SpaceX Makes History: Falcon 9 Rocket Blasts Off, Accomplishes its Mission, and Lands Safely Back on Earth!

Dear Commons Community,

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Florida on Monday with a payload of communications satellites before the reusable main-stage booster turned around, soared back to Cape Canaveral and landed safely near its launch pad in a dramatic spaceflight first.  As reported by Reuters:

“The successful mission, capped by delivery of all 11 satellites to orbit for launch customer ORBCOMM Inc (ORBC.O), unfolded in just over 30 minutes and marked a pivotal reversal of fortunes for privately owned Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, founded by high-tech entrepreneur Elon Musk.

It was the first flight for his California-based company since a rocket failure in June that destroyed a cargo ship being carried on a resupply mission bound for the International Space Station.

The upgraded, 23-story-tall Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 8:29 p.m. EST/0129 GMT, with the nine-engine suborbital main stage returning 10 minutes later to a landing site about 6 miles south of its launch pad. The upper-stage booster continued its ascent to Earth orbit with its payload.

Musk has said the ability to return his rockets to Earth so they can be refurbished and reflown would slash his company’s operational costs in the burgeoning and highly competitive private space launch industry.

SpaceX employees erupted in jubilation as they watched live video footage of the 156-foot-tall white first-stage booster slowly descending upright through a damp, darkened night sky amid a glowing orange ball of light to make a picture-perfect landing.”

Impressive accomplishment!



Tuition-Free Community College Gaining Ground and Including Adult Learners!

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a lead article this morning on the tuition-free community college movement that is gaining traction throughout the country.  In addition, new initiatives are evolving that would extend free or reduced tuition for adults.  As reported in The Chronicle:

“When President Obama outlined steps in September to make his proposal for free community college a reality, his call for change reflected a movement that had already gained momentum. There are now more than 100 local community and state efforts that have vowed to pursue reduced-cost or tuition-free learning, many in conjunction with Mr. Obama’s America’s College Promise program and its associated awareness campaign, known as Heads Up America.

As the push for free community college continues to spread nationwide, college leaders in some states are trying to expand the reach of such programs to include the adult students that so many community colleges already serve. Many of the so-called Promise models focus on younger student populations, says James D. Schuelke, deputy director of the Heads Up America campaign.

In Oregon, for example, 68.2 percent of community-college enrollments involve students age 22 and older, but adults are not yet eligible for the Promise program there, which is aimed at high-school graduates. It’s important that policy makers “pay equal consideration to adults who are seeking opportunity,” says Ben Cannon, executive director of the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission, who hopes to expand Oregon’s efforts to include those learners.

Older learners can face challenges that some younger students don’t, such as balancing a job or family responsibilities, says Louis Soares, vice president for policy research and strategy at the American Council on Education, who specializes in community-college reform. The programs provide new opportunities where others may have failed, but meeting a variety of needs, Mr. Soares says, is critical for a program’s success.

Alabama is one state taking the plunge, with an effort to get more parents in the classroom. In a series of poverty-stricken counties known as the Black Belt region, where fewer than 20 percent of adults have bachelor’s degrees, local community colleges will open doors at no cost to some adults next summer. When the colleges announced the decision in partnership with the federal program known as Gear Up, in September, there was both enthusiasm and “disbelief that the state is willing to do this,” says Mark A. Heinrich, chancellor of the Alabama Community College System.

Alabama’s plan will be financed by the community-college system, on the heels of Gear Up’s pledging to help 10,000 sixth and seventh graders in low-income families prepare a pathway to college. Mr. Heinrich decided each parent of a Gear Up child should be able to attend free. The system’s colleges reach more than 25,000 working-age adults each year, but leave behind “15 times that number,” Mr. Heinrich says. “I don’t think we’re doing a good job of addressing those who are disadvantaged.”

It’s the responsibility of community colleges, he says, to help where traditional methods have failed.”

The idea of tuition-free community college is not a question of whether it will happen but when.  Most states will initiate such a policy in the years to come.


The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Top Ten Educational Technology Stories for 2015!

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education has published its annual list of the top-ten stories on educational technology as determined by postings to its Wired Campus blog.  Below is an excerpt from the article and the list.



“Concerns about Yik Yak and analysis of MOOCs and online teaching were among the most popular stories this past year on our Wired Campus blog. Each year we run the numbers to see which items drew the most reader attention, and this year’s list highlights a continuing interest in understanding how technology — and online education, in particular — might change college as we know it.

