PISA shows great US education progress under Common Core, charter proliferation, reforms. (JUST KIDDING!)

If there is anything that the recent PISA results show, it’s that the promises by David Coleman, Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, Betsy Devos, Arne Duncan, Barack Obama, and others of tremendous achievement increases and closing socioeconomic gaps with their ‘reforms’ were completely unfilled. I am copying and pasting here how American students have done on the PISA, a test given in many, many countries, since 2006. There have been tiny changes over the past dozen years in the scores of American students in reading, math, and science, but virtually none have been statistically significant, according to the statisticians who compiled and published the data.

Then again, nearly any classroom teacher you talked to over the past decade or two of educational ‘reforms’ in American classrooms could have told you why and how it was bound to fail.

Look for yourself:

PISA results through 2018

 

Source: https://www.oecd.org/pisa/publications/PISA2018_CN_USA.pdf

 

EDIT: I meant David Coleman the educational reform huckster, not Gary Coleman the actor!

 

How old is your dog in human years? The answer is as natural as falling off a log!

Or should I say a natural logarithm…

Some scientists studying mammalian genetics and methylation have concluded that it’s simply incorrect to multiply the actual age of a dog by seven to arrive at its human age: the relationship is not linear at all. Dogs mature much faster than humans, being fully able to have puppies of their own when they are one or two — which shows that the seven-to-one rule makes little sense there, even though that simple linear formula does more-or-less work when considering total life expectancies of us humans and our best friends.

They arrived at their conclusions, which were reported in Science, by drawing blood samples from over a hundred Labrador retrievers and comparing variations in markers on the DNA genomes thereof. I present a graph from the Arxiv preprint here, comparing a Labrador retriever with a well-known actor:

dog years

One of the formulas they came up with is the following

dog year eqwuation

which simply means that you take the natural logarithm (the one with base e, or about 2.718, which you may have studied in high school or college math classes, and which the calculator you have on your cell phone can do for you) of the dog’s age (D), multiply that by 16, and then add 31, to get the human age (D). That’s just about impossible to do in your head, so the Science writer provided a little calculator, which they warn is only valid for dog ages of 1 year or more.

I decided to play with the formula and make some tables so you can compare more easily a theoretical dog age to a theoretical human age, and decide for yourself if you think the study makes sense. I also calculated the inverse function (to go from human years to dog years directly, and got the following:

inverse exponential dog years

Here they are:

dog age table

Keep in mind that in the yellow part, the dog’s age is measured in months. (Yeah, I disregarded the warning about only using dogs aged 1 year or more!) And in the green part, a dog’s age is measured in years. Obviously, a one-month old puppy is not equivalent to a human baby that will only be born nine years in the future, but a lot of the rest does make sense.

Here is a pretty graph I made from the table on the left:

dog to human age converter graph

And from the one on the right:

human to dog age converter graph

Sharp eyed folks may have noticed that the equations produced by Excel don’t look like the ones I wrote. In the first case, the difference just comes from rounding. If you remember the rules of exponentiation, you may be able to figure out why mine looks almost completely different from the one Excel produced!

Published in: on November 18, 2019 at 10:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Why A New Generation of Teachers is Angry at Self-Styled Education ‘Reformers’

This is an excellent essay at Medium that I learned about from Peter Greene of Curmudgucation. I copy and paste it in its entirety in case you don’t like signing into Medium.

Why New Educators Resent “Reformers”

Let’s consider why so many young educators today are in open rebellion.

How did we lose patience with politicians and policymakers who dominated nearly every education reform debate for more than a generation?

Recall first that both political parties called us “a nation at risk,” fretted endlessly that we “leave no child behind,” and required us to compete in their “race to the top.”

They told us our problems could be solved if we “teach for America,” introduce “disruptive technology,” and ditch the textbook to become “real world,” 21st century, “college and career ready.”

They condemned community public schools for not letting parents “choose,” but promptly mandated a top-down “common core” curriculum. They flooded us with standardized tests guaranteeing “accountability.” They fetishized choice, chopped up high schools, and re-stigmatized racial integration.

