What is the most important thing (or character trait) a teacher must have?

Peter Greene has thought about this for a long time.

He doesn’t think the answer is high grades, nor a side-arm, nor even deep content knowledge (though the latter is required, but not itself the number 1 requirement).

He thinks it’s the deep desire to do the job.

I generally agree with Peter on most things, but I am not so sure about this, since school boards and administrators around the nation have been able to cause literally millions of bright, energetic, committed young people to quit the teaching jobs in despair and humiliation after failing in an increasingly insane school environment in which the teachers feel they have no control.

And so their desire to do the job slowly or catastrophically disappears. And they quit, or get fired. See https://marcolearning.com/teacher-turnover-rate-by-state/ and https://conversableeconomist.blogspot.com/2018/05/the-rising-number-of-us-teachers.html?m=1

Thoughts?

Perhaps the most

Here is his column:

How Much Does Knowledge Matter For Teaching

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran an editorial that was picked up and run in my region, raising a question about the “most important component of teaching.”

The actual issue was the substitute shortage (which I can report, via the experiences of the Board of Directors is severe–they have never had a sub when their kindergarten teacher is absent, but are just shunted into the other K teachers). Ohio has shifted to their own version of a warm body substitute law; in Ohio, if you have a college degree, you can apply for a subject-specific substitute license. IOW, if you have a BA in English, you can be an English class substitute in Ohio. 

Pennsylvania has loosened up the rules as well, including letting near-graduated teacher program students sub and allowing retirees to sub without having to give up pension payments (though no retiree I know, including me, has gotten a call from a district to step in). This measure would loosen things up more. But what raised the question is part of the Post-Gazette’s rationale:

Knowledge of the subject matter is the most important component of teaching.

Is it? And if not, what is?

I am a huge believer in the importance of subject matter knowledge. When you are standing in a classroom, there is no substitute for knowing what the hell you’re talking about. It helps enormously with classroom management and earning the respect of your students (yes, you have to earn that). It helps you stay fast on your feet and adapt to whatever kind of teachable moment presents itself. 

I’m not saying you have to be the world’s foremost expert, nor is your job to strut your stuff as the smartest person in the room. But a teacher who plans to get by by just following the textbook makes me cringe. It’s the difference between being a guide who knows the paved path to the destination, but is stumped if anyone takes one step off the asphalt, and a guide who knows every part of the territory, on the path and off, and can guide you to any spot from any other spot. I want a classroom with the latter.

But teaching also involves being able to convey that knowledge you have. Everyone knows (and some have experienced) the cliche of the person who’s really smart but can’t actually explain what they know to anyone else. You can’t be a good guide if you arrived at the destination with no idea how you got there and the only advice you can offer others is to keep hollering, “Well, just go to the place!” You have to be able to break the trip into comprehensible pieces.

And that means you have to understand your audience and read the room. You have to be able to communicate with the young humans that you are supposed to be teaching. For the younger students in particular this means some exceptional communication and empathic skills are required of teachers. If you can’t read the room, every teachable moment will fly right past you and every opportunity will be lost. 

And you have to be in charge, but not a tyrant. You have to maintain the safe learning space, which means all those people skills have to be harnessed in service of balancing all the needs in front of you.

Yes, there are plenty of pieces of conventional wisdom that dance around this issue.

“I want them to love learning.” And that’s absolutely the important goal, and you can only achieve it if you know something to teach them and are able to do so. 

“We teach students, not subjects.” Sure. What do you teach them. I get the point of this one, that we should not get so caught up in our material that we get things backward and think that the students are there to serve the content instead of vice versa. But we still have to teach the students something.

“Be the guide on the side, not the sage on the stage.” Honestly, I don’t know a teacher who still sticks closely to the sage model and just stands up there bloviating away the days, but it would be a lousy model to follow. But it’s a serious mistake to over-correct into the 

“We’re all just here to learn together and I’m just one more learner and they teach me as much as I teach them.” If you don’t know more about what you’re teaching than your students do, just go home. You are the grown up adult specialist. That is the gig. If you don’t know more than the students, if you are not the expert guide on the learning journey, then what exactly are the taxpayers paying you for? Your heart can be as big as all outdoors, but your brain needs to be full, too. 

None of this means you have to be an all-knowing teacherbot who is the supreme authority on all matters, just standing in the classroom spewing forth your infallible wisdom. 

All of this is a lot of work, and constant work because teaching is about balancing a whole bunch of things and the eight is always shifting so you can never ever get into a stance and think, “Well, I can just lock this down exactly here.” 

Which means on top of all the rest, you have to want to do the job. You have to want to succeed, to do everything that’s called for. You have to want to teach, not just grab a paycheck or add a line on your resume. You have to give a shit. You have to care.

So I’m torn, because in my mind, almost everything on the list rests on knowing your content. Except the desire to do the job. But of the two, content knowledge is the element that can be learned. I don’t know how to teach you to give a shit about teaching, but I know lots of ways for you to learn the content so that you can do the job. 

So I think I have to put knowledge of subject matter at #2, right behind “Want to do the job.” Which is why I suspect the Ohio idea won’t help much, just like most of these bar-lowering warm-body-recruiting ideas aren’t helping all that much. It’s easy to find people with college degrees and warm bodies, but the people who want to teach and really care about the work are already there. If you are a policy maker (or newspaper publisher) who imagines that there are millions of folks just dying to teach and the only thing holding them back is some paperwork, then you have some subject matter knowledge problems of your own.

