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Why do these COVID maps look different?

March 30, 2021 am31 10:04 am

The first map I created, using NPR’s spread-tracking webpage. They, in turn, take their data from Johns Hopkins. The second map I found on the buzzfeed version of the widely-reported story about the CDC’s Rochelle Walensky‘s very candid comments yesterday. The map itself seems to have originated at The New York Times.

The maps look different because they are reporting different things. My map indicates if the current rate is high or low. The Times’ indicates if the rate is going up or down.

Look at Hawaii. Hawaii currently is experiencing 7 new cases daily for every 100,000 people who live there. In the US today, that’s almost the lowest rate. On my map Hawaii shows up green – my low category. But a few days ago Hawaii’s number was 4. From 4 to 7 – that’s huge increase by percentage, and the Times shows Hawaii pretty red.

Look at Idaho. Idaho’s current rate is 16 per 100,000, higher than Washington (12), Oregon (8), Nevada (9), Utah (13), Wyoming (11), and Montana (14) – all of its neighbors. But because Idaho’s numbers are still falling, it shows up green on the Times map. In fact, all of these states have significantly lower current numbers than New England and the mid-Atlantic.

Look at New Jersey. The Times shows it light red, not as bad as its neighbors. But Jersey’s numbers started higher than all of its neighbors, except New York. Even with a slower growth rate, the new case rate is 50 for every 100,000 – the second highest in the country. After New York.

Overall, the maps look similar. For those of you who like saying it this way, my map is the current proportion, the Times is the first derivative with respect to time. They do not look very different. But where there are differences, you probably want to go with me, not the other guys, especially when you consider how the other guys have covered the pandemic.

It started for me a year ago

March 30, 2021 am31 9:31 am

I didn’t even know it.

COVID was all around us, dominated the news. Schools had closed, and were now reopening remotely. I was reeling, not only from the “big picture,” but having just lost a colleague of 18 years. It was a car accident, but somehow it felt related to the pandemic. He was visiting a home-bound friend in New Jersey.

My father, 82, is the youngest son of a youngest son – and my grandfather had kids late. All my father’s cousins are older than him. Most are gone, but the rabbi in Queens, Moishe Kwalbrun, must have been mid to late 80s. I don’t think we would have recognized each other in the street. But his mother and my grandfather were sister and brother, who arrived together, with their mother, in December 1923. I used to hear about Moishe from my uncle, with whom he regularly talked philosophy and politics and probably much more.

I learned in May that Moishe died of COVID-19 at the end of March, 2020.

US Covid numbers moving in 2 directions

March 29, 2021 pm31 12:04 pm

New infections rates have dropped under 10 cases per 100,000 population (less than 1% of 1%) in a dozen states from Alabama to Oregon. That’s getting pretty low.

But in New York and New Jersey and some neighbors the number has stayed above 25, and is holding steady or rising. New Jersey, at 49 cases per 100,000 and rising, and New York, at 50 lead the country.

When I wrote that something was wrong with New York’s numbers back in December, it seemed strange. Almost no one else was noticing. The major media were oblivious, or worse (New York Times) saw the data and ignored it because it did not fit their narrative. But the shape of the curve in New York did not match the shape in the rest of country. Same wave, different impact. There must have been different facts on the ground.

Today we know that the British variant and a homegrown New York variant are big parts of the answer. I suspect that local travel patterns (lots of drivable vacation spots. Lots of second “country” homes) are also a part of the answer. And staying with class – I wonder if the service economy is just different here, with massive demand from safe/at-home office professionals for service work (delivery workers, retail workers, food delivery workers, food service workers). But the variants are the clearest part of the answer.

And all the media now knows about it. I heard about it today on NPR, and read about it in the Post. And they are questioning reopening at this moment. Fauci is warning that some states are reopening too quickly, that this is a dangerous moment.

And New York and New Jersey’s numbers are rising during a huge vaccination campaign. What would we be facing if the vaccine rollout had been slower? Were we inches from disaster? Thankfully we will never know.

