You can’t live on $13,000 a year

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This year, for the first time, I have a number of students who have told me they intend to drop out of high school. I’ve never heard this admission before. Historically, I have always known a number of long-term bilingual students who chose not to walk the high school stage, but I’ve never had a group so ready to admit they wanted out. Work sounds better than school to these kids.

I tackled my problem with hard math. Glassdoor.com provides salary information for a variety of jobs. A student wanted to know how much he could make working at McDonalds for 32 hours a week — a perfect launch platform for the discussion we needed to have. Positions at McDonalds generally paid $8 something per hour. We ran the numbers for a 32 hour week, subtracting for taxes, social security and FICA. I noted that McDonalds might not let my student have 32 hours if 32 hours obligated them to provide health insurance. I talked about the people I know who can’t get health insurance because employers deliberately keep their hours below the health-insurance threshold.

We looked at other McDonalds’ positions, such as IT and business interns, and corporate managers. Those positions paid reasonably well. The interns were making around $20 an hour and many managers were making over $100,000. I explained those managers went to college; many probably have MBAs. The interns are probably attending college. McDonalds is checking them out to decide whether to hire them after they graduate.

In contrast, my student’s 32 hour job had the potential to pay less than $13,000 per year.

I hope I made some headway toward keeping my students in school. What worries me most about the situation is the fact that a number of students told me they wanted out of school as soon as possible. How many are actually planning to drop out if about one-quarter the class will admit to that plan?

I’m afraid a year of required, inappropriate tests and bell-to-bell teaching to those tests may have pushed at least some of my guys out the door, too. While I can hope that academic successes in the future may result in reconsideration of the drop-out plan, hope won’t pay for my students’ rent, food, medical costs or car repairs. The student who wants to quit and go to work at McDonalds has had a rough year of fail, fail, fail. He is far from alone.

I think the one-size-fits-all, go-for-broke academics of the year have worked for some students. I am pretty sure that the net effect of this crazy testing year has been a win for the kids at the top of the academic ladder. We owed those kids a win, too.

But the effects of nonstop, unreadable, incomprehensible tests on the kids in special education and bilingual programs may not net out with the results the district desires. Kids at the lower end of regular education classes may not benefit from that testing regime, either.

Eduhonesty: We talk about differentiating instruction all the time. When all students are taking the exact same test at the same time, though, that differentiation is not happening. True differentiation requires adaptation of materials. Rumor has it that the administration has decided to allow for adaptations of materials next year for special education and bilingual.

To those mysterious subscribers to this Blog of Gloom and Doom, thanks for reading and I apologize if I sound repetitive here. But I’m worried when thirteen- and fourteen-year-old boys think that flipping burgers sounds better than high school. I’ve never encountered this before. I’m used to unrealistic dreams, to dreams of the NBA and NFL, for example. I’m not used to dreams of fast-food, drive-in windows.