David Bloomfield on Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Common Core!

Dear Commons Community,

Our colleague, David Bloomfield, had an article in yesterday’s New York Daily News, providing commentary on New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo’s change of policy on the Common Core curriculum,  Here is an excerpt;

“…[the Common Core] is now a “Common Corpse.” Once a high-profile promoter of test-based accountability aligned to the Core, Cuomo has done a complete U-turn without applying the brakes. Not since the first President Bush’s broken “No New Taxes” pledge has a politician announced such an abrupt change of direction.

To be clear, our mercurial governor might change his mind again as quickly as you can say “Bill de Blasio” — but he greeted his hand-picked Task Force’s announcement with the glee of a total convert.

“The Common Core was supposed to ensure all of our children had the education they needed to be college and career-ready — but it actually caused confusion and anxiety. That ends now,” he said in personally announcing the report.”

 As usual, David is on target in his observation and commentary.



Governor Andrew Cuomo Vetoes Maintenance of Effort Bill for CUNY!

Dear Commons Community,

President Barbara Bowen sent out the letter below to the Professional Staff Congress membership yesterday.  Governor Andrew Cuomo has vetoed the Maintenance of Effort bill that would have provided some much needed fiscal relief to CUNY.  Barbara’s message says it all.



Dear Members, 

We got the news at midnight last night that Governor Cuomo vetoed the Maintenance of Effort bill.  We had been receiving signals for more than a month that there would be a veto, but we continued to press till the final night.  

Governor Cuomo’s veto represents a decision not to invest in sustaining top-quality college education for the working people, the poor and the people of color in New York. His position is now absolutely clear.

Cuomo had the chance with this bill to take an action that had huge bipartisan support and that would have resonated not only in New York City but across the state. He deliberately refused that chance, despite his repeated claims of being a leader in progressive policy. He cannot be a progressive while systematically withholding funds from CUNY. 

No doubt Cuomo ‘s defense–which will soon appear in the veto message–will be that the bill would take spending over the 2% cap he has imposed on any increases. But what is the justification for the 2% cap? Nothing.  With State revenues up by 5.6% this year, there is no fiscal justification for imposing such a cap. It is simply austerity politics: the decision to transfer wealth from the many to the few and call it “necessity.” And like everything else in this country, austerity policy cannot be separated from the issue of race. 

Austerity policy means that we in the faculty and staff have been subsidizing New York State as our salaries have not kept up with inflation, and that students have been forced to facilitate the State’s disinvestment in their education as they pay an ever-greater share of the costs. It means that CUNY and SUNY are prevented from making enhancements desperately needed after decades of fiscal starvation, and that endless tuition increases are demanded just to keep the universities afloat. 

You, as PSC members, did an exceptional job of supporting this bill.  The bill would not have been passed and sent to the Governor without our collective work.  You mobilized to get thousands of messages from members, first to the Legislature and then to the Governor.  You collected 40,000 postcards on the MOE from students. You traveled to Albany and organized here in the city.

And the bill’s sponsors, Assembly Member Deborah Glick and Senator Kenneth La Valle, deserve our thanks.  They went beyond sponsorship to tenacious support. 

The union’s work is not wasted.  We have made it clear to Albany that the issue of CUNY funding has deep support and that it will not go away. We will not be stopped by one veto. The PSC already has in place our response to the veto and the next steps in our campaign. The fight will continue–and escalate. 

With enough depth among our own membership and breadth among our allies, it is a fight we can win. 

Barbara Bowen
President, Professional Staff Congress/CUNY

Home from the Hospital and Catching Up on Trump, Scalia, NCLB, NYS Common Core!

Dear Commons Community,

I returned home last night after a week at Phelps Hospital.  It seems that I have an intestinal blockage that is defying a diagnosis.  I will be going for more tests on Monday and we will take if from there.  I thank all who expressed kind expressions of concern and best wishes.

While I had my iphone and could keep up with email correspondence, I was not really set up to compose posts for my blog.  I will use this posting to catch up on several items which might have made my blog this week had I not been hospitalized.


Donald Trump – Ban on Muslims

Donald Trump held onto his commanding lead in the Republican race for the White House after his call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States was condemned worldwide, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, the first national survey conducted entirely after the billionaire’s remarks. It is becoming more and more obvious that the Republican Party has a major problem with Donald Trump’s candidacy and doesn’t know how to resolve it.  Party leaders only have themselves and their cohorts in the conservative media (FoxNews, Limbaugh) to blame for stirring up the beast and playing to their members’ fears.  Donald Trump has taken over the Party’s fear tactics and is now poised to become its presidential nominee.


