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Archive for February, 2021

Minimum Wage and Student Debt are Linked… Loans Would be Lower or Non-Existent if Workers Earned More

February 26, 2021 Leave a comment

A light bulb went on when I read this article on the minimum wage controversy by Kenny Stancil. In the article Mr. Sancil calls out GOP Senator John Thune for sharing an anecdote on his work as a teenager:

A story of the $6 wage he earned working in a restaurant as a kid blew up in the face of Sen. John Thune overnight after economic justice advocates pointed out that the powerful Republican’s personal anecdote only goes to show that, adjusted for inflation, that seemingly low wage would now be somewhere north of $24 an hour—helping solidify the case that increasing the minimum wage to $15 by 2025 is the very least Congress should be doing.

“I started working by bussing tables at the Star Family Restaurant for $1/hour and slowly moved up to cook—the big leagues for a kid like me—to earn $6/hour,” Thune, who represents South Dakota and is the second-most powerful Republican in the Senate, tweeted Wednesday night. “Businesses in small towns survive on narrow margins. Mandating a $15 minimum wage would put many of them out of business.”

Several progressive critics quickly pointed out that, depending on the exact year when Thune, born in 1961, started earning $6 an hour, the seemingly modest wage he pulled in as a teenager would be equivalent to roughly $25 today.

This resonated with me, because I worked de facto minimum wage jobs throughout my youth: mowing lawns; delivering newspapers; and several bona-fide part-time minimum wage jobs as a painter, a mover; and a factory worker. I was not raised in poverty. Rather, my father encouraged me to work part-time so that I could pay for college and learn the work-ethic at a grass root level. I DID pay for my freshman year at Drexel University with my earnings and covered the costs for the balance of my college through the co-op jobs I worked. But there is no way I could do that with today’s prevailing wages for two reasons: the wages today are too low and the cost of college has gone up. This creates a gap that can only be filled by having a college student take out loans or working throughout their college careers— either of which compromise the experiencing college in the same way as a student whose tuition, room and board is fully funded.

If our country is serious about creating a world where equal opportunity is real we need to pay higher wages for entry-level and part-time work and pay higher taxes so that state colleges can be more affordable. We need to reinforce that part of our humanity that is willing to make sacrifices for others instead of feeding our selfishness.

Sorry… We Don’t Need to Administer Standardized Tests to Figure Out Who Needs Support!

February 25, 2021 Leave a comment

In a post I wrote yesterday evening I lamented Biden’s decision to break his promise to teachers about standardized testing, a decision I attributed to his unwillingness to break a bipartisan covenant that such tests are the best means of “measuring learning”. Today, in catching up on my reading, I came across a Hechinger Report post titled “Educators Weigh the Value of Standardized Testing During the Pandemic” by Kelly Field. Published on February 13, the article describes the rationale for administering the tests… and it is preposterous:

Those who favor a return to standardized testing say policymakers need comparable, state-level data to focus their spending on districts where the “Covid-slide” has been the steepest.

“We know the impact of Covid has not been distributed equally across communities, so it’s not going to make sense to spread our resources broadly, like peanut butter,” said Jennifer O’Neal Schiess, a partner at Bellwether Education Partners, a national nonprofit focused on the needs of underserved children. “We need to be strategic.”

Of course we know the impact of Covid has not been distributed evenly across communities… just as we’ve always known the schools that are “failing”: they are the schools that serve children raised in poverty! And yet, despite this knowledge which we’ve possessed for nearly 50 years we continue to spread our resources “like peanut butter” because failing to provide ANY funding to districts who DON’T need it is politically unfeasible. And the Hechinger Report says as much:

Opponents counter that testing during a pandemic will add to the stress students and teachers are under and cut into this year’s already constrained instructional time. They say schools already have plenty of evidence on which students have suffered the most under remote learning: low-income students and students of color.

It’s only going to tell us what we already know,” said Joshua Starr, chief executive officer of PDK International, a professional organization for educators.

According to the report, though, both sides agree that the pandemic IS providing an opportunity to revisit the testing policies that have driven schooling in “low performing” schools for at least two decades. Will it happen? I keep hoping against hope…

Biden’s Biggest Blunder and Biggest Broken Promise: Refusing to Abandon Mandated State Standardized Tests

February 24, 2021 Leave a comment

I was dismayed but not all that surprised that Joe Biden’s administration has decided to proceed with the State standardized tests mandated by ESSA. I was dismayed because I was hoping that despite his dedication to bipartisanship he would keep his promise to teachers that he would dismantle the test-and-punish regimen that has been in place now for nearly two decades at the national level and countless more at the state level. The rationale for giving the tests was particularly lame:

…a letter sent Monday by acting Assistant Education Secretary Ian Rosenblum to state school superintendents (informed) them that the department will not invite state requests for “blanket waivers of assessments” required by the Every Student Succeeds Act, even though such waivers were granted last year due to the pandemic.

It is urgent to understand the impact of Covid-19 on learning,” the letter states. “We know… that some schools and school districts may face circumstances in which they are not able to safely administer statewide summative assessments this spring using their standard practices.”

It is clear that the pandemic requires significant flexibility for the 2020-2021 school year so that states can respond to the unique circumstances they are facing; keep students, staff, and their families safe; and maintain their immediate focus on supporting students’ social, emotional, and academic development,” the letter continues.

Wait? What? If it is clear that “…the pandemic requires significant flexibility for the 2020-21 school year” why mandate an INFLEXIBLE mandate that all states give all students whatever standardized assessments they’ve designed as a metric for “student learning”. And no one needs to give a test to every child in America to “…understand the impact of COVID-19 on learning“… especially since no standardized test EVER showed anything other than what we all know: children from homes in districts or schools with highly educated and engaged parents “outperform” children raised in poverty. Standardized tests have shown us this for decades! Why do we need to show it again? And it doesn’t require the administration of a universal standardized test to “prove” that children who had no access to the internet learned less on Zoom than children with fiber connections. Moreover, what will result from this “finding”? Will schools serving children raised in poverty get more money? Will funds be made available to upgrade internet connectivity in poor neighborhoods and remote communities? We know the answer.

Mercedes Schneider, an insightful blogger who has over 30 years of experience in the classroom, offered these insights:

“…surveying district and state superintendents about what they need in order to provide equitable education opportunities for their students would be a much better use of U.S. Department of Education time and money than spending multiple millions on standardized tests.”

I have been teaching the better part of three decades, and I have yet for any parent to ask me for standardized test scores so that the parent can know how their children are doing,” stressed Schneider. “They ask about grades on class assignments; they discuss specific skill areas that are challenging and ask for help with addressing the specific challenges arising from completing classroom assignments; they discuss supports needed when the children or other family members are facing health issues or other crises at home; they ask for assistance addressing behavior issues, but they never ask for standardized test scores out of a need to know how their children are doing.”

The only good news for teachers is that Betsy DeVos is no longer around at the Federal level. The bad news is that once these results are made public, the 20+ states who have adopted DeVos-ian voucher plans will use the “evidence” to convert more schools to charters… and the Venture Capitalists whose contributions seemingly had some influence on Biden will be very happy. Teachers, on the other hand, will not be so happy.

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