They blamed students who lacked “grit,” teachers who sought tenure, and parents who knew too much. They declared school funding isn’t the problem, an elected school board is an obstacle, and philanthropists know best.

They told us the same public schools that once inspired great poetry, art, and music, put us on the moon, and initiated several civil rights movements needed to be split, gutted, or shuttered.

They invented new school names like “Green Renaissance College-Prep Academy for Character, the Arts, and Scientific Careers” and “Hope-Horizon Enterprise Charter Preparatory School for New STEM Futures.” They replaced the district superintendent with the “Chief Educational Officer.”

They published self-fulfilling prophecies connecting zip-coded school ratings, teacher performance scores, and real estate values. They viewed Brown v. Board as skin-deep and sentimental, instead of an essential mandate for democracy.

They implied “critical thinking” was possible without the Humanities, that STEM alone makes us vocationally relevant, and that “coding” should replace recess time. They cut teacher pay, lowered employment qualifications, and peddled the myth anyone can teach.

They celebrated school recycling programs that left consumption unquestioned, gave lip-service to “student-centered civic engagement” while stifling protest, and talked up “multiple intelligences” while defunding the arts.

They instructed critics to look past poverty, inequality, residential segregation, mass incarceration, homelessness, and college debt to focus on a few heartwarming (and yes, legitimate) stories of student resilience and pluck.

They expected us to believe that a lazy public-school teacher whose students fail to make “adequate yearly progress” was endemic but that an administrator bilking an online academy or for-profit charter school was “one bad apple.”

They designed education conferences on “data-driven instruction,” “rigorous assessment,” and “differentiated learning” but showed little patience for studies that correlate student performance with poverty, trauma, a school-to-prison pipeline, and the decimation of community schools.

They promised new classroom technology to bridge the “digital divide” between rich, poor, urban, and rural, while consolidating corporate headquarters in a few elite cities. They advertised now-debunked “value-added” standardized testing for stockholder gain as teacher salaries stagnated.

They preached “cooperative learning” while sending their own kids to private schools. They saw alma mater endowments balloon while donating little to the places most Americans earn degrees. They published op-eds to end affirmative action but still checked the legacy box on college applications.

They were legitimately surprised when thousands of teachers in the reddest, least unionized states walked out of class last year.

Meanwhile……

The No Child Left Behind generation continues to bear the fullest weight of this malpractice, paying a steep price for today’s parallel rise in ignorance and intolerance.

We are the children of the education reformer’s empty promises. We watched the few decide for the many how schools should operate. We saw celebrated new technologies outpace civic capacity and moral imagination. We have reason to doubt.

We are are the inheritors of “alternative facts” and “fake news.” We have watched democratic institutions crumble, conspiracies normalized, and authoritarianism mainstreamed. We have seen climate change denied at the highest levels of government.

We still see too many of our black brothers and sisters targeted by law enforcement. We watched as our neighbor’s promised DACA protections were rescinded and saw the deporters break down their doors. We see basic human rights for our LGBTQ peers refused in the name of “science.”

We have seen the “Southern strategy” deprive rural red state voters of educational opportunity before dividing, exploiting, and dog whistling. We hear climate science mocked and watch women’s freedom erode. We hear mental health discussed only after school shootings.

We’ve seen two endless wars and watched deployed family members and friends miss out on college. Even the battles we don’t see remind us that that bombs inevitably fall on schools. And we know war imposes a deadly opportunity tax on the youngest of civilians and female teachers.

Against this backdrop we recall how reformers caricatured our teachers as overpaid, summer-loving, and entitled. We resent how our hard-working mentors were demoralized and forced into resignation or early retirement.

Our collective experience is precisely why we aren’t ideologues. We know the issues are complex. And unlike the reformers, we don’t claim to have the answers. We simply believe that education can and must be more humane than this. We plan to make it so.

We learned most from the warrior educators who saw through the reform facade. Our heroes breathed life into institutions, energized our classrooms, reminded us what we are worth, and pointed us in new directions. We plan to become these educators too.

