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September 2017 Archives

By Dr. Joan Baum

Concluding a heady interview about technology, including algorithmic thinking, blockchain" transactions, cybersecurity and new chip embedding, NYIT  President Hank Foley, who assumed office this past June, instinctively volunteers, "I want NYIT to be the coolest, hippest school in the New York region." He means it, he repeats it. He'd like to see the institute be even more The Place students select first because they know it's where "they can make and do things and learn the theory behind them." And, needless to say, have their education translate into rewarding careers.

President Foley, who has a Ph.D. in physical and inorganic chemistry and holds 16 patents, is already proud of the jobs record at NYIT, but he wants to advance it, and, he hopes, down the line, to build programs that can bring together the arts and technology (NYIT already has a theatre program and the president would like to see fashion addressed as well). In the meantime, he's pleased with the numbers: "over 93% of NYIT graduates find employment or go on to graduate school in tech areas, such as coding or working on web design, an amazing statistic, especially for "one of the most diverse student bodies of any institution" he's known - most first-generation, 40% female).That diversity, he says, was one of the main reasons he applied to NYIT to become its fourth president.

The president is frank about how graduate study for some tech fields may not be as necessary as it is for many physical sciences. He's also mindful about how "technology" has changed over the last 20 years, challenging faculty and students to keep current with the latest research. He cites, for example a piece he's just read in The Wall Street Journal about hackable cars (hello Jeep Cherokee) and home appliances (is your toaster connected to the Internet? )  Advances in tech have been "incredible." It's like we're in "the third chapter of Artificial Intelligence."

NYIT will continue to invest in faculty who are researchers as well as good teachers, he says. By that he means men and women who not only learn the latest applications but appreciate the cognitive principles that underlie those applications, such as "algorithmic thinking," the ability to reduce problems to a process or set of rules that constitutes the heart of problem solving operations and their variations. Deep Blue played chess differently from the way Kasparov did, he points out. The president is aware, however, of the "worrisome," even "embarrassing" trend to hire more adjuncts than tenure-track professors. Although NYIT has an approximate 50 /50 ratio, he does not hesitate to note the "exploitation" inherent in a "gig" academic economy that forces part-timers to scatter to make ends meet. 

President Foley has also thought about the kinds of courses that lend themselves to online teaching and which do not. In engineering curricula, for example, a certain amount of "knowledge transfer" can be expedited online, but for the analysis of principles, hybrid courses would better suit.  Put factual material online and then generate class discussion. He appreciates the need to start in on critical thinking in the freshman year, the importance of  "foundation" coursers that teach or enhance listening and writing skills. His overarching concern, however, is technology.  His training and professional life outside academia have been in nanotechnology research and related high-level systems, and he is pleased to note, by the way, that he has always credited graduate students who have worked with him.

Before coming to NYIT, President Foley held top administrative posts where he concentrated attention on strategic planning, economic development and advanced collaborative program development. He served as Interim Chancellor of the University of Missouri-Columbia and before that as Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs at MU. Prior to those positions, he was vice president for research and dean of the graduate school at The Pennsylvania State University. 

Yes, he's focused on technology, but in an April interview President Foley gave to The Box, an NYIT blog, he is quoted as saying "Never attribute to malice that which may simply be a matter of ignorance, a lack of knowledge, or under-developed social skills." The question of hacking inevitably comes up.  The president is well aware of both its "white and black hat" aspects - hackers who work to secure data for the common good and those who work as wild cards out of peeve or malice. And thus, though his "first love as an educator is in science, engineering, technology, and business," he values the humanities and the fine arts for, among other considerations, the degree to which they can infuse ethical considerations into a tech curricula. #

By John Merrow
"The more things change, the more they remain the same" is certainly applies to public education.  Today's headlines are about Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and her 'Rethink School' tour.  Apparently we have forgotten that in 2015 and 2016 Education Secretaries Arne Duncan and John King took their own bus tours around the country right about now. Last year's theme was 'Opportunity Across America.'  

What my new book offers is a long-range perspective: we have been 'reforming' schools for many, many years, generally without any real change...even though headlines suggest otherwise.  

