More on Rigging Elections

Now, let us suppose that somehow the Hillary campaign actually managed to

(a) make sure that a rigged coin – supplied by them, not taken from somebody’s pocket – was used in each of the six coin toss cases

(b) figure out in advance which caucuses had to get those coins

(c) tell their person which side of the coin to choose in case a toin coss came up,

(d) none of the other folks noticed any of this skullduggery taking place right in front of their eyes — (by the way, you should watch this video of how this worked in practice)

THEN, yes, that weighted coin might help their odds, as you can see in this chart:


I used the binomial theorem to figure this one out. Let me give a few examples: in the row that’s highlighted in green, the probability of heads and tails is both 50%, and as I indicated int he last post, the probability of getting ‘heads’ five times out of six is about 9.38%. However, if you could somehow figure out how to make a coin that came up ‘heads’ 60% of the time, then your chances of getting 5 heads would improve to 18.66%.

And if you could boost the unfairness of your coin to the point that it would come up heads 80% of the time then your chances of getting 5 ‘heads’ would be 39.37%. Still not a slam-dunk.

I only know of two ways to make a coin biased. One method is to carefully split two coins in half the hard way, and make a two-headed coin (or two-tailed) coin. Such coins are actually sold in magic shops.

The other method is to bend the coin slightly – I am told that the concave side will end up being on top more frequently (like a cup).

So, Hillary’s nasty minions would have had to either distribute a bunch of bent coins or two-headed coins, and nobody else would have had the brains or eyesight to notice, for this to have been rigged.

I don’t think so.

Probability and Vote Rigging

A fellow in one of my astro clubs is a vehement Trump supporter — mostly because of 2nd amendment issues, he told me. But he also greatly dislikes Hillary Clinton, believing that she rigs everything. I believe he said that the fact that Hillary beat Bernie in 5 out of 6 coin tosses used to settle dead heats in some small mostly-white northern caucus state (I forget which), proved that she cheated.
I’d like to go into that here.
He also wrote: “Read the leaked DNC emails. Look at the videos of voter fraud. Tell me they are not true. The emails alone are dam[n]ing…”
My reply was:
“Lessee, the leaked DNC emails are, what, a million or so pages? It’d take me HOURS to read all that (sike – decades!) Mind giving me a clue as to what to look at first? Help me out here?
 “And which voter fraud videos? The ones where this one person, or another person (gosh, possibly as many as a full DOZEN?) voted twice? Or the ones where racist politicians wipe tens of thousands of their political enemies off the voter list, and enact policies that they know good and well will further reduce the voter turnout of their enemies’ supporters by tens of thousands more? Which one do you think is more serious []?” — I continued…
I haven’t seen his response yet.
And by the say, to get 5 heads out of six flips is not all that unlikely – I think it will happen about 10% of the time if you reproduce the experiment a few million times on a computer. Here’s how I calculate that: we only really need to figure out what are the odds of getting exactly one tails in the experiment, which is much easier to calculate. For each of the six coin tosses, I am going to assume that the probability of getting heads = p(tails) = 1/2 or 50% or 0.5. [Obvviously if the game is rigged, then the probabiolity is gonna be different, and wer’ll look into that in a bit.
So the probability of getting tails on the first toss and all the others heads is 1/2 * 1/2 * 1/2 * 1/2 * 1/1 * 1/2 because the coin tosses in our ideal experiment are completely independent – nobody’s cheating, no magnets or tiny weights or two-headed coins. Or (1/2)^ 6 , or 1/64. Now if you think about it a bit, the probability of getting tails on throw #2 and heads everywhere else is exactly the same: 0.5 ^ 6, or 1/64. And in fact, there are six places that your solitary heads can come up – first, second, 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th, and the probabilities are all the same, so we can just add them or all together, or else multiply 1/64 by 6, and we get 6/64, of 3/32, 9.375% of the time. So I was off a bit, it’s closer to 9% than 10% . Not a big deal.
In fact, if you use something called the binomial theorem, or better yet, Pascal’s triangle which you can write on a piece of scratch paper in a minute or less, you can calculate what is P(0 tails), P(1 tail), and P(2 tails) all the way up to P(6 tails.)
P0 = 1/64 = P6 = 1.5625%
P1 = 6/64 = P(5) = 9.375%
P2 = 15/64  = P(4) = 23.4375%
P(3) = 20/64 = 31.25%
I hope you underrstand my shortcuts. if not, please tell me and I’ll explain more clearly.
In any case, the chance of getting exactly 1 head or exactly 1 tail adds up to about 19% of the time — not impossible.
If, howebver, the coin (or whatever it was they were using) was rigged, then things are different, and I’ll look into that later. Gotta run now.

