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Posts Tagged ‘parent support’

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

COVID Relief Provides One Year of Assistance to ALL Families… Will the Pro-Family GOP Support it Going Forward?

March 8, 2021 Comments off

The stunning bottom line of the COVID relief package and the $1400 checks everyone will receive as a result have garnered the most headlines… but the most important element of the bill is the de facto Universal Basic Income (UBI) of $300/month/child that is baked into the legislation. As this NYTimes article by Jason DeParle notes, this is a sea change in policy direction. He writes:

Obscured by other parts of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package, which won Senate approval on Saturday, the child benefit has the makings of a policy revolution. Though framed in technocratic terms as an expansion of an existing tax credit, it is essentially a guaranteed income for families with children, akin to children’s allowances that are common in other rich countries.

The plan establishes the benefit for a single year. But if it becomes permanent, as Democrats intend, it will greatly enlarge the safety net for the poor and the middle class at a time when the volatile modern economy often leaves families moving between those groups. More than 93 percent of children — 69 million — would receive benefits under the plan, at a one-year cost of more than $100 billion.

The GOP, the party that likes to bill itself as pro-family, could not get behind an alternative plan presented by Mitt Romney that would have funded the “children’s allowance” by cutting some other programs that might arguably be duplicative, presumably because Mr. Romney is now a persona non-grata among the Trump loyalists in the GOP or maybe because ANY expansion of benefits for (gasp) CHILDREN would be seen as profligate. And here’s another counter argument:

Welfare critics warn the country is retreating from success. Child poverty reached a new low before the pandemic, and opponents say a child allowance could reverse that trend by reducing incentives to work. About 10 million children are poor by a government definition that varies with family size and local cost of living. (A typical family of four with income below about $28,000 is considered poor.)

If “work” for the poor was the same as work for the middle and upper classes this argument MIGHT have some merit… but while “work” for the middle and affluent classes consists of a predictable work week with predictable wages, decent working conditions, and some benefits provided beyond salary, “work” for those on the margins is often multiple part-time assignments with no benefits, just-in-time scheduling that can change from day to day and sometimes during the shift.

Moreover, the cultural conservatives who would like to see mothers relived from work altogether while their children are ver young persist in refusing to mandate reasonable parental leave policies because of the harm it will do the bottom line of businesses. As Mr. DeParle notes, their duplicity is increasingly evident and is helping the progressive wing of the Democratic party accomplish one of its longstanding goals, to restore the safety net that the neoliberal wing of their party shredded.

The COVID relief package seems destined to pass without a single GOP vote… now the real fight begins as H.R. 1 wends its way through the legislature.

Paul Krugman’s Op Ed Title “The Plot to Help America’s Children” Nails the GOP’s Mentality and Hypocrisy

February 17, 2021 Comments off

To his credit, Paul Krugman’s article, “The Plot to Help America’s Children“, sticks to the economic argument for increasing the amount of aid provided to parents and increasing the pool of parents who qualify for the aid. He writes:

Indeed, there’s an overwhelming economic and social case for providing such aid, in addition to the moral case.

Yet most conservatives seem to be opposed, even though they’re having a notably hard time explaining why. And the fact that they’re against helping children despite their lack of good arguments tells you a lot about why they really oppose aid to those in need.

The balance of the article presents the “overwhelming economic and social case” for providing the aid while undercutting the major argument against it, which is that it creates a class of welfare dependents.  The positive benefits of offering increased aid are, I believe, self evident. The argument against creating welfare dependents is more nuanced:

Yet conservatives and even some centrists have long argued that compassion can be counterproductive — that attempts to help the less well-off can create perverse incentives that undermine self-reliance and trap people in poverty. So it’s important to understand why these arguments don’t apply to the proposed child credit — why this policy, far from creating a trap, would offer an escape route.

The usual argument against anti-poverty programs is that any form of aid that is tied to income reduces incentives for self-improvement, because households that manage to earn more money end up losing some of that aid. For example, Medicaid is available only to families with low enough income, so taking a job that pushes one’s income above that threshold leads to a loss of health benefits.

When House Republicans released a report on the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, they essentially argued that these perverse incentives are the main reason we haven’t made more progress in reducing poverty, that anti-poverty programs “penalize families for getting ahead.”

There are good reasons to be skeptical about such arguments in general: Relatively few people actually face the extreme disincentives to work that conservatives like to emphasize. In any case, however, these arguments don’t apply at all to child tax credits, which wouldn’t be withdrawn as families’ incomes rose, even if they made it well into the middle class and beyond. To be a bit sarcastic, should we be worried about reducing children’s incentive to choose more affluent parents?

Furthermore, there’s extensive evidence that the real source of the “poverty trap” isn’t lack of incentives, it’s lack of the resources needed for adequate nutrition, health care, housing and more. As a result, helping poor children doesn’t just improve their lives in the short run, it helps them escape poverty.

His disdain for the GOP’s position on taxes and helping those in need is embodied in the title. A party that increasingly embraces wild conspiracy theories likely views this “giveaway” to the poor as a way for the Democrats to win over voters and, therefore, abandons a moral prerogative to help the needy for fear that it might undercut their ability to win elections. This kind of program should have bi-partisan support and, as Mr. Krugman points out, it DOES have the support of at least one member of the GOP: Mitt Romney. But as he notes, Trumpists in the party view Mr. Romney with disdain. He, after all, really believes that families need more help and he wants to offer it to them as directly as possible. Shame on him for having a creative idea to help people! The last time he had such an idea it turned into Obamacare!