The Politicization of Math Class

“Maths” by Chris de Kok under CC 2.0 license

For as long as I can remember, there has been a fight between liberals and conservatives over school curricula. The former tend to want more focus on diversity and identity issues, while the latter want schools to stick to readin’, ‘ritin’, and ‘rithmetic. The biggest struggle has been over history and social science textbooks, with Texas and California often dictating the curriculum of other states because they’re such massive purchasers. We’ve seen this most recently with the controversies over the 1619 and 1776 projects.

In recent weeks, though, we’re seeing a kerfuffle over mathematics curricula. One would think that it would be hard to politicize something as concrete as numbers but it turns out to be more complicated than that.

It first came to my attention a couple weeks ago when my home state of Virginia seemed to be doing away with tiered math classes, keeping all kids on the same track until 11th grade. Except it turned out not to be quite true. As WaPo reported,

The kerfuffle began when Loudoun County School Board member Ian Serotkin (Blue Ridge) posted on his public Facebook page about the initiative. He wrote on April 22 that he had received a briefing on the initiative, which he wrote promised to “revamp the K-12 math curriculum statewide.”

He praised the initiative for “some noble goals,” including the fact that it “provides a pathway for every student to be able to take calculus or higher math by the end of high school if they so choose.” But he criticized it for what he said it would do to advanced math classes, claiming the proposal would force all seventh-graders to take the exact same math class, all eighth-graders to take the exact same math class, and so on through 11th grade.

“As currently planned, this initiative will eliminate ALL math acceleration prior to 11th grade,” Serotkin wrote. “That is not an exaggeration, nor does there appear to be any discretion in how local districts implement this.”

As best I can tell, Serotkin was acting in good faith and the problem was some incredibly awful workshopping of proposals that were being considered as part of the regular review process.

Superintendent James Lane said the Virginia Department of Education is in the early stages of a regularly scheduled revision of its mathematics Standards of Learning, which guide school systems in their course offerings across all areas of instruction. As part of that revision process, which takes place every seven years, state officials recently began workshopping some ideas as to how Virginia could teach mathematics in a way that better prepared children for college and the workforce, Lane said.

The ideas — detailed online as part of a program called the Virginia Mathematics Pathways Initiative — include rejiggering eighth-, ninth- and 10th-grade math courses to place a greater emphasis on fields including data science and data analytics, Lane said. Schools would still offer traditional courses such as Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II, the superintendent said, but these courses would now “incorporate stronger foundations in data analytics,” for example.

Long story short and probably too oversimplified: no final decisions have yet been made but there’s a strong likelihood that the eventual policy will be delay getting students ready for college mathematics, particularly calculus, and instead focus more on “practical” math like statistics. This is outside my expertise but, offhand, that’s probably a sensible policy.

Another report, in the Virginia Mercury, notes that this is part of a nationwide rethinking of how we teach our kids math. And, naturally, equity and inclusion are a big part of the puzzle.

In webinars, VDOE officials have been upfront that the initiative is based on data, especially standardized test scores that show Black, Hispanic and low-income students have lower pass rates on state math assessments than White and Asian students. Those critical of the initiative have argued that Virginia is lowering its standards in favor of certain students instead of improving instruction to help more children reach advanced courses.

The idea of reforming math education, though, isn’t new, and it wasn’t pioneered in Virginia. At least 22 states have explored the idea, which is based on decades of research on how traditional math coursework is failing students from many backgrounds.

In Virginia, like much of the country, most math curriculum follows one traditional route. The Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas — whose research has informed pathways initiatives in multiple states — describes it as “a course in geometry sandwiched between two courses in algebra.” The larger goal is to send as many students as possible down the path toward calculus.

That’s because upper-level algebra courses are viewed as more rigorous by many colleges and often required for admission or to transfer credits. But over the years, educators have found that they alienate students who don’t need those courses in their future careers. Some, for example, might be better served by statistics classes that provide a strong foundation for the classes they’ll take in college. Other students might make the decision to stop taking math classes as soon as they can because the information just doesn’t apply to them.

“For some students, it’s just not relevant,” said Patricia Parker, who serves as an adviser for the Virginia initiative on behalf of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia and Virginia Community College System. But even for advanced-track students, the status quo doesn’t always lead to success. According to the Dana Center, roughly a third of students at all public four-year colleges are placed in a remedial math course before they go on to college-level classes. That includes students who have taken courses like Algebra II and calculus in high school.

“What parents don’t know, or maybe don’t realize, is that so much mathematics gets retaken when you get to college,” Parker said. In 2015, VCCS embarked on its own effort to reform math education at the community college level after learning that many students weren’t gaining the background they needed in high school.

“What we learned was that it wasn’t the students’ ability to do calculus or not that was preventing them from being stellar engineers or stellar scientists,” Parker said. “It was that they were coming with weak foundational skills.”

