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Posts Tagged ‘Parent engagement’

This Just In: Workers Don’t Want to Accept Crappy Jobs

May 27, 2021 Comments off

As of today, 24 states led by the GOP— including New Hampshire—have decided to put a stop to the federal government’s $300/week unemployment supplement. The legislators in those states assert that the $300 is a disincentive to job seeking. They believe that if the supplement were eliminated it would compel more workers to enter the workforce and, in doing so, address the “job shortage” employers are facing. Yet, as a story in our local newspaper, the Valley News, noted, studies during the pandemic find scant evidence that increased unemployment payments have disincentivized workers from seeking jobs. 

A November 20, 2019 article by Dana Wilkie in a newsletter published by an HR professional organization reported on a Gallup poll that revealed that only 40% of the workforce felt they had “good jobs” while one out of six members of the workforce felt they had “bad jobs”. The balance classified their jobs as “mediocre”. That same survey listed the elements that comprised a good job. One element was the level of compensation, but the balance of the list included things like the stability and predictability of pay and work hours, control over hours and/or job location. job security, and employee benefits.

Of all the items on that list, the need for stable and predictable pay and work hours has the greatest impact on family life and schools. According to a 2017 census report, of the 72.3 million children in the United States living with at least one of their parents, 43 percent (31.0 million) live with a parent who is working a nonstandard schedule, that is a schedule different from the traditional Monday through Friday daytime schedule. 100% of the schools, though, operate on the traditional Monday through Friday daytime schedule, a schedule that was put in place during an era when a single breadwinner was capable of supporting a family and women were largely out of the workforce. In 1950, only 12% of mothers of pre-school-age children and only 28% of mothers of school-age children worked. In 2019 the numbers reversed: 72% of mothers were in the workforce.  A 2014 meta-analysis by University of Texas professor Carolyn Heinrich emphasized that having a mother in the workforce is not necessarily detrimental and identified those children of working mothers who are most likely to be adversely affected:

Research finds that low-quality jobs (for example, those with low pay, irregular hours, or few or no benefits) are linked with higher work-related stress for parents, which in turn detracts from children’s well- being. The effects of parents’ work-related stress on children are particularly strong for single-mother families.

Presently, the parents whose work is most likely to have negative effects on their children are the same parents who are least able to take leave, cut their paid work hours, or otherwise secure the resources they need to provide for their children’s wellbeing. As a nation, we could do more (possibly by simplifying federal tax provisions) to encourage employers to offer benefits such as paid sick leave, which enhance job quality and help parents balance work with the needs of their children.

So bad, low-wage jobs create “work-related stress for parents, which in turn detracts from children’s well- being”. Is it possible that parents holding crappy jobs don’t want to return to work under the same conditions they experienced before the pandemic?

As for the businesses applying pressure to the State governments to withhold the $300/week supplement, a recent article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted that when an ice cream parlor in Pennsylvania offered $15/hour as a base wage instead of their minimum wage of $7.25 an hour they were flooded with applicants. Here’s a quote from the article:

Jacob Hanchar, the co-owner of Klavon’s Ice Cream Parlor in Pittsburgh, says his store was able to fill 16 open staff positions “practically overnight” after announcing the new pay rate. Klavon’s received “well over 1,000 applications” for job openings, and 250 applications came in from Facebook alone, he said.

And the decision to raise wages had another by-product for the ice cream parlor:

…Hanchar said the wage increase has ultimately helped his business by reducing the number of workers who often leave for better pay, thus limiting his expense of finding and retraining new employees.

And here’s an interesting mathematical calculation: $300/week works out to $7.50/hour if one is working 40 hours a week. That’s very close to the pay boost that the local ice cream parlor offered, a boost that helped the small business owner attract hundreds of applicants and limit his turnover.

As one who believes government should regulate profiteering, it is ironic that instead of seeking a market-based solution to their labor woes— raising pay— the business community is seeking government intervention to force workers to accept the pre-Covid status quo: low-wage jobs with irregular work schedules, jobs that create “work-related stress for parents, which in turn detracts from children’s well- being”. But those wages and working conditions DO help the bottom line which rewards shareholders…. and happy shareholders are more important than happy wage-earners, happy families, and the well being of children.

A HUGE Challenge for Public Education: Spending Money Wisely

May 5, 2021 Comments off

As readers of this blog realize, I served as a public school superintendent for 29 years from 1981-2011. During that time period, there was not a single year when I received hundreds of thousands of dollars I did not ask for and at least ten years where I had to make agonizing choices about where to make cuts. Anyone who is serving as a school superintendent now is going to have a very difficult decision to make: how to spend thousands of unasked for money in a way that will compensate for the classroom time children lost.

