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Topic: Count all the votes
Replies: 11   Last Post: Nov 15, 2000 11:56 PM

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Victor Steinbok

Posts: 858
Registered: 12/3/04
Re: Count all the votes
Posted: Nov 15, 2000 10:38 AM
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karen jones wrote:
> Victor, Jerry, et. al.,
> Is the name of this forum "mathforum" or "politicalforum"? Is it not
> bad enough that our beliefs about what is right for our kids regarding
> math differs so fundamentally? Must you all make the divide so much
> deeper and wider that all hopes of discourse that could lead to any kind
> of progress or understanding are dashed?

For Ms. Jones Budd's benefit, I suggest that we have not engaged in
constitutional or political questions, but rather in the mathematical
issues related to voting and politics in general. We can debate the
mathematics relevant to voting without being partisan. However, the
issue goes far beyond "math" while affecting math teaching and basic
research funding for mathematics directly. Both major presidential
candidates ran on educational accountability platforms, with Nader
(Green) and Browne (Libertarian) being the only voices offering vague
opposition to overtesting. Since math is one of two main testing
strands, the discussion of politicians' view of testing as a measure of
knowledge and learning IS directly relevant to math-teach. It also seems
that Bush camp's position on machine count being more accurate than
human count is directly related to the advocacy of multiple choice tests
(as being machine countable). At the same time, the issue of vote
counting IS a mathematics question, and several books have been
published on the mathematics of voting, including two by Springer Verlag
that I spotted at the NCTM convention two years ago (and several more
have come out since).

But, I want to focus on testing, in particular. Standardized testing as
envisioned in accountability reforms is an attempt to take assessment
away from "subjective" teachers and pass it to "objective",
machine-scored tests. Some accountability advocates go even further,
suggesting that STANDARDS must be written with specific words that
facilitate the translation to tests--in other words, one should not
teach anything that cannot be tested. The specific comments from
California standards discussions, according to Susan Ohanian's One Size
Fits Few, were "Cleaned up the verbs" and "Look at the verbs." Similar
sentiment has been expressed by the writers of the Fordham Report in ALL
strands (including, in particular, math and ELA). In Massachusetts,
then-new assistant commissioner Sandra Stotsky demanded removal of all
references to inquiry from the science frameworks, then, moving on to
the math framework, she demanded elimination of all "fuzzy" verbs like
explore, investigate, analyze, and replace them with "measurable verbs"
like compute, compare, know (!). Eventually a partial compromise was
reached with the "exploratory", non-testable concepts (the ones that
were supposed to prepare students for further "testable" learning in
later grades) being isolated into a separate category. However, in one
attempt to get their way, the standardistas removed all "exploratory"
concepts from the main matrix without telling the panel of writers of
the document that it was being done (in fact, they tried to do so over
the panel's previous explicitly stated objections). Had the panel not
checked the document ON the day it was going to print, the separation
would have appeared in the earliest released version of the frameworks.
Once caught, however, the change was reversed. As it stands, in its
final version (over a year later), the exploratory concepts still get
short shrift (the panel, of course, had long since resigned in a dispute
over the DoE's lies and subversion of the process).

Several participants in both the California and the Massachusetts
mathematics debates (including Ms. Stotsky, and Bill Evers) have
expressed hopes and wishes of being considered for posts in W's
Department of Education (along with the usual suspects, Ravitch--who may
be out because of her dispute over the treatment of Log Cabin
Republicans, Finn, Bennett). To separate the issue of mathematics
education from politics when these lunatics are running the asylum is
simply too late. We are not the ones who brought politics into education.

> Political beliefs run far deeper than whether ballots should be
> recounted, how to do so, and, by the way, where do you stop? You all
> know that the "chad challenged" live in only heavily democratic
> counties. Or do they? This is nothing short of partisan shrewdness.
> Whether I like it or not, I tip my hat to it because of its sheer
> brilliance. However, your belief as to whether this is constitutional
> or not depends on your fundamental belief as to what has and will make
> America great. That is the essence of our political divide, or at least
> it should be.

This may well be true, but it has nothing to do with the prima facia
case--are machine counts preferable over hand counts? This is a
philosophical (albeit practical) debate, not a political one. It is the
POLITICIANS, Bush and Baker, in particular, who have made it a political
issue. We can debate the merits of either without directly supporting or
opposing either candidate. The EXAMPLES, however, will come from the
current political debate, since they are readily available.

> You guys cannot agree on what math will serve our children the best,
> much less be civil about it . How could any of you hope to offer
> discourse about politics that is anything but caustic and meaningless?
> I am sure that we have both sides (or more) of the political spectrum
> represented on this list. Don't give our divide yet another dimension
> that could further compromise our ability to further our original
> purpose.

It is worse than you make it sound: "you guys" cannot agree on what
constitutes MATH, let alone what math to teach. But let's not allow the
pot call the kettle black. This is the comment from Ms. Jones-Budd in
response to Jerry Becker simply posting the article on the RAND study:

> It is also what some call politically motivated and at
> best, suspect, considering its timing.

Now, Jerry did not bring politics into the discussion--Ms. Jones-Budd did.

I wrote:
> >
> >Curiously, each time the stack was recounted, new votes were discovered.
> >Apparently some of these ballots have NOT been counted four times,
> >otherwise the count would not have changed.

Greg Goodknight responded:
> You are taking this as an article of faith. I've seen no test cases run by
> either side. I suspect you haven't, either. There is still human error in
> moving the right stacks of paper to the right places even when Democrats are
> doing the work and that is independent of what the tabulating technology is.
> Checking the ballot for hanging or loose "chads" before you leave the booth
> is also part of the polling instructions, (at least it was when I lived in
> an area that used them).

First, the vote count changed every time EVERY county put the entire
stack of ballots through the machine--this has absolutely nothing to do
with the hand count. Second, machine counts do not explain missing
ballots: the 500 vote error, interpreting a 1 as a 6, in New Mexico, a
1000 vote error in New Hampshire (both in Bush's favor), 30000 "missing"
ballots in Boston (no effect on presidential election, but significant
nonetheless) found a week after the election. Now, Massachusetts
election officials have discovered (this is fresh off the wire) that
thousands of ballots on the state referendum questions, including
several CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS, might not have been counted. This is
not politics, this fact. Perhaps this is the kind of issues that may
best be discussed on lists dealing with research methods and statistics,
but math-teachers--being unusually broad minded--hopefully will allow us
to delve into issues of quantitative research (which voting is an
example of, as poor a statistical sample as the voting population may be).

What is at issue is the devaluation of individuality, devaluation of
human-produced outcomes, devaluation of human experience, in favor of
the "machine culture", false objectivity and legalistic approach to
every facet of our society. Over the years, it has become clear that if
we define too many things, legislate too many modes of behavior,
everything that is not defined or legislated will be fair game. If there
is no law against lying and cheating, then lying and cheating is OK! If
there is no definition of hand count, then we can ignore it! If there is
no measurable standard to which to teach, then how can we teach?!


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