Brookings and Brown Center: Top Ten Education Policy Stories for 2017!

Dear Commons Community,

The Brookings Institution and the Brown Center (Chalkboard) for Education Policy compiled a list of top ten education policy issues for 2017.  Below is the compilation along with links to articles on the issues.



The Year in Education: Top Chalkboard Posts of 2017

Louis Serino, Thursday, December 21, 2017

From Betsy DeVos’s turbulent confirmation as the secretary of education, to the continued development of state ESSA plans, to the debates over free speech on college campuses, 2017 proved to be a hectic year for education in America. At every turn, the Brown Center Chalkboard offered timely, research-based insight into important events affecting U.S. education policy. To wrap up 2017, we’re highlighting the top 10 Chalkboard posts of the year.

Achievement gaps, school choice, discipline discrimination, and 4-day school weeks were just some of the topics that emerged in the national conversation on education policy this year; many of these themes are mirrored in the 10 most-read posts. Below is a list of the Chalkboard’s most popular pieces for 2017.



In 2001, the Brown Center conducted a first-of-its-kind survey of foreign exchange students, asking their opinion of U.S. schooling. In the 2017 Brown Center Report, author Tom Loveless replicated the survey with a surprising result: Not much has changed. Among the findings, international students still believe that U.S. classes are easier and American students devote less time to schoolwork. Read here.


In January, a new ranking of social mobility across U.S. universities placed Brigham Young University almost dead last. Mike Hansen, a Cougar alumnus, writes about the troubling trend of income—not merit—determining access to high-quality college education, both at his alma mater and at institutions nationwide. Read here.


The Trump administration relaxed nutritional standards for school lunches over the past year, but a new study finds that a healthy lunch can boost student performance—especially among low-income students. Read here.


Many small-town schools are adopting 4-day weeks, but do they really cut down on costs? Decreasing the amount of time rural students spend in school could exacerbate the difficulties they face in overcoming economic isolation and lack of opportunity, cautions Paul T. Hill. Read here.


Artificial intelligence isn’t just for STEM fields, according to Daniel Araya and Creig Lamb. As the 4th Industrial Revolution approaches, liberal arts grads—working alongside engineers—are essential to sustaining innovation. Here’s how colleges can pair imagination with AI to achieve success. Read here.


In the 2017 Brown Center Report on American Education, Tom Loveless examines trends in suspension rates in California schools. He finds that they have dropped significantly since 2013, but that African-American students continue to be suspended at a higher rate than other ethnic groups—about three times higher than Hispanic students and four times higher than white students. Read here.


Unconscious bias—the phenomenon by which stereotypes influence an individual’s behavior without the person even being aware of it—can create and perpetuate inequality in the classroom. Seth Gershenson and Thomas S. Dee describe the harmful impacts of unconscious bias, then discuss how teachers and schools can combat it. Read here.


Has U.S. school performance improved over the past two decades? To shed light on this question, Tom Loveless analyzed the results of two international assessments—and found mixed results. Read here.


New research finds persistent race disparities on the math section of the SAT, an important gateway to higher education. These stubborn achievement gaps reflect both racial inequalities in the United States and the failure of education to be America’s “great equalizer,” says Richard Reeves. Read here.


While much of the recent focus in education has been around science, literacy, and math, Michael Hansen and Diana Quintero look at who social studies teachers are and explore the unique role they play in the American education system. Read here.

Former President Obama Reminds Us What’s Best About America!

Dear Commons Community,

Former President Barack Obama took some time yesterday to reflect on the past year and tweet out some stories that “remind us what’s best about America.”  Despite a lot of turmoil in the world and here in America in 2017, Obama tweeted yesterday about three human interest stories that should make readers feel good about how people in this country help others.  The following summary is courtesy of the Huffington Post.

“The first story was about a Houston wedding planner named Kat Creech who transformed Sarah Samad and Mohsin Dhukka’s postponed wedding plans into a Hurricane Harvey victim relief effort. The initial small group of wedding guests turned into hundreds of volunteers and a group called Recovery Houston, local station KPRC reported. 

The second story was about NFL defensive end Chris Long, who gave his first six game checks to fund scholarships for students in his hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia. Then according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, he gave his final 10 game checks to launch Pledge 10 for Tomorrow, a campaign to “promote educational equity and opportunity for underserved youth” in the three cities he’s played for ― St. Louis, Boston and now Philadelphia.