A good example of a recent faux reform is the effort to raise the high school graduation rate, a signature campaign of Education Secretary Arne Duncan. During his tenure, the rate climbed from about 70% to 83%. In some cases, struggling students graduated because of tutoring and other compassionate attention, and that's a good thing. However, many other struggling students achieved passing grades because of 'Credit Recovery,' the dubious practice of putting students in front of computers for a week or so of pushing buttons, for which they could earn a full semester's credit in basic courses. Other students got diplomas because adults cheated by either helping them on standardized tests or by changing their answers post-test.  The graduation rate was also manipulated when some schools 'persuaded' struggling students to leave school to enroll in GED programs--but failed to ensure that the students actually enrolled. (We reported on this twice for the NewsHour; the first piece was nominated for the Emmy for Investigative Reporting.) When the rate jumped, reformers celebrated this accomplishment, while of course taking pains to say things like, 'The struggle isn't over and won't be over until every student graduates.'  
After a while, the system returns to where it was when the 'reform' effort began, and then politicians and others begin assigning blame. "It's the families," or "it's the teachers," or "it's the kids themselves...."

At the macro-level, the cumulative effect of years and years of faux 'reform' is decidedly negative: 1) a damaging pessimism about public education, 2) waves of criticism of teachers and their unions, and 3) increased national and state regulation.  However, at the local level, parents remain satisfied with the schools their children attend, even as they give the overall system a bad grade.  And just today a poll from GenForward reveals that "Majorities of Millennials give their own education an "A" or "B" grade, but the nation's public schools score lower."

This cognitive dissonance is more than a paradox.  It's problematic because only 37% of adults can name ONE basic right guaranteed by the US Constitution. Given that many Americans seem not to grasp the uniqueness of our nation, one has to wonder how strong the fabric of our democracy is today.

The solution is not more faux 'school reform' but real change.  As with all addictions, the process must begin by acknowledging our addiction to superficial (and easy) change.  There are 12 steps in all, most of which are familiar to followers of Maria Montessori, John Dewey and others.  But it's time for words, not deeds. 
For example, most Americans support pre-school, but only 43% of our 3-year-olds are enrolled, a huge contrast to the OECD average of 73%. That has to change.
Another example: we need to 'measure what we value,' instead of valuing what we can measure cheaply.  Most countries use tests to determine how students are doing. The US seems to be alone in using test scores as a way of punishing teachers.
Example: As Aristotle teaches us, 'We are what we repeatedly do.' For that simple reason, students should spend their time in school doing work that matters. Project-based learning, when students learn, fail, and learn from their mistakes together, is essential preparation for adult life.  Test-prep is not preparation for anything except taking tests.

I'm arguing that we must create schools which consider each child individually by asking, in effect, "How are you intelligent?" and not "How smart are you?"

We simply don't have enough children to go sorting them into 'winners' and 'losers' when they are 6, 7, or 8 years old.  As Willie Nelson might have sung, "There's time enough for sorting when the game is done."

During my 41 years of reporting, I've seen three major changes, only one of which is positive: 1) the inclusion and acceptance of children with special needs;  2) the resegregation of public schools after long and concerted efforts at desegregation; and 3) the rise of high-stakes testing with all of its unfortunate consequences, including widespread cheating by adults and the dumbing down of the curriculum.

(If you are wondering about technology, it is--so far--not on my list because many schools are using its unprecedented powers to attempt to stuff more facts into students' heads, instead of giving them more agency over their own education.)

On the other hand, there is hope, because, in some high schools in the last two years, 80% and even 90% of students have 'opted out' of mandated standardized tests.  Perhaps real change does begin at the bottom...
(John Merrow reported on public education for the PBS NewsHour and NPR for 41 years before retiring in late 2015.  During his career he received two George Foster Peabody Awards, the George Polk Award, and the McGraw Prize.  Addicted to Reform is his fourth book.)

By Devin Balkind

Democracy in the United States was established nearly 250 years ago when news traveled at the speed of a horse and real-time collaboration required sharing a physical location. Today, ubiquitous internet access, smartphones, social media, and online collaboration tools have transformed how we work, play and consume, but the basic structure of our politics remains the same.