Published in: on November 30, 2022 at 4:23 pm  Comments (3)  

The Old Testament, like all religions, is a made-up fairy tale

Just a handful of the main clues that the Tanakh (or the first 5 books of the OT bible, or the Pentateuch, or טנ”ך) is full of it:

(a) Who exactly was observing the creation of the universe and writing this all down? Right there, you can tell that this is all nonsense.

(b) Not a single one of the insanely great explanations in physics, chemistry, geology, astronomy, biology, and so on, concerning any aspect of the universe, that have been discovered by scientists over the past 200 years are foretold. What little ‘natural philosophy’ there is in the טנ”ך is completely wrong. Hmm – so much for omniscience.

(c) Despite centuries of work by archaeologists, they have found absolutely no archaeological evidence of any of the events in the book of Exodus. My own evidence: I lived, studied and worked on a kibbutz in Israel for two years. On a visit to the famous, ancient fortress/palace Masada, I looked out from the the top of that location, and could still see, plain as day, the remains of the temporary Roman military camp that was built two thousand years ago to besiege the Jews who had taken refuge there. Here is a stock photo of the site – a seriously dry desert, just like the Sinai peninsula, where signs of human habitation are not erased by rain and vegetation. So any sign of thousands of Israelites wandering for forty years in the dry-as-dust Sinai would be really, really obvious — but nobody has found a thing. So all that stuff, including the entire Passover story was completely made up, apparently during the Babylonian exile (which really did happen).

(d) Supposedly ‘finding’ (at least part of ) the text of the Bible in a ruined temple and declaring that this document was the real deal (2 Kings 22) and that none of god’s tribe were obeying the divine laws – this reminds me of the obvious fraudster Joseph Smith who made up invisible gold plates that only he could read, and used his ravings to found the Mormon church.

(e) If you analyze the (supposed) actions of god in the Tanakh as you would of a human being, you would have to concluded that he/she/it is a spiteful, jealous, and hateful being that also does an incredibly piss-poor job of protecting the one group he/she/it made a deal with, and often causes their near-extinction

(f) Why does an omnipotent god make all those crazy rules about what to eat, wear, sacrifice, and precisely how to get clean? Reasons are almost never given, but the most likely explanation is to bind the tribe of believers into a cult that will not mingle with outsiders

(g) How does anybody know what God is really saying, thinking, or doing? We have how many thousands of sects and major religions that say they understand the nature of God and/or the divine essence and/or the universe – and they all think that their doctrine was written down once and for all time and is true always, AND all the other religions are wrong. I agree with part of that: all those religions are wrong. In fact, reality is something that we continue to discover, and much (though not all) of what humans used to believe about the world is now demonstrably incorrect

(h) If an omnipotent and omniscient god really existed, and wanted to teach us humans a lesson, then why doesn’t he/she/it just slice off the side of a mountain – or use parking lots – or airplane runways — one in every major city, to make the message undeniable — and just spell that lesson out in whatever the local language might be? Any omnipotent and omniscient deity should be able to do that easily. If they existed.

(i) A much more likely explanation (instead of ‘aliens’ like this imaginary god) is that a priestly class found that they could live a really good life as a ruling class (or as the allies thereof), doing magical rituals and such wearing the fanciest clothes and living generally in the nicest houses, and in return getting to eat all the very best meats from the very finest livestock, instead of having to go out sweating, digging or hunting for themselves like everybody else, while pretending that they were in direct communication with this imaginary god and that if their rules are not followed to the T, then god will smite them, but if they obey the rules, then they can go smite other tribes and enslave them and take their wealth.

So I conclude that all those religions are all just con jobs (as have been a number of political movements, too)

Why do so many of us humans still fall for these con artists?

I admit that I did, for many years. I confess that it’s soothing, and you feel like part of a tribe, and you feel like you have a reason for existing.

Published in: on November 17, 2022 at 10:59 am  Comments (2)  
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Vouchers are a disaster for students

[Edit: I did not write this article. I copied and pasted it from Diane Ravitch’s blog and carelessly left off the attribution. Josh Cowan was the author. https://dianeravitch.net/2022/11/15/josh-cowen-vouchers-are-a-disaster-for-students/ ]

It’ll be a few more days for the final election results to be tallied nationwide, but it seems clear that with midterm wins by voucher supporters in places like OklahomaTexas and even Pennsylvania—where even the Democratic gubernatorial victor is on record in cautious favor—voucher opponents are going to have to keep working hard to block public funding of private and religious schools. 

School vouchers have devastating effects on student outcomes. Full stop. That’s something even the nation’s voucher advocate-in-chief Betsy DeVos has had to admit, because the data are so stark. 

Large-scale independent studies in D.C.,IndianaLouisiana, and Ohioshow that for kids who left public schools, harmful voucher impacts actually meet or exceed what the pandemic did to test scores. That’s also a similar impact in Louisiana to what Hurricane Katrina did to student achievement back in 2005. 

Think about that next time you hear a politician or activist claim we need taxpayer support for private schools to offset what the pandemic did to student learning. Here, their cure would in test score terms be quite literally worse than the disease. 

There’s another data point you need to know up front: vouchers overwhelmingly fund children who were already in private school without them. In states that have released those numbers—ArizonaNew Hampshire, and Wisconsin—we know more than 75% of voucher applicants came from private schools. 

The bottom-line: most kids using vouchers didn’t need them to go to private school, and the few kids who actually did use vouchers to transfer sectors schools suffer average test score drops on par with what a once-in-a-generation pandemic did to test scores too.

