Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tribune-a bellwether for the industry's future.

The news that the Chicago Tribune is declaring Chapter 11 because of its excessive debt and shrinking revenues makes me believe that we will be witnessing the collapse of print news media over the next fifty years.

The bellwether company signals the general direction the entire industry faces. Despite the fact that most papers remain profitable, there has been a general decline in advertising revenues and a greater decline in readership as more consumers rely on the Internet for their news delivery.

The financial problems like poor investments and carrying excessive debt for most print media conglomerates is only the tip of the iceberg. There is a more basic problem facing the print media. It has more to do with the fact that newspapers have always been primarily a one way news delivery system without major input from readers or the public. There is a very limited "talk back" factor for print, but it is unlimited in the electronic news delivery paradigm. This is the paradigm shift that the Internet makes possible.

This may sound strange, but because of the impending financial collapse of some of these print giants we have an opportunity to restore the "agora" concept of news delivery. The news that's fit to be transmitted will be what comes up in our browsers. (See Newser, see, see igoogle, etc.)

Yet some companies like the New York Times have positioned themselves well enough in electronic media to make the transition into this brave new world as long as they make a clean break with the print paradigm and start thinking of becoming Internet broadcasters. That's why the Tribune collapse may be the signal to the industry that it is time to make serious move to the Internet. That means to rethink the way news is developed and delivered, and start to consider how they will make that happen using a broadcast medium like the Internet. 

Think of all the trees we're going to save.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Not Better off? Better off with Obama!

The source for this information is CNN Money.

I’ve been receiving a tirade of emails claiming that Obama’s tax plan will sink small businesses and take a major tax bite out of the income of ordinary Americans. Here is something that’s closer to the truth.

The candidates tax plans:

Source:The Tax Policy Center

McCain: Even though everyone gets a cut under the McCain plan, high-income taxpayers would benefit more than everyone else. According to CNN Money and the Tax Policy Center, the highest-income households - those with incomes of at least $603,000 - would see a boost in after-tax income of 3.4%, or more than $40,000. The McCain plan gives nearly one-quarter of its benefits to households making more than $2.8 million annually - the top 0.1% I guess that will benefit the McCains, too.

Obama: High-income taxpayers would pay more in taxes, while everyone else's tax bill would be reduced. The lowest income groups would benefit the most - in terms of reducing their taxes. Obama's plan would keep the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts in place for everyone except those making more than roughly $250,000, and he would increase the capital gains tax. (I guess Wall Street doesn’t like this, but Main Street doesn’t give a hoot.)

Under both plans, all American taxpayers could pay a price for their tax cuts: a bigger deficit. The Tax Policy Center estimates that McCain's tax proposals could increase the national debt by as much as $4.5 trillion with interest, while Obama's could add as much as $3.3 trillion if they remained intact for 10 years.

So let’s be realistic: Which tax policy would benefit the average Joe—not the plumber? Which tax plan will be better for the country? In reality, I don’t think candidates will be able to live up to their campaign promises on taxes, because the Bush/Cheney administration hasn’t been a careful steward of our economy. The next president is going to have to try and clean this mess up. I’m reminded of the bumper sticker—“we’re spending our children’s inheritance”—often seen on retirees cars. Our children and grandchildren will be paying for fifty years to correct the fiscal malfeasance of the last 8 years.

Oh, and for you fiscal conservatives out there--How do you like the recent acts of socialism by the US government? Now the taxpayer is part owner and guarantor of the financial industry. The “we the people” will have to make up for the fiscal irresponsibility of the financial industry. I hope Paulson knows what he’s doing and that he’s an honorable man, because certainly there are only a few people in this country who understand what he’s doing. By the way, none of those people are in the White House.

Also, if I remember correctly, “W” ran a few other enterprises into the ground and had to seek a bail out for those, too. It’s nice to have a rich Pappy, huh?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Council approves Bloomberg’s power grab

The City Council agreed today to extend term limits to three four–year terms by a 29-22 vote. (See how your representative voted.)