And while massive open online courses have largely fallen out of the national headlines, three of the top 10 articles in 2015 involved MOOCs (in one case, charting their fade from prominence).

But the big winner with readers this past year had nothing to do with the classroom. It tracked a popular online joke about what not to say to an academic on a date.

Here are the top 10 headlines from our tech blog:

  1. How to Ruin a Date With an Academic in 5 Words
  2. The MOOC Hype Fades, in 3 Charts
  3. MIT Professor’s Blog Comment Sets Off Debate Over Nerds and Male Privilege
  4. Professors Know About High-Tech Teaching Methods, but Few Use Them
  5. App Gives Students an Incentive to Keep Their Phones Locked in Class
  6. Another Use for Yik Yak on Campus? Cheating on Exams
  7. As Coursera Evolves, Colleges Stay On and Investors Buy In
  8. 3 Things Academic Leaders Believe About Online Education
  9. Meet the New, Self-Appointed MOOC Accreditors: Google and Instagram
  10. How an App Helps Low-Income Students by Turning College Life Into a Game


Sports and Your Child’s Brain!

Dear Commons Community,

Frank Bruni, in his New York Times column today, focuses on an issue that keeps gaining traction in our society, young people and sports injuries especially head trauma.  Policies in local school districts are evolving that indicate progress is being made to protect young athletes but that much more needs to be done.  Here is an excerpt from Bruni’s column:

“It’s now less common for a player whose head has collided violently with a ball, a wall, the ground or another player to return to competition right away. It’s now more common for him or her to get medical attention.

But Comstock, an epidemiologist at the Colorado School of Public Health, is frustrated by stubborn gaps between truly safe behavior and the status quo. She told me that more than half of the high schools with football teams don’t have a full-time athletic trainer, so there’s no immediately available person with the specific mission of preventing and treating injuries.

There are also sports other than football — and trauma other than concussions — that don’t attract nearly the vigilance they should, she added. Above all, there’s an enduringly strange, dangerous relationship between parents and sports, specifically between parents and coaches.

“What I would love to see is parents taking as much time to investigate their child’s coach, the league that they’re putting their child into and the officials officiating the game as they do a day care center when their child is young,” she told me. “They don’t have trouble challenging a teacher, even a pediatrician. But somehow they have trouble challenging a sports league.”

“I worry that we’ve been so focused on football that parents are pushing their kids out of that and into something else and not realizing that there are dangers there, too,” said Kevin Guskiewicz, one of the directors of the Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “We need to improve safety in all the sports that children play.”

Did you know that while the incidence of injuries in cheerleading is much lower than in the majority of high school sports, nearly a third of those injuries are concussions? The reason, Comstock explained, is a shocking lack of common sense and caution in monitoring an activity that isn’t automatically associated with violence.

“We’ve seen cheerleaders who’ve sustained concussions because they were practicing on the asphalt in the parking lot or on the cement sidewalk — or in the school cafeteria on a tiled floor,” said Comstock, adding that grass or mats would be infinitely more appropriate. “Why on earth would parents let that happen?”

Guskiewicz drew my attention to a study published just a few months ago in The American Journal of Sports Medicine that determined that among college athletes, concussions were most likely in wrestling, followed by men’s ice hockey and then women’s ice hockey. And women’s soccer and women’s basketball, in that order, were right behind football in terms of the danger of concussion.

Comstock, who supervises an ongoing national inventory of athletic injuries among high school students, said: “I have 22 sports in my surveillance system, and concussions have been reported in all but one of them. That includes swimming.” A distracted kid will swim head-on into the wall or into someone coming from the other direction. The sport without concussions, she said, was tennis.”

Every parent with a child would do well to review this column and to heed its advice.  The important message is to investigate carefully what a school does to protect its athletes in all it sports programs.




Congress to Provide for 9/11 First Responders!

Dear Commons Community,

Fourteen years after terrorists hijacked planes to strike the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, lawmakers on Capitol Hill finalized a deal this week to provide permanent health care for the thousands of Americans who are now sick and dying because they came forward to help that day.  As reported in The Huffington Post:

“After remarkably difficult negotiations that prompted critics to create a #WorstResponders hashtag for Congress, legislators finally agreed to an $8.1 billion reauthorization of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, and attached it to the massive omnibus spending bill that will have to pass in order to fund the government.