Were All Religions Started As Con Jobs?

Steven Ruis makes a very good case that all world’s religions started out by some bullshitter making up a story (out of whole cloth) in order to gain power, prestige, wealth, and so on, and then somehow figuring out how to get his/her fellows to believe the bullshit story.

Those of you who are religious (as I used to be), probably believe that all the OTHER religions are made-up lies. Naturally, one is far more likely to see the wrong things in what OTHERS believe than in what we ourselves believe …

We all agree now (don’t we?) that all that stuff about Zeus and Hera and Minerva and Thor and so on was all made up: the Greek, Roman, and Norse myths were not accurate accounts of how the world began or guides to how we humans should behave. However, the Roman poets that I read back in Latin class in high school got a lot of praise and wealth by helping make up those myths  — and I don’t even recall Homer, Ovid, or Vergil pretending that they actually watched the gods or heroes doing any of that stuff they wrote about. I don’t know of anyone who seriously believes in the old ‘Classical’ religions today, but at one point you could be killed for not doing so.

And as far as my Buddhist or Hindu friends are concerned, I don’t recall there being any technology being around under that Bo tree to verify whatever it was that Gautama was (or was not) experiencing when he got ‘enlightened’ (or whatever), and we certainly don’t have anybody claiming to be an objective reporter on the doings of Krishna or any of the other pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses.

And Scientology? The only amazing thing about that total pile of bullshit* is that anybody at all believes any of it!

* (Actually, I should apologize: that’s an insult to male bovine feces: they are excellent fertilizer for your garden, as long as you let them ferment in your compost pile for a while. They sometimes contain a lot of weed seeds that will germinate in your garden where you don’t want them to. Horse manure is much less useful to most gardeners, because horses don’t ruminate (chew their cud and digest and re-digest their food in the presence of lots of microorganisms in various stomachs order to extract every gram of nutrients). Horse manure is the best thing for growing many types of mushrooms… But I digress. Maybe I should call it ‘blatherskite’ or  ‘codswallop’?)

You can certainly extend that skepticism on to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which are all based on the first five books of what we call the ‘Bible’ or Tanakh. Think about it. While many folks (including me at one point) believe(d) those stories literally, if you look at it objectively, we don’t have any trustworthy witnesses that recorded the words, thoughts, or deeds of God, Adam, Eve, or Moses at the time or right afterwards… I mean, how could you be present at the creation anyway?

Also this: historians and archaeologists have shown by very careful, painstaking research that pretty definitively that essentially none of the Exodus story ever happened in real life: Serious Biblical scholars now conclude that the first five books were all made up during the Babylonian Captivity (which really DID happen). The later books did have some historical basis, but they are far from being an objective source. (Nor are the ‘Histories’ of Herodotus, Livy or anything else. If you think today’s news stories are biased (and of course they are – even the choice of what stories go on the front page or are the teasers on the TV broadcasts are editorial choices), then try journals of 100 – 200 years ago. Even Faux “news” almost looks even-handed compared to reporting during the Civil War, etc. It seems to me that today’s reporting is much more complete and makes much more of an attempt to be unbiased and objective than ever before. But I digress)

Back to Ruis’ thesis, the ‘Old Testament’ then served to cement the Hebrews into a separate tribe which obviously still exists today (no mean accomplishment). Don’t forget that Judaism (as with all other religions from Central America to Africa to Europe) ended up supporting a privileged caste of priests, who got to eat the fatted calves and perfect poultry that was brought to the temple as offerings to God. ‘God’ got to smell the aroma, the priests got to eat the nice barbecued meat… Nice work if you can get it and don’t have a conscience!