If you’re a picture person, our friends at the National Coalition for Public Education were kind enough to put their considerable talents into two graphics based on these data I provided to them. 

Notice the citations these graphs include. They’re the same as the hyperlinks above. These data come from independent sources and from non-partisan journalists. That’s a critically important part of this story.

And then there’s this, before we get into the details: the same people pushing vouchers are the same people working to undermine fair elections and the right to vote. 

None of these are metaphors, and this is not a drill. 

So how did we come to this? 

1. A Quick History of Voucher Research

First let’s talk about the evidence. 

I came into the school voucher research community early. It was around 2001 or so, as a young graduate student assistant for a study of privately funded vouchers led by the conservative professor Paul E. Peterson who was based at both Harvard and the conservative Hoover Institution at Stanford (never heard of Hoover? Think Condoleeza Rice.) 

Peterson and his protégé Jay Greene had already done one study of Milwaukee’s publicly funded voucher program, as well as the one in Clevelandthat was about to be the subject of the U.S. Supreme Court’s first favorable ruling on voucher funding. That work generally showed positive results for vouchers. As did the research of a young academic named Cecilia Rouse, who is now President Biden’s chief economist

But they were small programs. What policymakers and researchers call a “pilot phase.” Back then when both parties cared at least nominally about evidence, you wouldn’t expand a program like vouchers without testing it. So those early tests seemed somewhat positive. 

The first research I joined was Peterson and team’s next project: multi-site studies in Dayton, New York City, and Washington D.C. Those programs were also pilot-size. And the New York site in particular showed some limited evidence of voucher success. But overall the lead researchers focused as much on things like parental satisfaction and measures of civic engagement as metrics. That work resulted in a book called The Education Gap. You can find my name in the credits if you own a copy. If you don’t own one, don’t waste your money.

No one knew it at the time, but the mixed results documented in The Education Gap were to be the best vouchers were ever going to do—and ever have done since by an academic based team looking at voucher test scores. 

Just a short time later in 2005, I joined a new voucher evaluation led by Patrick Wolf, another Peterson protégé and contributor to The Education Gap. Wolf was by then ensconced with Jay Greene at the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform, a Walton Family-funded academic group that was about to train a new generation of voucher advocates. Most notably Corey DeAngelis, now at Betsy DeVos’s 501(c)4 voucher lobbying group American Federation for Children

The Milwaukee evaluation, which was officially done for the state of Wisconsin, lasted from 2005-2010. We found no evidence in five years that voucher kids outperformed public school kids. Two exceptions: we found limited evidencethat graduation rates and college enrollment were somewhat higher for the voucher kids. We also found that voucher kids improved when the state required private schools to participate in the same No Child Left Behind-style accountability systems as public schools. In particular once voucher schools knew their performance would be made public they—shockingly!—improved their outcomes. 

At the same time as the Milwaukee evaluation, Patrick Wolf and other Arkansas colleagues were working on a new evaluation of Washington D.C.’s federally funded voucher program. That study showed no difference in test scores, but large positive graduate results. 

That pattern of “no test score benefits, some attainment benefits” has stuck in the research narrative even among voucher skeptics. But as I recently explained in a piece for the Brookings Institution, it’s just that: a narrative. Other studies in New York, Louisiana and Florida all show no real advantages for vouchers on educational attainment. 

And certainly nothing to offset the cataclysmic results that began to come out after the early-stage evaluations I just described. The newer D.C., IndianaLouisiana, and Ohio studies that took place after 2013 and have showed pandemic and Katrina-sized harm to student test scores are all of at-scale voucher programs. 

What do I mean by “at scale?” I mean that despite limited evidence in those pilot programs, vouchers have been steadily expanding across the country, and within states. So those D.C., Indiana Louisiana and Ohio studies represent our best understanding to date of what happens when you expand vouchers beyond the initial test phase. The answer: horrific impacts on student outcomes.

There are a number of reasons this could be, but I tend to argue we need not overthink this. Vouchers just don’t work. The kids who stand to gain from private schooling were and are already there. For the vast majority of kids, they’re better off in public schools. That’s what the latest voucher research shows.

As an example of what I mean: consider that in Wisconsin (which has not had a statewide study since ours ended in 2010), 41% of voucher-receiving schools have opened and then closed and failed since public funding began in the early 1990s. 

That’s what happens when policymakers divert tax dollars to private schools: it’s like venture capitalism for education. It’s like Theranos but for private schooling. New providers race to gobble up new taxpayer money, but most of them have no business near kids. 

Now, to fully understand why these terrible policies exist and in fact have never spread faster and further than they are today, we need to understand the politics. And to understand the politics, we need to understand the money. 

On the one hand it’s pretty simple. Once you understand that the same people pushing vouchers are the same people funding groups that insist Donald Trump won the election and are now organizing a similar “Big Lie” for 2022’s results, you understand a lot. But read on.

2. Funding Vouchers, Funding Election Lies

It’s difficult to tell how much money has been spent to advocate for school vouchers over the years. But we know perhaps the biggest single funder—perhaps even larger than Betsy DeVos herself—is the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. The Bradley Foundation is a little-known group based in Wisconsin and they’ve given tens of millions of dollars to voucher activism over the years. 

Bradley not only funds voucher activism, it funds voucher research too. It was a major funder of the Milwaukee evaluation I was part of and described above. I don’t think they directly influenced our results, but generally speaking you don’t want activism and research funding to mix. Think about it this way: should the Sackler family fund research on the addictive properties of oxycontin? Should Exxon fund studies about the existence of climate change? 

