Education

Briefly Stated: August 31, 2022

August 30, 2022 8 min read
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Biden’s Student Loan Forgiveness: Will It Help Teachers?

The Biden administration’s new student loan forgiveness plan that will cancel up to $20,000 in debt for eligible borrowers will benefit many teachers and other K-12 personnel.

Like many other professionals, teachers have taken out loans in order to pay the costs of their pre-service training, most of which takes place in university-based programs that charge by the credit hour.

A National Education Association report last year found that 53 percent of the pre-K–12 teachers and specialized instructional support personnel it surveyed took out student loans to fund their own education. And over half of educators who took a student loan and still had a balance by 2021 owed an average of $58,700.

The report also found that younger educators are far more likely to have taken out student loans than older colleagues and that there are stark differences in levels of debt between Black educators and other groups. Black educators, who took out loans, had an average initial debt total of $68,300, compared with $54,300 for white educators and $56,400 for Latino educators.

That disparity is in part why the Biden debt relief falls short of some advocates’ hopes for an across-the-board cancellation of student loan debt, including other steps to better address racial inequities among borrowers. Republicans, on the other hand, said the plan will burden taxpayers, including some who haven’t gone to college.

Here’s how the plan will work:

  • Borrowers with an individual income of less than $125,000, or $250,000 for households, who received Pell Grants, are eligible for up to $20,000 in federal loan debt cancellation.
  • Borrowers with an individual income of less than $125,000, or $250,000 for households who did not receive Pell Grants, are eligible for up to $10,000 in federal loan debt cancellation.
  • Relief is capped at outstanding debt. So, if you’re eligible for $20,000 in relief but your remaining balance is only $15,000, you get $15,000 in relief.

Nearly 8 million borrowers may be eligible to receive relief automatically, according to the U.S. Department of Education. For others, an application to provide income data to the department to determine eligibility will be made available in the coming weeks.

The Gap Between Teacher Pay and That of Other Professions Hits a New High. How Bad Is It?

Teachers don’t make as much money as their college-educated peers in other professions—a widening gap that just keeps getting worse.

In the latest analysis on teacher pay from the Economics Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank supported partially by teachers’ unions, researchers found that in 2021, the so-called “teacher pay penalty” reached a new high: Teachers earn 23.5 percent less than comparable college graduates.

In other words, on average, teachers earn 76.5 cents on the dollar compared with what college graduates earned working in other professions.

That’s tough data to overcome at a time when many districts across the country are struggling to hire enough teachers and other education professionals to staff classrooms and schools. Some districts and states have relaxed their minimum requirements to address teacher shortages, including opening the door to hiring people without bachelor’s degrees.

Teachers generally do get better benefits—namely, retirement plans and health insurance—than other workers, but it’s not enough to fully offset the wage penalty, the EPI analysis found. When benefits are factored in, the total compensation penalty was 14.2 percent in 2021. The analysis—which uses data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics--tracks weekly wages to account for the fact that that many teachers do not work in the summer months. Researchers also controlled for factors such as age, state of residence, postgraduate education levels, and race and/or ethnicity.

The widening salary gap between the teaching profession and other careers requiring college degrees is already a big impediment to recruiting more prospective teachers into the pipeline, said Sylvia Allegretto, the author of the EPI report.

“Are we really attracting the best and the brightest into teaching?” Allegretto said. “You have to do something very bold and sustained to really start reversing these trends that are making the teaching profession unattractive even for students who want to be teachers but choose not to because they know … this is the lay of the land.”

Classroom Talk on Race and Gender Identity Are Big Targets for Legislation

State legislative sessions in 2022 brought a wave of proposed bills meant to restrict classroom lessons and discussions, as well as staff training on the topics of race, racism, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

In all, state lawmakers proposed 137 such bills, according to a new analysis from PEN America. That’s a 250 percent increase over 2021 when 54 such bills were introduced. Just seven of the bills proposed in 2022 were ultimately signed into law, the analysis found.

Jeremy Young, the author of the PEN America analysis, predicts this trend of legislation will continue in 2023.

“The main reason there’s been such a dramatic increase is simply a bandwagon effect for political reasons,” Young said. “There is some evidence that these bills fire up the conservative base and some, I would say, shakier evidence … that these bills can even appeal to swing voters. And because of that, where previously these bills were being promoted mostly by people who were very committed to the idea of censoring and restricting public education, now, there is a lot of pressure on particularly conservative lawmakers to support or sponsor or vote for these bills.”

