Saturday, September 26, 2015


Arthur Camins says:
The biggest problem with education is the U.S. is not test scores. Rather, three central problems plague public education in the United States. The most dramatic is inequity. There are vast inequities in educational resources and in the conditions of students’ lives, resulting in persistent race- and class-based disparities in educational outcomes.
Second, we are far too focused on a narrow range of outcomes – reading and math test scores – and not enough on a broader range of subject matter or essential domains, such as critical thinking, creativity and collaborative skills. Third, we gravitate toward partial quick solutions, rather than thinking systemically and having the patience to allow strategies time to develop, take hold, and be refined.
Which is great ... but what do we do about it?

Not sure this is a "Majority"

from the Daily Buzz, not known for its math skills, comes this paragraph ...
Noel Biderman, CEO of Avid Life Media which owns Ashley Madison, claimed that the site had equal opportunity connections for men and women, but in fact, the site’s members were primarily men by a staggering ratio of 28 million men to 5 million women.
Surprisingly, a majority of the email addresses on the site, 15,000 of them, were linked to men who are U.S. government and/or military officials.
15,000 out of 33 million?

Is this like a moral majority?

Sunday, September 13, 2015

A Strike Against Charter Schools

This argument is one that I've made several times and I'm glad that it's resonating in some places, though I certainly couldn't claim any credit.
"The Washington State Supreme Court has ruled that charter schools are unconstitutional, reported the Seattle Times. Conservatives push charter schools as part of their mission to dismantle public education.
It's not just conservatives, but it does seem to be dominated by that point of view.More specifically, it seems to be dominated by a desire to filter out "the bad students", a desire that at first seems like it might be reasonable but that falls apart when examined logically.  It also, strangely, seems to come flavored with class and socio-economic discrimination.
Late on Friday, the state Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that charter schools are unconstitutional because they aren’t “common schools” in that their boards are appointed, rather than elected, said Washington Chief Justice Barbara Madsen. Charter schools are publicly-funded but privately-owned.
This fact is key, in my mind ... how can it be justifiable to allow a private school to be paid out of public funds when the public is paying for a local school already? 
The ruling stems from a 2013 lawsuit in which a pro-public education coalition claimed that charter schools “improperly divert public school funds to private organizations that are not subject to local voter control.” Kim Mead of the Washington Education Association praised the court’s ruling. “The Supreme Court has affirmed what we’ve said all along — charter schools steal money from our existing classrooms, and voters have no say in how these charter schools spend taxpayer money,” said Mead.
Right. I can run for the local school board (and have served on it), I can ask to see their budgets and accounts (and have), I can know about and criticize their hiring practices and salaries and policies. I can't do any of that for the local Catholic school, or any of the local private schools. If taxpayer money is being REQUIRED of me for tuition payment, then I have the right to have a say in how it's spent. Charter schools do not have to tell me any of that.
The ruling is a great victory in the fight against conservative privatization and the attack against public education. Private companies should not be allowed to use taxpayer money to run private, issued based, schools in a pursuit of profit.
The only thing a charter school can offer that public schools don't is the removal of all weak students from nearby classrooms.

The only voucher system I have ever supported is one in which students are allowed to choose a different PUBLIC SCHOOL than the one in their neighborhood. Public money should stay in the public schools.

Just as important, charter schools don't actually offer anything that the local public school doesn't.  The pro-charter reformers always tout low test scores as a reason to allow the best students to go somewhere else, but that's a straw-man argument.

Those top students aren't being forced to take remedial classes, or being ignored and forced into doing poorly because other kids in that same school are doing poorly. Those top kids are taking challenging classes in the public school. They're taking AP courses, college level courses (and receiving college credits from the University of Vermont system), and online courses through UVM and VHS. They're doing well on the SAT, ACT, and others. They're going to Dartmouth and the Ivies, state colleges and Universities. They're not being held back by their peers.

The only thing a charter school can offer that we can't is the removal of all weak students from other classrooms. That's not appropriate for a public school system.
  • Charters don't offer anything better than we do. 
  • Charters don't improve students; they improve averages. 
  • Charters don't improve school offerings; they remove the very students that allow us to offer AP calculus.
  • Charters don't help students; they offer the exact same courses to the same kids that I would.
  • Charters don't have better teachers, either. They have younger teachers, or those who weren't good enough to get a job in the public school, or those who weren't certified to teach in public school (and that's a pretty low hurdle), or those who want to work many more hours for less pay.

Monday, September 7, 2015

We need to rename Herd Immunity

One morning last week, I found myself thinking about vaccines and immunizations as I drove to work. Perhaps NPR had something on the radio, perhaps not.

It occurred to me that the phrase "Herd Immunity" is flawed and I realized that I wished doctors and researchers could arrive at a better one.

It defined "noun: herd immunity"
  1. general immunity to a pathogen in a population based on the acquired immunity to it by a high proportion of members over time. 
My difficulty with this phrase and its definition is that it's not a definition of immunity. It's a probability statement.

Immunity is the capability of the body to resist harmful microorganisms or viruses from entering it, acting as a barrier, the capability to act as an eliminator of a wide range of pathogens irrespective of antigenic specificity, and the capability to adapt to each new disease encountered and generate pathogen-specific immunity.

If you are immune, you can't get that disease. Either your body blocks it from entering (skin or other barrier), it's not compatible with humans in the first place (not zoonotic), or you have antibodies in general that can destroy it, or you have gotten the disease before and developed specific antigens for it.

"Herd immunity," on the other hand, is not a thing you have or a feature of being human. You can get the disease just as easily as anyone, but the probability is low that you'll come into contact with a carrier ....  except in schools, hospitals, churches and any other place where people congregate.

"Community Immunity" (NIH)
Look at the way herd "immunity" works (source):
Top: If no one is vaccinated and a disease carrier enters the group, the group catches the disease. A random few have a natural immunity, or did not attend church that day, or live far enough away from the carriers and did not contract the disease.

Middle: A few are vaccinated, a carrier mingles with the group and again, many people contract the disease.

Bottom: Many people are vaccinated and the carriers do not inflect as many people.

But there's problems with that. This image shows a nice statistical spread, a random positioning, that allows the unvaccinated to avoid being infected.  Schools, churches, hospitals, and other gathering places, are all scenarios in which this nice statistical spread is not in place.

School children are grouped together all day. If there is a red person and a blue person anywhere in that building, they will come in contact at some time during the day. The statement "If you have a high enough percentage in the group who are vaccinated" now runs afoul of the reality that schools are not random distributions with unvaccinated children able to stay away from any potential carriers.  They will come into contact with the un-vaccinated and they will be infected.

Why does this matter?

I think that the term is incorrectly giving people the impression that they are safe if they don't vaccinate when the truth is that they are in danger of infection when they no longer are spread out into their respective suburban cul-de-sacs and are commingled in schools and other gatherings.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

If that's a condition, I want nothing to do with it.

In a discussion the other day with one of the new teachers in the district, I mentioned that I was the NHS advisor, and that I was surprised that the dues for the school's joining for the year went from $85 to $385 per year. That got a strange look and a negative comment about the organization; I'm paraphrasing here: "I hate the NHS."

One raised eyebrow later, the teacher continued, "I was straight As, honor roll, did everything they expected of new members, the works. I and a couple of friends were rejected because our parents were divorced. Yep. The kids who were accepted all had married parents. Everyone rejected had divorced parents.  When we asked the advisor about it, he talked about the morality clause."