For me though, the real problem today is that the Bradley Foundation is hardly limiting itself to supporting research and political advocacy for private schooling. As the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer has meticulously documented in her reporting on financing behind Big Lie activism sowing doubts about President Biden’s 2020 victory, the Bradley Foundation is the convening funder around those activities—the “extraordinary force”, in Mayer’s words, funding and coordinating the Big Lie and other efforts to undermine the integrity of democratic elections.

Bradley is not alone. The Heritage Foundation, a right-wing organization known for its pro-voucher advocacy is, according to Mayer, “working with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)—a corporate-funded nonprofit that generates model laws for state legislators—on ways to impose new voting restrictions.”

In recent months, Heritage has also distributed talking points that under the guise of objective research attack school diversity and inclusion and directly question health care support for LGBTQ children. Heritage has recently released a report-card style rubric rating state laws on a so-called “Education Freedom” index for tax-supported private tuition. That report card includes the extent to which issues like diversity or sexual preference are components of public school teaching curricula. 

The author of each of these documents is a Heritage Senior Fellow named Jay P. Greene. The same Jay Greene who while a conservative scholar at the University of Arkansas was co-director of that Bradley-funded voucher project that hired me back in 2005. 

Greene is not alone in the Heritage-Bradley nexus. Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who participated in Donald Trump’s infamous phone call to the Georgia Secretary of State demanding evidence that would overturn the state’s election results, was actively training pollwatchers to question voters leading up to the 2022 midterms in places like my own state of Michigan. The night before the election, the New York Times even ran a story about Mitchell’s work in Michigan. The headline read: “Fueled by Falsehoods, a Michigan Group is Ready to Challenge the Vote.”

Mitchell is a known elections conspiracy theorist, according to CNN, and figures prominently in Mayer’s New Yorker reporting on broader election-related organizing. In her spare time Mitchell is on the Board of Directors of—wait for it!—the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. She’s actually an officer on the Board too.

Michigan is important because we have a voucher proposal waiting to go to the state legislature—even though voucher opponent Gretchen Whitmer has won reelection. That proposal, backed by billionaire and privatization advocate Betsy DeVos, exploits a quirk in the state law allowing lame-duck Republicans to pass the voucher plan without the governor’s signature. 

The spokesman for the DeVos voucher campaign is a man named Fred Wszolek. Wszolek is also the strategist for a group that tried unsuccessfully to prevent abortion access from becoming enshrined in the Michigan state constitution. And he heads a political action committee (PAC) called Michigan Strong, which has worked to elect now-defeated DeVos-backed GOP gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon.

Also working for Dixon was Kyle Olson of the Education Action Group, an entity devoted to right-wing education reform that’s received money from Charles Koch, the DeVos Family and Harry Bradley—he of the Bradley Foundation.

That’s just one example, but you get the idea: the same people working to push school vouchers are the same people working to undermine elections. And in some cases even reproductive rights.

3. So Why Now?

I’ve spent the last six months writing column after column in opinion pages across the country trying to warn ordinary readers who aren’t education lifers about the dangers of vouchers. You can read samples here or here or here or here if you like. There are more than 10 in all.

Because of my long career working in the middle of all these voucher advocates and researchers, I’ve been asked multiple times what changed my mind. Or, more specifically, why am I speaking out today? 

I hope the story I’ve told you above answers some of that. But the reality is, I was also doing other things. I had a young family, other research interests, and other professional tasks like editing the country’s premier education policy journal

Most of all I had a naïve sense that the facts would speak for themselves. Remember, those pandemic-sized voucher failures began appearing back in 2013. I was an associate professor then, newly arrived at Michigan State University after receiving tenure at the University of Kentucky. 

To me, after a decade of mixed-at-best results that I outlined here, I assumed that catastrophic results like those in Louisiana—and then confirmed in Indiana, Ohio, and D.C.—would have killed vouchers a thousand times over. 

It’s sort of quaint now, that assumption of mine. In my research community, which is centered in the Association for Education Finance and Policy, we talk a lot about using evidence to inform policy. It’s a nice idea, but vouchers are the big, glaring and alarming counterpoint. We have never seen such one-sided, consistently negative research results as we have for school vouchers in the education research community. 

And yet they thrive. 

To me, the piece to that puzzle is politics. Negative voucher results aren’t the only thing to happen since 2013. 

2016 happened. Donald Trump happened. January 6th happened. Dobbs v. Jackson happened.

Voucher advocates are overwhelmingly on one side of those events. And they’ve racked up some wins.

We know voucher programs exist today not for how they might help some kids, but for how they might exclude others. We know private schools taking public money can and often do discriminate against certain children. In Florida for example, one private school barring LGBTQ kids has received $1.6 million so far in taxpayer funding. In Indiana, more than $16 million has gone to schools refusing to admit LGBTQ kids—or even kids with LGBTQ parents!—or about 1 out of every 10 private schools on the taxpayer dime.

I wish I had come around earlier to the level of alarm I’m raising today. Others have even without having to take a kind of road to Damascus like I did. 

I’m a tenured full professor now. I’ve had a successful career working hard to bring evidence to public policy. I firmly believe that school vouchers are a fundamental threat not just to student learning, but also to democracy and to human rights. 

So on vouchers I’ve come to the same view any number of us would if we stumbled onto a massive fraud in our workplace, or if we saw a young child being bullied simply for being who they are. None of it is okay. 

And if you see something, you have to say something.

Published in: on November 16, 2022 at 10:12 pm  Comments (1)  

Why the 5 thousand years of zero growth?

