children. On both counts, whites without a college degree express the bleakest view. You can see the effects of their despair in the new statistics describing horrifying rates of suicide and substance-abuse fatality among this same group, in middle age.

White Middle Americans express heavy mistrust of every institution in American society: not only government, but corporations, unions, even the political party they typically vote for—the Republican Party of Romney, Ryan, and McConnell, which they despise as a sad crew of weaklings and sellouts. They are pissed off. And when Donald Trump came along, they were the people who told the pollsters, “That’s my guy.”

They aren’t necessarily superconservative. They often don’t think in ideological terms at all. But they do strongly feel that life in this country used to be better for people like them—and they want that older country back…

A majority of Republicans worry that corporations and the wealthy exert too much power. Their party leaders work to ensure that these same groups can exert even more. Mainstream Republicans were quite at ease with tax increases on households earning more than $250,000 in the aftermath of the Great Recession and the subsequent stimulus. Their congressional representatives had the opposite priorities. In 2008, many Republican primary voters had agreed with former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who wanted “their next president to remind them of the guy they work with, not the guy who laid them off.” But those Republicans did not count for much once the primaries ended, and normal politics resumed between the multicultural Democrats and a plutocratic GOP…

The mutiny of the 2016 election cycle has been different. By the fall of 2015, a majority of Republicans favored candidates who had never been elected to anything: Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina. Fiorina’s campaign was perhaps not so unusual. A former CEO, she appealed to the same business-minded Republicans who might have voted for Romney in 2012. Carson appealed to the same religious conservatives that candidates like Mike Huckabee and Santorum had appealed to in prior presidential cycles. What was new and astonishing was the Trump boom. He jettisoned party orthodoxy on issues ranging from entitlement spending to foreign policy. He scoffed at trade agreements. He said rude things about Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers. He reviled the campaign contributions of big donors—himself included!—as open and blatant favor-buying. Trump’s surge was a decisive repudiation by millions of Republican voters of the collective wisdom of their party elite.”

The Republican Party is desperately trying to figure out a way for an establishment candidate, namely Jeb Bush, to win the presidential nomination.  It won’t be easy but there is still a lot of nomination process to go.