Employment

Today's employment report is one of the worst in a very long time.

The household survey showed an increase of only 16,000 jobs. The decline in the employment rate is almost entirely because 268,000 people have left the workforce--which is a huge number. The number of people looking for a job went up by 45,000.

In addition, on the employers' report, the previous two months were downgraded fairly seriously. Between June and July, the numbers were revised downwards by 48,000 combined.

Listening to NPR was interesting this morning, since they were trying to sell the household survey as good news.

Update: Adding a graph of preliminary vs final numbers over the last 36 months, in order of the size of the revision (in response to: this on the NRO Corner)


Google is blocking search results

I can't see any other way of interpreting this than the fact that Google is obviously blocking search results in the pursuit of environmental regulations and politics.

Type the following into Bing's search form: "united states" "air pollution" graph +improving

and you get almost 64,000 results, including several links to the EPA and to Wikipedia:


Type the same thing into Google and you get 6 results, which are mostly junk:


GMO's

You didn't stop me. Too late. This went out around 9:30 this morning...just over 2 hours after the last one.

The last link is one of my favorites, linking anti-GMO hysteria to climate science deniers. Nothing like having a petard and a length of rope handy.

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Food and Drug Administration [FDA]

3. Are foods from genetically engineered plants safe?

Foods from genetically engineered plants must meet the same requirements, including safety requirements, as foods from traditionally bred plants

[That's a "yes", by the way.]

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American Medical Association [AMA] 

The American Medical Association announced in a statement this week that they saw no health purpose for labeling genetically modified foods -- those made with GMOs (or genetically modified organisms) -- as such.

"There is no scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineered foods, as a class, and that voluntary labeling is without value unless it is accompanied by focused consumer education," the statement read in part.

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World Health Organization

Q8. Are GM foods safe?

Different GM organisms include different genes inserted in different ways. This means that individual GM foods and their safety should be assessed on a case-by-case basis and that it is not possible to make general statements on the safety of all GM foods.

GM foods currently available on the international market have passed risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health. In addition, no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved. Continuous use of risk assessments based on the Codex principles and, where appropriate, including post market monitoring, should form the basis for evaluating the safety of GM foods.

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Institute of Medicine and National Research Council of the National Adacamies

All new crop varieties, animal breeds (see the cloning subreport), and microbial strains carry modified DNA that differs from parental strains. Methods to genetically modify plants, animals, and microbes are mechanistically diverse and include both natural and human-mediated activities. Health outcomes could be associated with the presence or absence of specific substances added or deleted using genetic modification techniques, including genetic engineering, and with unintended compositional changes.

... All evidence evaluated to date indicates that unexpected and unintended compositional changes arise with all forms of genetic modification, including genetic engineering. Whether such compositional changes result in unintended health effects is dependent upon the nature of the substances altered and the biological consequences of the compounds. To date, no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population.

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Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine  (article)

Are GM foods safe to eat?

GM crops are tightly regulated by several government bodies. The European Food Safety Authority and each individual member state have detailed the requirements for a full risk assessment of GM plants and derived food and feed.34 In the USA, the Food and Drug Agency, the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service are all involved in the regulatory process for GM crop approval.35 Consequently, GM plants undergo extensive safety testing prior to commercialization (for an example see http://www.efsa.europa.eu/EFSA/KeyTopics/efsa_locale-1178620753812_GMO.htm).

Foods derived from GM crops have been consumed by hundreds of millions of people across the world for more than 15 years, with no reported ill effects (or legal cases related to human health), despite many of the consumers coming from that most litigious of countries, the USA.

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Scientific American (article )

There is broad scientific consensus that genetically engineered crops currently on the market are safe to eat. After 14 years of cultivation and a cumulative total of 2 billion acres planted, no adverse health or environmental effects have resulted from commercialization of genetically engineered crops (Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources, Committee on Environmental Impacts Associated with Commercialization of Transgenic Plants, National Research Council and Division on Earth and Life Studies 2002). Both the U.S. National Research Council and the Joint Research Centre (the European Union’s scientific and technical research laboratory and an integral part of the European Commission) have concluded that there is a comprehensive body of knowledge that adequately addresses the food safety issue of genetically engineered crops (Committee on Identifying and Assessing Unintended Effects of Genetically Engineered Foods on Human Health and National Research Council 2004; European Commission Joint Research Centre 2008).

These and other recent reports conclude that the processes of genetic engineering and conventional breeding are no different in terms of unintended consequences to human health and the environment (European Commission Directorate-General for Research and Innovation 2010). This is not to say that every new variety will be as benign as the crops currently on the market. This is because each new plant variety (whether it is developed through genetic engineering or conventional approaches of genetic modification) carries a risk of unintended consequences. Whereas each new genetically engineered crop variety is assessed on a case-bycase basis by three governmental agencies, conventional crops are not regulated by these agencies.