According to the same book, it’s because not long after people adopted Neolithic technologies, which involved animal herding, farming, and sedentary life, then diseases could spread more widely among the crops, the animals, and the people. Many an early archeological site from this era shows signs of sudden abandonment of a town or village of some thousands of souls. Some of the ruins were burned, some not. Most plagues that kill fast such as typhoid, influenzas, yellow fever, malaria, plague, mumps, measles, and so on don’t leave marks on human skeletons, and are transmitted between humans and our herd animals. In all likelihood, populations would rise and then get wiped out by a plague of some sort affecting themselves, their animals, or their crops.

In other words, it probably was not a time of linear growth of human population (the 180 net new human beings average that I estimated in my last post). But, rather, a period when local human populations would rise and then fall, unpredictably. Apparently, hunter-gatherers limit their births, in part because a mother will carry and nurse a baby until it is a few years old; people who eat a sedentary grain diet are much more fertile. But their surroundings were more shitty (as in, covered with human and animal dung), so, as these settled Neolithic people procreated, lived close together, and had absolutely no defenses against mysterious pests, diseases and such, they also would occasionally die in droves — becasue NOBODY had resistance to any of those diseases.

Any survivors who had heard anything about plagues would learn to leave the town as fast as possible; and if they *ever* returned, would be totally justified in burning to the ground whatever remained.

Apparently it took five thousand years, or about 20 generations, for enough of our susceptible ancestors – the unlucky ones — to be weeded out, and the lucky ones, who just happened to have some genetic feature that provided immunity, to survive and pass along those lucky genes. All of us today are descendants of the lucky ones that survived plague after plague!

After that time, population increased remarkably. Let’s look at those figures

10,000 BC human population about 4 million

5,000 BC human population about 5 million (a rise of about 5 percent per millennium)

0 BC human population about 180 million (a rise of 35 percent per millennium)

2,000 AD human population about 6 Billion – which is about 33 times (not 33 percent, but 33 times) as many people as were present near the birth of Christ. So per milllennium, that is a much faster increase than ever before!

Published in: on October 11, 2022 at 2:59 pm  Leave a Comment  

Humans had ZPG for 5,000 years!!!

I’m listening to “Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States”, a new book exploring recent findings on the 97% of our past as human beings before writing, tax collectors, cities, and modern states.

One surprising finding: from ten thousand BC to five thousand BC, the total population of us human beings (homo sapiens sapiens) world wide went from about 4 million souls to 5 million — according to one estimate by Macevedy & Jones. (There are other estimates: https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/international-programs/historical-est-worldpop.html )

That was rather slow growth, the author noted. But *how* slow, this retired math teacher wondered?

So I got out a pencil and my notebook and wrote an equation. I used G for the annual growth factor, and wanted to see how close to 1.0000000 it was.

(Note: If G is exactly 1, then the population never changes; if G is less than 1, the population shrinks with exponential decay. If G=2.0, then the population doubles every year, which obviously can’t happen in any human population anywhere nor at any time. Though it certainly can for some of our commensal pests like mice…)

So, Macevedy & Jones’ initial population estimate of 4,000,000 (assuming smooth exponential growth over five millennia — a useful mathematical fiction) gets multiplied by G, whatever that might be, five thousand times (ie by G raised to the 5,000th power) to produce 5,000,000 people.

Or, 4000000*G^5000 = 5000000

Dividing both sides by four million I get

G^5000 = 1.25

The only way I know to solve that is to take the logarithm of both sides. Doing that with base ten and using the special laws of logs, I get

5000*log (G) = log (1.25)

Then I divide both sides by 5000 and I get

Log(G) = log(1.25) /5000

Then I exponentiate both sides using the original log base (ten), and I get

G =10^( log(1.25) / 5000)

At this point I use a calculator on my phone, typing in exactly the stuff on the RH side of the equals sign. And I get


10^(log10(1.25)/5000) = 1.00004463

Which is very, very close to unity. How close? Let us subtract one from that. We get

0.0000463 or 4.463e-05 in scientific notation. Or roughly 45 parts in a million. Mind you, there were a grand total of four million of our ancestors on the planet then, so we can multiply that 45 by four, and we get 180.

But what does that mean?

It means that on average, out of the ENTIRE HUMAN POPULATION ON THE PLANET AT THAT TIME, there was a net increase of people of only 180 souls per year.

That’s all.

On the whole planet!!!!

They had nearly achieved zero population growth!

But during the next five thousand years our population really exploded, to some hundreds of millions of people. Doinfg the same calculation, I found that the annual growth rate was about 1.00074, or 0.074%, or 74 additional net humans per year per hundred thousand, or about 74 thousand net new humans per year total, world-wide, once they got up to about a hundred million people.

That’s just up to the year 0 BC/AD.

Let us remember always that this planet right here is the only one we humans can possibly live on or get to in any numbers. We are as a species have done incalculable damage. Here in North America, think of the thoughtless and greedy extermination (or near-extermination) of the passenger pigeon; the American chestnut, elm, hemlock and ash; the buffalo; almost all of old-growth forests; most anadromous Atlantic fish; and Chesapeake bay oysters — all of which used to be plentiful beyond belief.

Some species are now recovering, such as deer, beavers, skunks, rabbits, foxes and coyotes.. Why is that? If you look at photos of Virginia countryside from 90 to 150 years ago, you see very, very few trees. Lumber companies and plantation owners and small farmers had cut them all down to plant grain and cash crops. Plowed land erodes quickly from both wind and rain. Those formerly fertile fields became uneconomical to farm, and so field after field (including ones I played or worked or hunted on as a kid and young man) have been allowed to regrow brush and then trees or housing developments, shopping centers, and pavement. So East of the Mississippi, there has been a dramatic increase in percentage of tree canopy over the last century.

