Most of us have already had a case of COVID

From the Johns Hopkins daily health newsletter:

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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. 

Unbelievable Progress in Compressing Data

I just got in the mail a small shiny object, about as long as a packet of cigarettes (remember those?) but much less wide or thick, that holds 2 Terabytes of data.

It weighs about 43 grams (or one and a half ounces).

(I am neither a Luddite nor an early adopter! I like my technology to be cheap!)

It’s an external hard drive, which I will use to transfer data from my old (10-year old) laptop to a new one. It only cost me 40 bucks.

See the photo for scale:

my very first 2-TB external hard drive (Not SSD)

It holds 2 Terabytes of data.

It is not solid state, because (a) I’m not an early adopter and (b) I’m frugal. Heck, I even build my own telescopes!)

I looked at the little device, and decided to compare its memory capacity to the biggest library I know of, the Library of Congress.

(By the way, when I was younger, I many hours in various sections of the LOC, researching all sorts of stuff. The halls and stacks of the LOC have a very old-fashioned atmosphere, totally different from this little gizmo.)

How big is the LOC? If you look it up, you will find that the estimates made by different people are not very close to each other. Obviously the degree of compression would matter a lot and would vary from work to work, and whether you are including all the videos and songs and other recordings.

If you leave out all the digital material, some estimates (like here) found that the printed part of the LOC, (books, newspapers, magazines, maps, menus, and so on) if scanned from the printed page into digital versions of those would add up to somewhere between 8 and 200 Terabytes of data.

8 to 200 Terabytes.

And my cheap little gizmo holds 2 Terabytes.

In other words, anywhere between 4 and 100 of these cheap little metal-and-plastic boxes would hold ALL of the useful information in ALL of the printed material in the world’s largest library ever.

LOC says their printed collections fill over 500 linear miles of shelving. Or maybe ‘only’ 100 miles of shelving if you stack your shelves 5 units high.

(Yes, I’m leaving out the electronic material.)

For a hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on whose estimate is correct, and if someone were to digitize all that material, you could theoretically hold the biggest print library in the world – one that holds a copy or two of every single copyrighted book published in the US and most of the world.

That’s just incredible. Yes, we had microfilm when I was young, and it appears it may stay with us for the forseeable future, but the the compression factor for microfilm or microfiche is nothing like what we get now, electronically For example, a single roll of microfilm might hold a month or so of a daily newspaper – and that roll of film occupies roughly the same volume, and weighs close to the same as, one of these little external hard drives.

But my little drive can hold anywhere from 1/4 to 1% of the entire Library of Congress!

A shoe box could hold all of the printed data in the world!

And have room for lots of the film, video, recordings as well!

Amazing.

Now let’s see if it actually works!

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ON THE OTHER HAND:

There is a lot of meta-information in each and every physical, printed object, and much of the time, the scanned copy of a printed map, painting or photograph is way less satisfactory than original, and harder to use. Plus, there is no guarantee that an electromagnetic pulse won’t wipe out all of your data in a microsecond. Plus, we can’t guarantee that our smart electronics devices will always be able to read this data — have you ever tried to get old data program from a 5.25″ floppy or a large reel-to-reel tape or an 8-track tape? Not easy!

Newspapers from the mid-1700s are often in very good, readable shape.
But where are all the photos you took on your very first cell phone?

So don’t scrap old important documents just because you have a digital copy. Back it all up! Your hand-written diary, or a paperback book, will probably survive much longer than your cell phone. And they don’t need any batteries.

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‘Beatings Must Continue Until Morale Improves’

The ‘Value-Added Measurement’ movement in American education, implemented in part by the now-disgraced Michelle Rhee here in DC, has been a complete and utter failure, even as measured by its own yardsticks, as you will see below

Yet, the same corporate ‘reformers’ who were its major cheerleaders do not conclude from this that the idea was a bad one. Instead, they claim that it wasn’t tried with enough rigor and fidelity.