I came through elementary school in the heyday of the much-derided New Math movement and came away with what I think was a pretty strong foundation. I was good at it. Until the more advanced mathematics classes in high school and college. I did fine, especially in high school, in terms of grades. But I didn’t really learn it. I memorized formulas and when to apply them but retained almost none of it. I took two semesters of college calculus and literally couldn’t tell you what the courses were about. Conversely, I still utilize things like the commutative and distributive properties I learned in early elementary school on a daily basis.

I’m quite amenable, then, to the idea that most people don’t need trigonometry and calculus in high school. For that matter, those who are going on to STEM degrees can probably wait until college—or, certainly, the last couple of years of high school—to master those skills.

That debate is inherently political, simply because it’s happening in a political arena. But the real controversy isn’t about how best to teach math but in an underlying philosophical dispute. That became clear a couple of days ago when California’s curricular review came under scrutiny.

The treatment in the press has been all over the place, mostly seen through ideological lenses, but you can read the official site for yourself. I draw your attention in particular to “Chapter 2: Teaching for Equity and Engagement.”

In California, all teachers strive to ensure every child has an equal opportunity to succeed. Teachers of mathematics can provide equitable education by making sure all students receive the attention, respect, and resources they need to achieve their potential. California classrooms combine diverse communities and students who bring a rich variety of cultural and linguistic resources that teachers can draw on to create culturally-relevant lessons (Ladson-Billings, 2009; Hammond, 2020; Milner, 2011). Cultural relevance is important for learning and also for expanding a collective sense of what mathematical communities look and sound like to reflect California’s diverse history. A focus on equity recognizes that mathematics, over the years, has developed in a way that has excluded many students (see Chapter 1). Because of these inequities, teachers need to work consciously to counter racialized or gendered ideas about mathematics achievement (Larnell, Bullock, & Jett, 2016). It is common for people to claim that avoiding aspects of race, culture, gender, or other characteristics as they teach mathematics, means they are being equitable; but the evolution of mathematics in educational settings has resulted in dramatic inequities for students of color, girls, and students from low income homes (Joseph, Hailu & Boston, 2017; Milner & Laughter, 2015). These inequalities include not only access to high-quality curriculum and resources, but also to instruction that appropriately leverages students’ diverse knowledge bases, identities, and experiences for both learning and developing a sense of belonging to mathematics (Langer-Osuna & Esmonde, 2017). A “color-blind” approach allows such systemic inequities to continue (Battey, 2013; Martin, 2007). The examples that follow are provided to help educators utilize and value students’ identities, assets, and cultural resources to support learning and ensure access to high achievement for all students in California—particularly English learners, who are linguistically and culturally diverse, and those who have been disenfranchised by systemic inequities.

In many circles, this alone will set off alarm bells. Math is math, damn it, and can’t possibly be racialized or gendered! But the basic idea that we need to provide examples that students can relate to is pretty uncontroversial. Some of the ways in which they propose to do this, though, may well be.

Beyond that, there is a basic questioning of the larger focus of the math curriculum, as exemplified by the Chapter 1 subtopic, “Mathematics as a Gatekeeper or a Launchpad?” And it results in a proposal that gets at the controversy over both the Virginia and California proposals:

Mathematics continues to play a role in how we conceive of our careers, evidence-based civic discourse and policy-making, and the examination of assumptions and principles underlying action. All students are capable of making these contributions and achieving these abilities at the highest levels. As a guide to implementing the Standards, this framework outlines innovative mathematical learning experiences with the potential to help all California students.

To develop learning that can lead to mathematical power for all California students, the framework has much to correct; the subject and community of mathematics has a history of exclusion and filtering, rather than inclusion and welcoming. There persists a mentality that some people are “bad in math” (or otherwise do not belong), and this mentality pervades many sources and at many levels. Girls and Black and Brown children, notably, represent groups that more often receive messages that they are not capable of high-level mathematics, compared to their White and male counterparts (Shah & Leonardo, 2017). As early as preschool and kindergarten, research and policy documents use deficit-oriented labels to describe Black and Latinx and low-income children’s mathematical learning and position them as already behind their white and middle-class peers (NCSM & TODOS, 2016). These signifiers exacerbate and are exacerbated by acceleration programs that stratify mathematics pathways for students as early as sixth grade.

Students internalize these messages to such a degree that undoing a self-identity that is “bad at math” to one that “loves math” is rare. Before students have opportunities to excel in mathematics, many often self-select out of mathematics because they see no relevance for their learning, and no longer recognize the inherent value or purpose in learning mathematics. The fixed mindset about mathematics ability reflected in these beliefs helps to explain the exclusionary role that mathematics plays in students’ opportunities, and leads to widespread inequities in the discipline of mathematics. Some of these include:

*Students who are perceived as “weak” in mathematics are often informally tracked before grade seven in ways that severely limit their experiences with and approaches to mathematics (Butler, 2008) and their future options (Parker et al, 2014). See also Chapter 8.

*Students who do not quickly and accurately perform rote procedures get discouraged and decide not to persist in mathematically-oriented studies.*Students who are learning the English language are deemed incapable of handling, and denied access to, grade-level authentic mathematics.

