Education Roundup: Student Loan Bondage, Intolerance, Big Mac Testing, Unequal Opportunities for Students in Poverty

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Nothing Will Free You From Your Student Loans

Another story from the coming student loan bubble has to make borrowers nervous. In New York, a federal judge ruled that an impoverished, disabled, and unemployed woman—one who hasn’t been able to work since 2008—could not cancel her student loan debt. Most terrifying in the story was this line: “Stitt had borrowed $13,250, which had increased with interest to $37,400 by the time she filed for bankruptcy.” While the judge did kindly investigate some programs that will allow her to discharge the debt in 25 years and the woman’s case is somewhat exceptional, the coming student loan crisis is real, and it seems the only ones being protected right now are the banks who make the loans and the government that profits off of them.

A Dish of Intolerant Bigotry Directed at the Helena Schools With A Side of Moron

Earlier this week, former Republican candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction Elaine Herman wrote an angry screed to the Independent Record, decrying the choice of Kim Reed as the HHS speaker as an example of the religion of “secular humanism” and “tolerance.” Among the illogical and offensive observations Ms. Herman made in the piece, my favorite was her assertion that “reference to tolerance/intolerance, to sex, to social issues, to religion and political preferences in the curriculum taught in our public schools.” That might work in a Math class, but I think Ms. Herman might be hard pressed to explain how we might teach Social Studies or Literature without referring to “social issues,” much less health without reference to sex.

Of course, Ms. Herman also ironically makes the excellent point that schools absolutely should help their students become more tolerant human beings, given her failure to develop that trait. Of HHS’s graduation speaker, she writes that teaching tolerance “has been further glorified by giving hero status to a transsexual at graduation commencement.” You know why my excellent students chose Ms. Reed to speak? Because she is an accomplished filmmaker, great speaker, and someone they admired for her courage. Their decision wasn’t a bold call for tolerance, because they already are tolerant; it was a choice reflecting their position that a person’s gender identity matters less than his/her/their accomplishments.

Grading an Analytical Essay is Just Like Making a Big Mac

Writing in the New York Times, Motoko Rich raises an important concern about the assessment of the PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments. How do those organizations measure whether or not an individual student has passed her tests and whether, by extension, schools will be seen as meeting benchmarks? An army of temporary workers, 3/4 of whom are working at home, after having been hired on ads in the newspaper, Facebook, and even Craiglist by corporations like Pearson.

Pearson’s defense of the assessment only made the scene look worse:

“From the standpoint of comparing us to a Starbucks or McDonald’s, where you go into those places you know exactly what you’re going to get,” said Bob Sanders, vice president of content and scoring management at Pearson North America, when asked whether such an analogy was apt. “McDonald’s has a process in place to make sure they put two patties on that Big Mac,” he continued. “We do that exact same thing. We have processes to oversee our processes, and to make sure they are being followed.”

Critical education, reduced to the complexity of putting two patties on a sandwich in a fast food restaurant. That surely sends the right message to parents, teachers, and students about the importance of validity of these exams.

Just for frame of reference, consider this question from a sample 11th grade exam:

Today you will read a biography of Abigail Adams, and then you will read two examples of correspondence between Abigail and her husband, John Adams, who served as President of the United States from 1797 to 1801. As you read these texts, you will gather information and answer questions that will help you understand John and Abigail Adams’s relationship and opinions. When you are finished reading, you will write an analytical essay.

Yeah, scoring that should be just like assembling a prefabricated fast food sandwich.

This story (and the corporate response) reaffirm my biggest fear about the Common Core in the future: because most people will equate the standards with the test, the continuing failures that come with those exams—whether repeated technological glitches, poor scoring practices, undue secrecy, or simply poor testing practices—will undermine the important reforms the Common Core brought to education in the US, and that’s a damn shame.

Unequal Opportunity for Students in Course Offerings

In news that will no doubt infuriate the likes of Elaine Herman, during my unit on education every year, I like to challenge my students to consider the potential need for Affirmative Action programs in college admissions to make up for inequity in K-12 education. We usually have a good debate, informed by the viewpoint of Jonathan Kozol, that students who live in neighborhood with low income and higher concentration of non-white students have less opportunity than many students in the country.

In their recent study that found “high-poverty schools struggle with lack of funding, crumbling infrastructure, community safety hazards, and teacher shortages,” the Alliance for Excellent Education notes even the course offerings are different at high-poverty schools:

Furthermore, high-poverty high schools offer fewer advanced-level math and science courses, which students need to succeed in college, the report says. While 94 percent of low-poverty schools offer Algebra II, only 84 percent of high-poverty schools offer the course. The divide is even greater for physics and calculus. Although 90 percent of low-poverty schools offer physics and 85 percent of low-poverty schools offer calculus, only 69 percent and 41 percent of high-poverty schools, respectively, offer the highest level science and math courses.

It’s easy for conservatives to argue that racism is over, that everyone has equality of opportunity in this country, but only if they turn a blind eye to the systemic racism that leads our least advantaged students who attend what Kozol calls “apartheid schools.”

If we truly believe in equality of opportunity, as conservatives like to say, shouldn’t we begin in our schools?

Low Income Students Are the New Majority

Finally, from the Southern Education Foundation comes this sobering news: “for the first time in recent history, a majority of the schoolchildren attending the nation’s public schools come from low income families.” In Montana, according to their report, 42% of public school students are low-income.

Maybe when the House Education Committee meets in 2015, its leadership can focus on the needs of those students, not the needs of corporations that want to privatize our schools.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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lokywoky
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lokywoky

The fact of being unable to discharge student loans that are underwritten by the US Government is the most sickening thing on the planet. And Congress gets to set the interest rate on those loans. Which they have set at a rate that is THREE TIMES HIGHER than what any bank charges for loans! Absolutely unconscionable.

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HighPoint

As vice-chair of the House Education Committee, Rep. Debra Lamm (R-Livingston) misrepresents the poorest town in Montana. Welcome to Livingston: Poverty Runs Through It. See: http://www.msn.com/en-us/money/generalmoney/americas-poorest-towns-state-by-state/ar-BBkW5UI

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