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Evaluate This

February 26, 2021 am28 10:25 am

I’ve just spent the last two hours reading the evaluation letter that Mulgrew sent out. (Letter linked here). I’ll probably write much more, later. But for now I have a few observations:


Why was this necessary? (I know, there is a state law – which the UFT helped pass – and which Mulgrew used to claim credit for helping to write)

Carnival Game Duck Shoot Stock Illustrations – 90 Carnival Game Duck Shoot  Stock Illustrations, Vectors & Clipart - Dreamstime

Where was the fight to twist Cuomo’s arm?

Where was the full court press to get Cuomo to waive this nonsense for this year? (there was no full court press – why not?). Cuomo is wounded, vulnerable. It may have been possible to stop this.

Where is the guide to teaching during a pandemic?

Where is the “research-based” framework that we were trained on for remote and hybrid teaching? (there is none, just a rewrite of the Danielson framework. And – oh oh oh – Danielson herself says that it is inappropriate to use it to evaluate teachers! So, Mulgrew and Carranza, if Danielson did not think her stuff was appropriate for evaluation, who decided to use it anyhow?)

Did Danielson really say this is not appropriate? Take a look. Focus on

√ No Rubric. “Teachers need support, not scores. Now is not the time to be thinking about how to evaluate teacher performance.”

Here is the link. Scroll to page 4.

Have the evaluators successfully taught during a pandemic?

Kid, on a driving test, runs a stop sign, runs a red light, speeds. The DMV agent makes him pull over. “You are not driving another inch!” Kid pulls over. And they wait. Kid asks, “aren’t you going to drive us back?” The DMV guy says, “no, I don’t have a license. We gotta wait for someone.”

MOSL? Are you serious?

Measures of Student Learning. Really? Students will learn less during a pandemic. I don’t need a PhD or an office with an expense account, or a media staff to figure that out.

We need another look, another day, at why Mulgrew and the UFT’s Unity leadership are so heavily invested in infusing junk science into our evaluations. But they are. (“Randomized junk science that is rigged towards the middle-top of the range reduces the chances of large numbers of adverse ratings. We don’t care that the junk is meaningless, as long as most teachers are safe, but we won’t say that the junk is meaningless because we are heavily invested in this boondoggle” they will never tell us).

A MOSL committee? More meetings?

Another damned committee? What are we supposed to do? Guess which “measure of student learning,” which actually measures nothing, will do our members the least harm? I’m tempted to boycott, but I don’t think I could get my consultation committee to agree.

Systemwide MOSL?

Seriously, the default is a systemwide MOSL. Of course, I don’t know exactly what goes into that calculation. I am sure someone does know. But Mulgrew did not think it was necessary to share details.

Why should a teacher in the Bronx be rated based on how teachers in Manhattan or Brooklyn do?

I’m not happy being evaluated based on how well a Staten Islander teaches.

I’m furious about being evaluated based on how poorly a Staten Islander negotiated.

Mulgrew Letter on Evaluation

February 26, 2021 am28 10:19 am

Pace Yourselves

February 22, 2021 am28 11:44 am

Today, February 22, 2021, is the first day back from break. In the fall we have days off here and there – but in the spring we move from break to break uninterrupted. This year, mercifully, there are just five weeks from Winter Break to Spring Break – but that’s five uninterrupted weeks. (And we have 7 weeks after until Memorial Day – just a long weekend, but I don’t want to think about that. Not yet.)

The stretch from Winter Break to Spring Break is always the toughest of the year, under normal circumstances. We start full of energy, but by the time that last Friday comes we are wondering what took it so long. Teaching takes stamina. It is exhausting. Under normal circumstances.

This is traumatic. Has Richard Carranza watched 19 hours of video on trauma-informed supervision? “In Unity” he certainly hasn’t.

These are not normal circumstances. This teaching is exhausting. Preparation is different, and hard. Screen time is off the charts. Grading takes forever. Sitting still for hours is tiring. And hurts. All the normal interactions are changed, or gone. The pleasure in teaching is social, and it helps make up for how hard teaching is. And now that aspect is barely there, or completely gone.

And I do not have a colleague in the next room or down the hall to support me. At the end of each day when I was a brand new teacher I was drained, wiped out. But the days were shorter than today. And I was a quarter of a century younger. This is traumatic. Has Richard Carranza watched 19 hours of video on trauma-informed supervision? “In Unity” he certainly hasn’t.

So, it’s tough teaching. And I didn’t mention the possibility hanging over our heads of in-person instruction restarting. Then restopping. Then rerestarting. And rererestopping. I’m not sure how badly this plays out for an elementary teacher with all the subjects for her class, I’m guessing it’s very disruptive. But for subject area classes in high schools (and some middle schools) – whoa – that’s not good for education. But with Mulgrew, Carranza, Cuomo, Weingarten, de blasio, and the New York Times and Wall Street Journal all in on getting some of us in….

I’ll cut this short. These five weeks are going to be long. Very long. Try to slow down. Try to pace yourself. Your colleagues will not be able to see if you are struggling. You have to be responsible more than usual for taking care of yourself. Slow down. Pace yourself. Five weeks.

Watching New Cases Fall – the US and NY

February 21, 2021 pm28 2:15 pm

I pay too much attention to numbers. That’s me. I did it when I was a little boy. The sports section!  What six year old runs to the box scores? At ten I was scouring the almanac for old election results and weather history. That was me.

I limit myself, somewhat, today. But in this pandemic I am at times drawn to look at the numbers. To understand what is happening I have settled on three categories: current case rates, new cases, and deaths.

Deaths, while up substantially during this (fading) third wave, are down substantially as a proportion of people who get sick, and as a proportion of people who get hospitalized. That is, if you got sick a year ago, you had a decent chance of dying. If you get sick today, that chance is much, much lower. Also, if you got sent to the hospital a year ago, you had a substantial risk of not coming out. If you get hospitalized today that risk is much lower. The number of daily new cases at the peak of this wave was 8 times greater than in the spring – but the number of daily deaths at the peak of the third wave was 1.5 times greater than in the spring.

Current Case Rates I have been plotting every day or every few days since November. Here is a 3 month overview. Here is the most recent trend.

New Cases in the US

New Cases. That’s what I want to look at today. Let’s start with the chart for the US as a whole:

This is the number of new cases per day (averaged over the course of a week to smooth things out – better for looking at the big picture) for the entire United States, starting last February.

There are three waves – but that may not be obvious.

The first wave was nightmarish scary – where it hit. But it was largely limited to the west Coast, and the NYC metropolitan area, with some additional pockets. Also, many fewer people were being tested; there were likely many more undiagnosed cases. But that little rise to a little plateau in April? Felt like Armageddon to New Yorkers. We were the global epicenter of the global pandemic. The sirens. The news. The wondering who would die next. Were there enough hospital beds? Enough ventilators?

The second wave is there – see that lump that rises through July with its hump at the end of the month? – New Yorkers might be scratching their heads. The second wave was not felt much or at all in the places that experienced the first wave. But for those places whose first encounter with large numbers of COVID cases was the summer, that second wave was very real.

The third wave is interesting

  • Start – look not where the rise begins modestly (late September), but where it zooms – which part looks most, if you let it rotate, like the bottom of the bowl? (second derivative). That’s the last week in October.
  • First hump – there was a huge spike in the northern plains and upper midwest before the third wave engulfed the entire country. Because it was only one region, it appears like a hump, not a spike. Peak November 24. It is absent from the graphs in states outside of that region, including New York.
  • Middle hump – Thanksgiving surge. December 6 – December 24, with a flatter top, but peaks at December 18.
  • Dip between the holidays – December 27 – December 31
  • Christmas/New Years peak – January 9 – January 13
    • Detail: The Christmas/New Years peak was 14% higher than the Thanksgiving Peak.
  • The wave recedes – January 13 – today
    • Detail 1: The numbers today are near the numbers from October 31
    • Detail 2: The numbers today are 32% as high as the top of the Christmas/New Years peak

New York

In New York the first wave looks very large (it was hard to see on the US graph), though not as high as the US as a whole. The second wave, expectedly, is absent.

New York’s 3rd Wave Looks Different

  • Start – New York did not participate in the October surge (that was Iowa and Wyoming) so the start is a bit later. I mark November 7, approximately.
  • Thanksgiving surge – this is different from the national graph. December 1 – December 7 there is a very sharp increase.
  • Middle rise – This is also different from the nation as a whole. Where the number of cases in the US was plateauing, in NY the number of cases continued to go up. From December 9 to December 24 there is not as much of an increase as right afterThanksgiving, but there is still increase.
  • Dip between the holidays – Not in New York! This appears to be the only place in the country where new cases rose from Thanksgiving through Christmas and New Years without a break.
  • Christmas/New Years peak – January 9 – January 13
    • Detail: The Christmas/New Years peak was 57% than the Thanksgiving Peak.
  • The wave recedes – January 13 – today
    • Detail 1: The numbers today are near the numbers from December 2
    • Detail 2: The numbers today are 45% as high as the top of the Christmas/New Years peak

The 3rd wave was tougher in New York than the rest of the country. It started a month later than in some other states, but cases rose more steeply, and cases continued to rise between the holidays – which was not the case anywhere else, including New York’s immediate neighbors.

