Sunday, January 1, 2023

Pay Students To Go To School? (Bad Pandemic Recovery Idea #42,231)

Over at Hechinger Report, Brandon Cardet-Hernandez has an idea about how to "solve the education crisis"-- pay students to go to school. Well, specifically, pay 16-and-older students to attend after-school enrichment programs, extended "summer learning" and work study programs. 

Cardet-Hernandez has knocked around education for a couple of decades. Currently he's the executive director of the Ivy Street School (a "therapeutic approach" school) and an appointed member of the Boston School Committee. He was the turnaround guy for a school in New York City as well as senior education advisor to Mayor Bill DeBlasio. During his four years as a special ed classroom teacher, he "developed a comprehensive, Common Core-aligned curriculum focused on History through an anti-oppression framework."

Despite all that, he loses me in his second paragraph when he cites Thomas Kane's notion that, "recent NAEP scores showed startling declines that could amount to as many as 22 weeks of learning loss." Anyone who claims they can measure learning in weeks or months or years or hectares or liters is just shoveling baloney. What they actually mean is "test scores are down," but you can't get people worked up about that. 

But Cardet-Hernandez wants us to know that "we are not approaching a crisis, we are already in one." Spoiler alert: he's not going to actually define the crisis beyond "test scores are down." Also, "chronic absenteeism is on the rise" he notes, linking to an article whose actual headline is "Pandemic Causes Alarming Increase in Chronic Absence and Reveals Need for Better Data" on a website for a group created in 2016 to sound an alarm about school attendance. 

Students' lives are different now, he notes, and so schools will have to do different things.

We often talk about simply making up lost learning time, but it’s not that simple. Like lost sleep, lost learning time cannot be reclaimed — but we can chart a new course that will set students up for success.

Side note. Ages ago, I actually did research about sleep deprivation, and you can, in fact, make up lost sleep--and pretty efficiently at that. You probably already know this on some level--if you sleep five fewer hours tonight, you don't have to sleep five extra hours the next day to get back on track. 

So his analogy is flawed, but I get his point, which leads us to his solution.

What if we used ESSER funds to create opportunities that allow for more focused and intentional learning time, aimed at addressing gaps exasperated during the pandemic? What if we created an entirely new way of connecting with students who are facing competing priorities?

This is great language, but we're mostly talking about paying students to go to school, and the problems I see are many. "Why am I getting paid to go to summer school but I have to go to regular school for free," ask a few million students. Add to that the problems that arise from using extrinsic motivation with students (eg actually decreasing motivation and interest). 

But most of all, this strikes me as simple admission that there's no good reason, no intrinsic reward available for going to extra school in order to raise some test scores. "We have no good argument for why you should give up part of your life so that test scores will go up," we're admitting. "How about a twenty?"

That's just the summer school and tutoring part of his solution. The other part is worse.

If we want to tackle learning loss and absenteeism with the necessary level of response, we could also use ESSER funds to employ students in age-appropriate job positions at their schools and in their cities. Think lunch prep in a cafeteria or clerical work in an administrative office, for example.

Yes, he's seriously suggesting that bringing back child labor would improve test scores-- a bad justification for a bad idea. And which period would students be dropping a class to make time for cafeteria prep? What confidentiality issues would come from students doing clerical work for admins? But Cardet-Hernandez suggests this would help with school labor shortages, and students would earn supplemental income while "acclimating themselves to the workforce." Also, it would help administration keep tabs on students' whereabouts and thereby help with the absenteeism problem.

Just yikes. Many, many students above the age of 16 are, of course, already acclimating themselves to the workforce. I suppose the chance to acclimate themselves to additional surveillance would be a plus? 

Yes, paying kids to go to school and/or to work at school is a seismic departure from simply fulfilling the requirement for attendance, but we are lying to ourselves if we believe that the solution is doing exactly what we’ve done to date.

"Seismic departure"? Yes, I'd say turning a privilege and right and a public good into a job would be seismic. Nor is it clear to me that this would help, because I'm pretty sure the proposition would be heard, correctly, by many students as, "So you'll pay me to come sit in this summer school class." So I'm highly doubtful that the damage done by this scheme would even yield the higher test scores he's hoping for. You can pay a student to show up, but you can't pay her to care--and the mere fact that you're offering to bribe her to show up is a clear indication that there is no reason for her to care. 

As for that last part--I've had this problem with this common post-pandemess argument all along. We used everything we know about educatin' to get students to deliver the kinds of scores we had in 2018. Then the pandemic screwed everything up. How does that mean that we can't use the same techniques we used to get to 2018 to get back to those score levels?

If I build a porch on my house, and then some jerk comes along with a bulldozer and knocks the porch down, why would I declare, "Well, the house now looks like it did in the pre-porch days. I guess now I'll have to build a garage or a rowboat on the front." Why would I not just build back the perfectly good porch I had built there before?

Cardet-Hernandez says we would be "foolish" not to give his idea a try. I'll wait to see if he can convince his colleagues on the Boston School Committee to go for it. In the meantime this sounds like a waste of money that harm more than help.

1 comment:

  1. One thing I keep not seeing in discussions about chronic absenteeism/learning loss is the fact that *kids are missing school due to illness like crazy*. 15 years of teaching and it's like nothing I've ever seen.
    The best way to combat this would be to use ESSER funds to try to prevent illness (upgraded ventilation, more sinks for handwashing, upgrade water fountains to water-bottle-filling stations that don't touch mouths, etc). But I don't see that mentioned in too many education spaces!