However, some countries are repeating America’s mistakes and are cutting down primeval firsts as fast as they can…

Published in: on October 6, 2022 at 10:20 am  Comments (2)  
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Comic Strip Shows the Uselessness of Big Standardized Tests

I had similar experiences back when I was teaching. Any other teachers, parents, or students want to add their thoughts?

Obama’s betrayal of underwater homeowners explains a lot of working-class and middle-class bitterness

This long article analyzes the details of how the Obama administration sided with the banks and pulled the plug on homeowners (borrowers) who could no longer afford to pay their mortgages, and who often lost their homes.

Reading this account reminds me of the skin-flint policies of Betsy Devos in refusing to forgive outrageous student loans from fraudulent for profit colleges. Another similarity is to the absolutely racist way that redlining and plain old lies and obfuscation made it so that close to zero percent of all African-American WW2 veterans were able to use the loans and free college education given to so many White vets at the time.

This article, which I got from Diane Ravitch’s blog, shows how the Democratic Party, under Obama, turned its back on the working class by refusing to forgive the massive debts taken on by so many ordinary folks — instead, bailing out the very largest banks and corporations.

Long read, well worth it.

Lindsay Owens and David Dayen note that some of the most outspoken critics of Biden’s decision to forgive up to $20,000 in student debt are Obama-era economists. Republicans have called it “socialism” and worse, but some Democratic economists are also upset. Owens and Dayen attribute their anger to the failure of Obama’s policy to solve the home foreclosure crisis. 

They write: 

President Biden’s long-awaited decision to wipe out up to $20,000 in student debt was met with joy and relief by millions of borrowers, and a temper tantrum from centrist economists.null

Moments after the announcement, former Council of Economic Advisers Chair Jason Furman took to Twitter with a dozen tweets skewering the proposal as “reckless,” “pouring … gasoline on the inflationary fire,” and an example of executive branch overreach (“Even if technically legal I don’t like this amount of unilateral Presidential power.”). Brookings economist Melissa Kearny called the proposal “astonishingly bad policy” and puzzled over whether economists inside the administration were “all hanging their heads in defeat.” Ben Ritz, the head of a centrist think tank, went so far as to call for the staffwho worked on the proposal to be fired after the midterms.

Histrionics are nothing new on Twitter, but it’s worth examining why this proposal has evoked such strong reactions. Elizabeth Popp Berman has argued in the Prospect that student loan forgiveness is a threat to the economic style of reasoning that dominates Washington policy circles. That’s correct. But President Biden’s elegant and forceful approach to tackling the student loan crisis also may feel like a personal rebuke to those who once worked alongside President Obama as he utterly failed to solve the debt crisis he inherited.

Let’s be very clear: The Obama administration’s bungled policy to help underwater borrowers and to stem the tide of devastating foreclosures, carried out by many of the same people carping about Biden’s student loan cancellation, led directly to nearly ten million familieslosing their homes. This failure of debt relief was immoral and catastrophic, both for the lives of those involved and for the principle of taking bold government action to protect the public. It set the Democratic Party back years. And those throwing a fit about Biden’s debt relief plan now are doing so because it exposes the disaster they precipitated on the American people.

One reason the Obama administration failed to swiftly help homeowners was their obsession with ensuring their policies didn’t help the “wrong” type of debtor.

President Obama campaigned on an aggressive platform to prevent foreclosures. Larry Summers, one of the critics of Biden’s student debt relief, promised during the Obama transition in a letter to Congress that the administration “will commit substantial resources of $50-100B to a sweeping effort to address the foreclosure crisis.” The plan had two parts: “helping to reduce mortgage payments for economically stressed but responsible homeowners,” and “reforming our bankruptcy laws” by allowing judges in bankruptcy proceedings to write down mortgage principal and interest, a policy known as “cramdown.”

The administration accomplished neither. On cramdown, the administration didn’t fight to get the House-passed proposal over the finish line in the Senate. Credible accountspoint to the Treasury Department and even Summers himself (who just last week said his preferred method of dealing with student debt was to allow it to be discharged in bankruptcy) lobbying to undermine its passage. Summers “was really dismissive as to the utility of it,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) said at the time. “He was not supportive of this.”

Summers and Treasury economists expressed more concern for financially fragile banks than homeowners facing foreclosure, while also openly worrying that some borrowers would “take advantage” of cramdown to get undeserved relief. This is also a preoccupation of economist anger at student debt relief: that it’s inefficient and untargeted and will go to the “wrong” people who don’t need it. (It won’t.)

For mortgage modification, President Obama’s Federal Housing Finance Agency repeatedly refused to use its administrative authority to write down the principal of loans in its portfolio at mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—the simplest and fastest tool at its disposal. Despite a 2013 Congressional Budget Office study that showed how modest principal reduction could help 1.2 million homeowners, prevent tens of thousands of defaults, and save Fannie and Freddie billions, FHFA repeatedly refused to move forward with principal reduction, citing their own efforts to study whether the policy would incentivize strategic default(the idea that financially solvent homeowners would default on their loans to try and access cheaper ones).

Virtually everyone involved with the housing system was stunned that the options of cramdown and principal reduction weren’t taken. Banks literally held meetings in expectation of Obama’s team requiring writedowns, until they didn’t.