*Students with learning differences that affect performance on computational tasks are denied access to richer mathematics, even when the learning differences might not affect other mathematical domains (Lambert, 2018).

*Students who are tracked into lower mathematics courses in middle and high school can be denied entry into prestigious colleges.

Many factors contribute to mathematics exclusion. As one example, consider a system described in more detail in Chapters 7 (Grades 6-8) and 8 (Grades 9-12): Though many high schools offer integrated mathematics, high school mathematics courses are often structured in such a way (e.g., algebra-geometry-algebra 2- precalculus) calculus is considered the main course for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM)-oriented students, and is only available to students who are considered “advanced” in middle school—that is, taking algebra in eighth grade. In order to reach algebra in grade eight, students must cover all of middle grades math in just two years (or else skip some foundational material). This means that many school systems are organized in ways that ultimately decide which students are likely to go into STEAM pathways when they begin sixth grade. This reality leads to considerable racial- and gender-based inequities and filters out the majority of students out of a STEAM pathway (Joseph, Hailu, Boston, 2017). Moreover, English learners have disproportionately less access, are placed more often in remedial classes and are steered away from STEAM courses and pathways (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2018). High school mathematics courses such as data science should exist as a viable option whether students consider STEAM or non-STEAM career options.

Considering that many competitive colleges and universities (those that accept less than 25 percent of applicants) hold calculus as an unstated requirement, the inequitable pathway becomes even more problematic. Many students remain unaware that their status at the end of fifth grade can determine their ability to attend a top university; if they are not in the advanced mathematics track and on a pathway to calculus in each of the subsequent six years of school, they will not meet this unstated admission requirement. This mathematics pathway system, typical of many school districts, counters the evidence that shows all fifth graders are capable of eventually learning calculus, or other high-level courses, when provided appropriate messaging, teaching, and support. The system of providing only some students pathways to calculus, or statistics, data science or other high-level courses has resulted in the denial of opportunities too many potential STEAM students—especially Latinx and African American students. At the same time, arbitrary or irrelevant mathematics hurdles block too many students from pursuing non-STEAM careers. Mathematics education must support students whether they wish to pursue STEAM disciplines or any other promising major that prepares them for careers in other fields, like law, politics, design, and the media. Mathematics also needs to be relevant for students who pursue careers directly after high school, without attending college (Daro & Asturias, 2019). Schooling practices that lead to such race- and gender-based disparities can lead to legal liabilities for districts and schools (Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, 2013). A fuller discussion of one example is included in Chapter 8. The middle- and high-school chapters (Chapters 7 and 8), and the data science chapter (Chapter 5) outline an approach that enables all students to move to calculus, data science, statistics, or other high level courses, with grade level courses, 6, 7, and 8 in middle school. The new provision of a data science high school course, open to all students (not only those considered “advanced” in middle school), that can serve as a replacement for algebra 2, has the potential to open STEAM pathways to diverse groups of students, both through its engaging content and its openness to all students—as described further in Chapter 5, and Chapters 7 and 8. [emphases all mine-jhj]

So, again, I don’t claim to be an expert in primary and secondary education, much less mathematics education. That we stigmatize students as “bad at math” if they struggle early and that this becomes self-reinforcing and thus self-fulfilling strikes me as more than plausible but likely.

But, like Robbie Soave, I’m exceedingly skeptical at the foundational claim that every single student is capable of achieving at the highest levels.

The framework’s overriding perspective is that teaching the tough stuff is college’s problem: The K-12 system should concern itself with making every kid fall in love with math.

Broadly speaking, this entails making math as easy and un-math-like as possible. Math is really about language and culture and social justice, and no one is naturally better at it than anyone else, according to the framework.


Contrary to what this guidance seems to suggest, math is not the end-all and be-all—and it’s certainly not something that all kids are equally capable of learning and enjoying. Some young people clearly excel at math, even at very early ages. Many schools offer advanced mathematics to a select group of students well before the high school level so that they can take calculus by their junior or senior year. It’s done this way for a reason: The students who like math (usually a minority) should have the opportunity to move on as rapidly as possible.

For everyone else… well, advanced math just isn’t that important. It would be preferable for schools to offer students more choices, and offer them as early as possible. Teens who are eager readers should be able to study literature instead of math; young people who aren’t particularly adept at any academic discipline might pick up art, music, computers, or even trade skills. (Coding doesn’t need to be mandatory, but it could be an option.)

The essence of good schooling is choice. Individual kids benefit from a wide range of possible educational options. Permitting them to diversify, specialize, and chart their own paths—with helpful input from the adults in their lives—is the course of action that recognizes vast differences in interest and ability. Holding back kids who are gifted at math isn’t equitable: On the contrary, it’s extremely unfair to everyone.

