President Obama's announcement yesterday of his community college initiative represents the most significant national leadership in the area of access to higher education in more than a generation. The proposal includes a request for a $500 million dollar investment to pay for the creation of open education courses, which will be freely available to everyone in formats that can be modified, customized and improved. As Jamie Merisotis, president of the Lumina Foundationon put it, "this is the higher education equivalent of the moon shot."

Here is an excerpt:

"Online educational software has the potential to help students learn more in less time than they would with traditional classroom instruction alone. Interactive software can tailor instruction to individual students like human tutors do, while simulations and multimedia software offer experiential learning. Online instruction can also be a powerful tool for extending learning opportunities to rural areas or working adults who need to fit their coursework around families and jobs. New open online courses will create new routes for students to gain knowledge, skills and credentials. They will be developed by teams of experts in content knowledge, pedagogy, and technology and made available for modification, adaptation and sharing."

You can review the whole proposal here.

The following is the eulogy for Robert Kennedy given by his brother, Sen. Edward Kennedy at the public memorial service held on June 8, 1968, at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City.

Your Eminences, Your Excellencies, Mr. President:

On behalf of Mrs. Kennedy, her children, the parents and sisters of Robert Kennedy, I want to express what we feel to those who mourn with us today in this Cathedral and around the world.

We loved him as a brother, and as a father, and as a son. From his parents, and from his older brothers and sisters -- Joe and Kathleen and Jack -- he received an inspiration which he passed on to all of us. He gave us strength in time of trouble, wisdom in time of uncertainty, and sharing in time of happiness. He will always be by our side.

Love is not an easy feeling to put into words. Nor is loyalty, or trust, or joy. But he was all of these. He loved life completely and he lived it intensely.

A few years back, Robert Kennedy wrote some words about his own father which expresses [sic] the way we in his family felt about him. He said of what his father meant to him, and I quote: "What it really all adds up to is love -- not love as it is described with such facility in popular magazines, but the kind of love that is affection and respect, order and encouragement, and support. Our awareness of this was an incalculable source of strength, and because real love is something unselfish and involves sacrifice and giving, we could not help but profit from it." And he continued, "Beneath it all, he has tried to engender a social conscience. There were wrongs which needed attention. There were people who were poor and needed help. And we have a responsibility to them and to this country. Through no virtues and accomplishments of our own, we have been fortunate enough to be born in the United States under the most comfortable conditions. We, therefore, have a responsibility to others who are less well off."

That is what Robert Kennedy was given. What he leaves to us is what he said, what he did, and what he stood for. A speech he made to the young people of South Africa on their Day of Affirmation in 1966 sums it up the best, and I would like to read it now:

"There is discrimination in this world and slavery and slaughter and starvation. Governments repress their people; millions are trapped in poverty while the nation grows rich and wealth is lavished on armaments everywhere. These are differing evils, but they are the common works of man. They reflect the imperfection of human justice, the inadequacy of human compassion, our lack of sensibility towards the suffering of our fellows. But we can perhaps remember -- even if only for a time -- that those who live with us are our brothers; that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek -- as we do -- nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.

Surely, this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely, we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men. And surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our own hearts brothers and countrymen once again. The answer is to rely on youth -- not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease. The cruelties and obstacles of this swiftly changing planet will not yield to the obsolete dogmas and outworn slogans. They cannot be moved by those who cling to a present that is already dying, who prefer the illusion of security to the excitement and danger that come with even the most peaceful progress.

It is a revolutionary world we live in, and this generation at home and around the world has had thrust upon it a greater burden of responsibility than any generation that has ever lived. Some believe there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world's ills. Yet many of the world's great movements, of thought and action, have flowed from the work of a single man. A young monk began the Protestant reformation; a young general extended an empire from Macedonia to the borders of the earth; a young woman reclaimed the territory of France; and it was a young Italian explorer who discovered the New World, and the 32 year-old Thomas Jefferson who [pro]claimed that "all men are created equal."

These men moved the world, and so can we all. Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

Few are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change. And I believe that in this generation those with the courage to enter the moral conflict will find themselves with companions in every corner of the globe.