As the wave recedes, it recedes more slowly in New York than in any other state (with some recent indication that the numbers are not falling).

What is Going On?

Clearly something is wrong, but it is beyond me to do more than offer some ideas.

New variants? Yes, the British variant is here. And yes, it may in the very near future cause us much suffering. But for today the numbers are too low for it to be driving New York’s numbers.

Bad leadership? Yes, we have a serious problem here, but no, Cuomo did not take measures that were appreciably worse than what other governors did. He earned a positive reputation in the spring for holding sane press conferences. But holding a sane press conference is a very low bar, set and not met by former president Donald Trump. He told people to wear masks, and some listened. But there are plenty of governors who did the same. His color zones were arbitrary and inconsistent. So I don’t give him credit for much, but I don’t blame him for the 3rd wave or New York’s delayed recovery.

Different travel patterns? Do more out of towners, both domestic and foreign, find their way to New York than to any other large city? Do more New Yorkers travel to more places around the country and around the world, then people from other cities? Do more New Yorkers travel to more corners of our own state…?

Unique urban concentrations of poverty, overcrowded housing, maskless Trump voters, and Hasidim? Der ferter ferd? Nah. Each one of these is a problem, but something unique is happening in New York, and having things in NY that are the same as elsewhere, but a little bit more, that wouldn’t do it.

This is becoming urgent. This is a city of 8 1/2 million. A state of almost 20 million. This is not an orange microcluster. We need real epidemiologists looking, trying to find out what is going wrong in New York.


NYCDOE Sabbatical Applications Open – Take One if You Can

February 21, 2021 am28 9:35 am

On a full year study sabbatical you get 70% of your pay while taking 16 credits. You come refreshed, rejuvenated, and, frankly, a better teacher.

Learning: it is very different being a student than being a teacher. The new perspective is valuable.

Content: you can learn more in your content area, or explore something related.

Money: July 2021 is at full pay. August is at 70% – until the next July 2022 which is still at 70%. Finally August 2022 would be 100% – so that’s 12 months at 70%, 2 months at 100%. Also, the tax taken go down considerably.

Rights: This is an amazing contractual right. People should use it.

Me: I took a sabbatical 2013-2014.

  • I learned stuff that I applied to the classroom. I learned stuff that was fun. I was reminded what it was like to be a student. And I still correspond with two of my professors.
  • I made my schedule Tuesday/Thursday – which left me with long weekends for short trips, and college breaks for long trips. I spent more time with friends, with family. I went to Pittsburgh, Toronto, the Galapagos, Morocco, Chattanooga… I think I went to Florida and Maine…
  • I did feel the paycut, but not by much. The drop in taxes made much of it up.
  • Do it?  A few people say they get bored. I don’t get that. The vast majority of people I know who have taken them think they were amazing and are glad they did.

More info?

Here’s the timeline:

Full Year (2021-2022) Sabbaticals (16 Credits Required) Application Dates:

February 12, 2021 Application period open.

March 17, 2021 Final date for employee to submit application via SOLAS.

March 24, 2021 Final date for Principal’s recommendation to Superintendent in SOLAS.

April 14, 2021 Final date in SOLAS for Superintendent to inform employee if (a) coursework is not rigorous and job-related and/or (b) taking of the sabbatical will create a hardship for the school. All communications will be handled via SOLAS.

April 28, 2021 Final date in SOLAS for employee to resubmit coursework to Superintendent, if applicable.

May 5, 2021 If applicable, Superintendent informs employee in SOLAS that resubmitted coursework is not rigorous, job-related or if taking the sabbatical will cause a hardship.

May 5, 2021 Final date for Superintendent’s determination in SOLAS.

September 30, 2022 Submission of official transcript(s) required for Study Sabbaticals. (See Section 2D for details)

The third wave recedes

February 19, 2021 pm28 12:57 pm

Cases per 100,000, February 2021, starting at the beginning of the month, up through yesterday.

South Carolina is at 52. New York is at 40. All the other states are lower.

Nursing Home Scandal: Timeline

February 19, 2021 pm28 12:22 pm

Today I received a timeline of Cuomo’s nursing home mistake and coverup from Alessandra Biaggi.

I reprint the email:


Friends –

There is a lot of confusion surrounding Governor Cuomo’s nursing home scandal, some of it deliberate, so we thought it useful to create an easy-to-digest timeline of events for you, and then we’re going to ask you to take action to make your voice heard on this issue.

March 1, 2020: New York has its first known and confirmed coronavirus case.

March 25, 2020: Governor Cuomo’s administration decrees nursing homes must accept “medically stable” COVID-positive patients, and that COVID-positive but asymptomatic nursing home staff are allowed to keep working.

April 2, 2020: Andrew Cuomo’s state budget passes, including retroactive liability protection for nursing home executives “arising from certain decisions, actions and/or omissions related to the care of individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Alessandra Biaggi votes no and says, “when we look back on this time, what we’re going to be judged by is how we protected those who are the most vulnerable.”

April 3, 2020: Andrew Cuomo signs the state budget.

April 20, 2020:Andrew Cuomo says he wasn’t aware of his own policy mandating that nursing homes accept COVID-positive patients. New York’s Health Director reiterates “if you are positive, you should be admitted back to a nursing home.”

April 23, 2020:After hearing countless objections and questions about his nursing home mandate, Andrew Cuomo says at a daily briefing that nursing homes “don’t have a right to object. That is the rule and that is the regulation and they have to comply with that.”

May 10, 2020: Andrew Cuomo finally rescinds his nursing home order.

May 20, 2020: Andrew Cuomo blames Trump and CDC guidance for his nursing home decision — a claim Politifact rated “mostly false” several weeks later. It is also worth noting that Connecticut and Massachusetts chose to send COVID-positive nursing home patients to facilities reserved for those who tested positive.

June 6, 2020: Alessandra Biaggi introduces legislation to repeal immunity granted by Governor Cuomo to nursing home executives.

July 24, 2020: Andrew Cuomo brags that New York has a low number of nursing home deaths compared to other states.

October 13, 2020: Andrew Cuomo releases his book on leadership during the pandemic. He says that criticism of the state’s policy on nursing homes is “despicable.”

November 23, 2020: Andrew Cuomo accepts an Emmy Award for his daily briefings — says “they only offered one thing: authentic truth.”

January 28, 2021:New York Attorney General Tish James releases a report stating Governor Cuomo’s administration undercounted COVID-19 nursing home and long-term facility deaths by up to 50%.

February 10, 2021: A top aide to Governor Cuomo admits the administration hid the actual count of nursing home deaths from press and legislators.


  1. The legislature must revoke the emergency powers granted to Andrew Cuomo at the start of the COVID crisis. The legislature is a co-equal branch of government and it’s clear the power given the governor is no longer appropriate.
  2. The legislature must repeal the immunity provisions Andrew Cuomo granted nursing homes and other health care facilities from liability for actions during the COVID crisis.

Sign Alessandra Biaggi’s petition if you agree we must end immunity for health care executives, and that it is time to take away Andrew Cuomo’s emergency powers:


Shortly after the critical moment in the pandemic Andrew Cuomo forced nursing homes to take in COVID-positive patients and declared that asymptomatic staff in nursing homes could keep working, he gave nursing home executives immunity so families could not pursue legal recourse for negligence or malpractice if they had a loved one die.

This is a scandal. It requires hearings and accountability.

Thanks for adding your name.

– Team Biaggi

Freedom and Music

February 18, 2021 pm28 12:31 pm

I’ve been thinking about politics and music. I recently saw One Night in Miami (more about that below) which involves Sam Cooke singing “A Change is Gonna Come.” More about that, below.

But I wanted to put a spotlight on an amazing composition by Max Roach – a five part concept piece, from slavery, emancipation, protest, pan-Africanism, and on to apartheid. It’s called “We Insist!” and is subtitled “Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite.”

Maybe it’s when I grew up, but avant-garde jazz FEELS liberating. The themes and the themes mesh, work together.

Max Roach, jazz drummer, African-American, born in North Carolina, raised in Brooklyn, innovator, began planning, in 1959, a major piece for 1963, for the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. But events added urgency, and he rushed it to release in 1960.

Ironic, sad, over 60 years, and how much that needed to happen still needs to happen. They move on from the US to South Africa, as if South Africa was next. But that’s not quite right.

Ronald Reagan obnoxiously called for patience with the apartheid regime, pointing out that just decades earlier the US practiced legal segregation. The comparison was wrong, and his goal was to shield apartheid from sanctions, but almost 40 years later… Which country has made more progress? It’s a close call.