Again: it’s not like people really thought that calamities were because so-and-so didn’t sacrifice his/her own children. They didn’t exactly do a double-blind test to see what would happen, unlike scientists of today who do their level best to weed out their own biases, LEST THEY BE MOCKED BY OTHER SCIENTISTS for falling into a logical fallacy! In which case, the ideas exposed by the erring scientist are discarded or modified by others. Unlike with religion, where somebody who lived a long time ago supposedly knew everything, predicted everything, and nothing in the writings can ever be changed; anybody who dares to try to make changes is accused of heresy. That’s completely the opposite of the way science works. As scientists keep learning more and more about the way the universe actually works, the more they discover that their initial ideas were incorrect. No doctor is going to use the theory of the Four Humours to diagnose your ills, for example. NASA’s spacecraft don’t use astrological signs or the Ptolemaic model of the universe, and they keep finding brand-new worlds that we never dreamed of even a few decades ago!

That’s one of the reasons why I prefer science to religion or even novels: there’s always something new being discovered; there is lively debate about what evidence is admissable and what it proves; and nobody is considered to have all the answers. (Yes, any serious amateur astronomer today can point out to you places where both Einstein and Newton were wrong — as great as their insights were!)

There are still billions of people who take on faith one or the other version of the Big Six Religions; one clue that these religions might not be all so wonderful is that throughout history, governments have waged untold wars and committed countless massacres, supposedly because other people didn’t believe as they did and didn’t offer worship and respect to their own doctrine and group of ‘spiritual’ leaders.

Now, when scientists propose explanations

Now, there are plenty of wonderful people that believe all kinds of nonsense, and I am very sure that I, too, believe a lot of things that are just plain wrong. But what one thinks, believes or says doesn’t necessarily dictate how one behaves. I bet that there are all kinds of really cruel things advocated in the sacred texts of any religion. Fortunately, most people do NOT practice those things any more. Unfortunately, there are those who do: those who bomb, behead, blow up, beat up, imprison, incinerate, or shoot others for not following the rule of God or the Leader …

Here’s the link:

https://stephenpruis.wordpress.com/2018/11/14/marks-and-con-men-in-the-religion-con/

Trump Administration Opposes Actual Science, Because That Would Cost Money to the 0.001% and Instead Help Ordinary People and the Planet

I predict that history will judge that this Administration is by far the worst that the American people ever elected. Yes, worse than Bush2, Harding, or Buchanan.

Unless future history is written by flunkies hired by Jerry Fallwell or the Koch brothers.

God forbid! (If there is one; if God actually exists, all the evidence shows that he/it/it/she/they is/are incompetent, when you think of all the mass murderers, swindlers, and dictators who have lived to a ripe old age surrounded in luxury, while millions if not billions of people suffer in unimaginable squalor in slums, favelas, tent cities, or refugee camps, while we simultaneously wipe out all the big land- and sea-dwelling mammals and pollute the air, land, and oceans for posterity with poisons, plastics, and poop.)

One piece of evidence comes from this rather long article in the New York Times which points out how much they have been either attacking science directly or simply ignoring it: science advisory positions that have existed since World War Two aren’t filled, science advisory panels to government agencies are ignored or eliminated, scientific data is ignored or denied, and instead, polluters who used to be regulated and fined by agencies are instead put in charge of them.

Here is the link.

And, yes, this is new. There are many things for which you can find fault with previous American administrations, including Obama (who was worse on education even than GWBush, and we know that all American governments lie constantly [eg Gulf of Tonkin Incident, The Sinking of the Maine, Iraq’s nonexistent Weapons of Mass Destruction, etc, etc), but actively fighting science was never one of them.

#45 is even going to try to ‘negotiate’ next week with North Korea without having actual advisors on nuclear weapons. What could possibly go wrong with that?

It’s really scary.

Compare ‘Education Reform’ to Ineffective but Profitable Quick-Weight-Loss Schemes

John Viall compares the past 15 years of education ‘reform’ to the past 30 or 40 years of completely counterproductive weight-loss schemes — in both cases, the results are exactly contrary to what they were promised to be. In one case, we can see that America’s obesity rates are some of the worst in the world. In the other, we have certainly not ‘raced to the top’ on TIMMS, PISA, or any other international test, despite all of promises by both the Bush and Obama administrations.