Chicago Teachers Win!

Image may contain: 1 person , table and indoor
Michelle Strater Gunderson with Karen Jennings Lewis.

Karen Lewis signing the tentative agreement between the Chicago Teachers Union and the city.


  • The Chicago teachers were able to reach an agreement with whatever it is that passes for a school board there, without a strike, but at the very last minute. The board knew quite well that teachers (and their supporters, who include the vast majority of parents) were strongtly united and WOULD have gone on strike had the board not caved in and agreed.


    That being said, I’m sure the contract isn’t perfect and that the teachers and parents will need to continue to unite to press for positive reforms.

“You will differentiate instruction for every student in exactly the same way, or else”


One of the many reasons I rejoice every day that I was able to retire!


Read what classroom observations have devolved to:

What A Joke DC Education Chancellor Kaya Henderson Was – City Paper

Very detailed article in the Washington City Paper showing how our recently-resigned Chancellor, Kaya Henderson, failed to do much of anything to narrow DC’s extremely-high gap between high-achieving and low-achieving students, even though she had oodles of money, complete control over resources, and the ability to fire teachers and administrators almost at will.

As I have shown repeatedly (see here, here, here, here, and here for starters. Or else here) DC has the widest gap of the entire USA between the scores of poor kids vs the non-poor, between white kids and black or hispanic kids, and between those in Special Ed and those who are not. This article shows how the Henderson and Rhee administrations failed to do pretty much anything to improve conditions at schools where there were large concentrations of ‘at risk’ kids, other than saying that by some miracle, they would improve scores by 40 percentage points at all of the schools where 40% of the kids were ‘at risk’.

(A quote from the article: ‘ “No school in the history of time has achieved such goals,” counters a D.C. Council staffer familiar with DCPS school reform. “On its face, the concept of this as a reachable goal was ridiculous.” ‘)

And of course, it never happened. No extra resources, and no miraculous gains.

But according to the article, Kaya has an excuse – just the sort of thing that she and Michelle Rhee used to berate actual, um, educators for saying:

‘ when Payne persisted with a question about Henderson’s “personal goal of closing achievement gaps,” the chancellor explained: “I am not exactly convinced that schools alone can close the achievement gap. I think about the fact that in Washington, D.C., we have the greatest income inequality in the country. That gap is only growing, and the fact that our achievement gap is growing in a similar way shouldn’t be baffling. But I think what we’ve learned is that equity is really more appropriate, giving different people different kinds of support…And for different groups and different kids that means different things.”

My friends and colleagues Elizabeth Davis and Mary Levy are quoted. It’s a long article, but well worth reading.

Math and Sex

You may not think that math and sex don’t mix, but I show here that they really do:

Published in: on September 1, 2016 at 12:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Are Charter Schools Public Institutions?

I don’t know a whole lot about the charter schools here in Brookland (a region of DC where I live). I’ve visited some charter schools in wards 1, 4, 7 and 8 while attempting to mentor new math teachers about 5 years ago, and found about as much variation in the charter schools that I visited as we have in the regular public schools.

I think it’s a shame that nearly all of the white parents in Brookland appear to have opted out of sending their kids to the neighborhood public schools here in Brookland (ie Noyes, Bunker Hill, Brookland, Burroughs). More diversity there would really help.