And at the same time, a swath of the West, Southwest, and South is watching numbers drop well below September numbers.


  • huge spike in October/November in South Dakota and neighboring states.
  • 3rd wave begins in lead up to Thanksgiving. Post Thanksgiving surge, followed by a dip (except NY) and then another, higher surge post-Christmas and New Years.
  • 3rd wave recedes in February, but with numbers left at elevated November levels (higher in NY). NY and NJ actually plateau and stop falling.
  • Now, numbers continue to recede in most of the country – but begin to rise again in NY, NJ and their neighbors.

Look at the maps from today, mid-March, start of March, mid-Februrary, start of Februrary, mid-January, and New Years (I am showing low rates, below 10 new cases per 100,000, in green)

High School Classes Continue. High School Buildings Open.

March 21, 2021 pm31 10:52 pm

Tomorrow is the day. High schools finally …..

Reopen? Bullshit.

High schools have been open since September. Even then, the bulk of our teaching was via zoom and other remote platforms. Tomorrow, the bulk of our teaching will be via zoom and other remote platforms.

In fact today more students will be fully remote than back in September.

Because they chose to be remote.

Something ridiculously high in high schools – what, 70%? More?

In fact high schools are reporting additional families switched to remote instruction since the de Blasio/Porter announcement.

So what’s happening?  

Tomorrow all high school buildings are opening, and some minimal version of “blended learning” will engage 10-20% of high school students. Over 90% of classes will remain on-line.

All buildings will open. With 15% of students. With less than 10% of classes. de Blasio will be talking about buildings, not students or classes.

Tomorrow de Blasio is making a great show out of opening the buildings. That’s all. It is a show. Instruction will continue for most students and most teachers on line. It is a political show. He wants to say he has opened schools. It is a political boast. He likes saying “New York City was the only large school district to reopen for in-person learning in September.” Actually, that last one is Mulgrew. Also a political boast. But whichever of these two is boasting obscures the fact that despite open buildings, despite some “in-person learning” New York City has been a largely remote-instruction city for schools, and an overwhelmingly remote-instruction city for high schools for these last seven months.

Both the DoE and UFT know that tomorrow’s change will have little practical direct impact on instruction. The Department of Education was most brazen. They know this is show. Read this from them:

  • Taking into consideration the complexity of high school scheduling, schools can come up with creative and flexible programming solutions to have students in buildings as much as possible, including having students engage in remote learning while reporting to school buildings in-person.

Do you see that last phrase? “including having students engage in remote learning while reporting to school buildings in-person” Do you know what that means? The DoE wants the kid, instead of sitting at her desk in her apartment, opening her laptop and joining her classes, to sit at a desk in school, open her laptop and join her classes.

The UFT’s email to high school members 2 weeks ago, signed by Mulgrew, Janella Hinds, and Sterling Roberson, discusses testing and vaccination, and safety protocols, but nothing about instruction, or work rules related to in-person instruction. That is not an oversight. You can open this and zoom to read it:

There have been some questions since, but most I have heard were about whether teachers who teach on-line need to come to the building? (may depend on whether they teach in-person as well?)

Why should we care?

We should care because de Blasio is perpetuating a fraud. And we know. And remaining silent would be remaining complicit.

We should care because every high school administrator should have just had their actual work, which might be related to kids’ wellbeing and kids’ learning, disrupted for two weeks, to make this little show work.

We should care because even with safety protocols in place, the additional risk to staff and students is not worth having kids in a classroom, headphones on, joining classes on their laptops.

We should care because people are getting sick in NYC every day. Instead of our numbers going down, they are going up. This is a bad time to throw a few thousand more into public transport.

Mercifully, the number will not be very large – but those who end up getting sick will get little comfort from that.

Mulgrew and Porter statements seem contradictory

March 19, 2021 pm31 6:40 pm

How can they both be right?

