When size matters

There has been a spate of teacher strikes across the country recently and just last week the teachers in the Chicago schools, one of the largest in the country, ended their 11-day strike. Like other teachers who went on strike, they were demanding better salaries, extra resources, and better working conditions but also calling for smaller class sizes. And they won a lot of their demands.

In addition to guaranteeing all CTU members a 16% raise over the life of the five-year contract, the offer invests $35 million in reducing class sizes – up $10 million from the city’s previous offer.

On staffing, the city’s offer guarantees that every school will have a nurse and social worker by 2023. The offer includes 120 new “equity positions” for highest-need schools – such as counselors, restorative justice coordinators and librarians – and additional staffing in bilingual and special education.

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Warren joins Sanders in fighting the undermining of public schools

Rachel M. Cohen writes that the two most progressive candidates in the Democratic primary race have both called for reining in the charter school movement and the relentless undermining of the public school system

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN RELEASED a wide-ranging education plan Monday, pledging to invest hundreds of billions of dollars into public schools if she wins the presidency, paid in part through her proposed two-cent tax on wealth over $50 million. Warren’s plan is infused with her broader campaign themes of reducing corruption and fraud; she backs measures like new taxes on education lobbying, limiting the profiteering of tech companies that sell digital products to schools, and curbing self-dealing within charter schools.
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The implications of the Canadian elections

The Canadian elections took place yesterday. Prime minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party, hammered by its leader’s political and personal scandals, lost 20 seats and its majority but still managed to remain the single largest party. It won 157 of the 338 seats with 33% of the popular vote and will have to cobble together a coalition with other parties to get a parliamentary majority and form a government. The opposition Conservatives gained 26 seats and now have 121. They also won a narrow plurality of the popular vote with 34.4%. The Bloc Quebecois won 32 seats and the New Democratic Party won 24.

Cory Doctorow analyzes the result and says that Trudeau deserved his comeuppance because for the longest time he has managed to project a progressive image while tacking towards neoliberal policies.
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The people who benefit most from Harvard’s admissions policies

A federal judge ruled this week that the admissions policy of Harvard University is constitutional.

In a closely watched lawsuit that had raised fears about the future of affirmative action, a group called Students for Fair Admissions accused the Ivy League college of deliberately — and illegally — holding down the number of Asian Americans accepted in order to preserve a certain racial balance on campus.

U.S. District Judge Allison D. Burroughs, however, ruled that Harvard’s admissions process is “not perfect” but passes constitutional muster. She said there is “no evidence of any racial animus whatsoever” and no evidence that any admission decision was “negatively affected by Asian American identity.”

“Race conscious admissions will always penalize to some extent the groups that are not being advantaged by the process,” Burroughs wrote, “but this is justified by the compelling interest in diversity and all the benefits that flow from a diverse college population.”

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Wealthy people never realize how much luck played in their ‘success’

Jason England, former admissions dean at Carnegie Mellon University, has drawn from his own experiences to add to what the recent college admissions scandal tells us about the attitudes of the elites. He provides the other bookend of the view provided by Caitlin Flanagan, a counselor at an elite prep school, where the process begins. He points out what should be obvious to everyone about the ways in which the system operates to provide an immense advantage to the already privileged. It is an are excellent article that is well worth reading in full because it exposes from the inside how the system is so heavily rigged in favor of wealthy white males from private schools. The true genius of the system is that the levers of privilege operate so smoothly and invisibly that they seem natural and neutral in their application.
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The chalk favored by mathematicians

When I started teaching, we used blackboards and chalk. Later, some of the blackboards became green but we still used chalk. The next major change was when the chalkboards were replaced by whiteboards and we needed to use dry erase markers. I had mixed feelings about this change. On the one hand, I used to write on the board a lot and was a messy chalk user. At the end of each class, I would have chalk dust on my hands, hair, and clothes. I would marvel at some of my colleagues who would emerge after a lecture as natty as when they went in. This problem went away with the markers (not an insignificant concern for those with chalk allergies or respiratory issues) but then the problem was that markers would often run dry and the boards would not completely wipe clean without using a special solvent. Also, writing with the markers was not as pleasurable in a tactile sense as with chalk.
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Everything is rigged to favor the wealthy

The latest example of how the wealthy rig the system for their benefit is the story of how they bribe their children into the colleges of their choice by paying people to do standardized tests for them or bribing sports team coaches to certify that the students are top athletes when they are nothing of the sort. This kind of bribery is for those who cannot afford he more traditional kind of bribery of making large ‘donations’, with the Trump and Kushner families being prime examples. The extremely wealthy can do even more, by making even larger donations to colleges for buildings and the like. All this is legal. As has been often pointed out, what is shocking in the US is not what is illegal but what is legal.

Stephen Colbert explains what kind of cheating was done in the cases that were just revealed.

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Is ‘trivial’ trivial?

On a national exam for year 13 students in New Zealand (which is the equivalent of high school seniors in the US) students were asked to write an essay based on this Julius Caesar quote “In war, events of importance are the result of trivial causes.” Some students were upset because they did not know the meaning of the word ‘trivial’ and felt that it was too hard a word to be used on such tests and have signed a petition in protest.
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The strange academic career ladder

In a BBC interview that was brought to my attention by Matt, this year’s co-winner of the Nobel prize in physics Donna Strickland was asked why she was still an associate professor and had not been promoted to full professor, something that I had noted in my earlier post, and she replied that she had never applied for promotion to full professor. Matt asked me to explain the weird academic rank system, so here it is.
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On acknowledging ignorance

In an earlier post, I mentioned how I had the completely wrong idea about what in America is referred to as ‘pickles’. In a comment on that post, Crip Dyke made an interesting point that made me reflect on the question of ignorance.

[W]hen one has a reputation amongst one’s friends for being knowledgeable, one has more to lose by revealing that one has been making such an error … and thus the fear of this may very well be heightened for people who have a reputation amongst their circle as knowledgeable. Thus I sometimes wonder if my fear of making a clueless error is just my vanity in disguise. (though, of course, there do exist independent reasons to want to avoid error)

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