Obama’s then tweeted the story of Jahkil Jackson, a 10-year-old on an intrepid mission to help the homeless population in Chicago. The Chicago Tribune article details the boy’s “stash of blessing bags — packages filled with socks, toiletries and snacks,” which he insists his parents keep “in the car at all times.”

Obama’s final message was to encourage Americans to do something.

“All across America people chose to get involved, get engaged and stand up. Each of us can make a difference, and all of us ought to try. So go keep changing the world in 2018,” he wrote.”

We miss you, Mr. President!



President Trump Gives New York Times an Impromptu Interview!

Dear Commons Community,

President Donald Trump gave the New York Times a brief interview yesterday which is unusual since he generally stays within the friendly confines of Fox News and other conservative media.  The Times published several excerpts this morning although I presume a longer piece will appeared in a later edition.  In this interview, Trump seemed presidential and generally avoided outlandish remarks.  Here is a sample.

On Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation:

“…[he]the president did not demand an end to the Russia investigations …

“It makes the country look very bad, and it puts the country in a very bad position,” Mr. Trump said of the investigation. “So the sooner it’s worked out, the better it is for the country…

“There’s been no collusion. But I think he’s going to be fair,” Mr. Trump said of Mr. Mueller.

On North Korea and China:

“Mr. Trump explicitly said for the first time that he has “been soft” on China on trade in the hopes that its leaders will pressure North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

He hinted that his patience may soon end, however, signaling his frustration with the reported oil shipments.

“Oil is going into North Korea. That wasn’t my deal!” he exclaimed, raising the possibility of aggressive trade actions against China. “If they don’t help us with North Korea, then I do what I’ve always said I want to do.”

Despite saying that when he visited China in November, President Xi Jinping “treated me better than anybody’s ever been treated in the history of China,” Mr. Trump said that “they have to help us much more.”

“We have a nuclear menace out there, which is no good for China,” he said.”

On Roy Moore and the Alabama Senate Election:

The president also spoke at length about the special election this month in Alabama, where Roy S. Moore, the Republican candidate, lost to a Democrat after being accused of sexual misconduct with young girls, including a minor, when he was in his 30s.

Mr. Trump said that he supported Mr. Moore’s opponent in the Republican primary race because he knew Mr. Moore would lose in the general election. And he insisted that he endorsed Mr. Moore later only because “I feel that I have to endorse Republicans as the head of the party.”

On reelection and the media:

“Another reason that I’m going to win another four years is because newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if I’m not there because without me, their ratings are going down the tubes,” Mr. Trump said, then invoked one of his preferred insults. “Without me, The New York Times will indeed be not the failing New York Times, but the failed New York Times.”

He added: “So they basically have to let me win. And eventually, probably six months before the election, they’ll be loving me because they’re saying, ‘Please, please, don’t lose Donald Trump.’ O.K.”

Mr. Trump would be wise to do more of this type of public relations and stay off Twitter!


Mike Huckabee Likens Donald Trump to Winston Churchill after Viewing “Darkest Hour” – What!!!

Dear Commons Community, 

Last weekend I saw the movie “Darkest Hour” which is a fine treatment of the early days of World War II when the fate of Western Europe hangs on the newly-appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who must decide whether to negotiate with Hitler, or fight on against incredible odds. I was appalled when I read this morning that former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee compared Donald Trump to Churchill after seeing this movie.  Here is an excerpt from a New York Times article describing Huckabee’s comments and the response.

“Former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas drew a swift and intense response with a provocative claim on Tuesday: President Trump, he wrote, is similar to Winston Churchill, one of history’s most iconic leaders.

Mr. Huckabee had just watched “Darkest Hour,” a film about Churchill. It was, he wrote on Twitter, a reminder of “what real leadership looks like.”

“Churchill was hated by his own party, opposition party, and press,” he tweeted. “Feared by King as reckless, and despised for his bluntness. But unlike Neville Chamberlain, he didn’t retreat. We had a Chamberlain for 8 yrs; in @realDonaldTrump we have a Churchill.”

Likening modern leaders to Chamberlain and Churchill — something Mr. Huckabee has done before — is always a loaded proposition. Chamberlain, who preceded Churchill as prime minister of Britain, tried to appease Hitler by conceding Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland region to Nazi Germany in the 1938 Munich Agreement, and his name has come to be synonymous with weakness in the face of evil.