– – –   – – –   – –   – – –   – – –   – –   – – –   – – –   – –   – – – 

In One Night in Miami, Malcolm X, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke spend the evening in Mohammad Ali’s motel room, the night after his victory over Sonny Liston. (Mohammad Ali had not yet adopted his name, and was still known as Cassius Clay). During the evening the conversation gets sharp. At one point Malcolm X ridicules the music that Sam Cooke makes. Cooke counters that protest music isn’t commercially viable.

One of the ideas in the movie is that each character changes in some way after the conversations. Cassius Clay adopts the name Mohammad Ali. Jim Brown leaves football. Malcolm X breaks with the Nation of Islam. And Sam Cooke sings “A Change Is Gonna Come” on the Ed Sullivan show.

Now, the conversation, even the meeting, is fictional. But the events referred to are real, even if the chronology is a bit off. Sam Cooke sang A Change is Gonna Come on February 7, 1964. The Liston fight was February 25, 1964. That day Ali announced he would be known as Cassius X, rejecting his slave name. (I am having trouble pinning down when he changed from Cassius X to Mohammad Ali). On March 8 Malcolm X broke publicly with the Nation of Islam.

Anyway, I didn’t want to talk about One Night in Miami (though it’s worth seeing. And worth thinking about how hard it would have been to predict the trajectories of these men’s lives after 1964.) I wanted to talk about Sam Cooke deciding to sing a political song.

And while reading about this, I stumbled on We Insist! – thus this post.



Freedom Day – NYC – February 3, 1964

February 16, 2021 pm28 3:23 pm

Freedom Day – NYC – February 3, 1964.

Half a million boycotted school, demanding integration.

How come we don’t know about this? How come we don’t teach it?

I’ve been talking about it. Now let’s have some others do the talking:

From Time Magazine, September 2020:

(that’s an 8 minute video. There’s also a print story)

Image result for wnyc logo

From WNYC Radio, story by Yasmeen Khan, February 2016:

(that’s a 7 minute audio)

Why is NY’s Covid Decline Less than Everywhere Else?

February 15, 2021 pm28 2:01 pm

The United States is on the declining side of a third major COVID wave. The first, March – April 2020, largely hit the west coast and the Northeast. The second, summer 2020, was felt in those places that had not been as severely effected in the spring. And the third, present everywhere except Hawaii, began in the fall and had two peaks associated with Thanksgiving and New Years.

That third wave, this current wave, is subsiding everywhere. But less in New York than in any other state. How do we know this? And what is going on?

Comparing Waves – Not So Easy

During the first wave, testing and reporting was all over the place. Each state had its own methodology (and to some extent still do, but there’s been convergence). COVID was not as quickly or readily identified. If we look at a graph of new cases for a state that was in the first and third waves, we will see two humps – but we won’t be able to compare the sizes of those humps, because testing and reporting are much more consistent today than they were 11 months ago. For the US as a whole, the 3rd wave hump appears 8 times higher than the first wave hump – but it is likely that the two waves actually have peaks that are not so different from each other.

Treatment now is better. The proportion of cases that lead to hospitalization is down. The use of drugs, the use of ventilators – changed. Better drugs are being used. And proportionately more people who get sick are recovering.

What we can tell from New Case Graphs

  • We can see whether or not a wave affected a state. There’s a visible hump in the new cases graph. Easy.
  • We can see when a wave began, when it ended, whether it included peaks and declines.
  • We can see how steep an outbreak is, and how sharp or how incomplete the fall-off after.

I will look at New Case Graphs in my next post.

Case Rates

I started collecting maps of case rates in November, and continue updating every few days. Andrew Cuomo got on tv, said New York is doing well, and pitied states in the upper midwest, great plains, and Rocky Mountains that had been hit with an early outbreak in what would become our third wave. He dragged out the name of the state “Wyoming” several times, in some sort of awkward joke about other people’s suffering. I said to myself, “Cuomo’s an asshole. People need to be reminded.” And I like maps, so I started making some.

In this series of maps you can see the Wyoming spike, surges in Rhode Island, Delaware, eventually a spread into south… and the retreat, starting in the northern Plains, then the west and the midwest, leaving the southwest, south, and northeast lagging.

Because of my scale (over 25 cases per 100,000, over 50, over 75, etc) something is missed. Anything at 25 or over indicates community spread. So that pale yellow is not as bad as deep orange, but it is still bad. And now, as we are on the downward slope, I wish I had distinguished between 40 (NY is at 46 cases per 100,000) and 30. The map doesn’t tell you this: New York State has the second highest case rate in the country, and is coming down more slowly than anywhere else.

November 22. Huge spike in the Dakotas. New York’s numbers are lower – barely in the community spread range.

December 2. Spike is falling off. Rising numbers in Midwest and Appalachia.

December 15. Numbers rising in the southwest, lower midwest, southeast, northeast. New York’s numbers are rising, but not like its neighbors.


January 1. Decline in the northern Plains. Near peak in the southwest and south. Northeast is steady.

January 15. High numbers in Arizona. Surges in the southeast, northeast. New York stands out, but is still near the bottom of the range (maybe 10th in the country). But the direction is bad.

February 1. Numbers are declining pretty much everywhere. More than a dozen states are below 25 cases per 100,000 (threshold for community spread). Higher rates in the south and northeast. New York is starting to stand out.

Third wave is ending. Numbers are declining everywhere. NY at 46 cases per 100,000 is second highest in the country, and declining more slowly than all other states. New York and South Carolina are the only states with worse numbers today than they had in mid-November.


I’m taking a look at New Case Graphs – there’s a lot to look at. I’m hoping for later this week.

For now, let me leave you with a few New Case graphs. How does New York’s graph compare to the US as a whole, and to our neighbors Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.

Why does New York show no post-Thanksgiving and post-Christmas dips? Why have we only fallen to our post-Thanksgiving level? – and not the early November level that the rest of the country has returned to? And why are we still at 60% of our third wave peak? – and not at 50% like Penna., 40% like the country as a whole, or 30% like Massachusetts?

Why are our new cases remaining so high, even as the third wave recedes? What’s going wrong in New York? For next time.


The Day After NYC Freedom Day

February 13, 2021 pm28 4:45 pm

My birthday story

Last week I turned 57. And in class, I told kids a meandering story. It started with my birthday, but it went other places. And it had a Big Point, which I got to at the end, though it took a while to get there.

Growing up I listened to a Thanksgiving song. It began on Thanksgiving, but it meandered. And it had a Big Point at the end, though it took a while to get there.

Now I’m not good enough to copy Alice’s Restaurant. Not even a pale imitation. I certainly can’t sing, though Arlo to be perfectly honest doesn’t really sing his song either. But I think my Big Point was a good Big Point (so was Arlo’s) and hope that makes up for my overlong story.

Anyhow, here’s the story I told, some full text, some outline… meandering freely and widely… until I get to Freedom Day.

Born 2/4/64 – kind of cool, all powers of 2. 2^1/2^2/2^6 – does that predict me being a math teacher? Nah. There were a lot of people born that day, and most are probably not math teachers. (Kid looked it up, 385,000 each day. I calculated, population was under 4 billion when I was born, under 8 billion today, so maybe half that number – 200,000?)

I was born in Grace-New Haven Hospital (my mom won’t see this, but if she did she would quickly object that it was Yale-New Haven, but I have my baby book, and in her handwriting it says Grace-New Haven). Yale didn’t get its name on the place for another year. I did hold up my baby book as a prop, and marvel at all the details my mother recorded. All the presents I got for being born. First foods, first words. When I held my head up, turned over, crawled… Even a little chart that tracked my sleeping and eating and other bodily functions. That happens with a first child. My sister’s baby book starts when she was born, but the next entry a year later is a short sentence: “Rebecca turned one today”…

So New Haven, Connecticut. But it used to be just New Haven. New Haven was its own colony, separate from Connecticut (which my students learned about a couple years back, but, to be honest, most forgot.)  New Haven was founded by some serious puritans – all religion and business. We think of hard-core religion going along with rightwing politics, but at the time they were the radicals, sort of, or they had been.

After the restoration of the monarchy in England puritans were on their heels. The new king was Charles II. Not Charles I. Charles I had been executed. Tried and executed. Dozens of people signed his death warrant. And Charles II when he came to power, went after them. The most prominent, Oliver Cromwell, was already dead. Charles dug him up and hung the corpse. Others fled to the Netherlands.

Charles I’s Death Warrant. Cromwell and Whalley signed at the bottom of the first column

And some fled to the North American colonies. When Massachusetts couldn’t protect regicides (king killers) New Model Army General Edward Whalley and his son-in-law Colonel William Goffe, they joined another regicide, John Dixwell, who was already in New Haven, where the hardcore puritans were deeply anti-monarchist, and gladly sheltered them. When British agents came close, they hid in a jumble of rocks on a hill in the northwest of New Haven – the hill is called West Rock. While at the cave they were brought food by locals, including Richard Sperry.

