Tag Archives: math

It’s Not Over

Even before the results in Florida, Arizona, and Illinois started rolling in on Tuesday night, pundits renewed their calls for Bernie Sanders to drop out of the Democratic primary. “It’s over,” the official Slate account tweeted after it became clear that Joe Biden won big victories in Florida and Illinois.

Pundits and Democratic Party operatives typically cite the need to “unite” or focus on “beating Trump” as the reason Sanders should drop out. But these reasons don’t make sense. Sanders has consistently said that beating Trump is his top priority and that he will campaign vigorously for Biden if Biden ends up being the nominee. The two major Democratic candidates are already united and focused in their desire to beat Trump.

The real reason the political and media Establishment want Sanders to drop out is that it’s not actually over. If Biden had this election all wrapped up and thought it was time to “unite,” wouldn’t he be asking his Super PACs to stop mailing anti-Sanders hit pieces to Latino voters? And is it really plausible that Democrats expect Biden to weather an onslaught of advertisements and lies from the Republican Party during the general election but don’t think he can handle relatively mild, accurate critiques of his record from a guy who repeatedly calls him a “decent guy” and “good friend?”

We’re currently in the midst of a worldwide pandemic that has uprooted American life. It highlights the need for the type of fundamental change to American policy that Bernie Sanders has spent his life fighting for, and that large majorities of Democratic voters now support. Joe Biden is also a deeply flawed candidate who is often incoherent and lies all the time. He has spent his career enacting racist, sexist, and classist policy in line with what both Republicans and his donors want. Biden is not quite as bad as Trump, as his campaign likes to remind us, but that’s hardly a compelling reason to vote for him. The more the Democratic electorate sees Biden and Sanders side by side and learns about Biden’s record, Establishment Democrats fear, the less likely they’ll continue to harbor the misconception that Biden is well-equipped to take Trump on and to deal with major crises.

That’s not to say that things look good for Sanders; they most certainly do not. After losing Florida, Arizona, and Illinois, Sanders now trails Biden by approximately 300 delegates. He would need to win in the neighborhood of 60% of the remaining delegates to have a legitimate claim to be the Democratic nominee. Given that he’s currently polling around 35% nationally, amassing 60% of the remaining delegates looks like a very tall order indeed.

At the same time, many millions of people in 23 states, 3 territories, and the District of Columbia still haven’t voted. A whopping 42% of delegates – or 5.5 times the amount by which Biden leads – have yet to be awarded. The next set of primaries isn’t scheduled until April 4, 17 days from now. It’s hard to believe, but 17 days ago, forecasters still gave Sanders and Biden about equal chances of winning the nomination.

In other words, we’re about five minutes into the third quarter of a football game, four games deep in a seven-game series, or halfway through July in a typical Major League Baseball season. Sanders is trailing and Biden is sitting pretty. Yet there’s a reason you play out the game, series, or season. The New England Patriots wouldn’t have won the 2017 Super Bowl if they had stopped playing when Tevin Coleman put the Atlanta Falcons up 28-3 over 6 minutes after the start of the second half. The Cleveland Cavaliers wouldn’t have won the NBA Finals in 2016 if they had thrown in the towel when falling behind Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors 3 games to 1. And the Atlanta Braves wouldn’t have won the NL West in 1993 if they had packed it in when they trailed the San Francisco Giants by 9.5 games on August 7.

The probability that Sanders will win is low and nobody should delude themselves into thinking otherwise. Still, it’s probably higher than the probability the Boston Red Sox were going to win the American League Championship Series when they were down 3-0 to the Yankees in 2004. Baseball fans shouldn’t have called for the Red Sox to drop out then. Fans of democracy shouldn’t call for Sanders to drop out now, either.

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Filed under 2020 Election, Sports

Improving the Structure of Math Departments

At many schools I’ve worked at or observed, math departments are structured counterproductively.  The best teachers often teach the most advanced classes, while the newest teachers, or those most in need of support, teach the classes that struggling students are more likely to attend.  As a result, the students most in need of excellent teaching can be least likely to get it.

Math departments may be structured this way for a variety of reasons.  There is surely a correlation of some sort between teaching skill and mastery of mathematics, so the best teachers may just more often than novice teachers be well-equipped to teach advanced courses.  It may also be the case that teachers prefer teaching advanced classes; as the students in advanced classes typically already want to be there, teachers of those classes can focus more on content instruction and less on classroom management.  School leaders may want to keep their best teachers happy, and giving those teachers the advanced classes may be one way to do that.

I can understand why teachers might, if given the choice, decide to teach AP Calculus AB instead of an intervention class geared towards students who failed Algebra I.  Especially given the workloads American society foists upon teachers, who never have enough hours in the day to do a fraction of what they’d ideally do for their students, teacher burnout is a real concern.  While I know some great teachers who love teaching hard-to-reach students and have made doing so their life’s work, and while teaching advanced students also carries its challenges, working with the highest-need students is often emotionally exhausting and probably accelerates the burning-out process.

Several approaches could potentially help reduce the tension between pursuing the most equitable arrangement – in which the best teachers teach the students who need help most – and protecting teachers against burnout.  One option would be to reduce the number of classes teachers of introductory or remedial courses would be required to teach.  If nothing else, an extra free period would give these teachers more time to plan remediation and give students constructive feedback.  Another option would be to ensure that an instructional aide is available to assist teachers in every lower-level course they teach.  A third approach would be to require every teacher teaching an AP or honors course to teach a lower-level course as well.  (None of these ideas is mutually exclusive, of course.)

Reducing teacher burnout and making our schools more equitable are big challenges that ultimately require substantially increased investments in public education, particularly in low-income areas, as well as an overhaul of what teacher workdays and support structures look like.  We must push for those investments and overhauls, not to mention the larger, outside-of-school changes that are most important for ensuring equal opportunity for every student in this country.  In the meantime, we should explore creative ways to simultaneously keep our best teachers invigorated and make sure they’re in front of our students in need.

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Filed under Education