Still, to date, compounds with harmful effects on humans or animals have been documented only in foods developed through conventional breeding approaches. For example, conventional breeders selected a celery variety with relatively high amounts of psoralens to deter insect predators that damage the plant. Some farm workers who harvested such celery developed a severe skin rash—an unintended consequence of this breeding strategy (Committee on Identifying and Assessing Unintended Effects of Genetically Engineered Foods on Human Health and National Research Council 2004)

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MIT Technology Review (article)

One advantage of using genetic engineering to help crops adapt to these sudden [climate] changes is that new varieties can be created quickly. Creating a potato variety through conventional breeding, for example, takes at least 15 years; producing a genetically modified one takes less than six months. Genetic modification also allows plant breeders to make more precise changes and draw from a far greater variety of genes, gleaned from the plants’ wild relatives or from different types of organisms. Plant scientists are careful to note that no magical gene can be inserted into a crop to make it drought tolerant or to increase its yield—even resistance to a disease typically requires multiple genetic changes. But many of them say genetic engineering is a versatile and essential technique.

“It’s an overwhelmingly logical thing to do,” says Jonathan Jones, a scientist at the Sainsbury Laboratory in the U.K. and one of the world’s leading experts on plant diseases. The upcoming pressures on agricultural production, he says, “[are] real and will affect millions of people in poor countries.” He adds that it would be “perverse to spurn using genetic modification as a tool.”

It’s a view that is widely shared by those responsible for developing tomorrow’s crop varieties. At the current level of agricultural production, there’s enough food to feed the world, says Eduardo Blumwald, a plant scientist at the University of California, Davis. But “when the population reaches nine billion?” he says. “No way, José.”

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France's High Court

France's highest court on Monday overturned France's ban on growing a strain of genetically modified maize (corn) developed by U.S. biotech firm Monsanto, saying it was not sufficiently justified.

The decision follows a ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in early September saying France had based its decision to impose a moratorium on the growing of Monsanto's insect-resistant MON810 maize on the wrong EU legislation.

Suspension or banning measures ought to be taken at European Union level unless a member state can demonstrate a potentially serious risk to human or animal health or the environment, the courts said.

"Drawing on the consequences of the ECJ's ruling, the State Council finds that the agriculture ministry could not justify its authority to issue the decrees, failing to give proof of the existence of a particularly high level of risk for the health and the environment," the highest French court said.

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Committee on the Impact of Biotechnology on Farm-Level Economics and Sustainability Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources, Division of Earth and Live Sciences National Research Council

[T]he effects of agricultural biotechnology at the farm level—that is, from the point of view of the farmer—have received much less attention. To fill that information gap, the National Research Council initiated a study, supported by its own funds, of how GE crops have affected U.S. farmers—their incomes, agronomic practices, production decisions, environmental resources, and personal well-being....

In general, the committee finds that genetic-engineering technology has produced substantial net environmental and economic benefits to U.S. farmers compared with non-GE crops in conventional agriculture....

Generally, GE crops have had fewer adverse effects on the environment than non-GE crops produced conventionally. The use of pesticides with toxicity to nontarget organisms or with greater persistence in soil and waterways has typically been lower in GE fields than in non-GE, nonorganic fields.

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Meta Study on long-term multi-generational consumption of GMO food: "Assessment of the health impact of GM plant diets in long-term and multigenerational animal feeding trials: A literature review "

Results from all the 24 studies do not suggest any health hazards and, in general, there were no statistically significant differences within parameters observed. However, some small differences were observed, though these fell within the normal variation range of the considered parameter and thus had no biological or toxicological significance. If required, a 90-day feeding study performed in rodents, according to the OECD Test Guideline, is generally considered sufficient in order to evaluate the health effects of GM feed. The studies reviewed present evidence to show that GM plants are nutritionally equivalent to their non-GM counterparts and can be safely used in food and feed.

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Keith Kloor, Slate
I used to think that nothing rivaled the misinformation spewed by climate change skeptics and spinmeisters.
Then I started paying attention to how anti-GMO campaigners have distorted the science on genetically modified foods. You might be surprised at how successful they've been and who has helped them pull it off.

I’ve found that fears are stoked by prominent environmental groups, supposed food-safety watchdogs, and influential food columnists; that dodgy science is laundered by well-respected scholars and propaganda is treated credulously by legendary journalists; and that progressive media outlets, which often decry the scurrilous rhetoric that warps the climate debate, serve up a comparable agitprop when it comes to GMOs.

In short, I’ve learned that the emotionally charged, politicized discourse on GMOs is mired in the kind of fever swamps that have polluted climate science beyond recognition.

GMO's

(Stop me before I e-mail again!! )

This e-mail went out early this morning to the same teacher...