Yet the framework seems to reject the notion that some kids are more gifted than others. “An important goal of this framework is to replace ideas of innate mathematics ‘talent’ and ‘giftedness’ with the recognition that every student is on a growth pathway,” it states. “There is no cutoff determining when one child is ‘gifted’ and another is not.” But cutoffs are exactly what testing and grading systems produce, and it’s absurdly naive to think there’s nothing innate about such outcomes, given that intelligence is at least partly an inherited trait.

If California adopts this framework, which is currently under public review, the state will end up sabotaging its brightest students. The government should let kids opt out of math if it’s not for them. Don’t let the false idea that there’s no such thing as a gifted student herald the end of advanced math entirely.

Now, I think this overstates things. While I agree that we ought to let the gifted kids move faster lest they grow bored and that we shouldn’t torture those who are incapable of learning calculus by pretending otherwise, there’s obviously a foundational level of math that every high school graduate needs to possess. How to best achieve that is debatable but that should be the goal.

The notion that every kid is a potential Einstein is just absurd, though. We recognize that not everyone can be LeBron James. Or even make the high school basketball team. Why do we need to pretend otherwise with academic subjects?

The post The Politicization of Math Class first appeared on Outside the Beltway.

Florida Mother-Daughter Face Jail for Stealing Homecoming Election

A typical case of American blind justice.

While by no means the most important story out there today, this has to be among the most bizarre:

USA Today (“Florida student accused of rigging homecoming queen vote could face 16-year sentence“):

A Florida high school student accused of rigging her school’s election will be charged as an adult.

Emily Grover and her mother Laura Carroll, assistant principal at Bellview Elementary School, were arrested in March after authorities said the duo used Carroll’s special access to the district’s student data system to cast hundreds of fraudulent votes for Grover in the homecoming queen election at Tate High School.

Grover was arrested when she was 17 years old. She turned 18 on April 16.

“This is not unusual with young people of that age. Juvenile (court) cannot do anything or supervise them after they become 18. And so it just makes better sense to move them into adult court where they can be supervised effectively,” said Assistant State Attorney John Molchan.

While Grover will be charged as an adult, the court still has the ability to impose juvenile sanctions.

Carroll remains free on a $6,000 bond, and Grover is free on $2,000 bond. Prosecutors said the mother and daughter each face a maximum 16-year sentence.

Both Grover and Carroll’s next court date is May 14 for their arraignment.

They are each charged with:

*Offenses against users of computers, computer systems, computer networks and electronic devices (third-degree felony)

*Unlawful use of a two-way communications device (third-degree felony)

*Criminal use of personally identifiable information (third-degree felony)

*Conspiracy to commit these offenses (first-degree misdemeanor)

The rest of the story goes into some detail as to how neither mother nor daughter were exactly criminal masterminds.

Granting that the daughter is unlikely to get anything like 16 years, it strikes me as absurd that she’s being pursued criminally at all. Her expulsion from school and the sheer ignominity of stealing the homecoming election is surely sufficient punishment for what amounts to a stupid prank.

The mother is a different case, in that she was in a position of authority. Still, I’m not sure the degree of the transgression here warrants criminal charges. Firing and loss of benefits? Sure. But this just strikes me as a gross waste of the resources of the criminal justice system and, frankly, overreach.

And, surely, there’s more than a little irony in Florida, with its history of voter suppression, taking a homecoming queen election more seriously than it does actual elections.

The post Florida Mother-Daughter Face Jail for Stealing Homecoming Election first appeared on Outside the Beltway.

Following the Science Isn’t Our Nature

In “The Liberals Who Can’t Quit Lockdown,” The Atlantic’s Emma Green argues that it’s not just conservatives who are letting their ideology overrule the science.

Last year, when the pandemic was raging and scientists and public-health officials were still trying to understand how the virus spread, extreme care was warranted. People all over the country made enormous sacrifices—rescheduling weddings, missing funerals, canceling graduations, avoiding the family members they love—to protect others. Some conservatives refused to wear masks or stay home, because of skepticism about the severity of the disease or a refusal to give up their freedoms. But this is a different story, about progressives who stressed the scientific evidence, and then veered away from it.

For many progressives, extreme vigilance was in part about opposing Donald Trump. Some of this reaction was born of deeply felt frustration with how he handled the pandemic. It could also be knee-jerk. “If he said, ‘Keep schools open,’ then, well, we’re going to do everything in our power to keep schools closed,” Monica Gandhi, a professor of medicine at UC San Francisco, told me. Gandhi describes herself as “left of left,” but has alienated some of her ideological peers because she has advocated for policies such as reopening schools and establishing a clear timeline for the end of mask mandates. “We went the other way, in an extreme way, against Trump’s politicization,” Gandhi said. Geography and personality may have also contributed to progressives’ caution: Some of the most liberal parts of the country are places where the pandemic hit especially hard, and Hetherington found that the very liberal participants in his survey tended to be the most neurotic.

Now, the rather obvious objection is that the refusal of Trumpists to comply with health guidelines like masking and social distancing has far greater negative externalities than anti-Trumpers engaging in performative hyper-caution. But it’s not without cost.