Many of the council members who voted for the proposal offered two arguments. The first is that the current financial crisis requires an experienced hand at the helm and who can manage our finances better that our own resident billionaire. Well, that kind of argument didn’t work for Guiliani in 2001 who wanted to extend his term for only 90 days. Bloomberg opposed that suggestion then and continued to oppose extending term limits until very recently.

The second argument goes something like this: The change in the charter does not in any way usurp the democratic process, because the people will continue to have the right to vote for the candidate of their choice in the primaries and the general election in 2009.

But, that’s a bogus argument since incumbents who would have been term-limited will undoubtedly run again and more than likely be the candidate of choice in their party primaries. How many Republicans or Independents will oppose Bloomberg in the primaries? In essence this ruling has limited the field of possible candidates.

Remember, that in 2006 Bloomberg spent a little more than $84 million, setting a record for any campaign other than national campaigns for president. (See what the current presidential candidates are spending. ) Add to that Bloomberg’s ability to control most of the media and Anthony Weiner and Bill Thompson would be little more than a blip on the media radar. And Tony Avella, well, he wouldn't even make a showing.

A Quinnipiac poll found that registered voters generally disapproved of Bloomberg’s plan and overwhelmingly thought that it should be the voters who make the decision and not the City Council. But the mayor autocratically decided that he can go over the heads of the voters and the lapdogs in the council succumbed to the pressure, or made deals with Bloomberg and approved the measure. Up until recently the mayor didn’t support extending term limits. He even vetoed a 2002 bill to amend it, saying it was an attempt by politicians to change the rules for personal gain.

Take a hike Mike!

But, Bloomberg is not invincible. He failed to get a new football stadium built on Manhattan’s West Side. He failed to get the 2012 Summer Olympics and he failed to win over the state Legislature to approve his congestion pricing plan. Consider also the construction crane failures that the DOB botched up. Or, judge him on the effectiveness of the school system he now controls. (Mayoral control sunsets in 2009 and maybe then will we be able to accurately measure any progress.) Or, judge him on the Housing Stability Program that failed miserably to reduce the number of homeless in the city.

Another four years will be more of the same. Take a hike Mike!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Take a hike Mike

There’s something suspicious about the mayor calling for the end of term limits so that he can have another four years at the helm of the city, especially since it is early enough to schedule another referendum on the issue. Why is he trying to bypass the need to take it back to the voters?

Mayor Bloomberg said in his press release, ”I also understand that people voted for a two-term limit, and altering their verdict is not something that I think should be done lightly.” Remember, that the people voted twice (1993 and 1996) for this two-term limit.

However, the Mayor adds, that according to the Charter, the Council has the right to change the law without a referendum that tests the will of the people.

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”

Mayor Mike and all the other mayoral candidates (except for Green) in the aftermath of 9/11, disapproved of Giuliani’s call to extend his term for 90 days in the wake of the disaster and turmoil we experienced at that time. So why are people lining up behind this idea now for Mayor Mike?

If 9/11 wasn't a good enough reason for Giuliani to extend his term for 90 days, then why does this financial crisis rise to the level of an emergency that requires Mayor Mike to hold office for another 4-year term?

A Daily News online poll shows that a large percentage of people oppose the potential power grab and a New York Times piece quotes several people who expressed opinions that this Wall Street crisis doesn’t justify suspending the election rules.

Read Mark Green’s blog on the Huffington Post where he says there’s plenty of time to bring the issue to the people in a public referendum. He adds that if this is the time to have a financial manager run the city, then why don’t we just suspend the mayor’s office and city government and hire Warren Buffet?

One way to cure an addiction to power and fame is to cut the person off from the source. So take a hike Mike and let someone else carry the baton.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Middle School Critical for Developing Complex Thinking Skills for Youngsters

I'm back! I just couldn't pull myself together to do any posts over the summer, but it's September (almost October) and I'm starting to feel guilty about not writing anything here for more than three months.

One of the resources I use to motivate me to write about education is the Public Education Newsblast that comes out every Friday.