From “Schools Matter“:

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How to Learn Nothing from the Failure of VAM-Based Teacher Evaluation

The Annenberg Institute for School Reform is a most exclusive academic club lavishly funded and outfitted at Brown U. for the advancement of corporate education in America. 

The Institute is headed by Susanna Loeb, who has a whole slew of degrees from prestigious universities, none of which has anything to do with the science and art of schooling, teaching, or learning.  

Researchers at the Institute are circulating a working paper that, at first glance, would suggest that school reformers might have learned something about the failure of teacher evaluation based on value-added models applied to student test scores. The abstract:

Starting in 2009, the U.S. public education system undertook a massive effort to institute new high-stakes teacher evaluation systems. We examine the effects of these reforms on student achievement and attainment at a national scale by exploiting the staggered timing of implementation across states. We find precisely estimated null effects, on average, that rule out impacts as small as 1.5 percent of a standard deviation for achievement and 1 percentage point for high school graduation and college enrollment. We also find little evidence of heterogeneous effects across an index measuring system design rigor, specific design features, and district characteristics. [my emphasis – GFB]

So could this mean that the national failure of VAM applied to teacher evaluation might translate to decreasing the brutalization of teachers and the waste of student learning time that resulted from the implementation of VAM beginning in 2009?

No such luck.   

The conclusion of the paper, in fact, clearly shows that the Annenbergers have concluded that the failure to raise test scores by corporate accountability means (VAM) resulted from laggard states and districts that did not adhere strictly to the VAM’s mad methods.  In short, the corporate-led failure of VAM in education happened as a result of schools not being corporate enough:

Firms in the private sector often fail to implement best management practices and performance evaluation systems because of imperfectly competitive markets and the costs of implementing such policies and practices (Bloom and Van Reenen 2007). These same factors are likely to have influenced the design and implementation of teacher evaluation reforms. Unlike firms in a perfectly competitive market with incentives to implement management and evaluation systems that increase productivity, school districts and states face less competitive pressure to innovate. Similarly, adopting evaluation systems like the one implemented in Washington D.C. requires a significant investment of time, money, and political capital. Many states may have believed that the costs of these investments outweighed the benefits. Consequently, the evaluation systems adopted by many states were not meaningfully different from the status quo and subsequently failed to improve student outcomes.

So the Gates-Duncan RTTT corporate plan for teacher evaluation failed not because it was a corporate model but because it was not corporate enough!  In short, there were way too many small carrots and not enough big sticks.

Would You Want to be a Student in Korea?

I doubt it. Or, why “Rigor” sucks.

This is from Schools Matter:

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New Year’s Resolution: Eliminate “Rigor” from Education Lexicon

Posted: 09 Jan 2022 02:27 PM PST

If there is a single word that comes close to capturing the zeitgeist of corporate education austerity policies that have metastasized since the Reagan era (among both Democrats and Republicans), it would be a five-letter signifier that has done more damage to effective and humane schooling than any one word in the English language: “rigor.” 

If you can believe the education efficiency zealots of the last two generations, the answer to most questions about schooling have the same answer: more “rigor.” Whether we’re talking about curriculum, teacher quality, teacher education, leadership, or assessment, what we need is more “rigor.”

I went to Webster’s online looking for a word that might serve as an adequate replacement.  Here’s some of what I found for the word “rigor:”

Synonyms & Antonyms of rigor

2. the quality or state of being demanding or unyielding (as in discipline or criticism)

  • after being coddled by his former coach, the swimmer was shocked by the rigor of the new training program

Synonyms for rigor

Words Related to rigor

Near Antonyms for rigor

Antonyms for rigor

And, yet, there seems to be no end to the use of this code word for segregated “no excuses” KIPP Model schools, “zero tolerance” straight jacket discipline, and racist standardized testing regimes that effectively keep marginalized populations on the margins.