Churchill, by contrast, was an officer in the British Army during World War I; led Britain through World War II as prime minister from 1940 to 1945; and handled several foreign policy crises in a second term as prime minister from 1951 to 1955. He was known for his skill as an orator and writer, and won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953.

“Sure. Churchill served his country 55 years in parliament, 31 years as a minister and 9 as pm,” Kristian Tonning Riise, a member of Norway’s Parliament, wrote in a tweet liked more than 19,000 times. “He was present in 15 battles and received 14 medals of bravery. He was one of history’s most gifted orators and won the Nobel Literature Prize for his writing. Totally same thing.”

Mr. Huckabee did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday evening.

Historians said that while Churchill and Mr. Trump shared certain characteristics, the broader comparison was unsupported.

It is true that Churchill made many political enemies before World War II, said Susan Pedersen, a professor of British history at Columbia University. He was also “more self-regarding and less inclined to compromise than most successful British politicians,” she said, and “had a hard-right view of British national and imperial interest.”

“He was basically in the wilderness in 1939, and had world history and circumstance not found him, that would have been the end of the story,” Dr. Pedersen wrote in an email.

“Luckily for him, and for many of us, his peculiar attributes and the needs of the time came together. But that happened partly because, for all his idiosyncrasy, he had real intellectual and political strengths: He was intelligent, literate, well-versed in history, had long experience in government, and knew what he stood for.”

The comparison to Mr. Trump, she wrote, is “ridiculous…

Timothy Riley, director and chief curator of the National Churchill Museum at Westminster College in Missouri, said that Churchill “was bold and passionate about his beliefs” and, much like Mr. Trump, “was not afraid to speak his own mind and ruffle a few feathers along the way.” But for Churchill, Mr. Riley said, “the greatest task, his ‘supreme task,’ was to bring countries together to support peace and prosperity and, during the Second World War, to defeat tyranny.”

And Dr. Del Testa said that after World War I, Churchill’s “self-celebratory style” was tempered by a newfound humility.

“He was trying to keep Britain strong and create a world order that was strong for Britain, but he was also conscious increasingly in the 1920s and 1930s of a world order that could be destroyed by populist dictators,” he said. “His own tendency toward self-celebration softened when he became aware of the larger world around him, that it really wasn’t a game, but it was humanly important.”

In case you did not know, Mike Huckabee is the father of Susan Huckabee Sanders, Donald Trump’s press secretary whose press briefings are hilarious demonstrations of truth bending and obfuscation.  Like father like daughter!





Article:   Theories and Frameworks for Online Education: Seeking an Integrated Model!

Dear Commons Community,

Last fall, the Online Learning journal published an article I had written entitled, Theories and Frameworks for Online Education: Seeking an Integrated Model.  Yesterday I was notified it was judged to be one of the top ten articles for the publication for 2017.  I was also notified that it was the article with the second most downloads for the year.  The article examines theoretical frameworks and models that focus on the pedagogical aspects of online education. After a review of learning theory as applied to online education, I propose an integrated Multimodal Model for Online Education  based on pedagogical purpose. The model attempts to integrate the work of several major theorists and model builders such as Terry Anderson, Randy Garrison, George Siemens, Michael Moore and others. If you are at all interested in online education theory, check out  Picciano, A. G. (2017). Theories and frameworks for online education: Seeking an integrated model. Online Learning, 21(3), 166-190. doi: 10.24059/olj.v21i3.1225.  It is available for free download.



United States on the Decline as a Global Leader!

Dear Commons Community,

The United States as a world leader is on the decline.  Several recent reports  are indicating that other countries namely China and Russia are assuming leadership positions in several key areas.  

According to the Los Angeles Times, President Trump “has reduced U.S. influence or altered it in ways that are less constructive. On a range of policy issues, Trump has taken positions that disqualified the United States from the debate or rendered it irrelevant.”

Particularly impactful decisions include the withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Climate agreement, a failure to fully address non-ISIS related conflicts in Syria and Iraq, and the recent declaration that the U.S. will acknowledge Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The void being left where U.S. influence once was leaves ample space for a number of nations, and especially China, to rise to positions of greater world standing. 

As recently noted by the New York Times, as Trump champions the return of coal and manufacturing, China’s President Xi Jinping “is making strategic investments that could allow China to dominate the 21st-century global economy, including in information technology and artificial intelligence.”