This week's edition had an interesting report of research that was done at the University of Texas at Dallas that found that the middle school years are the optimal time for training adolescence in complex reasoning skills, and critical thinking skills.

The study used teenagers diagnosed with attention deficit problems, and researchers applied recent cognitive neuroscience findings to create a program called SMART-Strategic Memory and Reasoning Training-to teach teens how to think critically and effectively use the information they learn.

Dallas Morning News
reporter Robert Miller says that the university researchers are ready to apply the findings to develop a Web-based training program to teach strategic reasoning to all students, teachers and parents. All they are seeking is $20 million.

One of the researchers, Dr. Jacquelyn Gamino, says that if the SMART program works with ADHD students, "then it makes sense that those without cognitive deficits will be able to improve as well."

That's not necessarily so, especially if you remove the personal interactions that adolescents connect to. A Web-based program might be too impersonal. Yet, the research sounds interesting because it does attempt to bring the latest findings in brain research into the realm of pedagogy. Think about how a person learns, or how you learn as an adult and then think about how you can codify that knowledge and use it in a daily classroom environment.Then think about how you learned to think critically about a subject.

Also, how does this research stand up against Reuven Feuerstein's Structural Cognitive Modifiability theories? Feuerstein worked with special ed and other low functioning children and young adults and proved that they could learn high order thinking skills.

Now there is another push to improve middle schools in NYC. Maybe instead of the DOE turning things over to bureaucrats who unenthusiastically deal with the challenge, the DOE can turn program development over to brain/cognitive development researchers. Egad, I can't believe that I'm opening the door for more Aussies and Teacher's College programs!

How about something simpler--require that all middle school teachers be subject certified middle school specialists instead of Common Branch non-specialists and reduce class sizes so that teachers and students can connect with each other for more than a minute or two a day? How about hiring school leaders who have specialized knowledge of middle school education and perhaps even taught in middle schools? How about that?

Friday, June 6, 2008

Connecting the Tots… Obama’s Education Plan

There is no denying the fact that the earlier children are exposed to a high quality, organized learning environment, the more successful they will be in school and in life.

The classic Head Start, founded in 1965, and more recently, the Early Head Start (for infants and toddlers) programs have made positive impacts on the academic and social development of children and their families. The overall goal of these programs is to develop school-readiness for the children of low-income families. Even though there are uneven results because children score higher on academic measures early, but later, especially for minority children, the scores drop to the levels of those children who never attended pre-school programs. However, there are collateral benefits like greater earning power, more stable marriages, reduced dependence on welfare, less time on average in the penal system and lower rates of drug use for those who attended early childhood preschool programs.

Despite under-financing, mixed reviews and what some may characterize as “soft-statistics,” the programs have staved off “bang-for-the-buck” critics and continue to service under-privileged children. That’s because most everyone sees the benefits: White children have a 22 percent higher high school graduation rate; African-American youth have a 12 percent less chance of being charged with a crime and being arrested. (The increase in academic achievement for African-American youth, however, is not statistically significant after the third or fourth grade.)(See Ludwig and Phillips, 2007)

Even the “bang-for-the-buckers” know that studies show that Head Start has a 7 to 1 benefit-cost ratio. That means that for every dollar spent for pre-school programs you get a benefit equal to at least 7 dollars. (Just consider what it costs to incarcerate our youth.)Those same studies show that there is a direct relationship with increased funding to an increase in school attainment and a likelihood of attending some college.

So maybe, Obama has it right! He is making early childhood education the keystone of his education program and proposes spending $10 billion a year on his “Zero to Five” pre-school proposal. That kind of an investment could even provide a higher benefit-cost ratio.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Barack Obama's Education Plan: The Devil is in the Details

As promised I will look more closely at some of the education proposals outlined on Barack Obama’s Web site.

