Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Ebay is illegal in Amherst!

Hard to believe, but it's true. It's in the town bylaws, Article III, "Collecting and Dealing in Used Articles:"

2. No person shall engage in the business of buying or selling second-hand articles within the limits of the town of Amherst unless he is duly licensed by the selectmen.

Punishment is "not more than 20 dollars for each offense." This is an old, crufty law from 1939, and it's time for it to be repealed, even if it is never enforced. We should be encouraging people to re-sell and re-use used articles; it's better for the environment.

And besides, what business does the town of Amherst have in telling me what I can or can't do with my old stuff? I suppose I should go down to Town Hall and ask for a license to buy some second-hand stuff on Ebay and see what they say (prediction: I'll get the blank stare of "what the heck is this crazy person asking????").

Should I celebrate or cry?

Spiffy, I got elected! Thanks very much to anybody out there on the InterWeb who voted for me.

Of course, after I actually experience sitting through Town Meeting a time or three I'll probably be cursing you for sentencing me to Meeting Purgatory...

Friday, March 23, 2007

I should change my name again

The Amherst Bulletin came out today, with all the Town Meeting candidate statements in an ad sponsored by the Leage of Women Voters.

Perhaps predictably, they misspelled my name: "Gavin Andersen". They also split the URL for this blog into "", which is wrong twice: is some guy in China, and (sport instead of spot) doesn't exist.

I'm sympathetic; it's hard to get everything right. I REALLY feel bad for Adam Siegel, who was listed as being in Precint 2 for a while when he's really in Precint 9-- an error that carried over to the LWV ad.

I think there's a lesson here about the wisdom of central planning and control. There was some hard-working, earnest person at the League of Women Voters who had the unenviable job of transcribing the 100-or-so candidate statements into whatever format the Gazette required. Next election I'll volunteer to create an online form for them, so each candidate can be responsible for getting their own information exactly right.

Update: Sharon Vardatiro in Precint 2 reports that she hand-delivered her statement to the LWV... and is listed with the wrong address and as a "no response" candidate.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Class size: priorities

With Robin in kindergarten at Wildwood and school budgets getting squeezed, I've put my skeptic hat on and have started looking at our schools.

The biggest factor affecting school budgets is class size-- smaller classes means more teachers, and schools spend most of their money on teachers. So the obvious question is "how small is small enough." Obviously one-on-one tutoring with a teacher is the best way to learn, but there's a cost-benefit tradeoff we need to figure out.

Happily, there's bunches of research on class size and student achievement. There's a nice summary of the research at the US department of education website. From that summary:
A consensus of research indicates that class size reduction in the early grades leads to higher student achievement. Researchers are more cautious about the question of the positive effects of class size reduction in 4th through 12th grades. The significant effects of class size reduction on student achievement appear when class size is reduced to a point somewhere between 15 and 20 students, and continue to increase as class size approaches the situation of a 1-to-1 tutorial.
...reducing class size is especially promising for disadvantaged and minority students.
There are 23 kids in Robin's kindergarten class... hmm. Not good. But there's a full-time teacher's aide helping out, so maybe that's like having half that number.... except that there's a study that showed that teacher's aides don't help student achievement.

Reading through the 2007 Amherst Regional Schools Budget Guide, I see (on page 10) that average class sizes for the high school are between 20 and 23 students. Since the research shows that class size definitely matters in grades K through 3, and since it also shows that there's little difference between a 20-student class and a 30 student class, maybe we're not spending our money wisely.

There's probably politics I'm not aware of (and probably other barriers-- like lack of classrooms in our elementary schools), but it seems to me we should increase class sizes at higher grade levels, and spend the money saved to pay for more K-3 teachers.