Today the trail on West Rock is the Regicides Trail. The rock jumble is called Three Judges Cave. The short Broadway in New Haven branches into Whalley Avenue, Goffe Street, and Dixwell Avenue. And I went to school with Susan Sperry, whose great-great-great…

But the New Haven I was born in was not a puritan bastion. There had been huge Irish immigration in the middle of the 19th Century.

In the later part of 19th Century and the start of the 20th Century there was a huge Italian immigration. But that’s not fully right. It wasn’t immigrants from every corner of Italy – immigration came largely from one region in the south – Calabria. And then I talked about the language/dialect/accent. We say “Galabrayze”. I showed the kids a sign from Sally’s Appiza, and made them guess which letter is silent (the second A, no one got it). I told them about Bob, who pointed at a menu in a restaurant when he was a kid, and asked his mother what “Manicotti” was. “Bobby, that’s manigot!”

At the same time there was Jewish immigration from eastern Europe. Also not fair. Not really all of eastern Europe – but focused on the Polish governates of the Russian empire, and on part of the Ukraine. That’s where my family came in – one side from each of those regions. But we are still not ready to fast forward to me being born.


At the start of the 20th Century there was Black migration from the South. Well, we can be more accurate.  Black migration to New Haven was mostly from North Carolina.

And then in the 50s and 60s people moved to New Haven from Puerto Rico (I don’t know if the immigration was primarily from a single region or district).

1940’s neighborhoods, left, and population drop in the second half of the 20th C, right

Now, we are in New York. New York City is much bigger. People, in the same immigrant waves, came from different regions in their places of origin. But at first they lived with people from their particular district or region or country. And over time they blended with others… except, for the most part, Blacks. That’s not really a choice – but was imposed by the government – through whites-only suburbs, Blacks-only public housing, redlining and other restrictions on mortgages.  We will come back to this.

Redlining, NYC

The 1960s were a tumultuous decade. But one year stands out – you could teach a whole course about it. (My students knew – 1968). We listed some big events. Assassination of MLK. Assassination of Bobby Kennedy. Mexico City (showed off my laptop’s wallpaper – Tommy Smith and John Carlos and Peter Norman). Prague. French May. But 1964 was a pretty interesting year too. The March on Washington had just occurred (I showed photos, talked about the organizer Bayard Rustin). One quarter of a million people converged on DC. That’s huge. The Civil Rights Act. I talked about “One Night in Miami” and pointed out that while the conversations were fictional, most of the events they (Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke) referred to happened a few weeks before or after I was born.


Before the tyranny of zip codes and 2 letter state codes, this is how we abbreviated Pennsylvania


So here we are. 1964. March on Washington has just happened. Housing has been segregated by government policy. And schools in NYC, following housing patterns are segregated. Separate. And unequal. There are vocational and academic high schools in NYC. There are no academic high schools in Black neighborhoods. When there are cutbacks, they don’t hit academic high schools. Double sessions. The physical condition of Black schools is inferior. Not enough bathrooms in some. Repairs not made. Legally enforced segregation had been made illegal – but northern segregation was not written in law books, and was exempt.

And half a year after the March on Washington, Bayard Rustin and others in New York City organized Freedom Day. Students boycotted New York City schools, one day, February 3, one day before I was born. A one-day boycott for school integration. And while the March on Washington had a quarter of a million, Freedom Day had almost half a million. Not in the history books, but it happened. 480,000 students.

Half a million at an action for Civil Rights? That is tremendous. An amazing success! Not really. What happened? Studies. Thinking. Commissions. Almost three generations later, segregation remains in NYC, maybe the worst in the country.

So here it is. Maybe you’ll remember my powers of two birthday. But I’m hoping some of you remember the day before, February 3, 1964. Freedom Day in New York City.

And one more: After three generations, are we being patient? Why? If someone asks you to be patient, but they really are asking you to be quiet because they don’t plan on doing anything…

On the day, I went on long, but I allowed quite a bit of back and forth. In some classes there were other tangents – they come so naturally to me. It was too much to take all of it in. This is not the stuff I know how to teach. But Freedom Day? I think most kids got that. And I got some requests for more information. And some thank yous. I got this one five minutes after my first class:

Happy Birthday! Thank you for being such a great math teacher and thank you for taking the time to teach us about Freedom Day. I always look forward to your classes and I am really happy to be your student. I hope you have a great day :)

And, having read that note, I did.

Abel Meeropol, author of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” mentioned by UFT

February 12, 2021 pm28 7:38 pm

I get this newsletter in my email. And it is true. But maybe a bit incomplete.

Abel Meeropol was a member of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) – but not in 1937 when he wrote “Bitter Fruit” (Billie Holiday first sang it two years later, as “Strange Fruit” and it became a signature song.) The UFT did not yet exist. Meeropol was a member of the Communist-led New York Teachers Union (TU). Not only that, it was the TU that  published the poem in its newsletter. Before I continue, if you do not know the song – go listen to the song. If you do not know the words,

Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees
Pastoral scene of the gallant South
The bulgin’ eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burnin’ flesh
Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather
For the wind to suck
For the sun to rot
For the tree to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

(the link is to a website with some more history, and annotations)

So this poem was first published in 1937 in “The New York Teacher” – not the UFT newspaper, but the NYC Teacher Union magazine. The TU was red-baited out of existence, but in any case was never the bargaining agent for all NYC teachers. The TU was actually still around in 1960 when the UFT was founded, but the TU members joined the UFT, and the TU closed up shop in 1964. And at that time (I’m guessing 1960) Abel Meeropol joined the UFT.

There’s got to be culture shock, in a lot of ways. One that jumps out is going from an organization that is essentially anti-war, to the UFT, led by “state department socialists” – including Albert Shanker, well-known for his early, vocal support of the Vietnam War. Former TU members opposed him. I do not know what year Meeropol retired (he was 65 in ’68) or whether he was actively opposed to pro-war Shanker, but he may well have been. Eventually the UFT did change position and oppose the war. But the legacy remains. Eleven years ago I attended the AFT Convention in Seattle, and was horrified to read two resolutions, giving the AFT’s justification-in-advance for sanctions against Cuba and war against Iran. In a fitting twist, the pro-war “socialist” who wrote them now runs the Shanker Institute.

But when I saw Abel Meeropol’s name, I did not first think of the TU, or of DeWitt Clinton HS (a few blocks from me) where he taught English (and where James Baldwin was one of his students). No, I thought of the boys he adopted. Anne and Abel Meeropol adopted Robert and Michael, and Robert and Michael adopted the Meeropol name. They were the children of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Not only did the government execute the boys’ parents, but they did nothing as campaigns to identify and harass the children succeeded in plastering their photos across front pages, and forcing them out of school. The Meeropol’s gave the boys a home, a new name, and protected them.

There was an article about Robert and Michael, and it opens with Abel, published last month in Current Affairs. I’m copying the first four paragraphs, a teaser. You should go read the whole thing.

The left would go crazy over Jewish American dissidents Abel and Anne Meeropol if they were alive today. Their tale is a radical epic so poignant that one wonders where the 10-part miniseries is. It covers a range of contemporary themes: children separated from parents, the political persecution of dissidents, and social justice warriors doing battle against a racist, xenophobic, increasingly fascistic America.

It’s a story so fantastical, and containing so many celebrated names, that it’s hard to believe it hasn’t stuck better into the mainstream. Then again, a tale involving judicial executions on fake charges of espionage and the heroism of Jewish and Black radicals probably wouldn’t get the prestige TV greenlight. The only way the Meeropols’ story would get approved by network executives is if it were pitched by someone like Aaron Sorkin—who would no doubt fill his script with speechifying neoliberals.

While Hollywood isn’t going to tell the real story of the Meeropols anytime soon, if I were to make that TV series, I would open it on a party scene in the front parlor of a Brooklyn brownstone. The room is decorated for Christmas. The house belongs to Black socialist and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois. It’s December 1953.

At the party, perhaps standing off to the side of the partygoers, is the poet-songwriter Abel Meeropol (also known by his pen name, Lewis Allan), the author of famous anti-lynching song, “Strange Fruit.” He stands beside his wife, Anne Meeropol, a public school teacher and union organizer. They are waiting patiently for the orphaned sons of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg to arrive. Abel and Anne are going to be their new parents…

There’s more. You should click and read.

It was a good reminder, in the Team HS Newsletter, about Abel Meeropol. It was a reminder about his artistic contribution to the anti-lynching movement, an earlier incarnation of the current movement against officially sanctioned violence agains Black folks (including #BLM). And a reminder about protecting children, at least for those of us who know how he and Anne protected the Rosenberg boys.

I am going to close this post by making donations to the Rosenberg Fund for Children, which supports children whose parents have been targeted as progressive activists, and also children who themselves have been targeted… and to Mothers Against Police Brutality. And I urge you to do the same.