Here is what he says about recruiting, preparing, retaining and rewarding teachers:

• Recruit Teachers: Obama will create new Teacher Service Scholarships that will cover four years of undergraduate or two years of graduate teacher education, including high-quality alternative programs for mid-career recruits in exchange for teaching for at least four years in a high-need field or location.
• Prepare Teachers: Obama will require all schools of education to be accredited. He will also create a voluntary national performance assessment so we can be sure that every new educator is trained and ready to walk into the classroom and start teaching effectively. Obama will also create Teacher Residency Programs that will supply 30,000 exceptionally well-prepared recruits to high-need schools.
• Retain Teachers: To support our teachers, Obama's plan will expand mentoring programs that pair experienced teachers with new recruits. He will also provide incentives to give teachers paid common planning time so they can collaborate to share best practices.
• Reward Teachers: Obama will promote new and innovative ways to increase teacher pay that are developed with teachers, not imposed on them. Districts will be able to design programs that reward accomplished educators who serve as a mentor to new teachers with a salary increase. Districts can reward teachers who work in underserved places like rural areas and inner cities. And if teachers consistently excel in the classroom, that work can be valued and rewarded as well.

Vague stuff, but there are some hints at what this all means. For instance, at first, his proposal for recruiting teachers sounds very much like Wendy Kopp’s “Teach for America” (TFA) programs that started in 1990. But unlike that program that recruited teachers from prestigious schools after they had their undergraduate degrees and then provided grants for them to take classes that would allow them to get certified, Obama’s proposal would provide scholarships for students in college who want to pursue teaching careers, with the stipulation that they must teach for four years in a high-need subject or hard-to-staff location.

The test of the program will be measured by the retention rate and effectiveness of these teachers. Many TFA teachers drop out of the program before they finish their commitment. Some jump to KIPP and leave the public school system. Others leave the classroom and work in some kind of education administration positions. Even though the track record is basically a good one, the placement of new teachers in hard-to-staff schools often leads to a hasty departure.

Now as a teacher unionist, I’m running into some problems with the second proposal. What is a “voluntary national performance assessment” and how will that be used? And, since the test is voluntary how will it measure “that every new educator is trained and ready to walk into the classroom and start teaching effectively?” If you’re an educator you know the pitfalls of that kind of thinking. Do we measure the performance of teachers based on student results on standardized tests? Or, does it mean that we give the test to new college grads who volunteer to take it because they want to go into teaching?

Obama has it right on mentoring. One of the key components to retain teachers is based on whether they were mentored by a senior, quality teacher. Also, giving teachers “paid common planning time” so they can share experiences and best practices really works and would go a long way to retain new recruits and educational communities.

When teacher unionists see phrases like “new and innovative ways to increase teacher pay,” “reward accomplished educators,” and reward teachers who “consistently excel in the classroom,” it’s like smelling smoke. It’s instinctual to immediately look for a fire and to be on the alert. But Obama says that these programs should be “developed with teachers, not imposed on them.” So what is there to worry about?

Success in the restaurant business depends on three things: location, location, location. It’s not much different for education, except that the three things are: implementation, implementation, implementation.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Which future for education would you choose?

This is bare bones outline of what the two Democratic candidates vying for the nomination propose on the issue of education and comes directly from their Web sites. The McCain plan for schools, well, you judge for yourself.

Barack Obama:
(Please see details.)

Early Childhood Education:

  • Zero to Five Plan
  • Expand Early Head Start and Head Start
  • Affordable, High-Quality Child Care


  • Reform No Child Left Behind
  • Make Math and Science Education a National Priority
  • Address the Dropout Crisis
  • Expand High-Quality Afterschool Opportunities
  • Expand Summer Learning Opportunities
  • Support College Outreach Programs
  • Support English Language Learners


  • Recruit Teachers
  • Prepare Teachers
  • Retain Teachers
  • Reward Teachers

College Access

  • Create the American Opportunity Tax Credit
  • Simplify the Application Process for Financial Aid.

Hillary Clinton:
(Please see details.)

Early Childhood Education

  • Nurse home visitation programs to help new parents develop parenting skills.
  • Quality child care and Head Start.
  • Pre-kindergarten for all four-year olds.