One important thing to consider is that the National Labor Relations Board no longer considers charter schools to be public institutions:

In the eyes of the NLRB, charter schools are private, not public

And while you can find the salary of every single DCPS employee with a little searching on the DCPS website, I have no idea where to find the corresponding information about any DC charter schools.

In PA, charter schools appear to try to keep such data private, and a report indicates that they spend much more on administration than do regular public schools:

In New York City, the head of a small chain of charter schools – Eva Moskowitz – earns almost half-a-million dollars annually (look it up), and here in DC I have lost count of the number of charter schools have been shut down because of wholesale theft or fraud by their leaders. (eg

Charter for Dorothy Height Charter School Revoked

And here is an article in The Progressive:

Guy on Randolph

Who is responsible for most carbon emissions?

An article in Nature* profiles a meticulous researcher who has shown that a small handful of companies were responsible for the vast majority of all carbon emissions, and that well over half of those emissions happened since my own children were in elementary school. Scary.

“The result, peer reviewed and published in Climatic Change, showed that just 90 companies contributed 63% of the greenhouse gases emitted globally between 1751 and 2010. Half of those emissions took place after 1988—the year James Hansen of NASA testified to Congress that there was no longer any doubt that global warming had begun.”


(* Nature is the magazine of the AAAS (formerly known as the American Association for the Advancement of Science). Most of its articles are quite dry and technical descriptions of rigorous scientific experiments in every field that currently exists. It is not a propaganda sheet!)


What Randi Weingarten of the AFT gets wrong

I’m going to repost in its entirety this article on Schools Matter about the double game that has been played by Randi Weingarten, the current president of the American Federation of Teachers.

(I remember the racist teachers’ strike of 1968 in New York City…)


Weingarten Swaps History for Sophistry

Posted: 13 Aug 2016 06:49 AM PDT

Posted by Mark Naison yesterday.  

Mr. Ahern provides important corrections to Weingarten’s sketchy assessment of AFT’s first hundred years.  I am sorry to see he did not mention AFT’s seminal role in creating TURN in the late 1990s, a traitorous group that could not have been created without financial support from Eli Broad.

Lies My Union President Told Me
Sean Ahern

Letter to the American Educator re AFT President Randy Weingarten’s “Honoring Our Past and Inspiring Our Future” (

President Randy Weingarten’s “Honoring Our Past and Inspiring Our Future,” written on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the AFT is an exercise in “perception management.” Weingarten claims that she has “pored over historical documents from our archives” and concluded that the AFT “has been a vehicle to fight for positive change both in public schools and in society.” Further on she states her case even more explicitly:  “For 100 years, the AFT has worked to build power and use it for good.”

As a member of the UFT for the past 17 years, son of a UFT retiree, brother to a former UFT teacher and CSA principal, product of the NYC public school system (1959-1971) and father of three, all of whom graduated from NYC high schools, I proudly count myself as a witness to the last 50 years of UFT/AFT history.  Based on my experience and knowledge I challenge her very one-sided findings for failing to point out major examples of how the AFT has been a hindrance to “positive change both in public schools and in society.”

I do not write to honor Albert Shanker and those who followed the course he took. It is my hope that through a full review of our AFT history, rational and thoughtful working people, acting in their own class interests, will conduct an internal critique, identify the wrong turns, and bravely set a new course for our union. It is my hope that current and future generations will overcome the seemingly willful blindness that is found in Weingarten’s article.

Weingarten’s airbrushed history offers a textbook example of how to frame a narrative by omitting all evidence that contradicts her thesis.  This method is not one of historical inquiry seeking educational enlightenment.  It is the method used by a defense attorney to sway a judge or jury, guilt or innocence aside.

In business and politics this is the method used to win market share, frame political campaigns and control the hearts and minds of the people. 

The sociologist and historian James W. Loewen has critiqued this method when applied to global and US history textbooks in his widely read Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Book Got Wrong (1995, 2008).  It is a method that seeks to produce a generation that is misinformed, politically unaware, and lacking in self-knowledge and self-esteem.  It casts pedagogues as society’s thought police.