Instead, the Obama administration rolled out the industry-backed Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), relying on the voluntary cooperation of servicers to modify mortgages. The program was, even by the administration’s own modest objectives, a failure, ultimately reaching less than a quarter of the three to four million homeowners it hoped to target. In the critical first two years, the administration did not even spend 3 percent of what they were allotted to save homeowners.

Just as with cramdown, one reason the Obama administration failed to swiftly help homeowners was their obsession with ensuring their policies didn’t help the “wrong” type of debtor. When Obama first announced HAMP in 2009, he said the program would “not reward folks who bought homes they knew from the beginning they would never afford.” The resulting “Goldilocks” proposal, with its focus on weeding out undeserving borrowers, would not be available to homeowners with incomes too high or too low and would be backstopped with voluminous income and financial verifications (in many cases, more than what was required to take out the loan in the first place). Treasury also tweaked the program numerous times as they went along, confusing servicers and borrowers. The barrage of paperwork ground the program to a halt at many servicers, and ultimately nearly a quarter of modifications were rejected on the grounds that incomplete paperwork was provided.

But it was much worse than that. The mortgage servicers used HAMP like a predatory lending program, squeezing homeowners for as many payments as possible before canceling their modifications and kicking them out of their homes. These companies had financial incentives to foreclose rather than modify loans. In one particularly excruciating example, the servicer arm of Bank of America offered its employees Target gift cards as a bonus for placing borrowers into foreclosure.

This was also by design, or at least benign neglect. Then–Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner candidly told officials that the program was intended to help banks, not borrowers. The purpose was to “foam the runway” for the banks, Geithner said, with homeowners and their families being the foam crushed by a jumbo jet in that scenario. If the goal was just to let the banks use HAMP for their own benefit, it’s not surprising that would come at homeowners’ expense.

And those banks executed their plan fraudulently, using millions of forged and fabricated documents to illegally foreclose on people. Even with this new leverage against the banks, the administration failed to provide equitable relief. A new program, the National Mortgage Settlement, promised one million principal reductions but delivered only 83,000. Meanwhile, millions more unlawful foreclosures ensued, and no high-level executive was convicted in association with any of these crimes.

In short, the policy apparatus ultimately failed to assist the majority of people who sought help, a suboptimal policy outcome by any metric. Student debt relief skeptics like Furman spent the Obama years advocating for privatizing Fannie and Freddie, rather than apologizing for falling so short on dealing with the massive debt overhang, which stunted the economic recovery.

President Biden’s approach has been markedly different and, if well implemented, is poised to be extremely effective. The simplicity of the program design, with its straightforward cancellation thresholds ($10,000/$20,000) and eligibility criteria (Pell status and household income), means the policy should deliver nearly 90 percent of its relief dollars to those making less than $75,000 a year. Will some small amount of relief dollars land in the bank accounts of borrowers who will make higher incomes in the future? Absolutely. Is preventing that outcome more important than delivering relief to 43 million borrowers? Of course not.

It’s not just the policy design that is a rebuke to the old guard’s theory of debt relief; it’s also the rhetoric. Notably, in his 20-minute speech announcing the rollout of the student loan relief program, President Biden didn’t mention “bad debtors” once. He didn’t spend a single breath on the individual failings of borrowers, make any reference to their poor decision-making, or nod to a handful of unscrupulous debtors trying to game the system.

Instead, he talked about the failings of our higher-education system, in which “an entire generation is now saddled with unsustainable debt.” Instead of blaming borrowers, he showed them empathy. Instead of talking about borrowers taking advantage of the system, he vowed to hold “colleges accountable for jacking up costs without delivering value to students” and crack down on “schools luring students with the promise of big paychecks when they graduate only to watch these students be ripped off and left with mountains of debt.” And he headed concerns about moral hazard off at the pass, vowing to “never apologize for helping the working and middle class.”

Moreover, Biden wasn’t afraid to use all of the tools available to him to get results for indebted borrowers. The Obama administration was given funding from Congress, an explicit mandate for foreclosure prevention, and at the end, a settlement with the banks that authorized even more money. They still failed, because they were more interested in deluded notions of “personal responsibility” than acting to avert disaster.

Biden has flipped the Beltway consensus on policy design around debt forgiveness and modeled a path for viewing student debt as a national crisis, rather than an individual failing. It’s a stunning reversal of the Obama-era consensus and one that casts that failed legacy of mortgage debt relief in an even darker light. Biden has shown us there was an easier, softer way all along.

Published in: on September 11, 2022 at 1:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

As a 7th grader, could you have solved these? And how about now?

Do you realize how DIFFICULT the problems are on today’s 7th-grade PARCC-style standardized tests?

Take a look at this handful of questions, and feel free to look at others. If you compare these to the typical 7th-grade standardized test items from 30 or 40 years ago, you will have to conclude that these items asked these days are **much** more difficult than the ones from the past.

I strongly doubt that the folks who wrote these items, and those who are putting these items on the tests that nearly every 7th grader in the USA has to take, could have solved these when they were 7th graders?

And how many of my readers can solve these now, as adults?

Here are just a few:

Most of us have already had a case of COVID

From the Johns Hopkins daily health newsletter:

=================

US SEROPREVALENCE 

A study published April 26 in the US CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) estimates that 58% of the US population, including 75% of children, have been infected with SARS-CoV-2. Many of those infections occurred during the winter’s Omicron surge. The study reports on data from national commercial laboratories across all 50 states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico. Between September 2021 and February 2022, labs conducted convenience samples on blood specimens that were submitted for clinical testing in their labs, excluding samples that were testing for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies upon initial receipt. The median sample size for the group of labs was 73,869 each month, with a drop in the number of tests to 45,810 in February 2022, likely caused by disruptions from the surge in domestic infections fueled by the Omicron variant. The research team weighted samples by demographic data to produce estimates of seroprevalence. 