  • End the unfunded mandate known as No Child Left Behind.
  • Meet the funding promises of IDEA to ensure that children with special needs get the attention and support they deserve.
  • Recruit and retain thousands more outstanding teachers and principals, especially in urban and rural areas.
  • Cut the minority dropout rate in half.
  • Create "Green Schools" in order to reduce energy costs and eliminate environmental hazards that can hinder children's development.
  • Expand early-intervention mentoring programs to help one million at-risk youth aspire for college and job success.
  • Identify at-risk youth early on and provide $1 billion in intensive interventions, such as early college high schools and multiple pathways to graduation, to get them back on track.
  • Double the after school program to ensure that 2 million young people have a safe and stimulating place to go between 3 and 6 p.m.
  • Invest $100 million in a new public/private summer internship program.
  • Provide opportunity for 1.5 million disconnected youth in job programs linked to high-growth economic sectors.

College Access

  • Create a new $3,500 college tax credit.
  • Increase the maximum Pell Grant.
  • Strengthen community colleges through a $500 million investment.
  • Create a graduation fund to increase college graduation rates.
  • Increase to $10,000 the college scholarship for those who participate in AmeriCorps full-time for one year.
  • Get rid of the red tape in financial aid.
  • Hold college costs down and hold colleges accountable for results though an online college cost calculator, a college graduation and employment rate index, and truth in tuition disclosure.
  • Challenge selective colleges to expand access for students from low-income communities.

John McCain:
(Please see details.)

McCain’s plan is short on details and pushes the slogan "Excellence, Choice, and Competition." Here is a quote emphasizing what he will do " parents and children at the center of the education process, empowering parents by greatly expanding the ability of parents to choose among schools for their children. He believes all federal financial support must be predicated on providing parents the ability to move their children, and the dollars associated with them, from failing schools."

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Vision Required to Preserve Ridgewood Reservoir

Seventy concerned citizens, community activists and local politicos turned out on May 15 to show support for the preservation of the Ridgewood Reservoir as a natural urban oasis on the border of Queens and Brooklyn.

The group voiced concern about the city’s proposed plans to cut down trees, breach the walls of the dam and to build artificial-turf covered ball fields that would destroy what is considered a unique natural habitat. The area contains a succession forest with many native plants, freshwater wetlands and critical habitat for native birds, mammals and amphibians.

The Ridgewood Reservoir Education and Preservation Project (RREPP), a group of community members and nature enthusiasts, opposes the plan and is promoting the concept of creating an environmental learning center on the site. The group feels that the development plans could jeopardize some endangered or threatened plant species and several bird species that are declining or rare that were spotted during recent bird surveys.

Naturalist Robert Jett gave the group a short summary about the local flora and fauna and pointed out that 142 different species of birds were found in the area, as was a thriving population of Italian Wall Lizards. One of the problems pointed to was that an invasive species of vine called Kudzu has choked off many of the edges of forested areas and will have to be removed or controlled.

Neglect of the area has led to invasions of another kind. Some local residents race their ATV’s through the area and pose hazards to joggers and walkers. In addition, this is a favorite site for paintball warriors who come into the park to enact their mock-combat war games. However, those problems would subside if there was adequate staffing, consistent maintenance and wider use by the public.

After the tour, Queens Borough Commissioner of Parks Dorothy Lewandowski talked to the group gathered in the parking lot on Vermont Place about the city’s preliminary plan for Ridgewood Reservoir and said that there will be public hearings that will give the community an opportunity to voice its concerns.

City Councilman Joseph Addabbo, community activist David M. Quintana and State Assemblyman Darryl C. Towns, who were among the organizers of the demonstration, agree that the reservoir provides the city with a unique opportunity to establish a recreation and education resource in the community. After all, most of the work has already been done by nature.

It will take a little vision and a small investment to make this a reality.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

"Are wired kids well served by schools?"

That's what Stefanie Olsen asks in her News Blog on CNet where she reports that according to some researchers from the University of Southern California and University of California at Berkeley teachers and schools have very little influence on the development of the tech skills of their students.