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Just Yesterday in The Atlantic

No widely accepted science supports the idea that GMOs are inherently dangerous to people’s health or the environment. To proponents, including many in the agribusiness industry, opposition to GMOs is nothing more than a dangerous mania, and the people in the grip of it are akin to those who refuse to vaccinate their children or who deny that human activity is changing the Earth’s climate.Yet the grassroots fervor around the topic—driven by Internet rumors, liberal anti-corporatism, and mothers concerned about their children—is undeniable.

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The link above goes to this, by the American Association for the Advancement of Science:

There are several current efforts to require labeling of foods containing products derived from genetically modified crop plants, commonly known as GM crops or GMOs. These efforts are not driven by evidence that GM foods are actually dangerous. Indeed, the science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe. Rather, these initiatives are driven by a variety of factors, ranging from the persistent perception that such foods are somehow “unnatural” and potentially dangerous to the desire to gain competitive advantage by legislating attachment of a label meant to alarm. Another misconception used as a rationale for labeling is that GM crops are untested.

The EU, for example, has invested more than €300 million in research on the biosafety of GMOs. Its recent report1 states: “The main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research and involving more than 500 independent research groups, is that biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are not per se more risky than e.g. conventional plant breed-ing technologies.” The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, and every other respected organization that has examined the evidence has come to the same conclusion: consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques.

GMO's

Once again, the teachers at school are propagandizing against GMO's. I just knocked out this e-mail in response. Note, this needed to be sent to our 6th grader's science teacher. I would have hoped she'd know better:

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The one-sided discussion of GMO crops, always taking the negative position, frustrates and angers me. This is why (all bolds and italics are mine):

Golden Rice is being developed by a nonprofit group called the International Rice Research Institute with the aim of providing a new source of vitamin A to people both in the Philippines, where most households get most of their calories from rice, and eventually in many other places in a world where rice is eaten every day by half the population. Lack of the vital nutrient causes blindness in a quarter-million to a half-million children each year. It affects millions of people in Asia and Africa and so weakens the immune system that some two million die each year of diseases they would otherwise survive. [ Amy Harmon, New York Times, "Golden Rice: Lifesaver?" ]

TWO MILLION DIE!! And another quarter to half a million children go blind because people living in the developed world, in air conditioning, with well stocked refrigerators and pantries, and where the biggest problem related to food is obesity, sit around and decide that their knee-jerk feelings about something count more that the lives of the poor, malnourished, sick and starving of the world.

On a petition supporting Golden Rice circulated among scientists and signed by several thousand, many vented a simmering frustration with activist organizations like Greenpeace, which they see as playing on misplaced fears of genetic engineering in both the developing and the developed worlds....

At stake, they say, is not just the future of biofortified rice but also a rational means to evaluate a technology whose potential to improve nutrition in developing countries, and developed ones, may otherwise go unrealized.

There’s so much misinformation floating around about G.M.O.’s that is taken as fact by people,” said Michael D. Purugganan, a professor of genomics and biology and the dean for science at New York University, who sought to calm health-risk concerns in a primer on GMA News Online, a media outlet in the Philippines: “The genes they inserted to make the vitamin are not some weird manufactured material,” he wrote, “but are also found in squash, carrots and melons.”

Mr. Purugganan, who studies plant evolution, does not work on genetically engineered crops, and until recently had not participated in the public debates over the risks and benefits of G.M.O.’s. But having been raised in a middle-class family in Manila, he felt compelled to weigh in on Golden Rice. “A lot of the criticism of G.M.O.’s in the Western world suffers from a lack of understanding of how really dire the situation is in developing countries,” he said. [ from same NYT's article]

Dire.

And not just Golden Rice:

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is supporting the final testing of Golden Rice, is also underwriting the development of crops tailored for sub-Saharan Africa, like cassava that can resist the viruses that routinely wipe out a third of the harvest, bananas that contain higher levels of iron and corn that uses nitrogen more efficiently. Other groups are developing a pest-resistant black-eyed pea and a “Golden Banana” that would also deliver vitamin A. [ibid]

The EU has been no friend of GMO's, yet here are excerpts from an EU funded study of 10 years worth research:

[ Excerpts from "A Decade of EU-funded GMO Research", Introduction by: Marc Van Montagu, Chairman, Institute of Plant Biotechnology for Developing Countries (IPBO,) Ghent University, Belgium ]:

Undeniably GM technology is an important tool in the fight against global poverty and food insecurity. Farmers all over the world face the challenge of doubling food production to meet the needs of a population that is expected to reach nine billion by mid-century – and all this while maintaining soil and water quality and conserving biodiversity.

The challenge is particularly daunting as it has to be accomplished with decreasing amounts of agricultural land and the unpredictable effects of climate change: mitigation and crop adaptation strategies to prepare today’s agriculture for climate change are a pressing issue. Our evolving environment requires the prompt and widespread adoption of more efficient and sustainable agricultural practices to improve food security and, at the same time, reduce the negative effects of intensive agriculture.