There is much in in AFT history that should be critically examined.  When the full story is told it should include honest and in-depth criticism of key positions taken since Albert Shanker ousted his former mentor and colleague David Selden and rose to the Presidency of the AFT over two generations ago.

The 1968 UFT strikes against community control, led by then UFT President Albert Shanker weeks after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., became arguably the longest hate strike in US history and was part and parcel of the “white” backlash and neo conservative/neo liberal counter revolution which we still suffer from today.  I was a high school student at the time in one of the community control districts where progressive teachers and students kept the school open during the strike.

With community control ended decentralization still afforded parents the power to elect local school boards.  Efforts by UFT members to interfere with minority parents voting in the 1973 District 1 school board elections on the Lower East Side were successfully overturned in Federal Court and upheld on appeal.

“In their complaint, filed on September 18, 1973, the Coalition for Education in District One, various unsuccessful candidates at the election and members of minority groups (Black, Hispanic and Chinese) challenged the validity of the election under the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as amended in 1970, 42 U.S.C. 1971, 1973 et seq.”

To be cited in violation of the 14th amendment and the 1965 Voting Rights Act hardly constitutes an “honor” to be conferred upon a supposedly liberal northern city and a largely “socialist” union leadership that prided itself on its support for civil rights in the 50’s and early 60’s.  I attended public school in this district from 1959 – 1971.  Weingarten apparently missed this case while she “pored over” the AFT archives.

The median salary for a NYC public school teacher in 2016, discounted for inflation and the extended day, is less than it was in 1973.  Add to that the explosive costs of education and housing and it is fair to conclude that a teacher with 7 years on the job today is worse off than their counterpart was over 40 years ago.  Top salary is now reached after 22 years on the job as opposed to 8 years in 1973. Even those few nearing retirement are just on par with their counterparts of 43 years ago.  I ask President Weingarten the simple question:  Who has the AFT been building “power” for? Surely the salary schedule is in the AFT archives and should figure in any assessment of the AFT’s “power” or lack thereof.

Jerald Podair in his Strike That Changed New York (2002) suggests a causal linkage between the 1968 strike and the decline in power, of both the UFT and the Black community.  Among his most striking and relevant observations is:

“…the Ocean Hill-Brownsville crisis had so damaged the UFT’s standing with black New York that Shanker, even if he had possessed the fire in the belly to attempt a cross-class interracial assault on the champions of fiscal austerity, would have found few friends there.  Black New Yorkers were as angry about the decimated schools as Shanker, but they viewed him, and the union he led, as an enemy…Community control in black neighborhoods was dead, replaced by a decentralization structure that gave the UFT more influence than black parents…the failure of the UFT and black citizens to work together to oppose school service cuts was as predictable as it was tragic.  The union would now cast its lot with the banks.  And the black community, politically marginalized, economically expendable and no longer in control of the language of “community” – would be unable to do anything about it.” (Pp194-195)

In the 1970s Shanker went on to become a leading national opponent of Affirmative Action, submitting a brief on Allan Bakke’s behalf.  The brief, submitted in the name of the AFT, is not mentioned by Weingarten though it is in the Shanker Papers and the AFT Papers that she claims to have “pored over.”

The current wave of “Education reform” was launched with the 1983 publication of A Nation At Risk: The Imperative For Educational Reform towards the end of Reagan’s second term.
For over 30 years the leadership of the AFT has been a partner in this latest wave of “education reform” and thereby maintained their “seat at the table” alongside the “reformers.”  This is a matter of public record.   When questions were raised that strongly contradicted the claims made by “A Nation At Risk” (see the Sandia Report, Bracey, Berliner and Bidell, Emery and Ohanian) the AFT and those closely associated with Shanker (including Diane Ravitch, then Assistant Secretary of Education in the Reagan Administration) chose to ignore and even suppress a devastating critique that potentially could have deflated the bubble of “reform” a generation ago (See ).

