Diagnosing Gerrymandering

The_Gerry-Mander_EditThis one is a bit off-topic for this space, but it is an issue that I care about deeply.  A recent piece by my local NPR station (WUNC) drew my attention.

Researchers in the Math Department at Duke University used a computer simulation to draw congressional districts in North Carolina and compare the outcomes to what actually happened in 2012 with the districts that were gerrymandered carefully drawn by the General Assembly following the 2010 Census.

The results are not really surprising.  The majority of state voters selected Democratic candidates for seats in the legislature, but the outcomes actually favored Republicans with more than twice as many of them winning their elections.  The research showed that this does not match the “desires of the voters”.

It certainly seems like this tool can be useful for diagnosing the effects of gerrymandering.  Maybe someday we’ll have a bipartisan commission to decide district boundaries.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

“If you can’t trust doctors not to commit crimes against humanity, not trusting them with injecting your kids with something they tell you is safe makes sense.”

From commentor SadPanda1235 on this recent io9 blog post in which the author of the post asks for advice about discussing science with anti-vaccination relatives.  The commentor rightly points out that many people have good reason not to trust modern science.

“It would seem that expecting people to be convinced by the facts flies in the face of, you know, the facts.”

Chris Mooney, in a Mother Jones essay about the way some people rationalize their irrational thinking.

“Better policy would focus on school and teacher inputs. For example, we should agree on a set of clear and specific best teaching practices (with the caveat that they’d have to be sufficiently flexible to allow for different teaching styles) on which to base teacher evaluations. Similarly, college counselors should provide college applicants with guidance about the components of good applications. Football coaches should likewise focus on their players’ decision-making and execution of blocking, tackling, route-running, and other techniques.”

From a recent post by Ben Spielberg (hat tip to Larry Ferlazzo for sharing it) in which he uses quotes from Nate Silver’s “The Signal and The Noise” to destroy the idea that teacher evaluation should be based on short-term data like test scores.  I loved Silver’s book and I enjoyed the connection here.

Sexism, brought to you by traditional grading practices

So, thanks to a recent article in The Atlantic, we can add another item to our list of reasons that traditional grading practices don’t serve students well.  From the article,

“The testing situation may underestimate girls’ abilities, but the classroom may underestimate boys’ abilities.”

The author, Enrico Gnaulati, goes on to describe situations in which schools are removing the work habits information from what they call “knowledge grades” to make them a better representation of mastery by students of all sexes.

Sounds familiar, huh?

Why is Scientific Literacy important?

“So that you can dismiss information that is untrue and potentially harmful. Being science literate means that you can examine the evidence behind a claim like “vaccines cause autism” or “GMOs cause cancer” or “evolution is a lie from the pit of hell” and not be fooled by psuedoscience, opinions, logical fallacies, and fear mongering masquerading as fact.”

A comment from user raiju on an open discussion on the tech site io9 about why being knowledgeable in science is so important.

Why do you think that this is a critical issue?

How do I get started with fixing my grading system?

It’s no secret that I get pretty passionate about grading systems and the ways in which we evaluate student learning.  When I recently joined the faculty at a new school, I found myself in an awkward position with a choice to make:

  • Do I push forward with my own strongly-held convictions?
  • Do I stick with the status quo for now and bide my time?
  • Or, do I try to forge a compromise that makes some progress but prevents me from becoming a pariah?

I decided that compromise was the best first step for me.  But, what is the first step for helping my colleagues recognize the need for change and begin to make that change?

Continue reading