The Canary in the Mine: The Achievement Gap Between Black and White Students by Mano Singham

Here is another published article of mine that I am making freely available by posting here. It was published in the education journal Phi Delta Kappan in September 1998

The background to this article in that in 1992 I was selected to be part of an initiative funded by the National Science Foundation to improve science and mathematics education for middle school students in the state of Ohio. I was involved in it for a decade or so and during my work, I was not only struck by the difference in achievement between Black and white students (something that is well known) but more by how people viewed the problem and suggested solutions.
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Meanwhile, over in the UK …

… The Chancellor of the Exchequer (their equivalent of the Secretary of the Treasury in the US) Rishi Sunak has come under fire because it was revealed that his wife Akshata Murty, an Indian citizen and the daughter of an Indian billionaire, has used the non-domiciled status provision in the UK tax laws to avoid paying UK taxes on her large global income. While this is legal, it does not look good for Sunak, the person who has raised taxes on British citizens, to have his extremely wealthy wife take advantage of these provisions.
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Great moments in NFT investing

I have expressed my puzzlement with the idea of buying so-called NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) and have made several posts about the whole concept. And yet people are spending huge amounts of money on them. NFTs seem like collectibles except that while most collectibles are tangible objects with limited numbers of them, NFTs are digital constructs that can be easily reproduced by pretty much anyone. The value of an NFT seemed (to me at least) far more speculative than other forms of collectibles and thus liable to wild price fluctuations.

So it did not surprise me to read about someone who bought an NFT for $2.9 million in March 2021 but when he tried to resell it for $48 million yesterday, the highest offer he got was $6,800.
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The doorway effect


This cartoon that appeared this past week illustrates a phenomenon that we have likely all experienced at some point and that is called the ‘doorway effect’. I wrote about it five years ago, where I pointed to research suggesting that it is due to our short term memories being at least partially cleared when we go from one environment to another, such as by walking through a door.

Finally, a case of voter fraud!

Donald Trump and Republicans have been going on about rampant voter fraud by Democrats that they claim led to them losing the 2020 presidential election. They have alleged that ballot boxes were stuffed, electronic votes switched, voter rolls that had ineligible or dead voters, and the like. But they have been unable to provide any evidence that it has happened on anywhere near the scale required to tilt the election outcomes. In fact, if anything, the repeated investigations that they have instigated have shown that there was very little fraud of any kind by ordinary people.
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Update on Sri Lankan crisis

The news is not good. The crisis is dragging on.

The latest news is that the government has suspended foreign debt repayments, in effect defaulting on its loans. This is disastrous for its credit rating and means that it will be charged higher interest rates if it tries to borrow money in the global markets. Its only hope is for loans from international agencies like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and countries like India and China. All of them are likely to make demands that, while maybe enabling the government to import fuel and food and in the short term ameliorate the suffering that has caused such widespread anger, will likely create other problems in the long term. These multinational agencies like the IMF, WB, and the ADB are run on neoliberal principles and they are likely to demand cuts in spending on the country’s public educational system (that has produced very high literacy rates of over 90%) and the national health system (which has resulted in good health outcomes and life expectancy of over 77 years, higher than many countries with larger per capita GDPs.)

The new governor of the Central Bank has almost doubled interest rates from 7.5% to 14.5% in an effort to curb the soaring inflation caused by the previous governor authorizing the printing of huge amounts of money to fund the government, and has vowed to act independently.
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The holdouts against the Sackler deal

The odious Sackler family that heavily promoted the use of their opioid drugs that has resulted in widespread addiction that led to many deaths and much suffering, have been pushing to have the courts sign off on a deal with state governments where their company Purdue Pharma, which is in bankruptcy, will supposedly pay fines that will go towards drug treatment and rehabilitation. The most noxious part of the deal is that the Sacklers’ ill-gotten personal fortunes will be largely untouched, they will not have to admit guilt, and they will gain immunity from future lawsuits by individuals. In other words, they will escape largely unscathed.

At the end of this month, [a New York] court – the second circuit appeals court in New York – will hear arguments over individual liability releases approved by a bankruptcy court charged with distributing Purdue Pharma’s assets. Those releases, another court found in December, weren’t authorized under the law and the plan was reversed.

But under the terms of the now-vacated deal, the Sacker family would contribute $6bn over 18 years to an opioid settlement trust. It’s a situation that angers Isaacs, and thousands of others, who feel that a measure of corporate responsibility may have been assigned, but Purdue’s decision-maker will never be held to account.

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Playing Wordle

My daughters got me started on trying my hand at Wordle, the online word-guessing game. You have to guess a five-letter English word. After each guess, you are told if you had a correct letter in the correct place or a correct letter in the wrong place.

The good thing about this is that it takes just a few minutes. It turns out that on average, people guess the correct word in slightly less than four attempts. I was initially surprised at this because I thought that it would take more tries. But it turns out that of the possible 12,000 or so five-letter words, the puzzle only uses 2,309 common ones. You quickly realize that is not that hard to zero in on the correct word. If you are baffled, you can find the answer to the day’s puzzle here.

A helpful piece of information is the frequency of letters that appear in English words. In descending order, they are: E A R I O T N S L C U D P M H G B F Y W K V X Z J Q. The choice of a good starting word is important and this article discusses possible choices.

This game is similar in spirit to the board game Mastermind, where you have pegs of eight different colors and one person places five of them (colors can be repeated) in a particular arrangement and the other person has to guess what the pattern is in as few attempts as possible. After each attempt, you are told if you have a peg of the right color in the right location or the right color in the wrong location. This is harder than Wordle because there are 85 = 32,768 combinations. (If you want to make it even harder, you can allow for an empty slot so that the number of combinations becomes 95 = 59,049.) The online version of Mastermind allows you to vary the number of pegs.