The result is that during an era of massive innovation, our static politics have disempowered the public and made our representative democracy feel more like a "consumer" one. Parties are brands; politicians are products; and our job as consumer-citizens is to purchase "our" politician with our votes. U.S. media and education systems strengthen the notion of "consumer democracy" by obsessing over the theatrics that motivate people to vote instead of educating people about the issues, policies and processes that impact all our lives. The public is not pleased. Congress and the President's approval ratings are at record lows, as are voter participation rates.

How can democracies use technologies to strengthen themselves? Answers are emerging around the world, with the central theme being that technology can make politics more engaging, successful and legitimate by enabling people to become active producers of political outcomes instead of passive consumers.  

Two examples of "participatory democracy" are taking place in Taiwan and Madrid. In Taiwan, the "vTaiwan" project encourages the public to participate in a multi-month, multi-phase "consultation process" where citizens give issue-specific feedback offline and online. They use that feedback to create their own legislative and administrative proposals, and the most popular proposal are ratified and implemented by the government. Over the last three years, tens of thousands of people have participated, resulting in more than a dozen new laws and administrative actions. In Madrid, city government built a platform that enables citizens to debate issues and propose legislation. If that legislation meets a popularity threshold, it automatically becomes law.

Surprisingly, there are few if any truly participatory political projects in the United States. While New York City has "participatory budgeting," its many restrictions and limited scope makes it fundamentally different than the open-ended participatory processes practiced overseas.

New York City's Public Advocate is supposed to be the voice of all New Yorkers. As such, it's the perfect position to bring a technology-enabled collective decision-making process to our City. Since it's democratically elected, the Public Advocate can give "participatory democracy" real legitimacy. And since it has consultative status with the City Council and many city agencies, the Public Advocate can bring the public's will directly to the people who run our city.

I'm running for Public Advocate to put "participatory democracy" on the ballot in November. With your help, we can put the Public exactly where it should be -- directly in charge of the Public Advocate.#

Devin works at the intersection of the nonprofit sector, the open-source movement, and grassroots community organizing to share and initiate best practices. He currently serves as president of the Sahana Software Foundation, a nonprofit organization that produces open source information management system for disaster relief and humanitarian aid. He is running for NYC 2017 Public Advocate.

by Shenzhan Liao, Director of Education & School of Chinese Studies, China Institute

In the evening of September 7, a talk on the Chinese economy, "Rethinking China: Why Conventional Economic Wisdom is Wrong?" took an interesting spotlight on education.

The talk, the first of the "Rethinking China" series launched this Fall by China Institute's Center for Business, invited Dr. Yukon Huang, former World Bank China director and currently with the Carnegie Endowment, to present and discuss some controversial points in his new book, "Cracking the China Conundrum: Why Conventional Economic Wisdom is Wrong." Huang convincingly delivered his points opposite to what he calls "conventional economic wisdom" on a wide range of topics including China's growth and debt prospects, U.S. - China trade tensions, U.S. and E.U. foreign investment in China, role of corruption and political liberalization in China, etc. For example, on contrary to the common perception that corruptions slow down China's economy, Huang argued that in fact, in a country like China where government, banks, and state owned enterprises are all under one Party's control, corruptions cross sectors are the reason China's government and private sectors can function so efficiently to fuel its economic miracle growth. To get a nuanced understanding of his intriguing points on all topics, as Huang put it with a great sense of humor, one has to buy his new book, which, BTW, was sold out right after the event.

Over fifty American, Chinese and European audiences were packed in the lecture room that evening. Most of them were from business sectors, with a sprinkle of educators.

Not much seemed directly related to education, until Dorinda Elliott, director of the China Institute Center for Business, and moderator of the night asked the last question,

"If there is one perception that you want Americans to change after reading your book, what that would be?"

Without much hesitance, Huang responded, "People should have more confidence in American culture, and how deeply Chinese people appreciate American values. Despite the economic growth, Chinese people from all social spectrums send their Children to the U.S. for schooling, including President Xi Jinping. Their children are not here only for graduate schools, but for colleges, high schools, etc. These are the critical time for one's views and values to be formed and changed. For Chinese, it is one thing that they argue with Americans on different values, it is another when they are arguing with their own children."