I think that Mulgrew’s words have to be read very carefully. They have lawyers and others at 52 Broadway, I am guessing, who carefully help craft lawyerly ways of saying things. Everything written since last March has to be carefully parsed, not read at face value. Did he say something would not happen, or that he did not expect it? Did he say that something was wrong, or that the UFT would actually fight it? You can’t go by a first read. But in this case, he states details of the CDC guidance that are correct, and says it would be complicated, and that the DoE would have a lot to figure out. He does not say that the UFT would fight it. (I didn’t expect that). He does not say the UFT would fight the DoE if they violated state guidelines. (Too bad, I thought he might).

Read it yourself, see if you agree.

Vaccines up, closures down ahead of NYC middle school reopening

Meisha Porter is a new entity – and in her first meaningful act – sounds like Bill de Blasio is speaking. I’m not shocked to be disappointed, although I had hopes otherwise. And I’m a little surprised to be disappointed so swiftly. I think she is ignoring the State, and ignoring that there is no actual plan. I’m also not wild the way she addresses teachers. Lots of people make us feel like pawns, but sometimes it takes more than a week.

Read for yourself, see if you agree:

Dear Jonathan,

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention today released updated guidance saying only three feet of distance is required between students as long as everyone is wearing a mask.

While we understand that the availability of vaccines and new information have prompted policies and guidance to continually evolve, we want to consult with our trusted independent medical experts and have asked them to evaluate this new recommendation.

Once the CDC puts out recommended guidance, it’s then up to each state to decide whether or not to adopt it as policy. New York City does not have the authority to change its policy for public schools on its own. We will be working with New York State health and education officials as they decide how to proceed.

Under the updated CDC guidance, school staff must still maintain six feet of distance from other adults and from students. The guidance also says students must maintain six feet of distance in any public area, such as gyms, hallways and lunchrooms. The agency recommends keeping students and teachers in distinct cohorts throughout the day. In middle schools and high schools where community transmission is higher, the CDC advises students to stay six feet apart if cohorting is not possible.

As a public school educator, you know that it would be extremely complicated to implement such a plan in New York City public schools. The DOE would have a lot to figure out.

Our members’ safety remains our top priority, and we will continue to be guided by our medical experts as we navigate the road ahead. By letting the science guide us, we have kept our school communities safe.

We will continue to advocate for you and keep you informed of policy decisions that affect you.

Be well and be safe.

Michael Mulgrew's Signature
Michael Mulgrew
UFT President


Dear Colleagues,  

Happy Friday! I hope you are well today. 

As you may have heard, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) today announced that it is updating its recommendations for physical distancing in schools, decreasing from six feet to three feet for most students in most cases. 

This is welcome news with respect to in-person learning, allowing us to bring more students back into buildings. In response, we now plan to open another opt-in window beginning next week for all families. Our 3K, Pre-K, Elementary, and District 75 Elementary students who opt-in will begin returning to buildings in April; details to come on middle and high school student start dates. 

While this is exciting news that allows us to continue to both best serve our children and lead the nation in in-person learning, it is also a complex undertaking, and I know many of you will have questions about what this means for you. Please trust that we are actively working with our partners at the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to evaluate the CDC guidance and  provide detailed answers as soon as possible. But in the meantime, here’s what I can tell you for now:   

·         For our principals, I know you want to give your students the best chance for success. I know this will be hard work, but the reward will be on the faces of our kids when they return to buildings. Being a principal for ten years, I understand that any changes now pose major challenges, but we stand ready to support you, troubleshoot, and help any student who wants to be back in the physical classroom get there.  

·         For teachers, paraprofessionals and other in person classroom staff, we are going to consider health and safety in every single decision we make. I also understand that each school community is different, and we will be flexible and take into account the specific needs of each school as we work closely with our labor partners every step of the way.  

·         For school support and all other staffour hard-working custodial workers, food service employees, school aides, parent coordinators  thank you. From my 20 years in the DOE, I know you all are the ones who keep it all together. This has been a year unlike any other. 