Karen Lewis 1953 – 2021

February 8, 2021 pm28 10:41 pm

This is not an obituary. I could not do her justice. But one summer I flew to Chicago then on to Minneapolis, and while in Chicago I spoke (indirectly) to Karen, and in Minneapolis I met her, and it makes a little story. Here’s how I told it, the evening after the one and only time I met Karen Lewis.

AFT Convention 2016 – Meeting the President

JULY 21, 2016 PM31 12:40 PM

Not that one. Obama’s not here in Minneapolis. And not the next one – she left. And not the AFT President. I’ve met Randi many times before, argued with her, agreed with her, e-mailed, etc. And not Mulgrew, we’ve met.

This is the story of how I met the President of AFT Local 1, the Chicago Federation of Teachers, Karen Lewis.

OK, so I could have walked up to her and said hello, but my story is a little more convoluted.

Four days ago, before the AFT Convention, I was in Chicago, debating Fred Klonsky. Actually, I was staying with Fred and Anne. But little debates broke out. Yankees vs Cubs. Hillary vs Jill.

But our strangest debate was about the relative importance of Belief vs Acts in Judaism. Both Fred and I have tenuous links, not enough to claim expertise. Anne suggested we ask Karen. So we did. Fred texted her a series of questions. Each of which she answered with a question. Quite appropriate, we thought.

So I’m off to Minneapolis and Fred says I have to meet Karen. The first day I look a little for her, but don’t really know where to look. I don’t find her. Fred texts, says Karen expects me.

I look harder Day 2. Still don’t find her. I start introducing myself to Chicago delegates, and asking “Where’s Karen?”  At drinks that evening I meet Michelle Gunderson (we’ve been tweeting/retweeting each other). Fred is a good calling card with Michelle (really, with all the Chicago people). And the fact that we won seats in NYC, people get that this is a big deal. Anyhow, Michelle tells me that Karen has not been in for all of the sessions, but that she will contact me when Karen is available.

Next morning I go to contact Michelle – can’t message her. Hmmph. But as I walk out, I see her, and we exchange numbers. Session proceeds.

It Unfolds

At 11:34 I got a message “Meet me at mic 5 so we can introduce you to Karen” I dropped my phone, mid-tweet, left the computer open on a letter I was writing. The mics are spread around the room, I checked, 5 was behind me, towards the back. I briskly walked over. Michelle smiled, said “he’s going to take you to Karen.” There was a CTU delegate who I had met briefly the day before. He headed off, with me half a step behind. We reached the far side of the floor. “Over there, she’s waiting for you” and he motioned up the aisle. He turned away.

I walked 15 steps to two people, standing in the aisle. I said hello as Karen turned to me, and introduced myself. Here I am, speaking to the president of a fighting local, sort of a teacher union hero, and we proceed to chat about militant unionism?  Nope. Prayer (dovening) and the Lubavitch. I even forget to wish her happy birthday. Schmuck.

But that’s how I met Karen Lewis.

Notes from Tom Frieden – the Virus is Winning

January 10, 2021 pm31 12:04 pm

This Friday Tom Frieden, former head of the CDC, and former NYC health commissioner, published a sobering twitter thread about the US, NYC, and the virus. Without further comment:


Covid Epi Weekly: Humanity vs Virus – the Virus is Winning Perfect storm: 1. Uncontrolled spread in most of US, 2. Slow vaccine rollout, 3. Worrisome mutations increase transmissibility and could undermine diagnostic testing, antibody treatment and vaccine efficacy. 1/thread

A misleading narrative suggests that uncontrolled spread of Covid shows that public health measures don’t work. The plain truth: most places didn’t stick with the program long enough to get cases to a manageable level and now masking and distancing aren’t being done reliably. 2/

So yes, if you don’t use masks correctly and consistently, they don’t work. And vaccines don’t work if people don’t take them. CDC data getting ever more available and useful; Covid Tracking Project remains invaluable. 3/
Analysis & updates | Record Hospitalizations Point to Trouble in California and the South: This…
Record high cases, hospitalizations, deaths–with continued increases. There’s a 1-2 week lag between cases and hospitalizations and hospitalizations and deaths. Expect continued increases in deaths. Scaling up antibody treatment might help, but, like vaccines, rollout botched. 4/


How stressed are hospitals? New tool with HHS data shows % of beds with Covid patients, which is more reliable than % of ICU beds filled; ICU beds can be added more easily than hospital beds (convert surgical recovery suites, anesthesia rooms, etc). Anything >15-20% is bad. 5/


But it’s not limitation of beds that’s most dangerous, it’s limitation of staff. Health care workers are exhausted, at risk, relief months away, no reinforcements likely to arrive from other parts of the country. Great that vaccines getting rolled out. 6/
Why do some parts of country have much more Covid than others? Rates of hospitalization range 4-10-fold among states. Fundamentally: Opening too soon, leading to rapid resurgence Failure to distance and mask Failure to find and stop outbreaks Bad luck – superspreading events. 7/


In most places, public health measures didn’t fail, they weren’t applied. To a striking degree, this breaks down along partisan lines. Look at Staten Island. The northern part, which is poorer and more Black and Latinx, has worse health outcomes and shorter life expectancy. 8/

But southern Staten Island, which is richer, whiter, & regularly votes Republican, has higher rates of Covid, including higher test positivity (~15% vs.~10%). Similar differences, generally, between southern/northern California and US South and North. 9/
We take vacations but the virus doesn’t. Good thread from YYG; we are nowhere near herd immunity. As Josh Lederberg used to say, microbes outnumber us: it’s our brains against their numbers. Places like VT, Oregon doing much better than others. 10/
Reporter asked why Ca doing as badly as Texas despite more restrictions. Faulty premises. If Texas had California’s death rate, 8,120 dead Texans would be alive today. And places in California haven’t masked, distanced. Societal failure to implement public health measures. 11/
PCR test positivity rates are increasing steadily in 12-17-year olds and in 5-11-year-olds, these ages now highest of any age groups. Although imperfect, positivity rates are important to track. Not a good trend. Seeding of the virus throughout communities and the country. 12/


SECOND concerning trend: slow vaccine rollout. Some understandable–new vaccine, difficult storage. Some incompetence–run like grocery delivery not vaccination campaign, failure to support state/local microplans. Even for a competent government this would have been hard, and….13/


Grocery delivery: temperature, restocking cadence. Vaccination program: community engagement, detailed microplanning of who will vaccinate, where, when, how, and two-way communication, identification of trusted messengers and messaging in every community. 14/

Most important, least known documents re vaccination, buried. 1. Checklist 2. Action: 3. HCW We put together materials on how to plan for and communicate about Covid vaccination. 15/
Communication Strategy for COVID-19 Vaccines: The Essential Checklist | Prevent Epidemics
Some plain talk on vaccines. They’re stunningly effective and, so far, reassuringly safe. Allergic reactions to Pfizer vax: 11 per million, 70% among people with a history of anaphylaxis or allergy. Among people without such a history, about 1/500,000 16/
Allergic Reactions Including Anaphylaxis…
As of January 3, 2021, a total of 20,346,372 cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and 349,246 associated deaths have been reported in the United States.



Operation Warp Speed: Stop hoarding vaccines!!! No need to hold back half. Get them out fast. Although it’s possible manufacturers will miss their production targets, that’s a lesser risk than not flooding the zone ASAP with vaccines. Jeez. 17/

