Odds policy

Virginia is cutting math classes to boost lottery ticket sales, reports the Watley Review. The state lottery provides more than $375 million in education funds.

Current math requirements will be eliminated from high school in a bid to bring the overall level of math competency down to a point where purchasing lottery tickets would seem more attractive.

“Math skills are problematic,” said Virginia Lottery Director Penelope Kyle. “Obviously, the ability of our population to understand the odds of winning and effectively manage their personal spending hinders the sale of lottery tickets. The recent Math and Science Partnership Grants won by Virginia school districts highlighted the need for us to take action.”

Beginning in September 2004, the Virginia school system will replace all math classes from pre-algebra to calculus with a new series called “American Counting,” which will focus on providing students with “holistic estimation” techniques and examples of the things they could purchase if they happened to suddenly come into a lot of money.

The Watley Review is a humor site, so this probably isn’t true. Thanks to Cris Simpson for the link.

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  1. I not even from Virginia and read that and almost lost it.Glad I kept reading till then end:)

  2. It had me going too! It’s sad when there is even a hint that such nonsense could be true!

  3. All good satire has an element of truth in it. It is the tasty, sweet truth that allows us to swallow the bitterness of the lie.

  4. Very funny.

    The title had me going, but I figured, reading the excerpt, that it was a joke. (Still, I could see some bureaucratic bonehead cutting math classes – not to make lottery tickets more attractive, but just because).

    I teach a statistics class (which includes probability) and always bring up why lotteries are basically a sucker bet – they’re ok if you’re buying the ticket for entertainment and don’t mind losing a few bucks (although I will not buy them on the basis that lotteries are instituted to fund “education” and yet somehow very little of that promised money ever materializes), but you sure better not count on it as your retirement plan.

    I have a Bizarro cartoon somewhere in my office where two mafiosi looking guys from the lottery commission are threatening a math teacher, telling her that the lottery commission doesn’t like the fact that she’s teaching her students probability…

  5. Richard Brandshaft says:

    The idea that people who buy lottery tickets don’t understand math is an example of a little knowledge. The techie buzz phrase is “non-linear utility of money”, which I read somewhere was invented centuries ago to explain why people buy lottery tickets.

    The basic idea is this: Say you are well above the poverty level. If you spend $1/week on the lottery you won’t notice. It just gets lost in the noise somehow. You can say you could put an extra $1/week in your IRA instead, but you really aren’t going to. So you are effectively spending nothing for a very small chance of a big gain. And some of us do not have moral objections to funding public education.

    Speaking of the non-linear utility of money: At the other end of the wealth scale, the joke at least as old as my childhood went (adjusted for inflation) : “Money isn’t everything. A man with $90 million can be just as happy as a man with $100 million.” The notion that many of us won’t miss $1/week is a application of the same principle.

    Yes, I know some poor people do spend money they will miss on lottery tickets. Yes, I know about gambling addictions. What I don’t know is how much the ease of buying lottery tickets (as opposed to illegal gambling) makes.

  6. JimInNOVA says:

    Having attended a public high school in VA (and one of the better ones at that), I have one question: how is this a change? My high school calculus teacher (and the head of the math department) was let go after scoring a 2 on the AP calc B-C exam (which he took voluntarily).

  7. How I knew it was satire: the implication that they had a reason for gutting the math curriculum. Now if it had claimed that school administrators were gutting the curriculum just to follow some untested fashion, that’s old news.

  8. Richard Nieporent says:

    All I can say is: DONT GIVE THEM ANY IDEAS!

  9. Eric Jablow says:

    The Virginia Lady Luck commercials are simply evil. The first one, where Lady Luck visits a family and upbraids them because they only bet on the Lottery when the odds are good, makes me want to throw a rock through my TV set.

    Still, that wasn’t as bad as the Maryland Second Chance lottery, where you could send 5 losing tickets and get put in a special drawing. The ad had a basketball team lose a game, but have the refs put a few seconds back on the clock and give them a second chance. “Unprecedented!” Well, no. Don’t remind me of the 1972 Olympic basketball final. Aargh!

  10. well, here’s another:

    A certain state lottery (state shall remain nameless to protect the idiotic) went from a five number to a six number draw. And then they advertised it with “Now there are more ways to win!”

    I loved that example because I could use it in my stats and probability class to point out that more combinations does not mean more ways to win, at least not in the sense the adverts were implying. There are more options, but fewer winners (I had the students calculate the odds of winning for each set up – it was also a lesson in permutations)

  11. We economists have a description for lotteries or any other form of gambling: A tax on stupid people.

  12. PJ/Maryland says:

    Speaking as a non-lottery player, it’s not really true that people who buy lottery tickets can’t do math (or, not necessarily true). While the financial payoff on a lottery ticket is something like 40%, many people get more than 60 cents of enjoyment out of a $1 lottery ticket.

    And let me pass along this pretty good lottery joke I heard (feel free to change the ethnicity of the main character):

    Abe Silverstein goes to the synagogue and prays, “Lord, you know things have not been going well with my business, and my wife’s health is bad. Please let me win the lottery.”

    A week later, he returns and prays, “Lord, you know I’ve always given to charity and tried to help my neighbors. Now I could really use some money, so please let me win the lottery.”

    Another week goes by, and Abe comes back and prays, “Lord, I don’t understand why I haven’t won the lottery. You know how diligent I’ve been in following your commandments all my life. What more can I do?”

    And a voice comes down from Heaven and says “Abe, meet me halfway: buy a ticket!”

    Come to think of it, this might be even funnier with a Scotsman.

  13. Fuzzy Rider says:

    Here in New Mexico, lottery money goes to pay the college tuition of New Mexico students who go straight from HS to college and keep their grades up. I’ve got two in college now- ka ching!
    I’ve won the lottery without buying a single ticket!

  14. PJ:

    Or a Dutchman.

    You’ve heard the one about the Scotsman and the Dutchman meeting on the street one day? They both looked down and saw a penny.

    That was how copper wire was invented.

    Being of both Scots and Dutch descent on my mother’s side lets me get away with this one.

  15. Darn, Mace beat me to the Tax on Stupid People.

    Here in Georgia it is even better: We tax stupid people, whose kids are victims of a rather dismal education system and couldn’t get into (or stay in) college anyway, to pay for middle class and rich kids to go to college.

    Sure glad my three kids still at home are good students!!:)



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