The spring of 2021 is different from the spring of 2020, though. Scientists know a lot more about how COVID-19 spreads—and how it doesn’t. Public-health advice is shifting. But some progressives have not updated their behavior based on the new information. And in their eagerness to protect themselves and others, they may be underestimating other costs. Being extra careful about COVID-19 is (mostly) harmless when it’s limited to wiping down your groceries with Lysol wipes and wearing a mask in places where you’re unlikely to spread the coronavirus, such as on a hiking trail. But vigilance can have unintended consequences when it imposes on other people’s lives. Even as scientific knowledge of COVID-19 has increased, some progressives have continued to embrace policies and behaviors that aren’t supported by evidence, such as banning access to playgrounds, closing beaches, and refusing to reopen schools for in-person learning.

“Those who are vaccinated on the left seem to think overcaution now is the way to go, which is making people on the right question the effectiveness of the vaccines,” Gandhi told me. Public figures and policy makers who try to dictate others’ behavior without any scientific justification for doing so erode trust in public health and make people less willing to take useful precautions. The marginal gains of staying shut down might not justify the potential backlash.

There has been considerable backlash even from rational, compliant people to the CDC’s slowness in relaxing their guidelines for outdoor activities and insisting on absurd restrictions for such things as summer camps. And, yes, having authority figures issue BS rules makes it much harder to get people to comply with the necessary restrictions. If masking outdoors is seen as virtue signaling, then that will naturally carry over to indoor masking, which is likely still quite important for the unvaccinated.

Even as the very effective covid-19 vaccines have become widely accessible, many progressives continue to listen to voices preaching caution over relaxation. Anthony Fauci recently said he wouldn’t travel or eat at restaurants even though he’s fully vaccinated, despite CDC guidance that these activities can be safe for vaccinated people who take precautions. California Governor Gavin Newsom refused in April to guarantee that the state’s schools would fully reopen in the fall, even though studies have demonstrated for months that modified in-person instruction is safe. Leaders in Brookline, Massachusetts, decided this week to keep a local outdoor mask mandate in place, even though the CDC recently relaxed its guidance for outdoor mask use. And scolding is still a popular pastime. “At least in San Francisco, a lot of people are glaring at each other if they don’t wear masks outside,” Gandhi said, even though the risk of outdoor transmission is very low.

Some of this is perfectly understandable. After fourteen months or so of hyper-caution, snapping back to normalcy is psychologically difficult. Fauci’s statement on indoor dining is at odds with even the hyper-cautious CDC guidelines yet one understands a person in his position urging caution. Better safe than sorry is generally speaking a good policy and Fauci is 80 years old, so even the very modest risk of infection he faces while fully vaccinated is a more serious one than I face at 55. Newsome, meanwhile, has to deal with not only scientific reality but the fact that teachers’ unions are incredibly powerful and may not consent to go back full time in the fall.

Still, it’s harmful. Fauci has been held up as the beacon of Follow the Science. And, considering the high rates of vaccine hesitancy, he really needs to be sending the message that getting jabbed is the way to get back to doing normal things like dining out.

But, back to the original point, being seen as hyper-vigilant is a political shibboleth akin to the right-wing antipathy to masking.

Scientists, academics, and writers who have argued that some very low-risk activities are worth doing as vaccination rates rise—even if the risk of exposure is not zero—have faced intense backlash. After Emily Oster, an economist at Brown University, argued in The Atlantic in March that families should plan to take their kids on trips and see friends and relatives this summer, a reader sent an email to her supervisors at the university suggesting that Oster be promoted to a leadership role in the field of “genocide encouragement.” “Far too many people are not dying in our current global pandemic, and far too many children are not yet infected,” the reader wrote. “With the upcoming consequences of global warming about to be felt by a wholly unprepared worldwide community, I believe the time is right to get young scholars ready to follow in Dr. Oster’s footsteps and ensure the most comfortable place to be is white [and] upper-middle-class.” (“That email was something,” Oster told me.)

Sure, some mean people spend their time chiding others online. But for many, remaining guarded even as the country opens back up is an earnest expression of civic values. “I keep coming back to the same thing with the pandemic,” Alex Goldstein, a progressive PR consultant who was a senior adviser to Representative Ayanna Pressley’s 2018 campaign, told me. “Either you believe that you have a responsibility to take action to protect a person you don’t know or you believe you have no responsibility to anybody who isn’t in your immediate family.”

Goldstein and his wife decided early on in the pandemic that they were going to take restrictions extremely seriously and adopt the most cautious interpretation of when it was safe to do anything. He’s been shaving his own head since the summer (with “bad consequences,” he said). Although rugby teams have been back on the fields in Boston, where he lives, his team still won’t participate, for fear of spreading germs when players pile on top of one another in a scrum. He spends his mornings and evenings sifting through stories of people who have recently died from the coronavirus for Faces of COVID, a Twitter feed he started to memorialize deaths during the pandemic. “My fear is that we will not learn the lessons of the pandemic, because we will try to blow through the finish line as fast as we can and leave it in the rearview mirror,” he said.