One thing this year has taught us is that any time in the physical classroom is valuable. And because we still have a third of the school year left, the DOE is going to do what we have always done during the pandemic: act in the best interest of our school communities, keeping health and safety front and center.  

On a personal note, let me say that my first week as Chancellor has certainly been memorable, eventful, and uplifting! As we look forward to the reopening of our high school buildings on Monday and the opt-in opportunities going forward, I hope you will take a couple of minutes to watch this video of me describing why I am so proud to lead you and what lies ahead for us. Thank you so much, and have a wonderful weekend! 



Meisha Porter

Chancellor, New York City Public Schools


New York City Department of Education

52 Chambers Street | New York, NY 10007

Postscript – the UFT responded:


March 14, 2020

March 14, 2021 pm31 2:08 pm

One year ago today.

One year ago today was Saturday. NYC public school attendance had been plummeting. But schools were scheduled normally for Monday, March 16.

Cuomo and de Blasio were still insisting that schools stay open. Not just de Blasio, but Cuomo too. Those of you blinded by him not being batshit nuts during his press conferences, don’t forget how bad he was. And not just about nursing homes. And group homes for the developmentally disabled. March 14, 2021, the mayor and governor were insisting that schools stay open.

1199 did not want to close schools. They were concerned about how their members – crucial hospital workers – could work if they suddenly had childcare needs thrown on them. Many teachers were sympathetic. Eventually we got REC centers, but on March 14 this was very much part of the conversation.

The UFT was recommending to de Blasio that he close schools. “Recommend” is weak language, right? And that recommendation was not made until Friday March 13. Read Mulgrew’s press release. He agreed to disagree? Also, the UFT leadership started a petition on March 13 to de Blasio to close schools. It got lots of signatures, though not nearly as many as the earlier member-initiated petition to Cuomo.

Side note – it was already clear that the UFT leadership was afraid of criticizing Cuomo. This foreshadowed April, when they went ballistic when de Blasio took away Good Friday, but Mulgrew told members to suck it up when Cuomo stole Spring Break.

I have heard some confusion about Mulgrew threatening to go to court. We need to be precise. Mulgrew DID threaten court action – but it was not to close NYC public schools. The NYCDoE was violating its own rules and keeping schools open after a positive COVID-19 case. UFT members were terrified. Terrified. And the UFT leadership knew that members were being sent back into buildings where there were positive cases the previous day. A good union leader would have shown up at the school and said “our members, your employees, will not be put at risk. Our students, your students, will not be put at risk. No one is entering this building today.” That’s what a good union leader would have done. But the DoE and the UFT are infested by lawyers and people who trust lawyers more than they trust teachers. Mulgrew did not stand in front of a school and say “No, not today, we will not let you put our members and students at risk.” Mulgrew did tell his lawyers to file some papers – not to close the NYC public school system, but to enforce the rule closing a school after a positive case.

Teachers were waiting. Calm before the storm. The MORE caucus was organizing a sickout for Monday, March 16.  After a large amount of initial interest, teachers I knew were deciding that they were not quite ready. But I’ll tell you what. Mulgrew knew about the threatened sickout. de Blasio knew about the threatened sickout. And Cuomo knew about the threatened sickout. And even if Monday would have been a day (or two, or three) early, certainly some teachers would have joined the sickout. And other teachers would have called out sick, without being part of the sickout, but who would have known the difference? And that would have added numbers. And a small sickout Monday would have been larger Tuesday, and larger… The threat was real, it was on the union leaders’ and politician’s minds. And it helped get to shutdown faster. And organizing a credible threat is hard. Just ask UFT reps about the end of August 2020. MORE is due credit here.

March 14, 2020 COVID-19 was spreading, rapidly, in New York. We did not know the extent. Routine testing was not in place. But we’d seen the news. We knew that numbers might rise quickly. And they did. March 16 there were 235 new cases in New York State. On March 20 3053. On March 24 5518. On March 28 7253. And there were 8107 new cases on April 1.