Momentum to regulate and restrict what schools and educators can teach and discuss so-called “divisive topics” started in early 2021 and focused almost exclusively on issues of race and racism. The numbers of bills targeting other topics expanded significantly in 2022.

Last year, only five bills targeted classroom instruction related to LGBTQ+ issues and identities. This year, that number increased to 23, the report found. Largely fueled by Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill and the attention it drew, lawmakers in a few other states proposed similar measures. No others have passed.

In its own analysis, Education Week has identified 42 states where legislation has been introduced or other steps have been taken to restrict teaching critical race theory or put constraints on how teachers can discuss racism and sexism. Seventeen states have imposed such restrictions or bans through new laws or other policy actions.

Teachers Are Key to Getting Girls Interested in STEM

We’ve got a long way to go before the numbers of women catch up to men in engineering, computer science, and physical science careers.

And according to a new survey of tech professionals, one of the most powerful ways to put more girls on a path to STEM professions is having a parent or teacher who encourages them to study computer science.

When asked who had the greatest influence on their decision to pursue a career in tech, 60 percent of adult female respondents said a family member or a friend, and 50 percent said a teacher. The survey of 400 adults working in the tech industry was commissioned by Girls Who Code and Logitech and was conducted by market research firm Ipsos.

The survey identified four key factors that helped women succeed in a tech career:

  • Having early influences,
  • Being passionate about computers and how things work,
  • Being able to make meaningful contributions to society, and
  • Having access to communities of support.

The survey also found that women’s interest in computer science typically starts in high school—much more so than during middle school or even college.

In interviews with Education Week, three young women who plan to pursue STEM careers, or are already doing so, said K-12 schools have a responsibility to provide more STEM classes and incorporate more STEM activities into class so that girls become more aware of the industry and its opportunities.

“It is great for girls to take CTE [Career Technical Education] classes in high school, but at this point many girls already have in their head that the stereotype about it just being boys coding all day is true,” said Ally Zendejas, 17, a senior at Cox Mill High School in Concord, N.C. “If girls have access to coding games, web design, and tech classes in middle/elementary school, they will hopefully fall in love with it and see that they do belong in the field.”

An AI Tool That Writes Student Essays? Teachers Tried It Out

What if every student could use artificial intelligence to do any form of writing for their classes?

A recent technology called GPT-3, a machine-learning model that understands and generates natural language text, is attempting to make this a reality. Created by an artificial intelligence company called OpenAI, GPT-3, formally known as Generative Pre-trained Transformer, is trained to recognize 540 billion words and 175 billion parameters, which are the variables that allow AI models to make predictions. The training enables the technology to produce human-like text for several types of writing, including outlines, long-form essays, sales pitches, and poems.

But how well does it work? And what do teachers think of the results?

Education Week asked three teachers to test and assess the technology. Some teachers saw the model as a benefit to students who have minimal writing skills. Others, tasked with teaching students more complex types of writing, did not find much value in the technology.

Here’s a short recap on what they thought:

  • Anthony Long, a teacher at Aspire Lionel Wilson College Preparatory Academy in Oakland, Calif: He explored how students can use the GPT-3 technology to help students in his engineering class write product and marketing pitches for the products they design and create. Long said the technology didn’t generate a full product pitch, but it gave a great start for students to begin their writing process.
  • Maya Kruger, a 6th grade language arts teacher at St. Anthony Middle School in Minnesota: The GPT-3 experiment she tried fell short of what Kruger expects from her students when they conduct research, develop arguments, and cite sources—all of which are foundational skills for good writing.
  • Lauralyn Taylor, a teacher at Cass Technical High School in Detroit: In her experiment with GPT-3, Taylor said the technology did not demonstrate most of the skills—rich context, character development, text analysis and writer voice—she looks for in student writing. She said she found the content it produces to be generic.

Ileana Najarro, Staff Writer; Madeline Will, Staff Writer; Eesha Pendharkar, Staff Writer; Lauraine Langreo, Staff Writer; and Williamena Kwapo, Newsroom Intern contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the August 31, 2022 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated

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