Going overboard in the protection of others is surely better than the Eff You posture of the mask refuseniks. But, certainly, it comes across as more about signaling that one cares than about actual public health. You’re refusing to wear a mask? Well, I’m gonna wear three!

But, as with the Trumpers, a lot of it seems to be about autonomy and power. In the one case, it’s anger that authorities are trying to restrict one’s normal behavior. In the other, it’s fear that authorities are forcing people back to normal before it’s completely safe.

Months slipped by, and evidence mounted that schools could reopen safely. In Somerville, a local leader appeared to describe parents who wanted a faster return to in-person instruction as “fucking white parents” in a virtual public meeting; a community member accused the group of mothers advocating for schools to reopen of being motivated by white supremacy. “I spent four years fighting Trump because he was so anti-science,” Daniele Lantagne, a Somerville mom and engineering professor who works to promote equitable access to clean water and sanitation during disease outbreaks, told me. “I spent the last year fighting people who I normally would agree with … desperately trying to inject science into school reopening, and completely failed.”

In March, Erika Uyterhoeven, the democratic-socialist state representative for Somerville, compared the plight of teachers to that of Amazon workers and meatpackers, and described the return to in-person classes as part of a “push in a neoliberal society to ensure, over and above the well-being of educators, that our kids are getting a competitive education compared to other suburban schools.”

The reaction to the pandemic has long since been about much more than the pandemic.

The post Following the Science Isn’t Our Nature first appeared on Outside the Beltway.

US Births Drop Sixth Year Straight

CNBC (“U.S. birth and fertility rates dropped to another record low in 2020, CDC says“):

U.S. birth and fertility rates dropped to another record low in 2020 as births fell for the sixth consecutive year to the lowest levels since 1979, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.

The number of births in the U.S. declined last year by 4% from 2019, double the average annual rate of decline of 2% since 2014, the CDC said in preliminary birth data released Wednesday. Total fertility rates and general fertility rates also declined by 4% since 2019, reaching record lows. The U.S. birth rate is so low, the nation is “below replacement levels,” meaning more people die every day than are being born, the CDC said.

While the agency didn’t directly attribute the overall drop in births to the Covid-19 pandemic, it looked at birth rates among New York City women who delivered their babies outside the five boroughs during the height of the outbreak in the U.S.

Women fled the city to give birth from March through November last year, with out-of-town births among NYC residents peaking in April and May at more than 10% for both months — a more than 70% increase from the previous year. Among white women, the percentage of out-of-town births was 2.5 times higher in 2020 than 2019. Out-of-town births among Black and Hispanic women were considerably lower and only increased for two of the months last year.

Overall, the number of births declined 3% for Hispanic women and 4% for white and Black women from 2019 to 2020.

Teen birth rates dropped considerably with births to 15- to 17-year olds falling by 6% and to 18- to 19-year olds falling by 7%, both hitting record lows.

Birth rates among women aged 20 to 24 and 25 to 29 dipped by 6% and 4%, respectively, both to record lows. Birth rates fell by 4% and 2% respectively among women aged 30 to 34 and 35 to 39, but did not reach record lows, according to CDC data.

Birth rates for women aged 40 fell 44 fell by 2% from 2019, but birth rates for women aged 45 and up remined unchanged. according to the CDC.

The data was based on population estimates derived from the 2010 census as of July 1 as well as counts of all birth records received and processed by the National Center for Health Statistics as of Feb. 11. The records represent nearly 100% of registered births occurring in 2020.

What accounted for the slightly higher drop last year will presumably be debated for a while but the overall trend is likely more interesting. But it’s the natural flip side of the coin of the delayed maturity issue we discussed recently. Americans have been steadily spending more time in school, pursuing ever-higher levels of formal education, and delaying entry into the labor force, marriage, and child-rearing.

Compound that with increased student loan debt, it seems natural that people will delay marriage and, especially, having children as they focus on working themselves into the clear. Women, in particular, face a rather steep penalty if they pause their careers to have kids, so the delay is extended further. Eventually, it becomes biologically harder to have kids. And people typically want fewer of them than they did in generations past.

The steady decline in teens and very-young-adults giving birth is an unalloyed good. So long as it’s about prioritization of life goals rather than economic necessity, it’s hard to get too worked up about the overall decline. But below-replacement-rate births is highly problematic in a society with a burgeoning retiree population that expects to draw from the public treasury for decades.

The typical American response has been to welcome more immigrants, particularly young ones. That’s currently an unpopular position.

UPDATE: Driving in this morning, I listened to yesterday’s episode of The Daily podcast, “A Population Slowdown in the U.S.” For the most part, the experts are talking about the same issues I muse about in the OP, with little consensus.

Not covered is the degree to which these same trends are taking place in the rest of the developed world, even in places with much more generous social welfare programs. Which leads some to think this is just a natural consequence of women being more fully free to make their own choices. If so, that’s obviously more to the good than the bad.