The task of enhancing productivity calls for greater innovation, not only in the dissemination of know-how and the development of infrastructure, but also in generating new crop varieties better adapted to specific local environments. Yet the possibilities offered by biotechnology are limitless. GM crops not only have the potential to ensure sufficient availability of food, they can also help domesticate many fast-growing high-biomass crops. [page 20]
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Now, after 25 years of field trials without evidence of harm, fears continue to trigger the Precautionary Principle. But Europeans [and Americans--Ann] need to abandon this knowingly one-sided stance and strike a balance between the advantages and disadvantages of the technology on the basis of scientifically sound risk assessment analysis. [ Page 22 ]
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Only science, using robust data, can disarm the detractors of this powerful and invaluable technology, demonstrating that GM crops are no more harmful for the environment than any other crop. On the contrary, there are clear ecological benefits when viewed within the framework of the role of agricultural systems in maintaining biodiversity.

The current focus on assessing the environmental risks of GMOs in isolation from other agricultural practices defies logic. Only balanced risk-benefit analyses and pro-active strategies for risk mitigation, if required, can lead to constructive decision-making. [Page 23.]

This from the abstract of another 10 year meta-study: "The scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazards directly connected with the use of GE crops."

GMO's offer the hope of growing more food on less land, in lower-quality soils, with more nutritious content, and with less use of polluting pesticides and fertilizers, and while preserving biodiversity. Decades of research--SCIENCE--says that they are not or need not be a hazard.

Luddite opponents need to answer the desperate calls of the poverty-stricken of the world.

Homework problems

Stupid activity of the week for our kids (this is for 6th grade):
  1. Select an object. (He chose a book.)
  2. Measure the dimensions of the object 
  3. Calculate the surface area and volume.
  4. If you were to place this object into a cylindrical mailing tube, what should be the dimensions of the tube?
  5. What about a triangular prism?
  6. Rectangular prism?
  7. What are the surface areas and volumes of these boxes?
  8. Determine which of these boxes fits your object best.
  9. Explain why.
  10. BUILD THE BOX!!
  • Time required: 90 minutes, minimum.
  • Educational value (0-10): 2. 
  • Opportunity cost (cost of time wasted which could have been spent doing something useful, instead of cutting and taping cardboard) (0-10): 9.
  • Teacher's perception of the "fun" value of project (0-10): 9.
  • Students' perception of the "fun" value of project (0-10): 0.
  • Potential student frustration level when the cardboard doesn't cut and the tape doesn't stick (0-10): 8.
  • Requisite parent participation level when frustrated kid wastes an hour and a half on a dumb-&^% and pointless assignment building a box, and parent gets exasperated by the time wasted and takes over (0-10): 6.
Addendum: Apparently, this got worse. In class today, they had to make up a story about where they were sending the box!

Homework problems

From our 8th grader's homework this week: write a personal essay about a time you were separated from a friend. The teacher explicitly wanted the students to explore "strong emotions".

This was a horrible assignment for our kid. Until she moved to her current school, she got along with everybody, but wasn't really good friends with anybody. She really had no situation that fit the description of the essay. Furthermore, she hates, hates! disclosing emotion to strangers and doesn't see why she has to share intimate details with her teacher.

Common Core



I recently came across some posts by my brother in the comments section over on NRO. The subject was the Common Core. He and I seem to agree about one thing: there is nothing, or little, actually in the math standards that are objectionable. The point-by-point details in the Common Core, of what students should learn each year, aren't that bad. Many people—even the CC’s strongest critics—admit that the CC math standards are better than what most of the states had before. I follow the arguments surrounding the Common Core's math standards fairly intensively and rarely have I seen actual nit-picking of individual standards. (Apart from the fact that they are often written in bureaucratic gobbledygook.)

The criticism I have seen hits many different notes:

  1. The pacing is slow. James Milgram, one of the CC's major critics, has said that the CC puts US kids one year behind our peer countries' math curricula by 5th grade, and two years behind by the end of 7th grade. In other words, what we teach in 7th, other countries cover in 5th. And it gets worse every year.
    [ James Milgram ] For example, by the end of fifth grade the material being covered in arithmetic and algebra in the Core Standards is more than a year behind the early grade expectations in most high achieving countries. By the end of seventh grade Core Standards are roughly two years behind.
    In addition, a lead writer of the Core, Jason Zimba, has said in a public forum and on camera that the math standards are "not only not for STEM, they are also not for selective colleges." In other words, students who follow the CC pacing in math will not be prepared to get into a selective college and will not be prepared to study a STEM field if they do get in. Zimba can be seen saying this in the short movie "Building the Machine" starting at about 20:40 in.

    Keep in mind what this means: no student who follows the Common Core’s pacing will be prepared to major in math, science or engineering in college.


    When Jason ZImba was later questioned about his public statements that the CC math standards would not prepare kids for selective colleges or for STEM studies, he tried to say that he never said anything of the sort. Only when he was faced with the actual video of him saying exactly that, was he forced to address the issue. He continues to obfuscate and pretend that he didn’t really say what he clearly said.