We should move to Phase 1C1 ASAP (like, today)–all 65+, all health workers, all nursing home residents/staff, frontline essential workers. Good information on how to promote vaccination. Bottom line: focus on making it convenient and the movable middle 18/
Beyond Politics — Promoting Covid-19 Vaccination in the United States | NEJM
Medicine and Society from The New England Journal of Medicine — Beyond Politics — Promoting Covid-19 Vaccination in the United States
Hint: same folks not likely to wear masks not likely to get vaccines. Need to segment market and target messages to different groups. Focus on getting back to normal. Protecting jobs. Protecting our families. Despite rocky start, we’re making real progress – 7M vax given. 19/
Lots of unknowns re AZ/Oxford vaccine. Maybe less likely to give “sterilizing immunity”. Studies urgently needed on prime/boost approach to see if higher protective efficacy confirmed. Reassuring fewer serious infections and no serious adverse events. 20/
Oxford–AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine efficacy
2020 has been a difficult year for all, but has seen 58 vaccines against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) be developed and in clinical trials,1 with some vaccines report…
But…if it turns out that we have vaccines that are 70% effective vs 95% effective, it’s going to raise terrible questions. Scientific knowledge should be public domain, and walk-in rights for making the best vaccines for the most people are a moral imperative. 21/
Now, THIRD, if uncontrolled spread and slow rollout didn’t alarm you…new strains of virus. At first I thought maybe the UK was blaming mutations for sloppy public health work – but no. Strain is more transmissible. Not inevitable that it will spread in the US, but likely. 22/
I’ve never seen an epidemic curve like this. If strain becomes common in US, close to worst-case scenario, w/ baseline of full hospitals. (Not worst case: Covid CFR ~1/200. Worst case 1/10.) Potential for perfect storm especially with political turmoil and leadership vacuum. 23/
UK and Ireland deeply concerning. In just a few weeks, from less than 1 in 10 new strain to nearly 1 in 4 (Ireland) and half (London). Need more data, and relaxation of indoor restrictions undoubtedly helped the virus spread, but the trend is ominous. 24/
Sample shows one in four Covid-19 cases in Ireland last week were UK variant, Holohan told govern…
The CMO wrote to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly on Tuesday regarding the current Covid-19 situation.
Let’s be clear: new strains emerge. B.1.1.7 more transmissible so will cause more infections, hospitalizations, deaths. Strains may emerge that make testing less accurate, treatment less helpful and vaccines less effective. B117 is a shot across the bow. Covid here for years. 25/
We’ve failed at controlling Covid in US. If more infectious strain takes hold we’ll have to do much better. No avoidable indoor exposures. Maybe, better masks. We should definitely not change vaccine schedule now, but if we get a UK-like situation, this has to be considered. 26/
We have another 11+ days of absent leadership and active undermining of public health measures to save lives. These days are so very dangerous, for so many reasons, including the potential for exponential growth of the B.1.1.7 strain. 27/
Many years ago, Senator Moynihan said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” That should not be too much to ask. We need to get back to that perspective, urgently, to protect ourselves and our families. 28/
Long but must-read article. As I think about 2020, I mourn the 400K+ (right number considering excess mortality) deaths in US, many/most preventable. But I can never forget–and do not want to forget–the horrific, lynching-like killing of George Floyd. 29/
How COVID-19 Hollowed Out a Generation of Young Black Men
They were pillars of their communities and families, and they are not replaceable. To understand why COVID-19 killed so many young Black men, you need to know the legend of John Henry.
“Concern for man and his fate must always form the chief interest of all technical endeavors. Never forget this in the midst of your diagrams and equations.” – Albert Einstein End/thread


Surge Since New Years

January 9, 2021 pm31 2:23 pm

Nationally there was a dip in new cases after Thanksgiving (New York State did not experience that dip; we have special leadership). But after Christmas the numbers have roared back. We are currently seeing a surge that is steeper than the spring (once the unreported cases are factored in.)

7 Day moving averages, for the US, NY, NJ, CT, MA:

Source: Worldometer

And we have not not yet felt the effects of B.1.1.7, the new COVID-19 variant that is now ripping through England, Scotland and Wales. The Kent Variant (need a better name) transmits much more quickly than what we currently have. And it has arrived on these shores. It is just a matter of time.

Yes, there are vaccines. There is light at the end of the tunnel. But there is a real danger that things will get worse, significantly worse, first.

An ugly point that should be made – new cases go up first – serious cases go up later – deaths go up later. This sequence is made worse when hospitals reach actual capacity – but the amplification can occur before, as the strain on the health care facility grows.

Cases per 100,000 population, daily, from December 31, up until January 8 (yesterday):

December 31:

January 1:

January 2:

January 3:

January 5:

January 7:

January 8:

Source: NPR Coronavirus by the Numbers (data originally from Johns Hopkins)

For a late November – late December time series (four maps) see this NY State is an Outlier post.

I think the mottled pattern in the final map reflects rapid, uneven spread, with uneven testing and reporting. With steady spread, the numbers move slowly, and regions appear to move together.


Cuomo’s Dishonest Math

January 7, 2021 pm31 3:12 pm

Pitcher is getting shelled. “When you going to take him out?!?!” scream the fans. The manager says “when they have more hits than at bats” Huh? He just said he’s never taking the pitcher out. Idiot. And dishonest. Hits are never more than at bats. Why not just say what he means?

Repression’s getting bad in a far off country. People ask an NGO when they are getting added to a watch list. “When the number arrested is greater than the population” They just said they’re never adding the country. The number arrested can’t be more than the total population.Idiots. And dishonest.

A kid seems to be in the wrong level of a class. He is doing poorly on every assignment, every test. “We should move him back a level” – but the AP answers “we can move him if he gets more questions wrong than there are questions on the test.” She just said that she’s never moving the kid. The number wrong can never exceed the total number of questions. Idiot. Dishonest.

COVID is going up in NYC. When will they close schools. Cuomo says “when the rate in school is higher than the rate in the community” Huh? He just said he’s never closing schools.

Think about it. Who has the highest rates?

  1. People with symptoms
  2. People who have been exposed to others who are positive
  3. People who have recently traveled
  4. Random people

In the community, all four groups get tests. In fact, categories 2 and 3 get a lot of tests.

In schools, category 1 does not get in the front door. Category 2 and 3 are not supposed to get in.

So when will a random sample of people without symptoms who have not recently been exposed have a higher positivity rate than a random group that includes people with symptoms and recent exposure? Never. Dishonest idiot.

“In a reversal, Governor Andrew Cuomo will now allow schools in all counties to remain open even if the seven-day positivity rate for COVID-19 within those counties exceeds 9%, long considered the state’s threshold to close schools.”



January 6, 2021 pm31 8:22 pm

A friend grew up in another country’s capital. There was political tension. One morning the tv was buzzing. There were tanks out the window. Good, he thought, no school.

He was right – there were some days off. The coup succeeded. Officials were fired. Leaders were executed. And life resumed.

By the way, the coup plotters were homegrown. Locals. But they were trained by a foreign power, a beacon of democracy. And they acted because the government had created a link to the other, evil, great power.

It seems, as I think about coups over the last 75 years, an awful lot of them were instigated, or even orchestrated, in Washington DC. But none of them took place there. And I thought none ever would. Until today.

Frankly, I was surprised by Trump’s video statement – because he told them to go home. This could have been much worse.

No credit, to him, of course. It is not clear to me what consequences he faces. But I’m guessing it’s a lot clearer to him. He’s a bully. And most bullies are cowards.

I watched too much tv today. TV news is addictive. I’m glad I usually skip it. But today…  I’m about to stand up and walk away. It’s been hours.

Side note: quite a few reporters use set “catch-phrases.” You should stop. Combine words with the meanings you want them to have. Oh, and “extraordinarily surreal”? Really? As opposed to “typically surreal”? And finally – the electoral college – sacred? Calling a government institution “sacred” is profane. And calling a racist, reactionary… I made my point.

Some Questions for 2021

January 6, 2021 am31 1:09 am

If you are reading this, you might know me. And if you know me, you know I can ask questions that are not really questions. That’s not these.

Real questions for the New Year (in the order in which I expect us to learn the answers)

November – January: How will the national elections turn out?

  • January 5 – what happens in the Georgia Senate runoffs? 2 Republicans, 2 Democrats, or split?

If the Democrats win both, I do not expect that Schumer plans to win any votes 51 – 50. They will more likely try to return to business as usual, and forge some agreements not to go full-on obstructionist in the future. If the Republicans win either one, they very well might defeat stuff 51-49 or 52-48… but I think they also may want to move away from full-on obstructionism. Certainly their distancing themselves from Trump make that seem possible. Anyhow, I started writing on Sunday, and I’m wrapping this up Tuesday evening. There’s definitely a slight edge for the democrats, but it is way too early to tell. Plus, in this instant, the actual lead is split.

(finally posting, almost three hours later, and the lead is still split, but it looks like both Democrats will win.)

  • Will the threatened Electoral College Certification Disruption Amount to Anything? January 6
  • Will there be disruption at the inauguration? I’m asking about scary violence, not peaceful pickets. January 20

When will New York City Schools close?

It’s a weird question, because all of our schools are open. Buildings are closed. And all of our high school buildings and middle school buildings are already closed. And many elementary school buildings are (temporarily) closed.

But yesterday Cuomo announced, for all practical purposes, that he would never shut our schools. And while Mulgrew challenged him (finally!), the line he drew in the sand was pretty distant.

Nonetheless, there is a new variant of the virus. It is in New York State. New York’s numbers continue to rise. The post-Thanksgiving surge never stopped (only state in the country where it never stopped), and now Christmas and New Years are starting to factor in.

I think it is 50/50 that the rest of NYC’s school buildings will be shut later this month.

By the way, safety is a real issue. But there is another, perhaps more compelling. Opening the buildings sucks up a large amount of our resources, of teachers days, of administrative time, of planning time – but only about 10% of teaching and learning are happening there – the vast majority is happening on line. Many schools chose to teach 100% remotely – and more would have, if the chancellor hadn’t prevented them.

The open buildings are a public relations ploy. It disrupts teaching, and endangers children and adults. We need to make sure that kids have devices – better than what was distributed in the spring. We need to guarantee them internet access, wifi. We need the DoE to find best practices that are occurring on line, to shar them, to promote them. 90% of our reality is remote. And we need real support in the remote world, as do our students. Instead the DoE wastes precious resources for what is essentially political propaganda.

What will happen with the vaccines?

  • How long will it take to get distribution going?
  • What kind of snafus will occur? (We are already seeing some of that in NYC).