Saturday March 14, 2020 was a strange day for teachers. We had this feeling in the pit of our stomachs.  We did not know what to expect. The stores were running out of the three major food groups: pasta, hand sanitizer, and paper towels. The politicians were dithering. Cuomo and de Blasio were squabbling idiots. Our union was moving, but with caution, when we needed swift action. The news was scary.

The next day, Sunday March 15, 1199 president George Gresham changed his mind, and supported closing schools. Then Cuomo fell into line. And then, late Sunday afternoon de Blasio.

None of us yet knew how crummy remote teaching would be. Few of us had lost friends, family, colleagues, or acquaintances. And none of us knew how long this crisis would last. But at that moment: deep sigh of relief.

Farewell, Carranza

March 13, 2021 am31 10:00 am

Yesterday was Richard Carranza’s last day. He won’t be missed.


Because he arrived with good intentions. He arrived with a good attitude. He seemed friendly towards teachers.

But he was probably not ready for New York City, and definitely not for the NYC Department of Education.

His hires were semi-qualified cronies, and insiders pushed on him by City Hall. Anything he attempted bogged down almost immediately. Moving through the DoE bureaucracy is like trying to walk through a river of molasses. And ham-fisted de Blasio was calling many of the (wrong) shots.

We expected much change on instruction for children whose first language is not English. And there was the issue of school segregation…

On ESL, a leader who gets it!  Ready to undo the lousy policies he inherited! (from the state, but also how the city coped with it). Where’s the progress? Where? Nowhere.

The integration initiatives were way overdue. He rolled out de Blasio’s specialized high school initiative about as clumsily as he could have. But that was de Blasio. They caught allies off guard. They angered friends. They really angered enemies. In the end it did not matter that it was a good proposal. The School Diversity Advisory Group – another study?!? No, it was serious, important work. And the most important parts were ignored. Carranza just pretends that the Group and its report did not exist.

What will we remember in 10 years? Principals will remember some of his angry, hectoring speeches. Segregationists will remember his rant directed at a parent who opposed integration. Many of us will have an image of him holding a guitar (though I predict no one will remember what he played on it).

But I think I want to remember his goodbye letter. Mostly platitudes. But look at this story:

I hope you recognize it. It is the gee whiz story told by a TfAer, sweet and touching, about a system he never really understood.

His poor judgment hurt. His displays of temper (there were quite a few) hurt. His lack of understanding of New York City hurt. And his lack of familiarity with the NYCDoE hurt – right, he didn’t get Board of Ed culture.

But ultimately it was his boss that made Richard Carranza the forgettable chancellor that he was. And that’s a shame.

Which state has the worst COVID-19 numbers today?

March 4, 2021 pm31 6:01 pm

This whole week it’s been New York and New Jersey, neck and neck.

For months I’ve been wondering what’s wrong with New York. We have the answer – we have a variant.

So when the country peaked after Thanksgiving, and then everyone else saw a dip, we did not. Same thing after Christmas. And finally when the third wave (I’m counting the summer as a second wave – it was in other parts of the US) ended, the case rate in New York State was half the peak rate – the rest of the country had a much bigger recovery.

Many people look at the test positivity rate. I pay less attention to that. The data on active cases is a little bit wonky. But the data on new cases is pretty consistent. I have it reported at daily new cases per 100,000 population – and New Jersey and New York are today at 39 and 38, easily the highest in the country.

This is important to remember:  The news media is reminding us daily that Andrew Cuomo is a sexual predator. But don’t forget, Emmy or not, he’s also presided over the worst COVID-19 record in the United States.

And daily new cases in New York State are at the immediate post-Thanksgiving level, and rising again.

Even while daily new cases in the rest of the country are way down, and flat:

And while my map is not dramatic, only a few states are in the 25-50 new cases per 100,000 range, and the others are much lower than Jersey and New York:


And mortality – just like at it. Fourth in the number of cases – but almost tied for first in the number of deaths, with double the rate of California (actually New York’s rate is second – after, of course – New Jersey’s)


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.