 “This agreement is incredible news for our 9/11 heroes and their families, and it is a testament to the extraordinary power that Americans can have when they raise their voice and demand action,“ said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

About $3.5 billion will be designated for the World Trade Center Health Program, guaranteeing that more than 72,000 known responders and survivors will always have access to treatment, including more than 33,000 who already have 9/11-linked illnesses. The program will last 75 years, until 2090.

Another $4.6 billion will go to extend the 9/11 Victims Compensation Program for five more years, and fill an approximately 50 percent funding shortfall in the original program passed in 2010.

“Now those who rushed to the towers will know that if they get sick because of their bravery, the federal government will be there for them the way they were there for us,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday. “It took too long, but Congress finally rose to its responsibility to help our heroes.” 

This is long overdue good news for those who gave selflessly of themselves on 9/11.



New McKinsey Report:  Digital Haves and Digital Have Mores!

Dear Commons Community,

McKinsey and Company has just published a new report entitled, Digital America: A Tale of the Haves and Have-Mores, detailing the way digital technology will continue to dominate commerce, employment, and education.   McKinsey approaches the topic from the global economic perspective and concentrates on the impact of technology on American society.  The title says a lot in that Americans will need to develop ever increasing technological skills beyond the basics in order to maintain and compete in the digitally-driven marketplace.  Here is a summary:

“The United States is digitizing so rapidly that most users are scrambling to adapt. The race to keep up with technology and put it to the most effective business use is producing digital “haves” and “have-mores”—and the large, persistent gap between them is becoming a decisive factor in competition across the economy.

ƒ.Digitization is happening unevenly, and users with advanced digital capabilities are capturing disproportionate benefits. The companies leading the charge are winning the battle for market share and profit growth; some are reshaping entire industries to their own advantage. But many businesses are struggling to evolve quickly enough. Workers in the most digitized industries enjoy wage growth that is twice the national average, while the majority of US workers face stagnant incomes and uncertain prospects.

ƒ.Digitization is not just about buying IT equipment and systems. The most explosive growth is now in usage as companies continue to integrate digital tools into an ever-widening variety of business processes. MGI’s Industry Digitization Index is the first major effort to capture how this activity is playing out at the sector level. It compiles dozens of indicators to provide a picture of digital assets, usage, and workers across the economy. In addition to the information and communications technology (ICT) sector, media, financial services, and professional services are surging ahead, while others have significant upside to capture. In fact, most sectors across the economy are less than 15 percent as digitized as the leading sectors. Despite a great rush of adoption, this gap has barely narrowed over the past decade. We see this pattern at the company level as well as the sector level.

ƒ.Digitization is changing the dynamics in many industries. New markets are proliferating, value chains are breaking up, and profit pools are shifting. Businesses that rely too heavily on a single revenue stream or on playing an intermediary role in a given market are particularly vulnerable. In some markets, there is a winnertake-all effect. For companies, this is a wake-up call—and an opportunity to reinvent every process with a fresh focus on the customer.

ƒ.As digitization accelerates, the United States has a major opportunity to boost productivity growth. Looking at just three big areas of potential—online talent platforms, big data analytics, and the Internet of Things— we estimate that digitization could add up to $2.2 trillion to annual GDP by 2025, although the possibilities are much wider. Some of the sectors that are currently lagging could be poised for rapid growth. Companies in manufacturing, energy, and other heavy industries are investing in digitizing their extensive physical assets, bringing us closer to the era of connected cars, smart buildings, and intelligent oil fields.

.But there will also be more economic dislocation. As digital technologies automate many of the tasks that humans are paid to do, the day-to-day nature of work will change in a majority of occupations. As companies redefine many roles and business processes, workers of all skill levels will be affected. Historical job displacement rates could accelerate sharply over the next decade. The United States will need to adapt its institutions and training pathways to help workers acquire relevant skills and navigate this period of transition and churn.

Today the race is on to capture value from data analytics and the Internet of Things, but there is no finish line. Digitization involves continuously experimenting and adapting, whether the focus is on back-office processes, the customer experience, or the introduction of new products and services. It takes investment, agility, and relentless focus to stay ahead in this hypercompetitive new world, but there are outsized opportunities for the organizations and individuals that can establish themselves as digital leaders.”

While this report surely promotes the global economy narrative, it still provides important insights into the growing dependence and influence of digital technology on all aspects of our society and especially the economy. As a result, schools and colleges will continue to push and expand technology skills development at all levels of their academic programs.



Scott Walker Guts Election Oversight Laws in Wisconsin!