    Did he misspeak? Most people who look over the standards would say that he did not; the CC math standards are minimalist and aimed at making sure that everyone has a basic level of competence. They are not aimed at the high end of the spectrum or at future math and science majors. In addition, the Common Core documentation states that it prepares kids for the level of study provided at community colleges, and not for studies at more rigorous schools.


  2. This brings up a semi-related point. I recently was talking to a parent in the Santa Monica school system. She has a daughter in 6th grade who is advanced in math. She is ready to take algebra next year. However, Santa Monica's adoption of the CC has included a jettisoning of all accelerated tracks of math study. Her daughter will not be allowed to take algebra in school until 9th grade. I remember when California passed the law adopting the CC, it did so in a rigid manner. The law said that what the CC says students should be taught in 7th is what all students should taught in 7th--even if they are ready for advanced work. This eliminated the possibility of accelerated math. There was some talk about fixing this, and I know not all districts and schools have taken Santa Monica's position, but many have. Keep in mind, that in taking algebra in 9th grade, you cannot be on track to take calculus in high school--in a rigid system like this, high school calculus is not an option.

    Can this interpretation of the CC standards be laid at the feet of the CC? In part, yes. The Common Core does not talk at all about advanced students or allowing an advanced track with calculus as an end-point in high school. That has given schools, districts, and states an excuse to eliminate or reduce math tracking.
     
  3. On the other end of the spectrum, Common Core makes no allowances for students who are not developmentally ready for the work required in the given grade-level standard. A student with special needs must be taught the grade-level standard math even if they are years behind in understanding, or even in the ability to understand the material. This is an "all students must be average" approach, which does not take into account the needs of learning disabled kids. Instead of giving those kids a curriculum which will advance them from where they are to where they can reasonably be at the end of the year, these students will be in way over their head with no chance of actually understanding the material and with little to help them catch up.

    For example: Students who have not mastered counting to 100 might be required by the standard to do multiplication and division. How can they possibly progress when the curriculum is so far out of their reach?

     
  4. What is now happening, as the Common Core standardized tests are being taken in places like New York, is a massive upwelling of complaints about them. 
    Elementary school teacher Ralph Ratto the day after administering CC math exams: 
    I was angry that my students were victims in the abusive game to drive a political agenda.

    I lost it today. I lost a little bit of my self-esteem. I lost my faith in my party. I lost my faith in my ability to protect my students. I lost my faith in our future.

    I watched my students valiantly attempt math questions that most adults could not answer. These questions were wordy, and purposely confusing in a warped way to prove some point about our public education system.

    Historically, my students excel on standardized tests, often finishing near the top of our district and state. Today I witnessed –, no I was part of!!  – a situation in which students were forced to endure what amounted to what I would call an abusive situation.
    I can’t tell, without seeing the unpublished questions, whether he is complaining about how poorly-written these tests are, or whether they are testing math which is beyond the students’ learning. Is it simply the way they are asked to show their knowledge? Or are they being asked about things they haven’t been taught?

    Many of the complaints seem to be of the former variety: these tests are awful. That is a temporary problem, as the tests get better over time and as stupid questions and wording are removed. As I understand it, the NY exams were actually testing the tests, not the students. They were a dry run to see how well the tests worked. By the word leaking out about them, they seem to have failed in spectacular fashion.

    But, if it is a case of the students not having learned the material yet, then that might just mean that there will be an adjustment period. The new math standards are higher in many states than what was in place before, and it will take several years for the students to catch up to the standard. It should be that first graders starting out with these standards should do just fine. It’s only the older students who are being thrown in the deep end.

    The weird thing about this, is that many of the complaints against the Core are of the “it’s too slow” variety, but here, it might be too fast. Is this just because there needs to be a period of adjustment, or is the standard really too high for the average student?

  5. In the only direct complaint against the actual standards I have seen, supposedly, the high school geometry standards came out of nowhere and embrace an odd view of geometry. I don't know if this is true or not, but I do know that the classic geometry of proofs and theorems and corollaries has been dying for a long time. Geometry was my favorite math class, and I loved the proofs-based course. If it has been dying for a while, it is hard to attribute that to CC.
     
  6. In fact, that's true with many of the complaints against CC: what critics are complaining about isn't really the CC, but the education establishment's strange ideas of how math should be taught, and what they are and have been teaching for decades. Many of the crazy examples of homework coming home supposedly “Common Core Aligned” are not any different than what was seen prior to the adoption of the Common Core. 

     
  7. This includes the word-heavy explanations required in K-12 math today, and the belief that if you can’t explain something in words, then you don’t really understand it. Showing your work used to be enough to show understanding: if you could show the steps you took, you already showed your understanding. Now, even simple tasks have to be explained in complete sentences.