For the fortunate among us, there is the temptation to follow the easy and familiar paths of personal ambition and financial success so grandly spread before those who enjoy the privilege of education. But that is not the road history has marked out for us. Like it or not, we live in times of danger and uncertainty. But they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history. All of us will ultimately be judged, and as the years pass we will surely judge ourselves on the effort we have contributed to building a new world society and the extent to which our ideals and goals have shaped that event.

The future does not belong to those who are content with today, apathetic toward common problems and their fellow man alike, timid and fearful in the face of new ideas and bold projects. Rather it will belong to those who can blend vision, reason and courage in a personal commitment to the ideals and great enterprises of American Society. Our future may lie beyond our vision, but it is not completely beyond our control. It is the shaping impulse of America that neither fate nor nature nor the irresistible tides of history, but the work of our own hands, matched to reason and principle, that will determine our destiny. There is pride in that, even arrogance, but there is also experience and truth. In any event, it is the only way we can live."

That is the way he lived. That is what he leaves us.

My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.

Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will some day come to pass for all the world.

As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him:

"Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not."

From the proposal:

Create a New Online Skills Laboratory: Online educational software has the potential to help students learn more in less time than they would with traditional classroom instruction alone. Interactive software can tailor instruction to individual students like human tutors do, while simulations and multimedia software offer experiential learning. Online instruction can also be a powerful tool for extending learning opportunities to rural areas or working adults who need to fit their coursework around families and jobs. New open online courses will create new routes for students to gain knowledge, skills and credentials. They will be developed by teams of experts in content knowledge, pedagogy, and technology and made available for modification, adaptation and sharing. The Departments of Defense, Education, and Labor will work together to make the courses freely available through one or more community colleges and the Defense Department's distributed learning network, explore ways to award academic credit based upon achievement rather than class hours, and rigorously evaluate the results.

From President Obama's speech: "Third, even as we repair brick and mortar buildings, we have an opportunity to build a new virtual infrastructure to complement the education and training community colleges can offer. We'll support the creation of a new online - and open-source - clearinghouse of courses so that community colleges across the country can offer more classes without building more classrooms. This will make a big difference for rural campuses that often struggle to attract students and faculty. This will make it possible for a professor to complement his lecture with an online exercise, or for a student who can't be away from her family to still keep up with her coursework. We do not know where this kind of an experiment will lead; but that is exactly why we ought to try it."

See the whole talk here.

Today's issue of Politico features an excellent Op-Ed by Education Secretary Arne Duncan. I'm not sure how long it will be online so I've cut and pasted it below. You can read the whole thing in its original form here.

Moving college into the 21st century
By: Sec. Arne Duncan
October 1, 2009 05:04 AM EST

At many turning points in our nation's history, forward-looking presidents have made bold investments in higher education that have paid dividends for generations to come. In the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act, granting federal land to states for the establishment of colleges and universities. In the final months of World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the GI Bill, providing veterans with access to a college education and setting the stage for America to lead the world in college attendance and graduation. President Harry S. Truman supported the expansion of community colleges - now a vital set of higher education institutions that provide a bridge between high school and college and a place for adults seeking new work-force opportunities. Because of the combined foresight of these presidents, the United States has the most diverse and the best system of higher education in the world.

Today, we've reached another turning point. The global economy is changing, and the United States needs to educate its way to a better economy for the 21st century. President Barack Obama has set a goal that by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. To reach that goal, we need to bring 5 million more Americans into higher education and ensure that future generations will have the same opportunity for a college education and success in the work force.

The president has proposed a comprehensive agenda to keep a college education within reach, especially for America's poorest families, and to dramatically increase college graduation rates in the next decade. President Obama's agenda includes the largest increase in federal financial aid since the GI Bill - a 30 percent increase in fiscal 2010 alone. In addition, the president's American Graduation Initiative would provide $12 billion more during the next 10 years to improve community colleges and help students gain access to higher education and ensure that they earn their degrees.