Dear Commons Community,

Gov. Scott Walker signed two pieces of legislation yesterday that dramatically alter the election and campaign finance landscape in Wisconsin.  As reported by The Huffington Post:

“The first new law dismantles the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board — an independent elections and ethics panel — which has been held up as a national model because it’s run by six former judges rather than partisan political appointees.  In its place will be two different commissions overseeing ethics and elections, ran mostly by partisan appointees put in place by the governor and legislative leaders.

The second law relaxes campaign finance rules, doubling the limit for individual contributions, eliminating the requirement that donors must identify their employer and allowing corporate donations to political parties and legislative campaign committees.

Walker held no public ceremony for these dramatic changes, signing the bills in a private event. The Associated Press noted that news of the signings came from a tweet from the author of the GAB legislation. Walker’s office later put out statements confirming what he had done.

The changes attracted little attention outside of Wisconsin, particularly because Walker is no longer running for president. He ended his 2016 presidential bid on Sept. 21.

Walker and state Republicans have had GAB in their sights since they found out it assisted prosecutors who were looking into whether Walker’s campaign illegally coordinated with outside organizations during the 2012 recall effort.”

Walker continues to eviscerate good government in Wisconsin.



Republican Debate:  No Clear Winner(s)!

Dear Commons Community,

The Republican Debate last night on CNN provided good political theater but with so many candidates on the stage, it was difficult for any one individual to move ahead of the pack and come out on top as a winner.  Trump, Cruz, Rubio, Paul, and Christie all had moments of glory but no debater sustained the attention of the audience.  Jeb Bush attacked Trump as the “chaos candidate”.  Rubio and Cruz went at each other as did Paul and Christie.  Here is an excerpt of an analysis of the debate as reported in the New York Times:

Donald J. Trump came under sustained attack from Jeb Bush and other Republican presidential candidates on Tuesday night as they united against his plan to bar Muslims from entering the United States while tussling over who would be toughest in protecting Americans from terrorist threats.

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida also faced his toughest moments of the race during the latest Republican debate as a top rival, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, repeatedly questioned his conservative credentials and his judgment on national security and immigration. Though Mr. Rubio at times seemed to gain the upper hand, he looked and sounded rattled as Mr. Cruz portrayed him as lining up with liberals like Senator Chuck Schumer of New York in favoring “amnesty” for immigrants who are in the country illegally.

Mr. Bush, the former Florida governor who is struggling in the polls, was withering as he assailed Mr. Trump’s harsh words and ominous warnings about Muslims and mosques since the mass shootings in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif. While Mr. Trump has managed to channel and stoke the fears of many Americans, Mr. Bush led his rivals in portraying him as a fearmonger more interested in scaring voters than in planning an effective war against the Islamic State.

 “Donald, you’re not going to be able to insult your way to the presidency — that’s not going to happen,” Mr. Bush said. “Leadership is not about attacking people and disparaging people. Leadership is about creating a serious strategy.”

Mr. Trump, who has belittled Mr. Bush’s energy and strength since entering the race in June, suggested that his rival was simply pretending to be tough. But his counterattack seemed to backfire, drawing a rebuke from the audience.

“With Jeb’s attitude, we will never be great again, that I can tell you — we will never be great again,” Mr. Trump said, to loud boos.

In the evening’s other major subplot, Mr. Rubio, who has increased his attacks on the surging Mr. Cruz over the last month, engaged his colleague in their most pointed face-to-face confrontation yet. Trying to defuse criticism over his leading role in the 2013 legislation to offer unauthorized immigrants a path to citizenship, Mr. Rubio asserted that Mr. Cruz also wanted to offer legal status to those immigrants.

Mr. Cruz said Mr. Rubio was trying to “muddy the waters” and “raise confusion,” and linked Mr. Rubio to Mr. Schumer and President Obama on the issue.

“I led the fight against his legalization and amnesty” bill, Mr. Cruz said, arguing that to claim his and Mr. Rubio’s records on the issue were the same was “like suggesting the fireman and the arsonist have the same record because they were both at the scene of the fire.”

But when pressed by Mr. Rubio and a moderator on whether he would rule out legalizing undocumented immigrants, Mr. Cruz appeared to leave himself a measure of space.”

I thought that CNN’s Wolf Blitzer did a good job of moderating the debate and for the most part maintained control of the evening.


POLITICO:  The Koch’s War on Poverty!