Despite the negative consequences for funding social programs and just growth in general, the hosts do point to some upsides:

  • This could be good for the climate. Fewer people is fewer polluters and less demand for resources.
  • Parents having fewer children may well invest more in the children they do have.
  • Fewer workers means demand for their services increases, strenthening their bargaining power.

The post US Births Drop Sixth Year Straight first appeared on Outside the Beltway.

Chauvin Juror Participated in BLM Protest, Lied About It

AP (“Chauvin juror defends participation in Washington protest“):

One of the jurors who convicted Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd on Monday defended his participation in a protest last summer in Washington, D.C., following online speculation about his motives for serving on the jury and whether it might be grounds for appeal.

A photo, posted on social media, shows Brandon Mitchell, who is Black, attending the Aug. 28 event to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech during the 1963 March on Washington. Floyd’s brother and sister, Philonise and Bridgett Floyd, and relatives of others who have been shot by police addressed the crowd.

That photo recently recirculated online, the Star Tribune reported.

It shows Mitchell standing with two cousins and wearing a T-shirt with a picture of King and the words, “GET YOUR KNEE OFF OUR NECKS” and “BLM,” for Black Lives Matter. Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes, 29 seconds last May as Floyd said repeatedly that he couldn’t breathe.

Mitchell, 31, acknowledged being at the event and that his uncle posted the photo, but said he doesn’t recall wearing or owning the shirt.

Mitchell was one of 12 jurors who convicted Chauvin of second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Mitchell, the first juror to go public, spoke to several media outlets last week, including The Associated Press.

“I’d never been to D.C.,” Mitchell said of his reasons for attending the event. “The opportunity to go to D.C., the opportunity to be around thousands and thousands of Black people; I just thought it was a good opportunity to be a part of something.”

Mitchell and Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, have not returned messages from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Mike Brandt, a Minneapolis defense attorney not involved in the case, told the AP the revelation alone wasn’t nearly enough to overturn Chauvin’s conviction, but it could be combined with other issues — the announcement of a massive civil settlement to Floyd’s family during jury selection, the shooting of Daunte Wright, the judge’s refusal to move the trial — in an appeal to say Chauvin was denied a fair trial.

Ted Sampsell-Jones, a professor at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law, told the AP that the photo of Mitchell was “evidence that Chauvin can point to in order to establish that his right to an impartial jury was denied.”

He added: “Speaking frankly, Chauvin did not have a fully impartial jury in the sense we usually give criminal defendants. That wasn’t the fault of the judge or the prosecutors, it was simply a function of the incredible publicity and public pressure” surrounding the trial.

Mitchell said he answered “no” to two questions about demonstrations on the questionnaire sent out before jury selection.

The first question asked: “Did you, or someone close to you, participate in any of the demonstrations or marches against police brutality that took place in Minneapolis after George Floyd’s death?” The second asked: “Other than what you have already described above, have you, or anyone close to you, participated in protests about police use of force or police brutality?”

What a mess.

Given the publicity surrounding the Floyd killing, one presumes all of the jurors were well acquainted with the case ahead of time. And, frankly, one would hope they were all outraged that Floyd was dead pursuant to an arrest for passing a counterfeit $20 bill.

Still, the jurors were specifically asked whether they had participated in these protests and Mitchell lied about it. His defense, that the march was a celebration of Dr. King and not a protest over police violence, is rather belied by his t-shirt.

Whether that’s enough to overturn the verdict and declare a mistrial is beyond my expertise. But I tend to agree with Sampsell-Jones that Chauvin did not have an impartial jury. Then again, I’m not sure that’s even a reasonable objective given the media exposure.

Further, I don’t see what value a retrial would have. Now that Chauvin has been convicted of murder, he’s even more of a murderer in the minds of any potential jury pool.

UPDATE: The above-linked IBT article (“Derek Chauvin Conviction to be Overturned After Photo Shows Juror Wearing T-Shirt Supporting George Floyd in 2020?“) features this image, ostensibly from Mitchell’s Facebook page:

Additionally, it links to a contemporaneous Vox report (“The “Get Your Knee Off Our Necks” March on Washington in photos“) that both explains the t-shirt design and further belies Mitchell’s claim that it wasn’t an anti-police protest.

Fifty-seven years after Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at the 1963 March on Washington, thousands of protesters for racial justice again gathered on the National Mall in Washington, DC. It was an emotional day of protesting against police violence, the culmination of a summer of nationwide protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

Rev. Al Sharpton, who first announced the “Get Your Knee Off Our Necks” March at Floyd’s funeral in June, spoke from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, alongside the families of Black people who have been killed by police in recent memory.

“For too long, you acted like we didn’t matter,” Sharpton told the crowd. “They say, ‘Well, everybody matters.’ But everybody hasn’t mattered the same in America. The reason we had and we still have to say ‘Black Lives Matter’ is because we get less health care, like we don’t matter. We go to jail longer for the same crimes, like we don’t matter … Black lives matter, and we won’t stop until it matters to everybody.”