    I’ve seen examples, including with our kids, of students baffled by how you explain why 5 x 6 = 30, or how you got that 3+3 = 6. My nephew, when asked to explain a simple problem this year, said: “They take something simple and make it so hard!”

    One of the problems with this verbal-based math is that when kids are learning basic arithmetic they have not necessarily yet developed the linguistic abilities to explain things. You can fully understand that 5 x 6 = 30, you might even picture a 5 x 6 grid of objects, you might understand that this means adding 5 to itself 6 times, and might also understand that it means adding 6 to itself 5 times; and still not be able to put that in words.

    As for explanations of the obvious, my favorite answer I’ve seen so far is: “my brain told me so.” At some point the language of mathematics becomes a real language and is sufficient to show understanding.  Today’s math teachers don’t seem to agree.

    This is especially hard on English-language learners, on kids whose brains take better to math than language, and on kids with learning/reading/writing disabilities.

    It used to be that non-English speaking immigrants, in particular, could get ahead through math and science. Because language skills were less important than in other studies, they could become engineers, mathematicians, programmers, etc. Today, when everything has to be verbally explained in words instead of equations, students like this have less hope of advancement.

    But, again, this is not necessarily to be laid at the door of the Common Core. These trends in mathematics education are long-standing and entrenched. What the Common Core adds to the problem is simply this: it locks the entire country down to this style of math education (and the accompanying documentation of the Common Core does do this, even if the individual standards do not) regardless of whether it is wise.

     
  8. As for crappy worksheets coming home with the Common Core label, I would say that math textbooks and especially workbooks are notoriously bad. My nephew came home with a worksheet last week which had only six problems on the whole page and with a “match each problem to its answer” format—in other words, the answers were all on the page, and you just had to link up the problem with the appropriate answer. But, for one problem the actual answer was missing. This was for finding the volume of a triangular prism, and whoever wrote the worksheet forgot that when calculating the area of the triangular face you need to divide by 2:  b * h / 2 . Obviously, no one had bothered to check the worksheet for accuracy—including his teacher.

    Math books tend to be written by freelance writers who are working on a rushed pay-by-the-problem basis. Editors prize speed over accuracy and don’t care if the books follow a coherent, systematic progression.

    With the adoption of the Common Core, publishers sped to slap the label of “Common Core Aligned” on everything possible in their library, and commissioned rush-jobs of new material. Editing costs money and provides little, or no, return on publishers’ investment, so little editing took place. I don’t really see the Common Core texts and worksheets as being anything worse than what came before. It is simply that these things are now under greater scrutiny, and parents are wondering what the heck is going on.

     
  9. "Internationally Benchmarked" and "research based" claims about the Common Core are complete fabrications. The few attempts to compare the CC standards to our international peers fall into two camps: a) comparisons done by CC partisans which show some  correlations and b) comparisons done by independent or anti-CC partisans showing no or negative correlations. Either way, the studies are few and far between and have been done *after* the standards were written.

    Though the CC writing process is somewhat shrouded in secrecy, it does not appear that the committees that drew up the standards did so with an eye to our international competition. In fact, there is little research done about anything in the CC or about the CC in general. A recent study, by the Brookings Institution,  showed that those students in states with a math curriculum most unlike CC did better than those states with a CC-like curriculum. The correlations were small, but the point here is that there is nothing out there which shows that CC is a superior (or even adequate) curriculum—or, conversely, that it is a bad curriculum. There is simply little out there to look at. 

     
  10. Similarly, the claim that his was “state led” is bogus. This came out of the Gates Foundation and from a consortium of education think tanks that Gates had funded. Actual state involvement came after the fact when they were asked “hey, do you like this?” They were allowed no actual input during the writing process. So, yes, the promoters are lying about it, but that doesn’t mean the standards themselves are therefore bad.  For a rundown of how the Common Core came to be written the movie “Building the Machine” goes through it.

     
  11. Prior to the adoption of the Common Core by 45 states, each state was on their own. At least two states, Massachusetts and California, are widely acknowledged to have had a better and more rigorous math standards before their adoption of the Common Core. Several states had to dumb down their standards to adopt the Core.

    In fact, in this case, the rigidity of standards was also a routine complaint. California, in particular, required algebra in 8th grade; this despite the fact that many students were simply not ready for it. Setting the bar that high meant that many students failed and hit the wall.

    If anything, the argument should be made that it is not the grade level, which is largely decided by a student’s age, that is important, but what they are realistically capable of understanding given their prior learning. Common Core, like many standards before it, often does not take this into account.

    The problem, as I see it here, is that the methods used by many teachers, and those they are led to believe in at ed school, simply do not work: Group math projects. Homework with only a handful of problems. No drilling of math facts. “Spiraling” curriculum, which believes in going over something lightly again and again every few months in the hopes that something will eventually sink in—instead of carefully, methodically, and systematically making sure the kids learn it the first time. The constant attempts to make every aspect of math class “fun” instead of addressing those aspects which simply take focus, work, and dedication.