Beyond these investments in our future, one part of the AGI has the potential to have a lasting impact on the future of higher education: The president is proposing to invest $500 million over the next 10 years to create world-class online college and high school courses that will be available to all 24/7/365. Colleges, universities, publishers, other institutions and related consortia will be invited to compete to create state-of-the-art online courses that combine high-quality subject matter expertise with the latest advances in cognitive and computer sciences. Such courses will enable students to move through the material at their own pace. When students do not understand a particular lesson or concept, carefully designed assessments will identify the gap in their learning. They'll relearn the material and have another chance to demonstrate mastery.

Such an open-source, easily accessible system of robust courses will produce the most profound equalization of access to cutting-edge knowledge and information since the creation of the public library. We will see the creation of new companies, perhaps even entirely new industries, situated squarely in the knowledge sector, which is so crucial to our national and global economic success.

Colleges and universities will be responsible for deciding whether to grant college credit if students demonstrate that they have mastered the content and skills of these courses. Some may want to offer credit in proctored testing centers as a way to accelerate student learning and accommodate more students. College professors may use an entire course, or portions of it, to enrich their classes. The Department of Defense may offer the courses to military personnel worldwide. Some motivated students will seek access to the free courses on their own, simply to discover their potential or to prepare themselves to re-enter the higher education system.

Successful completion of these courses may even encourage students to continue or complete educational paths they did not know they could master. By opening up the digital doorway to the best online higher education and high school courses available, we will provide millions of Americans with the knowledge and skills they need to advance their education and succeed in our global society. As history has taught us time and again, everyone wins when we invest in the future of higher education.

In the decades to come, the best outcome of all may well occur when the students who benefited from these free, open-learning resources become the next generation of American leaders. Millions will remember how they were helped to learn and advance toward a better life; that is something people rarely forget. It is a story they are likely to share with their children and their grandchildren - about how an American president saw a challenge and turned it into an opportunity for all.

Arne Duncan is secretary of education.

The White House blog has an exchange of letters you really must read. In the first one, business leaders used to throwing their weight around demand an end to the Obama White House policy that has banned lobbyists from serving on federal boards and commissions. In the second letter, White House ethics lawyer Norman Eisen does a classic job of "speaking truth to power" in another powerful demonstration of the change that is starting to sweep thru Washington. We have a long, long way to go, but after reading this exchange I was reminded again how fortunate I am to be part of President Obama's exceptional team. There is a new direction in this town. With a bit more time, hard work, your prayers and maybe a little luck, we may yet see an America we'd recognize from our dreams. Eisen's remarkable letter is another step in that path.

Former San Jose Mercury News editor and columnist John Fensterwald just debuted a new blog that is bound to be worth reading. John was often on the front lines of worthwhile reform efforts and is one of the most knowledgeable journalists/experts in the Bay Area on a wide variety of education issues. You can follow his coverage here. Best of luck, John!

Few of us get to see our fondest dreams realized. This announcement, below, represents the culmination of years of effort by a small group of committed individuals who overcame what at times appeared to be insurmountable obstacles to push forward an idea whose time had come. The result promises to make a meaningful contribution to the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement, which is enabling the greatest expansion of access to a high-quality higher education in human history.

This newly-announced initiative is also, I think, a wonderful example of what can be accomplished through public service in a local elected office where ideas can more quickly become actions that lead to change, often far more readily than at the national level. You can read the unedited version of this press release here here.

Free & Open Textbooks at California Community Colleges Supported by New Center

Foothill College Will Manage the Center

February 08, 2010

Faculty at California community colleges now have a centralized source of information about how to use free and open textbooks to lower educational costs for their students. The newly established Open Educational Resources (OER) Center for California will save faculty from spending many frustrating hours on the Internet to find and use high-quality instructional materials on their own.

The California Community Colleges Board of Governors established the center as a statewide pilot program "to provide faculty and staff from community college districts around the state with the information, methods and instructional materials to establish open education resources centers" on their campuses. The pilot program is authorized by Assembly Bill 2261, which was authored by California Assemblyman Ira Ruskin (D-Los Altos) and signed into law in fall 2008.