Comfortably based on the education reformers  bogus critique of the state of public education and its politically motivated remedies, Shanker, Feldman and Weingarten are all on record in support of the “reforms” themselves: high standards for students and teachers, standardized curriculums, high stakes testing for students and teachers (for how else to measure whether the high standards are being met), charter schools (to counter the states monopoly over education and to give parents “choice”) and mayoral control in large urban systems serving predominantly Black, Latino and Asian students which has been the means through which “reform” was foisted upon school communities.

Most recently, the “reformers” and their corporate cabal attempted to hoist the AFT on its own petard.    It was only the death of Supreme Court Justice Scalia that averted a negative ruling in Vergara v California that would have done away with the agency shop. The stay of execution is only temporary, there are more cases to follow.  Is this what Weingarten means by “building power?”  Power for whom?  Power for what?

I challenge president Weingarten to go before any large urban local delegate assembly and defend the AFT’s record over 30 years in support of education “reform.”  Does she have the gall to tell us to our face that school closings, privatization, elimination of sports, the arts, electives, vocational programs, attacks on tenure and seniority, the disappearance of Black and Latino educators, increased segregation, high stakes testing and value added teacher assessments are to be viewed as “collateral damage,” and not the central defining features of a neo conservative/neo liberal, corporate led consensus on the proper role and direction for public education?  She wouldn’t do such a thing, so she redacts the record of AFT collaboration with the “reformers” and then presents herself as a teacher and student advocate.

Teachers and their unions face grave pressures and are in a more defensive posture than they were 50 years ago.  What power?  What positive changes have been brought about?  No doubt Weingarten and her supporters will point to the fact that teachers have a job with benefits and a defined benefit pension plan, a rarity now among US workers.  What is the message here? Do senior teachers shut up and thankfully crawl to the finish line? Do new and mid-career teachers count their lucky stars that they are not suffering the same hardships that the majority of our students, their families and communities face?  Is this then the real meaning of “professionalism;” to divide us from the rest of the working class?   Should the membership cast a blind eye to the AFT’s quisling response to the neo conservative/ neo liberal consensus on education, the U.S. empire and the economy so that at least some of  the so called “professionals,” (most importantly the paid staff and retainers at AFT Inc.) will be spared because the oligarchy has need of an ideological police?

The isolated individual, teacher, parent, student, may opt to save their own skin when no alternative option is in sight, but experience shows that this is a losing proposition for the large majority.  The greatest good for the greatest number comes not from dog eat dog competition, but from collaboration.  Acknowledgement of this historical fact has led working people at important moments to embrace the fundamental credo of solidarity and act accordingly.  Such a moment is upon us.

There is no defending the AFT record of betrayal of this credo and the self-destructive impact it has had on the membership and the communities we serve.  Weingarten simply casts a blind eye over what needs to be understood and corrected. If teachers applied this same method to reflect on our own classroom practice we would never learn a thing.

I urge the American Educator to open its pages to a real discussion of AFT history.  I urge my sister and brother educators to study and reflect upon AFT history.  As William Faulkner wrote, “the past is not over, it’s not even past.”

Sean Ahern

Delegate to the UFT Delegate Assembly. Member of the Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE) caucus.  August 7, 2016

School choice? Or is it, “schools get to choose”?

A commenter on my blog wrote:

“School policies elevate some students and discourage others. It would most beneficial to our children if we could select a school based on what’s best for each child. When children, who love reading, writing and math, dread going to school because it’s dull an filled with policies that discourage higher-level thinking, it’s time to offer parents school choice with the ability for students to direct the $26,000 being paid for an average education and put it towards payment for and independant school. For middle income students, the independant schools will pick up the balance with financial aid. Just saying.”

I replied, and am now ‘revising and extending’ my remarks:

The average payment per pupil is nowhere near $26,000, it’s about half or less of that. Don’t forget that private schools (including parochial ones) only enroll a small fraction of the entire K-12 cohort in the US. There is absolutely no way they could absorb all of the ‘middle income students’ in America, and definitely could under no circumstances be able to ‘pick up the balance with financial aid’. If you are gonna be ‘saying’, then try saying something plausible.