He concludes (I added some color):

“For a sixth time the PISA test was administered in 2015.

Now, 15-year-olds from seventy countries and educational systems took the test. How did U. S. students fare?
The envelope please.
In reading U. S. students scored 497. In other words, after fifteen years of school reform and tens of billions wasted, reading scores were still down seven points.
Fifteen years of listening to blowhard politicians—and U. S. students averaged 470 in math, a depressing 23-point skid.
Surely, all that meddling must have done some good? No. Science scores averaged 496, still down three points.
Fifteen years of diet plans that couldn’t possibly fail and, metaphorically, we were all just a little more fat.
PISA scores had been the foundation on which all school reform was built; and after all these years, America’s 15-year-olds were scoring 33 points worse.

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.

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!)

 

Another Area Where the ‘Common Wisdom’ is wrong: Diet and Exercise

The most recent issue of Scientific American features an article that claims to be what science tells us about the current obesity epidemic, and what to do about it. Unfortunately, there is very little science in the article, and lots of wishful thinking, such as finding ways to keep everybody hungry all the time.

The author’s thesis is that simple overeating is what causes Americans and others to get fat. Their solution is the usual mantra: eat less meat and more grains and other carbohydrate-rich foods, and do lots of aerobic exercise. The problem is that this prescription isn’t based on history, and it isn’t based on science. There are no studies that show that that sort of diet and exercise regime actually leads to losing any significant amount of body fat.  (I do NOT consider losing 6 pounds of fat after a year of near-starvation and 20 or more hours of aerobic activity to be a significant weight loss. My bathroom scale can have me losing that amount after a large bowel movement or two!)

In fact, almost any farmer can tell you that if you want to make your cattle fat, then you should feed them lots of grains, instead of their normal diet of grass.

What’s more, the author manages to write an entire article about obesity without once mentioning the ‘elephant in the room’ that has changed many formerly fit pre-colonial people into people who are simultaneously malnourished and obese, all over the world.

The big change has been from high-fat, relatively meat-rich diets to more Western diets consisting of cheap, starchy vegetables and grains filled with carbohydrates that humans did NOT evolve to eat. Over and over again, native societies – like our own Native Americans here in the USA – that have made this dietary shift have developed diabetes, obesity, nutritional deficiencies, heart disease, strokes, dental cavities, and much more in their adult populations, while the children simultaneously suffer from serious dietary deficiencies, often being on the verge of starvation.

Looking at sub-Saharan Africa, it’s hard to think of people who work harder, all day long, than most African women, and they eat a diet high in grains, beans, and starchy vegetables and fruit (yams and plantains, for example). Yet many of them are fat or obese.

It seems to me (though I am not an expert at all) that it’s much more likely that the USDA nutritional pyramid, and the current, anti-scientific propaganda in favor of low-fat, high-carbohydrate foods, are causing, rather than curing, the current world-wide obesity epidemic. The author of the article apparently thinks that high-fat, low-carbohydrate diets are mere fads to be dismissed out of hand; he doesn’t even analyze any evidence in favor of, or against, their effectiveness at all.

How can a major article in 2011 that purports to be on ‘what science teaches us about obesity’ fail to even acknowledge Gary Taubes’ ground-breaking review and synthesis, now in two books and several articles, concerning the relevant literature on nutrition and obesity? Or are all the studies that were read and cited by Taubes also mere fads? You can look at some of his articles and books here, here, and here, and you can find his blog here.

Why does no-one mention Finland?

Here is a table that gives the latest PISA results in science, reading, and math.

The NYT highlighted Shanghai, Macao, and Hong Kong, individual cities within China. A number of people have pointed out that Shanghai, in particular, probably attracts some of the brightest students within China.  I don’t think there is any way that American students would tolerate the extremely long hours and hard work that Chinese students put in.

Notice that I highlighted Finland.  Finland used to score at extremely low levels on international tests like this, but has risen dramatically in the past few decades. But NOT by using any of the methods currently popular among the US Educational Deform movement. Instead, they do just about the opposite. See my previous blogs on that.

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