The team saw a slight, but steady, increase in seroprevalence between September and December 2021, increasing between 0.9-1.9% every 4 weeks. At the end of this collection period, the seroprevalence across the US sample was estimated to be 33.5%. Between December 2021 and February 2022, at the height of the Omicron surge, the team observed a spike in national seroprevalence, rising from 33.5% to 57.7%. Notably, during this period, children aged 0-11 saw an increase from 44.2% to 75.2% and those aged 12-17 saw a similar increase from 45.6% to 74.2%. Adult populations saw spikes in seroprevalence from 36.5% to 63.7% for individuals aged 18-49, 28.8% to 49.8% for those 50-64, and 19.1% to 33.2% among those aged 65 and older. The researchers noted several limitations in their study design, including restrictions of applicability tied to convenience sampling; limited race and ethnicity data; the potential for sampling bias due to the setting of sample collection; and the possibility that infection following vaccination resulted in reduced antibody titers.  

SARS-CoV-2 testing is only able to catch a fraction of cases occurring in the country, so serosurveys present an opportunity to better understand the scale of infections. Still, the study may not represent a full picture of COVID-19 in the country, nor does it indicate whether or not individuals with SARS-CoV-2 antibodies have persistent immunity to new infections. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky noted the study’s results and vaccine uptake show an increased level of community protection from SARS-CoV-2. She added that vaccination remains key in creating a more resilient population, urging those who remain unvaccinated, including those previously infected, to get vaccinated. 

What Economists Get Wrong

What Economics Gets Wrong (Almost Everything)

BY IAN WELSH 

ON APRIL 25, 2022 

Economics as a discipline is nearly worthless. What it teaches mostly isn’t true.

  • Decreasing price does not always increase demand and increasing price sometimes increases demand (aka. the law of supply and demand isn’t a law.)
  • People do not optimize utility (by any definition that is not circular).
  • People are not rational.
  • The market is not rational.
  • The market does not discount the future well at all.
  • Competitive markets are created by government, and destroyed by private actors.
  • Markets do not and never have properly priced externalities and never will do so while humans remain human. The only way to price externalities properly is thru government or custom (government in drag.)
  • Profit or loss in any enterprise in a modern economy is a social choice, entirely based on government and social decisions and mostly unrelated to fundamentals like energy in and energy out.
  • Railroads are far more efficient, energy wise than roads, but govt. subsidizes roads.
  • The vast majority of profit is based on market position and sustained profit is almost always based on having an unfair advantage that makes the market less competitive and therefore not have the virtues of competitive markets.
  • Genuine competitive markets don’t exist, and no businessman wants them to because they drive profits to almost zero.
  • The best economies the world ever saw went out of their way to keep wages and prices high, not to reduce them.
  • Any concentration of market power that is not regulated or broken up will engage in practices intended to buy/undermine government and destroy wages.
  • Higher CEO pay is correlated with lower company performance.
  • You cannot have a good economy for long without keeping the rich poor, weak and under your thumb. It is impossible.
  • Monetary efficiency between countries is bad. It should be hard to move large amounts money in and out of another currency or country.
  • Financial market efficiency is generally bad, and effectiveness and shock pads should be optimized for rather than financial efficiency.
  • Countries should, if it is possible, make or grow everything important inside their own borders and not trade for it.
  • People perform better when happy, healthy and at least moderately autonomous. The literature on this is so abundant it is silly. Bosses are authoritarian assholes because they like being authoritarian assholes who micro-manage employees. It’s what Bezos gets out of being Bezos.
  • Private money creation concentrated in a few hands is destructive to the economy, democracy and freedom (authority: Thomas Jefferson). It is also anti-competitive market, since you can’t compete with people who create money out of thin air.
  • Moderate levels of inflation are good, not bad, if they include assets, because they take away the control of people who won the past so they don’t control the present and the future.
  • Taxes should be low on ordinary people and high on anyone rich, including wealth and estate taxes. No one should be rich because their parents were.
  • People who lend money should lose that money if the person who they loaned it to can’t afford to repay it. The function of lending is “I know how to pick people who will use the money well.” If you can’t do that you deserve to lose the money, and govt shouldn’t collect it for you
  • bankruptcy should be easy, fast and leave people whole. Economically crippled people are not in the interest of society as a whole.
  • A UBI’s main function is allowing people to do what they want to do, and forcing bosses to make jobs good, not shitty.
  • Pensions should simply be handled by government or a general UBI.
  • Comparative advantage is a terrible strategy for improving your economy.
  • Free trade is garbage for most countries.
  • Raising the minimum wage is not correlated with increased unemployment
  • The unemployment rate measures supply driven wage push inflation pressure, not how many peole can’t get a job.
  • Initial capital for capitalism was primarily acquired by theft, first of European commons, then of non-European land, people and resources.

Essentially everything Economics teaches is wrong. If and when their prescriptions for action are followed, disaster ensues. With almost no exceptions every country which ever developed did so by not doing what economists say to do.

Economics also has a morally corrosive affect on those who study it.  People mostly don’t free ride or otherwise act according to the maxims of economics: but people who have studied economics do.

Because economics is wrong and harmful about almost everything, and because economists do not say “please don’t follow our advice”, Economics should probably be banned and all Economics faculties shut down.

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