Caption: Yukon Huang (left) and Dorinda Elliott (right) at China Institute, Sep. 7, 2017Indeed, according to Open Doors report by Institute of International Education, China has been the largest source of international students to U.S. since 2008. School year 2015/16 alone observed over 328K Chinese international students in the U.S., with India in the second place trailing far behind with a total around 165K.

A handful of government leaders' children getting American education perhaps won't signal much systematic change. North Korean's leader Kim Jong Un was Switzerland schooled and didn't turn out to be particularly friendly to the western world (or, to the world in general). However, such large number of American educated Chinese students will have an impact back in China. In addition, more return after graduation than ever. According to a report by the Center for China and Globalization, over 80% of overseas Chinese students returned after graduation. In 2016, returning overseas graduates outnumbered the total domestic graduates in China.

More than anything, these numbers speak to the appeal of American education and the values it represents to Chinese. While economic and political tensions dominate discourse on China in American mainstream media, in reality, Huang's encouraging perspectives are perhaps precisely what's needed for those who want to bridge U.S. and China and get things done.

Pictured: Yukon Huang (left) and Dorinda Elliott (right) at China Institute, Sep. 7, 2017


Renowned Abraham Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer received the 2017 Empire State Archives and History Award from the New York State Archives Partnership Trust at a public program on Wednesday, September 6 at 7:00 p.m. at The Great Hall of The Cooper Union in New York City. Holzer is one of the country's leading authorities on Abraham Lincoln and the political culture of the Civil War era.

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Harold Holzer receives Empire State History Award from his friend, actor  Stephen Lang, and his boss, Hunter College President Jennifer J. Raab, at Cooper  Union.  
Photo: Henry Ballone

"Congratulations to Harold Holzer for receiving the Empire State Archives and History Award," said Board of Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa. "As the leading Lincoln scholar of our age, Harold is an inspiring role model to students and scholars for his passion for history and engaging writing about our nation's past."

"Harold Holzer has brought President Lincoln's career and life alive for millions of readers through his books and articles," said State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia. "The 16thPresident taught us so much, lessons that still ring true now more than 150 years after his death about how to handle issues that still face our country today. We commend Harold's successful career as an historian and writer by awarding him the Empire State Archives and History Award and thank him for being an inspiring example of the importance and value of understanding our past."

"We're honored to present Harold Holzer with the 2017 Empire State Archives and History Award," said Tom Ruller, State Archivist and Executive Officer of the Archives Partnership Trust. "As a member of the Archives Partnership Trust Board, Harold has inspired us with his enthusiasm for history, extraordinary knowledge of President Lincoln and the Civil War era, and his staunch commitment to making history accessible to all. We're proud to recognize Harold's successful career and his unwavering dedication to promoting our nation's rich history with this award."

The Empire State Archives and History Award acknowledges the outstanding contributions by a national figure to advance the understanding and uses of history in society. Previous honorees include historians Doris Kearns Goodwin, Michael Beschloss, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., James McPherson, Robert Caro, David McCullough, and Ron Chernow; documentarian Ken Burns; and actors Sam Waterson and Richard Dreyfuss.

Holzer currently serves as The Jonathan F. Fanton Director of Hunter College's Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute and has authored, co-authored or edited 52 books. He previously served as Senior Vice President for Public Affairs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. His latest major book, Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War for Public Opinion, won the Lincoln Prize. In addition, Holzer has written more than 560 articles and reviews for both popular magazines and scholarly journals, including SmithsonianLife Magazine, and American Heritage. Holzer served for six years (2010-2016) as Chairman of The Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation. For the previous 10 years he co-chaired the U.S. Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, appointed by President Clinton. President Bush awarded Holzer the National Humanities Medal in 2008.

The Archives Partnership Trust is a statewide non-profit whose mission is to keep over 350 years of New York's rich documentary heritage within the New York State Archives accessible and alive though education, preservation, and outreach programs. The New York State Archives is the largest repository of state government records in the nation, holding over 200 million records of state and colonial governments dating back to the Dutch colonial period in 1630. The New York State Archives is a program of the State Education Department's Office of Cultural Education. For more information, visit www.archives.nysed.gov.

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