A recent article by Frederick Hess and Pedro Neguera in The Hill surprisingly captures the dilemma schools face in the coming months. I use the word “surprisingly” because I seldom agree with Mr. Hess’ thinking. He tends to support the ideas of “reformers” in terms of testing, viewing tests as a means of sorting and selecting students and “ranking” schools and teachers. But in this article, he and Mr. Neguera see things in a commonsensical fashion. Instead of viewing tests as necessary for determining how far behind children have fallen, they see them as necessary to get a sense of each student’s personal well-being:

Schools also need to figure out just how their students have been affected by the pandemic, in terms of academic progress and social and emotional well-being. Educators must gauge where students are at, not primarily for purposes of state data systems or teacher evaluation, but so they can determine what students actually need. The question should not be whether testing is good or bad, but how assessment can help schools and educators instruct and support kids.

Well IF the tests ARE used for anything other than formative reasons— for helping schools and educators instruct and support kids, testing is BAD. But when testing IS used to help schools and teachers instruct and support kids, when the results are used solely for that purpose, then testing is GOOD.

While the writers do not say so explicitly, their essay makes it clear that the funds should NOT be used to create new positions that will continue indefinitely and sustain the pre-pandemic paradigm of schooling. Rather, the unasked for funds should be used to expand partnerships with community arts organizations and mental health agencies who might support the efforts of public schools going forward.  Most crucially, they see that this might be a once in a generation opportunity to engage the disengaged. They write:

There’s a particular need to make schools engaging for all those students who were bored or tuned out even before the pandemic, and who now find little joy in socially distanced classrooms and cafeterias. Part-time instructors to teach the arts, music, electives, vocational classes, and more can be hired (without committing to permanent new staff positions or benefits) to supplement traditional classroom instruction, provide more ways to reengage students, and enliven a sanitized school day. Where such arrangements require waivers, districts should seek them — and unions should grant them.

The cheap shot against “the unions” notwithstanding, this is a great idea. There ARE a wealth of community artisans who are willing and able to work with children and who have been overlooked by schools in the past. By engaging artists in the schools and children with the arts it would be possible to markedly improve the engagement of students whose focus before the pandemic was learning how to do well on standardized tests.

And Mr. Hess and Neguera also offer some imaginative ideas for how to use these unasked for funds to change the teaching profession and increasing parental engagement:

There’s also an opportunity to use the next two years to start rethinking the teaching profession. Schools need to ask how they can most effectively use talented staff, which may mean reallocating responsibilities so that educators can spend more time doing the things that make a bigger difference for kids. Schools should, for instance, use relief funds to turn great reading teachers or counselors into twelve-month employees, so that they — and others with crucial skills — can get paid this summer to help students rather than tend bar or paint houses.

Finally, there’s a crying need for parent-help centers that can provide essential support to parents nervous about sending their kids back to school, confused by online instruction, or struggling with keeping their kids clothed and fed. Such centers, especially if staffed by parent volunteers, could be a cost-effective way to forge partnerships with parents and community.  

It is heartening to see the founder of the Conservative Education Reform Network espousing progressive ideas that focus on student and community engagement as opposed to boosting test scores. MAYBE something good will come of the pandemic after all

Chicago Newspaper’s Characterization of “Union Win” Downplays Union’s Emphasis on Helping Students and Families

April 21, 2021 Comments off

As noted in many earlier posts, I have been dismayed to read news accounts blaming teachers unions for delays in the re-opening of public schools. As one who led school districts for 29 years, I had many instances where union leaders and I did not see eye-to-eye, but the characterizations of teachers’ unions as stymying the reopening of schools because they were “only looking out for themselves”. In many respects in many parts of this country, the teachers were not only looking out for themselves, they were looking out for the students and parents they served, students and parents whose concerns were overlooked by politicians who wanted to score political points.

A recent report by the Chicago Tribune’s John Byrne is indicative of the news media’s downplaying of the positive battles the teachers fought on behalf of their students and parents. In the account of the settlement between the union and the city he wrote:

One big win for the union in the proposed plan was the agreement to aid vaccine access for CPS students 16 and older and their families. Priority would be based on ZIP code, and access would be based on vaccine availability, with CPS providing students and families with codes for vaccine registration and blocks of appointments being reserved for them.

The fact that this was a union “win” means that the city was arguing… what? That the access to vaccines for parents and students should NOT be a priority? And if that WAS the position of the city, what does that tell the parents and students? The pandemic is laying bare many of the flaws of our system… and the fact that getting vaccines for parents and students is a ‘win” for unions tells readers all they need to know about the priorities of the politicians who lead that ciy.

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