Floyd’s sister, Bridgett Floyd, also addressed march-goers, asking them to carry on the legacy her brother created in death. “My brother cannot be a voice today,” Floyd said. “We have to be that voice, we have to be that change.”

The post Chauvin Juror Participated in BLM Protest, Lied About It first appeared on Outside the Beltway.

Classifying Countries by Income

Yesterday, Dave Schuler came across an article citing Thailand as a “poor country” and objected:

With a median household income of around $7,000/year, I would characterize Thailand as a “middle income” country. I think that countries with median household income below about $7,000 are low income (India, Egypt), countries with median incomes from $7,000-$15,000 (Russia, China, Brazil, Argentina) are middle income and countries with median household incomes greater than $15,000/year are rich countries.

Offhand, those thresholds strike me as both too low and inadequate. At a minimum, purchasing power parity would need to be brought into it.

The World Bank, the premier intergovernmental organization for international development, “divides the world’s economies into four income groups: high, upper-middle, lower-middle, and low.” And Dave’s instincts aren’t far off:

The income classification is based on a measure of national income per person, or GNI per capita, calculated using the Atlas method. In 1978, the first World Development Report introduced groupings of “low income” and “middle income” countries using a threshold of $250 per capita income as threshold between the groups. In the 1983 WDR, the “middle income group” was split into “lower middle” and “upper middle” groups, and in 1989 a “high income” country definition was introduced.

Since then, the thresholds to distinguish between the income groups have been adjusted for prices over time. As of 1 July 2019, low-income economies are defined as those with a GNI per capita, calculated using the World Bank Atlas method, of $1,025 or less in 2018; lower middle-income economies are those with a GNI per capita between $1,026 and $3,995; upper middle-income economies are those between $3,996 and $12,375; high-income economies are those with a GNI per capita of $12,376 or more.

Here’s a plot of the countries Dave mentions over time, plus the United States:

As you see, only India and China among them have been “low income” during the last three decades and none of them have been “low income” since roughly 2008. Thailand has been in the “middle income” categories throughout the period. And, contrary to perception, Russia and China are both quite close to “high income” status—which Russia briefly achieved during the last energy price boom. Yet, the United States is in its own stratosphere despite Russia and China routinely being touted as “peer competitors” in the national security space.

The good news is that there are far fewer “low income” countries than there were a generation ago.

Because most parts of the world have experienced considerable economic growth in recent decades, and the classification thresholds are held stable in real terms, there are now fewer low-income countries and more countries have gained middle or high-income status. Just since 2003, the number of low-income countries has nearly halved, declining from 66 to 31 in 2019. The number of high-income countries is currently 80, up from less than 50 in the 1990s. The number of middle-income countries is 107 (60 UMICs and 47 LMICs) and has not changed much as countries have transitioned both in and out of this group. The chart below summarizes the number of countries in each group over time.

The linked version is interactive but the trends are unmistakable: the “low income” share is much smaller and the “high income” share is much higher.

And, what’s true of countries is also true of people:

The changes are even starker when looking at the share of the world population that live in each type of countries. The vast majority (75 percent) of people currently live in countries defined as lower or upper-middle income countries. As large countries, such as India and China, have transitioned from low income countries to middle income countries, the population shares have shifted dramatically. In the 1990s, more than 6 in 10 people of the world’s population lived in low-income countries, while today it is just about 1 in 10.

Of course, income inequality within states isn’t addressed here. Wealth may very well be concentrated among a relative handful of elites.

Beyond that, my instinct remains that $1,026/person is an absurdly low threshold to escape “low income” status and $12,376 is an absurdly low threshold to be declared “high income.” (Granted, those are 2019 numbers.) Indeed, $12,760 is the current poverty threshold in the United States. The World Bank, though, anticipates that objection:

With only a small share of the world currently classified as “low income” and as the thresholds not having changed since 1988 (in real terms), critics argue that these income groups are losing relevance, and are somewhat arbitrary and dated.

There are many ways of grouping economies and organizing analysis of development data, and  the income classification is only one of many. Yet, the absolute nature of the thresholds, and the long history of the classification scheme, provide a useful way of tracking progress over time. And analysts can always select and analyze data for custom groupings using data from our Databank.

It is important to emphasize that the income classifications are intended to aggregate and analyze data for groups of similar economies.  Among other things, income classifications are used in the WDI and SDG Atlas to shed light on the following questions:

*Which type of countries have more weight in the global economy?

*How much are middle income countries borrowing?

*How is internet usage differing across countries?

Which is fair enough. As with many questions posed in social science, the usefulness of the definition really depends on what question you’re trying to answer.

My instincts on the income thresholds are based on a sense of what sort of lifestyle an individual earning that amount could live in a developed country. It may well be that $1026 goes a decent way in much of Egypt—although it certainly wouldn’t in Cairo.

But even using the World Bank’s own criteria, surely India carries far more weight in the global economy than Thailand or Egypt?

The post Classifying Countries by Income first appeared on Outside the Beltway.