One group survey by a team sponsored by Dale Dougherty, founding editor and publisher of Make and Craft magazines found that only 15 percent of programmers said that they learned to write code in school.

According to the piece, wired kids find school boring and are put off by the culture of delayed gratification fostered by school systems. While, by using technology they can publish their thoughts on blogs, their videos on You Tube and build their own personal web pages on MySpace or FaceBook. They are not doing this in preparation to apply to college or to find a job once they graduate. Instead they are socializing and seeking immediate recognition from their peers. In other words, kids get to be the producers as well as the evaluators of their work, while they are also establishing social networks.

Olsen reports that a Pew study found that as many as 83 percent of all kids play video games, and 53 percent of kids create media online.

In fact, the findings go further:
* 39% of online teens share their own artistic creations online, such as artwork, photos, stories, or videos, up from 33% in 2004.
* 33% create or work on webpages or blogs for others, including those for groups they belong to, friends, or school assignments, basically unchanged from 2004 (32%).
* 28% have created their own online journal or blog, up from 19% in 2004.
* 27% maintain their own personal webpage, up from 22% in 2004.
* 26% remix content they find online into their own creations, up from 19% in 2004. See Pew Study

In fact, according to PEW, 64 percent of wired teens answered "yes" to at least one of those content creation activities.

So are the schools and teachers being left behind in this technology revolution? What if any role should schools have in this sea change? Or, are teachers and schools irrelevant in teaching technology?

Moral dilemmas.

Recently, I was assigned by a local weekly newspaper to capture images of a car that crashed through a store front and FDNY thought the damage threatened the integrity of the structure.

I arrived at the scene ten minutes after I got the call from the editor, but emergency crews had already removed the car from the front of the building. So I missed the shot of the car penetrating the storefront. However, I got some decent shots that somehow told the story well enough that the editors used one of the images.

Fortunately, no one, not even the driver was seriously hurt, but it occurred to me that it would make a great image, if the building would collapse in front of my eyes. So after I got the obligatory shots, I posted my self in what I considered a good spot to capture the collapse.

The Department of Buildings inspector arrived and after surveying the situation said that the building remained structurally sound.

So here is the quandary for photojournalists: (This was my fourth photojournalism assignment, so I'm a newbie.)
Do you feel guilty because you sometime wish that you can witness the worse scenario for the sake of the image, instead of being thankful that no one was hurt and the damage was all repairable?

Even though this assignment in no way approaches the severity of major disasters, I was thinking of those photographers who go into war zones or neighborhoods that suffered devastation from hurricanes or those who were around to photograph the WTC attack and continued to photograph even though there was so much suffering and destruction around them.

What do they feel when they document these events?

Monday, March 31, 2008

Pay Now or Pay Later

Nearly 70 percent of dropouts begin high school at low literacy levels in NYC and many of those dropouts end up in the prison system. Mayor Bloomberg, by all accounts is a smart business man, and Chancellor Klein who heads the NYC public school system must recognize that the failure to invest wisely in public education will continue to drain the city coffers.

What are the figures often used? In 2004 it was estimated that it cost around $59,000 per year to keep a criminal in jail in NYC! Even though the number of people incarcerated in the state has dropped over the last few years, the "prison class" consists of about 63,000 individuals in jails around the state and a large proportion of those inmates come from NYC.

Despite the fact that NYS spends more per capita per student than all other states and at the per capita cost of around $13,000 per year for NYC, it only makes sense to put the money into instruction in our schools.

One group made the logical connection and is reaching into the community of out-of-school youths, 16 to 24 years old, with reading levels below 8th grade, who are interested in preparing for the GED and/or improving their skills.

The Youth Development Institute (YDI) began the Community Education Pathways to Success (CEPS), which provides the academic, vocational and personal support people with low skill levels need to become eligible for GED programs and to succeed in post-secondary life. CEPS participants, who rarely attended their high schools, have become readers and made gains on standardized tests.

No one argues that paying $59,000 per annum to incarcerate youths is too much money. But you always get an argument about what it costs to effectively educate our children. Well, we can pay now, or we can pay later!