Dear Commons Community,

Kenneth Vogel had an article in yesterday’s POLITICO, exposing the latest Koch brothers’ initiatives aimed at recruiting poor Americans to their ultra-conservative ideology.  Here is an excerpt:

“The political operation created by the billionaire conservative mega-donors Charles and David Koch is quietly investing millions of dollars in programs to win over an unlikely demographic target for their brand of small-government conservatism ― poor people.

The outreach includes everything from turkey giveaways, GED training and English-language instruction for Hispanic immigrants to community holiday meals and healthy living classes for predominantly African American groups to vocational training and couponing classes for the under-employed. The strategy, according to sources familiar with it and documents reviewed by POLITICO, calls for presenting a more compassionate side of the brothers’ politics to new audiences, while fighting the perception that their groups are merely fronts for rich Republicans seeking to game the political process for personal gain.

The efforts include a healthy dose of proselytizing about free enterprise and how it can do more than government to lift people out of poverty.

“We want people to know that they can earn their own success. They don’t need the government to give it to them,” Koch network official Jennifer Stefano told activists and donors during an August rally in Columbus, Ohio, at which she introduced one such project, Bridge to Wellbeing.

Housed within the foundation arm of Americans for Prosperity, the Koch network’s largest group, the program represents “the new way to advance freedom,” Stefano boasted. “And so that’s why, today, you’ll see Americans for Prosperity Foundation reaching out to new communities offering not just classes on the Constitution, and knowing your rights, but on couponing and how to turn your passion into profit by helping other people be successful, to not just tell them about the economy and economic freedom, but to show them that we want them to economically thrive, and how to do it.”

Bridge to Wellbeing last week served hot dinners to crowds of dozens of primarily African American attendees at a church in Miami and a community center in Orlando. A chef offered tips on how to prepare “dinner on a dime,” while attendees were guided into “learning about freedom,” according to the Twitter feed of one AFP staffer.

The Koch efforts can seem at times almost like a post-Citizens United version of turn-of-the-century political machines like Tammany Hall ― part privatized social-service agency, part voter mobilization. But liberal critics see it as a craven and patronizing gambit to bribe the disadvantaged into supporting a de-regulatory agenda that helps the haves at the expense of the have-nots.

“It won’t work. They can’t hide their agenda of lower wages, no unions and no health care, which would be devastating to these communities, merely by trying to ‘help’ them with a food coupon,” said David Brock, who founded a liberal non-profit group that tracks the Koch network. He added, “It’s also creepy. It sounds like something Hezbollah would do to get recruits.”



Frank Bruni: Colleges Need to Examine Student Diversity Within Their Walls!

Dear Commons Community,

For the past week and especially in light of the comments made by Justice Antonin Scalia, we have been following the Supreme Court deliberations regarding affirmative action at the University of Texas.  Frank Bruni, in his New York Times column yesterday, reminded us that affirmative action for admissions is just a first step in a process for building diverse student bodies that truly interact and engage with each other.  He points out:

“So even if a school succeeds in using its admissions process to put together a diverse student body, it often fails at the more important goal that this diversity ideally serves: meaningful interactions between people from different backgrounds, with different scars and different ways of looking at the world.

A given college may be a heterogeneous archipelago. But most of its students spend the bulk of their time on one of many homogeneous islands.

That’s consistent with the splintered state of America today, but it’s a betrayal of education’s mission to challenge ingrained assumptions, disrupt entrenched thinking, broaden the frame of reference.

In that sense it’s a betrayal as well of affirmative action, which isn’t merely a matter of cultural and economic redress and isn’t just about social mobility (though those are plenty worthy aims). It’s about an optimal learning environment for all students: white as well as black, privileged as well as underprivileged.

That environment hinges on what happens after admissions.”

Bruni also quotes Ronald Shaiko, a senior fellow at Dartmouth College’s Nelson A. Rockefeller Center, who wrote in The Chronicle of Higher Education in 2013, “The benefits of diversity do not spontaneously arise merely from the presence of a varied student body.”

Shaiko professed amazement at so much toil “to create diverse incoming classes” but so little to “nudge students into interactions outside of their comfort zones.”

“Without such nudges, students will default to sameness,” he concluded. That’s the human way. We’re clannish. Tribal.”

Bruni and Shaiko are making valid commentary.  Colleges and universities cannot just cheer on diversity at admissions but need to do a good deal more to promote it once students are admitted and to develop genuine cultures of diversity within their walls.