“Mr. Xi is all-in on robotics, aerospace, high-speed rail, new-energy vehicles and advanced medical products”.

China has now assumed the mantle of fighting climate change, a global crusade that the United States once led. Russia has taken over Syrian peace talks, also once the purview of the American administration, whose officials Moscow recently deigned to invite to negotiations only as observers.

France and Germany are often now the countries that fellow members of NATO look to, after President Trump wavered on how supportive his administration would be toward the North Atlantic alliance.

And in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the U.S., once the only mediator all sides would accept, has found itself isolated after Trump’s decision to declare that the U.S. recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Even in countries that have earned Trump’s praise, such as India, there is concern about Trump’s unpredictability — will he be a reliable partner? — and what many overseas view as his isolationism.

“The president can and does turn things inside out,” said Manoj Joshi, a scholar at a New Delhi think tank, the Observer Research Foundation. “So the chances that the U.S. works along a coherent and credible national security strategy are not very high.”

Trump may be making “America great again” but only in the eyes of the White House not the world.



Steve Bannon Dishes on Trump, Ivanka and Jared Kushner in Vanity Fair Interview!

Dear Commons Community,

Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s chief campaign and White House strategist, gave an interview to Vanity Fair that was published last week.  He had choice words for Trump and several key people close to Trump including his daughter, Ivanka, and her husband, Jared Kushner.  Here are several excerpts from the interview.

“The Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over,” he told writer Gabriel Sherman, and reportedly told a friend last month that he believes the president has “lost a step” and that he is “like an 11-year-old child.”

Bannon saved several of his most vicious comments for Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner and derided the couple as “Javanka”.  He said Ivanka was a “fount of bad advice during the campaign,” and claimed he once called her to her face “the queen of leaks.”

Vanity Fair reported Bannon considers Kushner an elitist with no political experience who is in over his head and is out of touch with Trump’s constituency.

“He doesn’t know anything about the hobbits or the deplorables,” Bannon said. “The railhead of all bad decisions is the same railhead: Javanka.”

He said it was Kushner who encouraged Trump to fire FBI director James Comey. “It’s the dumbest political decision in modern political history, bar none,” Bannon insisted, calling it a “self-inflicted wound of massive proportions.”

He also had comments about George W. Bush, Mitch McConnell, and Jeff Sessions.

The Vanity Fair article concluded:

“As the White House sinks deeper into scandal, along with Roy Moore’s crushing defeat, it’s hard not to see Trump and Bannon as survivors huddled together on a shrinking spit of dry land. Meanwhile, with 2018 looming, even Bannon recognizes the Democrats’ growing strength. “The reason the Democrats did so well in Virginia is because they’re angry. Anger gets people to do things. I admire that,” he said.

During one conversation this fall, Bannon seemed to accept that his campaign might not succeed. But he said people are mistaken if they equate losing elections with failure. “I’m not a political operative,” he said, “I’m a revolutionary.”

An interesting interview by someone who was very close with Donald Trump.




White Christmas at the Cottage!

Dear Commons Community,

We awoke this morning to a white Christmas.  Above is the view from our deck. It was a beautiful way to start the holiday. My daughter, Dawn Marie, and her family from Seattle are with us and the grand kids, Michael and Ali, wasted no time getting the sleds out and heading for a hill about one hundred yards from our cottage.

Merry Christmas Everyone!



Families without Power in Puerto Rico Celebrate Christmas with Cellphones and Flashlights!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has an article this morning describing how some families without power in Puerto Rico are celebrating Christmas with cellphones and flashlights.  Here is a brief excerpt:

“Days before Christmas, and three months after Hurricane Maria made landfall, parts of Puerto Rico are still without water, and over a million people are in the dark. Hundreds of residents remain in shelters, unable to return home. Schools that have been able to resume classes are still without power.

But in towns around the island, residents are trying to keep holiday traditions alive, despite the circumstances. A group in Guaynabo had arrived at the home of Juan Pablo González for a parranda, a Puerto Rican Christmas tradition that brings friends together to sing carols, usually in the middle of the night. Mr. González’s home was still without power, so people used cellphones and flashlights to see one another and read song lyrics…

In Old San Juan, Marta Cirino performed Christmas songs with Caiko y Los del Soberao, an Afro-Puerto Rican music group. The neighborhood is usually crowded with tourists, but on a recent night, it was full of locals who sang and danced to the music.”

Feliz Navidad!