Antonin Scalia – Affirmative Action

The Congressional Black Caucus, civil rights lawyers and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) denounced Justice Antonin Scalia on Thursday for what they said were racist and insulting comments in which he suggested some black students might be better off in a “slower-track school” rather than at a more competitive university.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), who chairs the Black Caucus, said Scalia’s comments were “disgusting, inaccurate and insulting to African Americans. Thousands of black Americans have excelled in top-tier universities.” Butterfield, a former judge, said Scalia should recuse himself from the pending University of Texas affirmative action case because he has “removed any presumption of impartiality.”

This was not the first time Scalia has made controversial comments regarding race from the bench. Two years ago, when the justices were debating the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act, Scalia called the historic measure a “racial entitlement” that should be struck down.

Scalia’s comments are indicative that we have a flawed judicial system where Supreme Court justices are appointed for life.


President Obama Signs New Education Law Replacing NCLB

President Obama called it “a Christmas miracle. A bipartisan bill signing right here.”

The “right here” was the South Court Auditorium, part of the White House complex. More importantly, the bipartisan bill being signed was the Every Student Succeeds Act— a long-overdue replacement of the unpopular federal education law known as No Child Left Behind.

The new law changes much about the federal government’s role in education, largely by scaling back Washington’s influence. While ESSA keeps in place the basic testing requirements of No Child Left Behind, it strips away many of the high stakes that had been attached to student scores.

The job of evaluating schools and deciding how to fix them will shift largely back to states. Gone too is the requirement, added several years ago by the Obama administration, that states use student scores to evaluate teachers.

The new law, which passed the House and Senate with rare, resounding bipartisan support, would also expand access to high-quality preschool.

The Every Student Succeeds Act is a repudiation of much of what Arne Duncan attempted to do during his tenure as Secretary of Education.  It replaces two deeply flawed programs (No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top).


New York State to Revamp Common Core!

A panel convened by New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo’s has called for an extensive overhaul of the controversial state academic standards known as the Common Core.   Cuomo convened the panel in September to consider changing the tougher standards after as many as 240,000 students boycotted tests pegged to the unpopular measures in 2015. Ushered in by state education policy leaders leaders Merrill Tisch and John King, the Common Core has been disastrous for K-12 education mainly because it was rushed in without proper planning and vetting.  New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina told an audience of parents and educators at a town hall meeting in Queens Thursday night that the “Common Core in itself … is not bad,” but “The implementation stunk.”






Top Republican Political Donor Mike Fernandez: I’ll vote for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump!

Dear Commons Community,

Long-time Republican donor and billionaire Mike Fernandez plans to take out full-page ads in major newspapers declaring his support for Hillary Clinton should Donald Trump win his Party’s nomination.

“If I have a choice — and you can put it in bold — if I have a choice between Trump and Hillary Clinton, I’m choosing Hillary,” Miami healthcare magnate Mike Fernandez told the Miami-Herald on Friday. “She’s the lesser of two evils.”

He purchased a full-page ad in the Miami-Herald calling Trump a “narcissistic BULLYionaire with a hunger to be adored.” He also likened him to some of history’s bloodiest demagogues.

“You have no idea how furious I am with my friends in the Republican Party who have embraced this guy,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez also plans to run the ads in Des Moines and Las Vegas newspapers later this month.




AltSchool  Model:  Mark Zuckerberg and Personalized Learning!

Dear Commons Community,

Earlier this week, Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, pledged approximately $45 billion to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a nonprofit that will look “to join people across the world to advance human potential and promote equality for all children in the next generation”. One area of the Initiative’s focus will be personalized learning.  The New York Times has a featured article on the AltSchool, a personalized learning model founded by former Google executive, Max Ventilla.   Mr. Zuckerberg has already committed an investment in AltSchool.  As reported in the article:

“AltSchool, which opened two years ago, has four branches in San Francisco, one in Palo Alto and a sixth on Hicks Street in Brooklyn, which enrolled its first students in September. An East Village location is scheduled to open next fall, and a Chicago location is planned for 2017.