    This has nothing to do with the Common Core, and points to a deeper issue at the heart of education. Common Core, unfortunately, does nothing to negate, and often supports, these teaching methods.

     
  12. What was the rush? The Race to the Top program required states to adopt the Common Core standards by a certain date (if they were applying for RttT grant money, which most did). The final standards were only published a month or two beforehand. There was very little time for debate and for deep assessments to be made before it got passed. Once again, however, that doesn’t address whether the standards themselves are good or bad, just that the states which adopted them had very little time to review them. The RttT initiative dangled the carrot of grant money, and states signed on without really analyzing the standards.

     
  13. Just like anything else, the Common Core will obey the law of unintended consequences. If you ask any of the people involved in its creation, or in the government who pushed for, or who voted to adopt the Common Core, you are likely to hear some variation of the hope that this will help poor and disadvantaged kids get ahead; and moreover, that the Common Core should reduce inequality. In part, that might be true, but with a ceiling on these students’ aspirations.

    Because in many states the Common Core is an improvement on what existed before, those students in those states who stick to the new program should come out the other side in a better position than their predecessors.

    However, as I said above, the Common Core is not a selective-college or STEM-ready standard. Poor and disadvantaged students, or students with poorly educated parents, will be completely reliant on the schools to give them their math curriculum. On the other hand, students in the middle-class or better, and students with well-educated parents will get more.

    The family in Santa Monica that I mentioned earlier will not simply have their daughter twiddle her thumbs for the next two years until her peers catch up with her and she can finally be allowed to take algebra. The family will hire the tutors necessary to make sure that their child continues to stay on the track she is on now.

    There are six Kumon centers within five miles of where I’m sitting. There are two Mathnasiums in that same area. There is one Sylvan. There is one C2 center. There are many other smaller tutoring centers as well. In addition there are many people who tutor independently, including myself. We are in a middle class to upper-middle class neighborhood, and just to our east is Koreatown. All around us are parents who are not going to let their kids fall behind and who have the resources to make certain that they do not.

    Poor kids have no such opportunity. Those students who are stuck in schools that are eliminating math tracking in the name of the Common Core, and who will only offer a single not-STEM or selective-college-ready curriculum, will bifurcate between those getting outside help and those who can only afford to be taught at school. To some extent, this has always been true. But with more systems eliminating tracking, more students will be denied advanced study.

     
  14. The effects on public colleges and universities should also be taken into account. As part of the push for the adoption of the Common Core, the Race to the Top initiative included a stipulation—signed onto by 45 states—that any student who completed the Common Core math curriculum in high school could not be placed in remedial math in public colleges and universities. They must be placed in non-remedial, credit-bearing classes. With current colleges often requiring 40-50% of their freshmen to take remedial math, this will require a great deal of shifting on the part of schools. This can take several paths:

    a) They can just put students in the intro college classes and let them crash and burn. This one is highly unlikely to happen, especially when the kids crashing and burning are likely to be disproportionately poor minorities who went to crappy high schools.

    b) They can dumb down the intro courses so that the students can pass. This is the most-likely scenario, and will result in the level of college math work diminishing for many.

    c) They can remove the requirement to take math in order to graduate, depending on the major chosen.

    This is actually not necessarily a bad thing. While I would say that the ability to do college algebra should be universal among college students, I would also wonder why someone majoring in social work needs to pass algebra? Or why someone majoring in early-childhood education (say preschool – third) would need to?

    There are many college majors and post-college careers that simply do not require math at all. Many adults will never do another algebra-style problem for the rest of their lives. Apart from showing a level of mental discipline, why is college algebra required for these studies?

    I know one former community college student who could not pass algebra to save her life. In the end she dropped out of school and never got her AB. I don’t know if that is a good thing or a bad thing. She went on to start a small business and is doing well—either way, she will never be called upon to do any algebra problem at any time for the rest of her life.

    When college algebra puts up an impenetrable barrier to students who want to study something which has nothing to do with math, and in which they can do well, why is math a requirement at all? I would think it is quite likely that the math requirement will be removed from many majors and as a general requirement for graduation. It might be replaced with something like a statistics course, which would be much more useful to more students than college algebra.

     
  15. Some of the weakest critiques of the Common Core are about the process of its implementation and the knee-jerk reaction to nationalizing school standards.

    a) To some extent this is justified. As Jay P. Greene, in particular, has tried to point out, there are at least two separate federal laws which explicitly prevent the federal government from creating or trying to implement a national curriculum. Race to the Top and the Common Core violate those laws.
    The intent of Congress is clear: The federal government cannot mandate, direct, supervise, or control curriculum or programs of instruction.  Indeed, the legislative history of the DEOA [Department of Education Organization Act] underscores this, as does its statement of intent “to protect the rights of State and local governments . . . in the areas of educational policy” and to “not increase the authority of the Federal Government over education or diminish the responsibility for education which is reserved to the States and local school systems.” Yet…the Department is evading these prohibitions and using proxies to cement national standards and assessments that will inevitably direct the content of K-­12 curriculum, programs of instruction, and instructional materials across the nation.
    So, whether or not the CC is a good idea, it seems to be explicitly illegal according to several laws governing the Department of Education. It is reasonable to add this to the list of extra-legal legislation coming out of the current White House, and it is reasonable to object to the CC on this basis alone.

    b) As I’ve said above, several states had better math standards pre-CC and had to jettison them to adopt the new standards; and  previously, each state wrote their own standards (or in some cases didn’t write standards at all).