Private schools, don’t forget, have the ability to pick and choose their students. Public schools do not have that privilege, unless they are a magnet-type school like Banneker SHS and School Without Walls HS in DC where my own kids went. Most charter school boosters will deny it, but charter schools can and do pick their student bodies. (but they have to be subtle about it)

Here’s any easy way to make sure your student body does NOT have the students from the most dysfunctional families:

Anybody who has had real contact with the poorest and most-down-and-out students in public schools can tell you of families where getting a parent or guardian to sign ANYTHING and also SHOW UP for an interview, is a completely impoossible goal to reach. Which means that the kids from the most-dysfunctional families won’t be applying to the highly-regarded charter schools here in DC like ELHaynes or Washington Latin or Yu Ying.

However, if a student from such a family DOES manage to pull him/herself together, write the application herself, coerce a guardian into both signing AND showing up, or arrange to change guardianship to an actually competent family member or friend, why, then that school has just managed to garner a real striver – somebody who is willing to work very hard to improver herself.

The ones who have already succumbed to despair, cynicism, or the allure of deeply criminal life and whose parents are missing in action?

Nope, no, practically never You won’t have those students even completing the application process. To the magnet schools or application charter schools. Problem neatly solved for the magnet schools and many charter schools.

The way we run education in this country seems to be a profoundly undemocratic way of running schools – and dare I say, a very umcharitable and un-Christian way as well if you define Christianity as being the precepts put forth in the Sermon on the Mount…

{Yeah, I don’t believe in any gods at all, but I was raised an Episcopalian Christian, and I certainly have read a lot of the Old and New Testaments, including a little bit in Hebrew. I know there are many, many highly incompatible versions of Christianity, including the ones who claim that Christ urges us to become rich and to cast stones against the unfortunate. (Seems to me those Christians pretty much ignore everything that is attributed to Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount, but one could easily define Christianity ]

And it all goes back to the utter hypocrisy of the stirring words of Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” – all written while he himself  held hundreds of captive men, women, and children enslaved and completely deprived of their Lives, their Liberty and any means of pursuing Happiness, unless they managed to escape somehow.

And where only a small minority of even the free white males could vote – those who were sufficiently wealthy. And where even teaching ANY African-American to read and write was a major criminal offense in many states!

It’s taken a lot of struggle over the past 240 years to get the right for all adults to vote, and the right for all children to go to school and get a good education, to be extended to ALL citizens. We still have forces finding new and interesting ways of denying darker-skinned and poorer citizens both of those rights. And when we see what conditions are like at Sidwell Friends School (where the Obama and Clinton kids attend(ed)) and at Hart Middle School (where only poor and working-class black families send their kids), the contrast in what we provide to kids for their Pursuit of Happiness is extremely stark.

Compare Charles Hart MS in far southeast Washington (over the Anacostia River on Mississippi Avenue in  Ward 8, the city’s poorest and most isolated region) which I tried to present here but ran into a snag with my computer. It’s a large building, about 150 meters long, but its entire ‘playground’ is a seldom-used asphalt basketball court. Nothing else.

Sidwell Friends’ upper Northwest middle-school campus covers almost three full city blocks, has tennis courts, a manicured football field, a soccer field atop a covered garage, and award-winning environmentally-conscious classroom buildings. And a very large chapel. And several other buildings. It lies between Cleveland Park and Tenleytown, two of the highest-priced, and nearly all-white, neighborhoods, of DC.

Children can watch the news on TV or whatever. They know the differences in how kids are treated. They aren’t stupid. They get the message that we, as a society, are sending.

(Disclosure: My brother went to Sidwell Friends over 50 years ago. I taught at a school like Hart in Anacostia called Moten MS, about 33 years ago. Night and day in terms of funding, classroom conditions, and wealth of families.)




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