 “Personalized learning” involves the customization of lesson plans to address the needs of individual students, in classrooms where rates of progress and areas of interest vary; technology enhances the process through the use of software and applications that can present various exercises, assessment tools, lines of inquiry and so forth for students. But even given that, meeting every child in his or her own developmental place requires a culture and atmosphere of intimacy, a level of attention from teachers that makes it challenging to imagine the model taking hold across large urban public school systems…

Mr. Ventilla has little use for traditional education.  His complaints are familiar and often fair: The system is antiquated; it doesn’t prepare students for a rapidly changing world guided by technological innovation; we are too reliant on testing; students do too little of what is applicable later. “When, in professional life, are you ever required to sit at a desk, in a room, for three hours filling in answers in bubbles?” he asked rhetorically one afternoon, seated in his Brooklyn office. There is no formal testing to speak of at AltSchool, and little in the way of homework…

Part of the school’s marketing strategy is to make it very user-friendly for parents — if you need to change drop-off or pick-up plans, you can, and you do it on mobile devices. School vacations can happen at the parents’ discretion. If you want to take your child with you on a weeklong business trip to Hong Kong, you can — this is considered another opportunity for learning. A tablet with your child’s lesson plans would go with you, and he or she could study and work wherever you are. AltSchool’s plan, ultimately, after years of data-keeping, self-assessment and reassessment, is to take its best practices and technological innovations to the universe of public schools.

For all of its arguably dubious ideas, AltSchool is serious about the idea that progressive education should not simply be the provenance of the well off. This is a notion markedly absent in the boot-camp model of so many of the city’s charter schools, where learning can too easily be divorced from pleasure, and fear rather than joy is the operative motivator. You don’t need rich parents to get turned on to learning from a river.”

If Chan Zuckerberg decide to become major financial backers of the AltSchool model, it will become an important part of school reform discussions in the years to come.  Of course, scaling up such a model for large school systems will be an enormous challenge.


New Yorker Cover Depicts Buying Weapons as Common as Buying Groceries!

New Yorker 120515

Dear Commons Community,

Not to be outdone by the New York Daily News cover, New Yorker’s cover for its December 14, 2105 issue depicts a young couple doing their weekly grocery shopping with cart full of guns, grenades, and ammunition.  Entitled,” Shopping Days,”  writer Eric Drooker asks: “What would it look like if I took America’s obsession with firearms to its logical extreme?”

The question comes in the wake of Wednesday’s mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, where 14 people were killed and 21 others wounded.

Authorities are still trying to determine a motive for why armed husband-and-wife Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik ambushed a holiday party before dying in a police fusillade. The FBI on Friday labeled the assault an “act of terrorism.”

Gun sales in the United States have boomed in recent years, and last month on Black Friday, the feds reported that the federal background check system set a record 175,000 checks for the day. On a typical day in 2013, the FBI processed about 58,000 checks.



Daily News Headline: God Isn’t Fixing This!

Daily News Sna Bernardino Shootins

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Daily News headline yesterday caused quite a stir by calling out Republican presidential nominees for invoking prayers and God while referring to the shootings in San Bernardino.  The Daily News has been on a rampage against the National Rifle Association since the Paris killings specifically targeting NRA officials and politicians who refuse to change the gun laws in this country. The articles accompanying the headline yesterday called on the nominees and other government officials to save their prayers and to take action on gun control.


House of Representatives Passes No Child Left Behind Rewrite!’

Dear Commons Community,

After years of failed efforts, the House voted overwhelmingly yesterday to approve a new version of No Child Left Behind (NCLB).  While the new version sharply scales back the federal role in American education, it would still retain some of the testing requirements of the 2002 NCLB.   As reported by the Associated Press:

“The legislation, approved 359-64, would return to the states the decision-making power over how to use students’ test performance in assessing teachers and schools. The measure also would end federal efforts to encourage academic standards such as Common Core.

The 1,000-plus page measure was a compromise reached by House and Senate negotiators. The Senate is to vote on it early next week and President Barack Obama is expected to sign it.

Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., who led the House-Senate conference committee on the legislation, said Washington has been micromanaging the nation’s classrooms for too long.

“Today, we turn the page on the failed status quo and turn over to our nation’s parents and our state and local leaders the authority, flexibility and certainty they need to deliver children an excellent education,” he said.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement after the vote that the bill would “reduce over-testing and one-size-fits-all federal mandates,” though some conservative lawmakers argued that it would not go far enough, and they voted against it.” 


Mark Zuckerberg Announces Major New $45 Billion Funding Initiative!

Dear Commons Community,

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, on the occasion of the birth of their daughter,  announced the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a nonprofit that will look “to join people across the world to advance human potential and promote equality for all children in the next generation. Our initial areas of focus will be personalized learning, curing disease, connecting people and building strong communities.”

Zuckerberg had already committed to The Giving Pledge, a promise signed by wealthy individuals to donate most of their fortune. He said that the couple would be donating 99% of their Facebook shares to the cause, currently worth around $45 billion.

The new initiative follows on other major philanthropic efforts by Zuckerberg including a $20 million donation to provide public high schools with high speed Internet, a $75 million donation to a San Francisco hospital and $100 million to the Newark school system.

Congratulations to Mr. Zuckerberg and his wife.