When will most people be vaccinated? What about those who don’t want it? (forget the nutso anti-vaxxers – think about people who have a political agenda). And what about people like me, who think it is a good thing, but do not want to be at the head of the line?

  • And, right, do we think the vaccines will work? (Probably)
  • When will we know? (good question – in a month or two?)

When will progressives realize that Biden is absolutely not progressive?

Some of them already know. There will be frustration with health care, with spending, almost from the get go. But it may take the first foreign policy crisis for it to hit home. With Biden we have a return to an aggressive, interventionist foreign policy. No credit for Trump here. He was aggressive, and dangerous. But when it comes to sending in troops, he was no Bush, or Obama (or what Clinton would have been). With some luck it will take a year before we notice – but who knows if we will have any luck.

There is a another subgroup of progressives who will realize earlier – progressive educators. All of us are glad to be rid of DeVos and her privatization schemes. She was awful, although not particularly effective. And Biden did not go with a Democrat for Education Reform, and that is good. We did not want a return to Arne Duncan. But we get a Secretary and an administration that are not going to bring us away from standardized testing, that are not going to move away from test-score linked teacher evaluations. They will not promote charter schools the way the past three administrations did, but nor will they undo the damage already done. Our union’s leadership will be fine with Biden/Cardona, but they are wrong on testing, on evaluation, and on charters. We will find this frustrating. When will we know? If Biden/Cardona reject waivers from testing mandates this spring, there will be a bunch of quickly-disillusioned progressive teachers.

When will people realize that Biden is pretty liberal for a centrist?

The rabid right and Trump’s loyalest followers think he’s a socialist. Not true. But the New York Times and the Centrist Democrats think they got themselves one of theirs. They did, but not 100%. He’s pretty liberal for a centrist. He’s to the left of the last three Democratic nominees. He’s going to push the envelope on what they think is acceptable on spending, on infrastructure, on health care, maybe even on police reform and criminal justice reform.

With all the focus on COVID for now, it might take the Times a while to realize, but before the year is done, they will. With some luck, they’ll be forced to figure it out in the first 100 days. But given the year we just had, I’m not counting on having any good luck.

Will I retire?

That’s a June decision. I don’t want to. But this has been an exhausting year. Leaning? No. But if a buyout came, and the money was substantial, that might make up my mind for me.

Does COVID go out with a bang, with a whimper, or does it make a tactical retreat?

The number of COVID cases in the US is at its peak, and about to go up more. People are indoors, congregating for the holidays, and tired of isolation. But as poor as the prognosis looks for the next few weeks, there is progress. Treatment is far better than last spring, and the mortality rate is far lower. Vaccines have been approved, and are starting to be distributed. It is possible we go from 60 to 0 virtually overnight (not next week, but perhaps late in the Spring?). Biden could declare July 4 a national day of Thanksgiving…

  • Does the weather warm, the vaccines get distributed, and one day, even in March, April or May, all of a sudden, it’s like there are almost no more cases?
  • Or do the numbers go down, and go down, and but does COVID hang around, still a threat, albeit smaller, and then, gradually, over the summer, it gets really low, and it’s still infecting people in September, but there’s no new spike, or surge…
  • Or do the numbers go down quickly, and do we think we have won, only to face a new variant or strain in October?

I think we will keep reevaluating the situation, but we should have a first idea by April, and then real confirmation (or bad news) in the fall.

How will climate change manifest itself in 2021?

I wonder if it will be another crazy hurricane season. 2020 broke records. But who knows? We will see. I’m pretty sure we will see something.

Movie Theaters, Broadway Shows, Sporting Events?

  • When will they return? I’m guessing late spring, or summer.
  • How will they return? Limited capacity? plexiglass between seats?
  • Will I return?

Man, I miss the movies. And Yankees games. And hockey (after another spin around the sun). I miss my students’ PSAL events. And I would go to those – at least the outdoor ones. But the others? I really do miss the movies, but I don’t know.

Are masks and not shaking hands permanent changes?

I have no idea when we will know. I don’t hate the masks – outdoors, in winter, when they actually provide a bit of warmth. And our air is bad. Maybe getting one with a good filter…

But no, no idea. And no idea when we will know.

Will they close school buildings in NYC in January?

January 3, 2021 am31 4:14 am

There are so many issues with the QUESTION!

Schools are open – the question is about the buildings

Notice “school buildings”? That’s because our schools have remained open, and will remain open, for remote instruction.

High Schools and Middle Schools are open –
but those buildings are closed and will remain closed.

Also, high school and middle school buildings were closed before break, and will remain closed for the foreseeable future (probably not up for real reconsideration until February). So we are really only talking about half the schools in NYC. Oh, and also, even if that half are open, as we saw in December, many of them get closed because – well – COVID-19. So maybe we are asking “will they open 30 – 40% of the school buildings in NYC?”

New York State counts funny (their counts are low)

Then there is the New York State guideline – at 9% positive, schools close. The City’s numbers have just climbed past 9%. So will schools be closed on Monday???  Wait a second. New York State calculates the positive rate differently, nd the State’s numbers are still under 6% for NYC. So maybe schools will be open.

Low counting or not, New York State is not doing well

New York State. The Gold Standard in combatting COVID. Well, no. New York was the global epicenter of COVID in April. And today New York is the only state to have new cases keep climbing without a dip since Thanksgiving. That doesn’t mean that Cuomo will admit his failure. He won’t. But it is food for thought.

By the way, the last few days have not made New York State look better:

Things are getting worse, not better.

Can we see how quickly the case rate is rising in NYC?

But that does raise the issue, if NYC says the positive rate is 9.4%, and New York State says 5.8%, but the numbers are going up, what is the trend? Let’s look.

Here are the zipcodes the City says have been over 9% for 14 days (as of last Tuesday)

Here are the zipcodes the City says have been over 9% for 7 days. Notice there’s a few more:

That’s some serious spread between two and three weeks ago.

Here is the map for “the last three days” (December 26 – 29):

That’s now a third of the City.

And finally, just looking at December 29:

That’s almost half the City. This sequence tells us what we already know – the COVID trend in NYC right now is up, and pretty fast.

The New York State numbers lag, but not too much

So if the NY State numbers are at 5.8%, that’s 5.8 and rising quickly. Getting to 9% for the State might be like getting to 13% for the City. Two weeks ago, one zipcode was there. One week ago, 6 zipcodes were over 13%. But now? 24 zipcodes in four boroughs – that’s one seventh of the city. And the Christmas “surge” has just started. Strictly using New York State numbers, the trigger will probably be reached in a week or two.

So that means schools will close? No. Not Necessarily

The trigger point may not be reached.

More worrying, de blasio indicated he might not bother following the rules. And a union spokesperson, hearing de blasio, did not complain.

How do de blasio and the UFT leadership ignore the numbers? They are so clear!

They claim that few cases are transmitted in school. They actually do not know that this is true.

Further, they ignore not the numbers, but a fact:  There are 1.1 million school children in NYC Public Schools – but on any given day fewer than 10% were in school buildings. Few kids? Very little transmission. But de blasio wants to increase five day a week in person schooling.

So, in a City where rates are soaring, the mayor wants to increase the concentration of children and adults, in spaces that mix individuals from multiple households? Yup.

The UFT leadership made the case from as early as June that with a low case rate we had an obligation to try to open school buildings. But with the rate no longer low, they still argue to open buildings. Something is seriously wrong here.

What should we do?

Please point out, gently, that this is insane. This pandemic has cost 26,000 lives in NYC, almost as high as the Spanish Flu a century ago (about 30,000). This pandemic has cost ten times as many lives as 9/11.

Talk to your colleagues. Information is our ally. Talk to your union reps – to your Chapter Leader, District Rep, Borough Rep, VP, and other officers. If they privately tell you you are right, insist that they talk to people up the chain. There needs to be more push back.

I’m not a fan of contacting elected officials – but honestly, today? any option. City Council, State Assembly, State Senate.

Get the word out, get the conversation going. The facts are on our side.


Decoding Puzzle: 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 = 3

January 2, 2021 am31 1:40 am

I found a new way to represent numbers, and multiplication with my new numbers is fine, but addition is a mess. Check it out:

0 + 0 = 1
1 + 0 = 10
2 + 0 = 100
3 + 0 = 20
1 + 1 = 2
1 + 2 = 11
1 + 3 = 101
1 + 4 = 21
10 + 0 = 2
10 + 1 = 100
10 + 2 = 1000
10 + 3 = 10000
10 + 10 = 11
10 + 11 = 20
10 + 12 + 110
1 + 1 + 1 = 11
1 + 1 + 1 + 1 = 3

Yes, these are natural numbers. Yes, addition is defined in the normal way (and is commutative). What’s going on?

Post-Thanksgiving surge is over, except in New York

December 31, 2020 pm31 2:50 pm

For the country as a whole, the surge peaked from December 8 through December 23, with the peak of the peak on December 18:

Notice the spring peak (NY, NJ, CT, MA, CA, WA, etc)  just looks like a little bump. The late-July/early-August peak happened mostly in places that did not see a spring surge (see Florida, below). And the post-Thanksgiving surge looks just like the epidemiologists told us it would.