Today I came across an interview with Amanda Ripley, who has become one of the pretty masks placed on the corporate education Frankenstein that continues to wreak havoc with any efforts to transform schools into substantive learning communities aimed at opening and integrating the world for children in challenging and supportive ways.

In the summary provided for her interview, Amanda praises the “rigorous learning” of Korean students.  What does Amanda know about Korean education? Well, she interviewed a student who lived in both Korea and the U. S.:

Kids rise to the level of their peer culture when it comes to how important they think rigorous learning is. Especially adolescents are extremely focused on what their peers are doing. There’s a great example of a girl I met in Korea named Jenny, who had lived half of her life in the U.S. and then moved back to Korea. And what she talked about was how different she was in each place. In Korea, everybody worked really hard and took school really seriously, so she did too. And then in [America], school was much lower on her priority list.

No, Amanda, students in Korea try to rise to the level of the monstrous system created by a steroidal version of American capitalism, which has created a dystopian regime whereby parents sacrifice the health and well-being of their children for the “rigorous” demands of a soul-crushing system of schooling based on memorization and recitation.   

This is from a former teacher in one of Korea’s hagwons, or cram schools:

Cram schools like the one I taught in — known as hagwons in Korean — are a mainstay of the South Korean education system and a symbol of parental yearning to see their children succeed at all costs. Hagwons are soulless facilities, with room after room divided by thin walls, lit by long fluorescent bulbs, and stuffed with students memorizing English vocabulary, Korean grammar rules and math formulas. Students typically stay after regular school hours until 10 p.m. or later.

Herded to various educational outlets and programs by parents, the average South Korean student works up to 13 hours a day, while the average high school student sleeps only 5.5 hours a night to ensure there is sufficient time for studying. Hagwons consume more than half of spending on private education.

Any Ripley hit job wouldn’t be complete without an attack on teacher education programs in the U. S. While she decries the continued existence of non-rigorous “mediocre teacher training colleges,” she has nothing to say about the micro-preparation provided to Teach for America beginner missionaries who are placed into schools with children who need the most experienced and best prepared teachers among us. Nor does she voice any objection to the exploitative non-higher ed alternative certification programs that leave would-be teachers less prepared than accredited university programs. 

Finally, one of Ripley’s conjectures remains truly puzzling to me, even considering her thorough lack of understanding of how schools actually work and how teachers experience their jobs:

Anyone who has seen a great teacher or been a great teacher knows that it is not different from being the CEO of a company; there is a lot that is demanded of you and it requires a lot of support.

Yes, Amanda, “rigorous” teaching is sort of like being a CEO, except for the pay, the prestige, the perks, the lifestyle, and the autonomy. Teachers in the U.S. rank 27th in teacher pay among 32 OECD countries.   I’m still looking for a substitute for “rigor.” Until I find it, I guess I’ll settle for challenging, supportive, substantive, open, and integrative.

How to Cheerlead for Charter Schools by Leaving out Important Data

Copied from the rather uneven blog “Schools Matter”.

The Sunny Side of Corruption by Jay Mathews

Posted: 10 Jan 2022 07:55 AM PST

American print media’s most prominent charter school cheerleader is at it again.  In his most recent Washington Post column, Jay Mathews is preaching the virtues of IDEA Charter Schools, Inc., which recently lost its CEO founder and other senior leaders due to corruption charges involving private jets, NBA sky boxes, and routine use of public funds for “personal benefit:”

A financial investigation “uncovered substantial evidence that … a small number of IDEA senior leaders directed the use of IDEA financial and staff resources for their personal benefit on multiple occasions,” Board Chair Al Lopez wrote in a letter Tuesday. “Furthermore, their actions appeared to be done in a manner to avoid detection by the standard external audit and internal control processes that the Board had in place at the time.”