"I was proud to have carried this bill with the Foothill-De Anza Community College District as the sponsor," Ruskin said. "This legislation helps provide educators and students with free access to course materials available in the public domain. It makes education more affordable and graduation more attainable."

The Open Educational Resources Center for California is committed to aiding educators in the state's 112 community colleges in finding, using and developing the best and most affordable open learning materials to meet the needs of their students, said Judy Baker, Ph.D., director of the center and dean of distance and mediated learning at Foothill College...Baker has worked for the last decade at promoting high-quality open educational resources for use in community colleges, and has emerged as a national leader in the field.

Foothill College is managing the center under an agreement with California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office. The contract started this January and runs through 2012.

"Foothill College was selected to establish the Open Educational Resources Center because it has already done groundbreaking work in this area and is in the best position to make this a success for California," said California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott, Ph.D....These digital learning materials are openly licensed or available in the public domain so that they can be used, shared or customized for classroom and laboratory use.

"There are many creative and dedicated faculty who are writing high-quality textbooks and making them available for anyone to use free of cost," said Foothill College President Judy Miner, Ed.D. "It is particularly exciting to consider the potential for improving instruction in basic skills given the current and future needs in that area."

In addition to affordability, other benefits of OER include the ability to rapidly and regularly update learning content and the convenience of digital delivery.

De Anza College student Maya Kostyuanovsky is one of thousands of community college students who've experienced the benefits of using open educational resources.

When asked about her experience using an open textbook for her statistics class at De Anza last year, Kostyuanovsky said, "I definitely would use more, if they were available. It worked really well for me. It was easy to hop online and do what I needed. There was nothing I couldn't do. And it was great to be able to print what I needed and not have to drag along the whole heavy book."

The Foothill-De Anza Community College District has been a state and national leader in textbook affordability efforts since 2004 when it established a district policy on sustainable learning resources that supports "the creation, use, accessibility and ongoing maintenance of public domain-based learning materials...to augment and/or replace commercially available educational materials, including textbooks where appropriate."

"This news is exactly what our board wanted to see happen when we passed our first-in-the-nation higher education governance policy supporting the creation, use and improvement of learning materials that reside in the public domain," said Hal Plotkin, the former president of the Foothill-De Anza Board of Trustees who initially proposed the public domain policy in 2003. "This is an important step toward modernizing our state-supported academic institutions to better serve students and our society during a time of profound economic stress and difficulty." Plotkin currently serves as the senior policy advisor in the office of U.S. Undersecretary of Education Martha Kanter, Ed.D., former Foothill-De Anza chancellor.

The OER Center for California will partner with the Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources and the Community College Open Textbook Collaborative to maximize the use of available open teaching and learning resources. Among the available resources are peer reviews of open textbooks and links to more than 400 open textbooks that may be suitable for community college use.

"Use of open educational resources is growing in California community colleges, but there is still a learning curve for faculty, staff and students." Baker said. "The center is prepared to assist them in learning to make effective use of these materials free of charge."

Among the center's immediate plans is to establish an advisory group and develop a professional development course that introduces community college faculty, staff and course developers to open educational resources and how to use, create and produce open materials that can be offered to students in community college classes. The center also will create an OER information repository that will serve as a central source of knowledge about open educational resources in California community colleges, and provide colleges with tools to collect data about use of open educational resources on their campuses. That data will also be reported to the state chancellor's office.

The center's goals dovetail with those of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's digital textbook initiative to evaluate open textbooks for use in California's K-12 public schools, and support similar efforts at the community college level. With 112 colleges and enrollments of 2.9 million students, California's community college system is the largest higher education system in the United States. Some 24 percent of all community college students nationwide are enrolled at a California community college.