    This plays to the old idea that states are “little incubators” of innovation. If one state has a better program, other states are free to use it as a model and alter their own in response. Hopefully the better states serve as exemplars until another state comes along and surpasses them. With a national set of standards, experimentation and change comes to an end. We will never know where that dynamic experimentation would have led.

     
  16. The weakest arguments of all, which I’ve seen too often, and which I think are things both my brother and I object to the most, are the “if it comes from Obama, it must be bad” mentality. A lot of the criticism starts with that idea, and searches for evidence to fit it. The standards themselves aren’t terrible, and aren’t even too bad. In some areas, they are quite good. Even if Obama’s name’s attached.

     
  17. At the end of the day, the people instituting the new standards, and the new curricula that go with them, are the same people who have been failing our kids for decades. The same mentality dominates in schools and ed schools. (Often against anything rigorous, and in favor of all things that are “fun,” and thus will make the children happy to learn. Not all that children need to learn can be constantly “fun”—you still have to learn how to spell, and you still have to learn your math facts.)

    I often liken the implementation of the Common Core to the whole country throwing all its educational balls up in the air at the same time. Considering how bad the system has been, you would think that whatever gets reassembled would be an improvement; but, the same people who were in charge before are the ones now catching the balls, and they will do their utmost to try to put them right back where they were.

The Bengazi four

I think to understand Bengazi, you have to break it down into four completely different and in large part separate issues.

Issue I. Background: What we now know is that the Bengazi attack was a preplanned al Qaeda attack timed to coincide with the 11th anniversary of 9/11. Bengazi was known to be an extremely dangerous place. Ambassador Stevens had sent cables stating his fear that the security situation was highly dangerous and eroding. Both the British and the Red Cross viewed the city as too dangerous to operate in and pulled out. There is some evidence that intelligence caught wind of something being planned--the information might not have been complete enough to be actionable, but it was enough to raise the threat-level. In light of all of this, instead of increasing the security forces in Bengazi and the protection details around the embassy, and instead of following the Brits and the Red Cross and pulling US personnel out, the State Department ordered the security of the embassy handed over to local Libyan forces and removed much of the US-based protective forces. This reduced the security of the embassy and put its protection into the uncertain hands of local Libyan forces. The attack followed.

The Issue: Here, the issue is how the attack came to happen, and how the embassy was so poorly protected in the first place. Why were Ambassador Steven's warnings ignored? Why was the security so poor in a place that everyone seemed to agree was highly dangerous? Why was the embassy served up for attack on a silver platter? What in the &^$$ was the State Department thinking? And who was the highest level State Department official who as in on that bone-headed decision--a decision which got our ambassador and three others killed.

Issue II. Background: On the night of 9/11/2012, our embassy came under a prolonged attack over the course of many hours. During the lengthy battle, which ebbed and flowed and moved to a second location, no help was ordered for the embassy personnel--they were completely on their own. This despite the fact that there were forces nearby which could have been on site within a few hours.

The Issue: Why did help never come? Was sending help ever debated? If so by whom? If not, why not? Was there anyone advocating for helping? Was there someone advocating letting our embassy burn and exposing our embassy personnel to a high risk of death. Who was the highest ranking official in on that decision?

Issue III. Background: Once the embassy fell, there was the apparent coverup by the White House. Instead of admitting this was an al Qaeda operation timed to coincide with the 9/11 anniversary, they blamed a video and its maker.

The Issue: How was that decision made? Who made it? Who knew the talking points were bogus and yet went in front of the American people to push their version of the story.

As a corollary to this one is the fact that Hilary told a father of one of the fallen at Bengazi that they'd take care of it by throwing the filmmaker in jail. That on its own is a serious issue. They scapegoated the movie maker and threw him in jail to provide cover for the real story.

Issue IV. Background: For the last year and a half, the media has allowed themselves to be played by the White House. Instead of pressing for answers, they tried to suppress and ridicule anyone who actually felt that there was a real issue here. I'm sure everyone in Washington and in the Washington press corps knew exactly what had happened and knew how the White House was spinning. They weren't being fooled, they were willingly playing along.

The Issue: How corrupt is the national media? And how can democracy survive such a pet and tame news corps?

Those these four issues overlap and interlock, they each need to be considered independently and in depth.