None of this corruption or efforts to conceal the crimes could ever dampen Jay’s enthusiasm, however.  Nor has Mathews departed from his unique brand of dissembling propaganda. Just one example from this latest column:

“Charters are independently run public schools that use tax dollars. Most are no better academically than regular public schools. But a 2013 Stanford University report showed that 25 percent of charters were significantly better in reading achievement and 29 percent were significantly better in math achievement than neighboring regular public schools serving the same kinds of students.”

When we go to the actual research report that includes Jay’s numbers, we find the details that put a whole new light on Jay’s sunny summary.  From the Credo Study, 2013, p. 22 Executive Summary:

Figure 8 shows the performance of charter schools relative to the TPS in their market. Based on our analyses, we found 25 percent of schools had significantly stronger growth than their TPS market counterparts in reading, 56 percent were not significantly different and 19 percent of schools had weaker growth. In math, the results show that 29 percent of charter schools had stronger growth than their TPS market counterparts, 40 percent had growth that was not significantly different, and 31 percent had weaker growth. These results were an improvement over those in the 2009 report.

LEFT: reading Right: Math

[In other words, the results for charter schools and regular public schools are essentially identical. – GFB]

Another Unsuccessful ‘Reformer’ to head NYC Public Schools

Someone named David Banks will most likely be the next head of New York City’s public school system. Gary Rubinstein, a math teacher and prolific blogger at Stuyvesant HS there, had never heard of the fellow, even though Banks had founded and led a network of nearly a dozen NYC public schools called the Eagle Academy for Young Men. So Rubinstein looked at the public record, and found that on just about all measures that Reformsters use, those schools are mostly failures. However, none of the local news outlets (NY Times, NY Post, etc) appears to have examined that record.

The record is not good. Read Rubinstein’s post for details.

I followed the links he gave, and found the following graphics for a number of the schools in that network. Feel free to explore some on your own by going here and then typing the word “eagle” and choosing any one of the schools.

Note the dark blue dots in the right hand graph in each case that I copied and pasted; they all, without exception, showed that the schools in that ensemble of schools, showed that they had both low average performance by the students AND had a low impact (meaning, they didn’t raise the academic performance of their students) by comparison with all of the other public schools in New York City.

Why do ‘reformers’ get a pass from the media, even though they never succeed at pulling off what they so boldly promise?

Alfie Kohn: “Who’s Cheating Whom?”

The prolific and incisive education writer Alfie Kohn casts a discerning eye on the current and past epidemic of cheating in K-12 schools and higher education. He notes that the evidence shows that …

“[…] when teachers don’t seem to have a real connection with their students, or when they don’t seem to care much about them, students are more inclined to cheat.[5] 
That’s a very straightforward finding, and not a particularly surprising one, but if taken seriously it has the effect of shifting our attention and reshaping the discussion.

“So, too, does a second finding:  Cheating is more common when students experience the academic tasks they’ve been given as boring, irrelevant, or overwhelming.  In two studies of ninth and tenth graders, for example, “Perceived likelihood of cheating was uniformly relatively high . . . when a teacher’s pedagogy was portrayed as poor.”[6]  

“To put this point positively, cheating is relatively rare in classrooms where the learning is genuinely engaging and meaningful to students and where a commitment to exploring significant ideas hasn’t been eclipsed by a single-minded emphasis on “rigor.”  The same is true in “democratic classes where [students’] opinions are respected and welcomed.”[7]  

“List the classroom practices that nourish a disposition to find out about the world, the teaching strategies that are geared not to covering a prefabricated curriculum but to discovering the significance of ideas, and you will have enumerated the conditions under which cheating is much less likely to occur.   (Interestingly, one of the mostly forgotten findings from that old Teachers College study was that “progressive school experiences are less conducive to deception than conventional school experiences” – a result that persisted even after the researchers controlled for age, IQ, and family background.   In fact, the more time students spent in either a progressive school or a traditional school, the greater the difference between the two in terms of cheating.)[8]”

In addition, concentrating on class rankings or awards in academics provides even more pressure to cheat.