Readers of this blog should be aware that this accomplishment would not have been achieved were it not for the wise leadership of then-Foothill-De Anza Community College District Chancellor Martha Kanter, who led and guided these efforts and who currently serves in the Obama administration as Under Secretary of Education. Foothill College President Judy Miner also played an instrumental role in crafting the related FHDA board policy and then helped situate the new center at her college; also deserving credit and thanks are her highly-respected colleagues in the Foothill-De Anza community of scholars; Professor Barbara Illowsky, who provided the first free high-quality learning materials through this center; Dean Judy Baker, who guides the new center with excellence and distinction; and the FHDA board members who supported these new programs: Betsy Bechtel, Paul Fong, Bruce Swenson, Laura Casas-Frier and Andrea Leiderman. Nor would it have been possible without the early and generous support provided by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and its visionary OER champions Cathy Casserly, who is currently a Senior Partner at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning, and Marshall (Mike) Smith, who ran the Hewlett Foundation's education program before agreeing to become the senior counselor to the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.

Excerpted from today's Washington Post (read the original article here).

Education Secretary Pushes to Revise Student Loan Practices

By Nick Anderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 10, 2010; A15

Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Tuesday urged the Senate to overhaul student lending, asserting that the banking industry has had "a free ride from taxpayers for too long" and that executives with lending giant Sallie Mae have enriched themselves as borrowers rack up college debt.

"Working Americans pay while bankers get rich," Duncan said in a prepared statement. "Sallie Mae executives have paid themselves hundreds of millions of dollars in the last decade while teachers, nurses, and scientists -- the backbone of the new economy -- face crushing debt because of runaway college tuition costs."

Duncan's unusually pointed critique marked an escalation in the student loan debate as the Obama administration seeks to end a program that uses private lenders as middlemen for federally backed loans. The tone of the comments echoed President Obama's recent populist rhetoric about the need to expand regulation of Wall Street.

In September, the Democratic-led House passed a bill, over strong industry and Republican opposition, that would mandate a switch to direct government lending. It would steer an estimated $80 billion in savings over the next decade to grants for needy students and other education initiatives. But the bill has stalled in the Senate as the Democratic majority seeks to circumvent a virtually certain Republican filibuster.

Opponents depict the bill as a government takeover that would squelch competition, diminish services to students and cost jobs. Sallie Mae, based in Reston, and other industry players are pushing an alternative that they say also would end government subsidies but preserve a role for private lenders in originating student loans.

John F. Remondi, Sallie Mae's chief financial officer, said the lender shares Obama's reform goals but wants to "enhance" the House-passed bill. Asked about Duncan's comments, Remondi said: "Look, we don't think name-calling helps in this process. The design of the future of this program should be debated fairly and openly."

Sallie Mae estimates that its workforce would be cut from 8,500 to 6,000 if the House bill becomes law. The company said it is funding a radio advertisement in Indiana and Pennsylvania, which are home to some of its facilities, to raise questions about potential job losses under the bill.

Duncan blasted such ads.

"We want the American public to have full knowledge of what's happening here, the reality," he said in a telephone interview. Private lenders "have had a very sweet deal. . . . Our proposal is infinitely better for middle-class, working-class Americans."

The federal student loan program, designed to provide a secure source of college funds for young borrowers, is more than 40 years old. Since the early 1990s, colleges have been able to choose between direct government lending and private lending with a government guarantee against default.

Private lenders have a larger share of the market, but in recent months many colleges have migrated toward direct lending. As of Dec. 31, the Education Department reported $30.9 billion in direct loans originated for the current school year, up from $19.2 billion the year before -- a 61 percent increase. Federally guaranteed loan volume rose 6 percent in that time, the department reported, to $53.1 billion.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, has not introduced his version of the measure passed by the House but has said he plans to move a bill "early this year." Some Democrats have raised questions about the bill, even though most appear to support its broad goals.

Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) has not endorsed the House legislation, according to spokesman Larry Smar, and is exploring alternatives. "There's a whole host of things he likes in the underlying bill," Smar said.

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said, "It's inconceivable to me that the Congress would continue unwarranted subsidies to these lenders."

The White House and the Department of Education recently released several new documents that explain President Obama's proposal to save taxpayers roughly $80 billion dollars over the next ten years by reforming and improving the way federal student loans are made -- and how those savings will be used to both reduce the deficit and enable more Americans to obtain the skills and credentials they need to succeed. You can find copies of them here, here and here.

Just learned my recent talk at the annual Big Ideas Fest is now online (and yes, I know I need to lose some weight!)...