– – — — —– ——– —– — — –

Except in New York State. In New York State, and only in New York State, the surge was there on December 8, but continues getting worse:

– – — — —– ——– —– — — –

What about New York’s neighbors? (you may want to disregard Vermont, where the rate is extremely low)

It is true that Massachusetts’ rate does not seem to be going down very much, but it is going down a little, and it is clearly not going up. The only one going up is New York.

– – — — —– ——– —– — — –

What about other states in the Mid-Atlantic?

– – — — —– ——– —– — — –

What about other states in New England? (Maine, with a relatively low rate, has plateaued, not gone down)


– – — — —– ——– —– — — –

What about other states with lots of cases?


And it’s not an Italian-American governor thing. Florida looks better than New York.

– – — — —– ——– —– — — –

And what about Wyoming?

Peaked at Thanksgiving.

The outlier is New York State.

Source: Worldometer Info


New York State is currently a rising COVID outlier in the United States

December 30, 2020 pm31 5:21 pm

COVID-19 case rates rose across the country this fall. And, in most cases, those rates peaked. In some states the peak was in mid-November. In others it was late November In others it was early December. In others it was mid-December.

But in New York State the case rate continues to rise.

Right before Thanksgiving Andrew Cuomo held a press conference. He went on and on about how well New York was doing. The big problems, he claimed, were in North Dakota and Wyoming. He said Wyoming three, four, five times. He dragged out the “O” to make it a four syllable word. To make it sound strange. He enjoyed making fun of other people.

At that moment Wyoming had a case rate of about 130 per 100,000, while New York’s was about 25 per 100,000. Now, 25 is not good. NPR has a Coronavirus by the numbers page, and draws data from Johns Hopkins and Harvard. I went to that page, and looked at the heatmap, where they indicate that 25+ indicates unchecked community spread.

It’s a good map, right? But there is a difference between 25 and 130. I made my own map, which I proceeded to update every few days. Look at how that bad rate in the upper plains dissipates, and watch as other regions’ rates rise, and then fall. That pale yellow? That’s still bad, that’s over 25.

November 22:

December 2:

December 12:

December 22:

December 29:

Does New York have the highest rate in the country? Absolutely not.

Is every state’s rate falling? Nope, 49 are falling. New York’s is still creeping upwards.

Oh, by the way. Today’s numbers? Wyoming 38, New York 54.



A counting problem, and a real problem with counting

December 28, 2020 pm31 2:10 pm

How many ways can we give eleven identical candies to four children? it is obviously possible (necessary) for some to get more than others, and there is not even a guarantee that each child gets something.

That’s equivalent to asking how many solutions there are to:

a + b + c + d = 11, a, b, c, d \in \mathbb{N} (including 0 in the natural numbers).

Now, you could give all eleven to the oldest, all eleven to the second oldest,… Or ten to the oldest and one to the second oldest, and ten to the oldest and one to the second youngest… This is going to be a long-ish list. In fact, I chose numbers just big enough that listing them would be an awkward exercise.

Solving the same problem, with smaller numbers, might help. Let’s give three candies to three kids: u + v + w = 3, u, v, w \in \mathbb{N}

Now we can make a list. I’m just writing numbers. 201 means two for the oldest, none of the middle, one for the youngest.

300, 210, 201, 120, 111, 102, 030, 021, 012, 003.

That’s ten ways.

But how do we scale this up?

One way, a common way, is to turn the numbers into a graphic. Lay the three candies out, and like the divider at the supermarket checkout, put in a physical barrier between the first kid’s loot and the second’s.  For 201 we can write ++//+. The pluses represent candies. So this is two candies for the first kid, then a divider, then another divider right away which means nothing for the middle kid, and one candy after the last divider for the littlest kid. If instead we were giving all three to the middle child, that would look like:  /+++/. Nothing for the oldest, all in the middle, nothing for the youngest.

Why are there three pluses? Three candies. Why are there only two dividers? There is one less divider than the number of kids.

So we can restate our problem as: How many arrangements are there of //+++?

Well, that’s a question with a well-known answer: \frac{5!}{3!2!} where 5! would be the arrangements of five things that are all different from each other, and 3! divides out the repetitions of +s and the 2! the repetition of /s.

A small, but important note: Any slash-plus pattern can be converted into kids and candies:  //++//++++++/+ would be 002061. And any candy-kid distribution can be converted into slashes and pluses: 222201 would be ++/++/++/++//+.

We might as well answer the original question. Eleven candies? four kids? That’s all the arrangements of eleven pluses and three slashes: +++++++++++/// which is \frac{14!}{11!3!} which is 364 ways.

– – — — —– ——– ————- ——————— ————- ——– —– — — – –

The April COVID-19 surge took John Horton Conway from us. Otherwise, he might have told us who created the Confederate monument that stands in combinatorics, that we need to take down.

Conway paid attention to credit. While on sabbatical in 2013 I took a Number Theory class with him. His historical tangents were fascinating. He not only knew who had come up with “if and only if” – but over a half century later, he was still a little jealous. And a little annoyed that his “unless and except unless” or some such, which he thought much more useful, never came into popular use. He kept track of politics, too. There was a story about a German mathematician with questionable choices of friends during the war… I often think that I should have ignored the number theory, and instead taken detailed notes on the mathematicians. The gossip-y stuff would have filled a paper, or maybe been the start of a book…

– – — — —– ——– ————- ——————— ————- ——– —– — — – –

My “pluses and slashes,” or “pluses and dividers,” I have been calling them that for a while. I privately chose not to use the more common name. John Horton Conway probably could have told me who came up with the common name – and whether they were being clever, or cute, or political.

In any case, *||**|*** for 1023 is conventionally referred to as “stars and bars” and if not an intentional Confederate monument is at least an unnecessary and unwelcome Confederate reference.

– – — — —– ——– ————- ——————— ————- ——– —– — — – –

I was talking to Sue Van Hattum yesterday, and she had not realized this, and was – rightly – horrified. She posted on Facebook. I told her I would blog about it. Which I am doing.

I checked my shelf. A dozen books on the topic, and only one reference I could find (they may be there, but unindexed). But on the web? All over the place. Lots of guides for secondary school mathematics. Texts in computer science and discrete mathematics. And some lecture notes by college professors.

bars and stars

– – — — —– ——– ————- ——————— ————- ——– —– — — – –

Where next?

  1. Get a new name
  2. Get rid of the old name

I admit that the old name “sounded” nice – it rhymed. And in comparison “pluses and slashes”? Meh. But I’ll take it. A better suggestion would be, well, better. Art of Problem Solving uses Balls and Urns (as well as the other), but that doesn’t really sound better. And it does not translate into this:  ++//++/+. I don’t see balls and urns. I see pluses and slashes. Sue suggested a relationship to 11001101, and there is a one to one correspondence, but the 0s aren’t really dividers, and I’d like to save them for something else.

And no need to wait for 1. before moving on 2. Do them both, simultaneously. Reach teachers, mathematicians, and eventually publishers? This should be easy.


Outsmarted by Michael Mulgrew

December 16, 2020 pm31 6:56 pm

I submitted a resolution to move away from blended learning last month. It was next on the agenda, 3 minutes left in the motions period, and they didn’t even tell me to get ready to speak. Mulgrew filibustered away the full 3 minutes.

So I was going to reintroduce the resolution this month.

Background – The UFT/DoE blended learning plan never made much sense pedagogically. It was going to disorganize teaching when we needed to be more organized than usual.

But until today, the UFT leadership had been strongly committed to blended learning. They adopted it as the union’s position – without ever putting it up for a vote.

So I was going to reintroduce it. But I got outsmarted.

I never got the email to submit a resolution, I thought, so I wrote to Leroy Barr and asked what was up. He told me it had been emailed on Sunday.

Sunday? What? I looked through my old emails. And found it.

The email came on Sunday. I opened it. I did not recognize it as the email to submit resolutions. Bad on me.

Here it is:

See. I got outsmarted.

Consolation prize – for the first time since May I heard Mulgrew raising some doubts about blended (it is at the root of all of our operational complaints. Well, he didn’t blame blended, he blamed the DoE for not being able to implement blended. But that’s just face-saving. This time the problem was blended, not the DoE.)

Sum of the Digits

December 14, 2020 pm31 1:03 pm

A little math puzzle.

I haven’t posted one of these in a while.

Consider the sum of the digits of three-digit numbers. For example, 311, sum is 5. 420, sum is 6. 911, sum is 11.

Try any or all of these:

  1. What is the average sum of the digits of a three-digit number?
  2. What is the most common sum of the digits of a three-digit number?
  3. How many three-digit numbers have the property that the sum of their digits is 12?

Solutions later this week (or in the comments – up to you!)

Representing the 814 - Erie Reader