There is a lot more. Read the entire article. And click to subscribe to his page.

Vaccines Save Lives. (Duh.)

This graph from today’s NYT shows why.

Why Teaching is, in fact, the worst job out there

Teacher and blgger Jessica Wildfire explains in detail why teaching is the worst job in the world today. It has gotten much, much worse since I retired about 12 years ago.

Here is the link:

and here is a selection:

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Nobody wants to be a teacher, but everyone thinks they could.

The job sounds easy.

It looks even easier in photos.

That’s because the job ads are lying. They talk about nurturing young minds and inspiring creativity. They make it sound like you’ll be trusted with sharing knowledge and promoting democracy.

Here’s what they don’t tell you:

You‘re sort of in charge of a lot of people.

You’ll supervise up to a hundred people whose brains are still developing. They’re sort of your employees, but they’re also sort of your customers. They’re also sort of your bosses. When that gets confusing, just remember one thing. When they don’t want to listen to you, they’re your boss and they pay your salary. You can’t really make them do anything.

Just do your best to persuade them.

You’ll be in charge of training them for a whole bunch of different jobs, and also how to be a decent human being. A decent human being is whatever your boss and/or their parents decide.

If they don’t turn out how we want…

It’s your fault.

Was the COVID risk overblown?

I have seen people claim that COVID wasn’t any worse than the flu, and that the toll from the disease was smaller than the number of people killed in traffic accidents each year.

Is that correct? Sources of data on deaths from all kinds of causes are easy to find. I will limit myself to the US.

Let’s see:

Today’s WorldOMeter says the US has had 666,627 deaths since the start of this pandemic, starting almost exactly 18 months ago (mid-March of 2020 to 9/7/2021).

That number of deaths, divided by 18 months, works out to a monthly death toll from COVID of about 37,000 per month.

Flu, however, takes roughly a full year to kill that many.

If we multiply the 37 thousand by 12 months, you get 444,000 killed by COVID in a year.

Flu’s Toll over the Past Decade

The CDC says that up to but not including the pandemic, influenza has inflicted, per year:

between 9 million and 45 million illnesses

between 140,000 and 810,000 hospitalizations

between 12,000 and 61,000 deaths (so by WorldOMeter’s numbers, COVID has been between 6 and 37 times more deadly)

Traffic deaths

For automobiles, the annual death rate had been about 36,000 people killed per year (up until 2019, and not including any pandemic months)

So COVID is more deadly than traffic accidents of all sorts by a factor of about 12 to one if we use WorldOMeter’s data.

Covid’s Toll

Now let’s compare those figures with the ones from COVID. I think you will see that COVID has been in fact much more dangerous.

Over the past 18 months, the CDC (as opposed to WorldOMeter) says we have had:

120.2 Million Estimated Total Infections (this includes both those who did NOT have any symptoms, as well as those who DID; this can’t really be compared to the figures for the flu)

101.8 Million Estimated Symptomatic Illnesses (since this is more than a year, to be fair, we should adjust by a factor equal to the ratio of 12 months to 18 months, or 2/3. Doing so, I get about 67 million symptomatic COVID infections per year, which is between 2 to 6 times larger than for the flu!)

6.2 Million Estimated Hospitalizations (adjusting as before, this is like 4 million hospitalizations per year, which is between 5 and 29 times worse than the flu)

767,000 Estimated Total Deaths (this is like 511,000 deaths per year – between 8 and 43 times worse than the flu!)

So, those arguments are full of nonsense, to put it politely.

The risk was NOT overblown.

I wish everybody in the US and abroad was permitted to take the vaccine, and did so!

I want this to be over.

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My sources were:

https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/index.html regarding influenza

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/burden.html for COVID-19

https://www.iihs.org/topics/fatality-statistics/detail/yearly-snapshot for automobiles

https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/us/#graph-deaths-daily for WorldOMeter’s estimates

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