A math assignment for 6th graders at Miles Avenue Elementary School in Billings has caused concern among some parents that it pushes an agenda on students that favors raising the minimum wage.
The assignment — which can be viewed here — comes from of a Scholastic Math booklet. It compares minimum wages in the United States to minimum wages in other countries and discusses current proposals spearheaded by President Barack Obama to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, as well as the city of Seattle’s plan to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
“An after school job working the cash register at Walmart or flipping burgers at McDonald’s will earn you at least $7.25 per hour, the minimum wage in the U.S. But many people — including President Barack Obama — think you need a raise,” the assignment states in the introduction.
The students are then asked to solve 10 problems that involved finding the difference between the minimum wage in the U.S. vs. France, wage differences between fast-food workers and a lawyers, the yearly purchasing power of the minimum wage, and the difference between the current federal minimum wage and Seattle’s $15 an hour minimum wage.
“About how much more per hour do minimum wage workers in France earn than those in the U.S.?” asks the first question in the assignment. The tenth question asks, “when Seattle’s minimum wage increase to $15 per hour goes into effect, how much more will that be than the current federal minimum wage?”
In a telephone interview with Media Trackers, Billings parent and state co-director for the conservative group Concerned Women for America (CWA), Kari Zeier — whose daughter received the assignment — said that the assignment raised “red flags,” and became even more concerned when told by the teacher that the assignment was done independently by the students without a class discussion on the matter.
“What really concerns me is that the teacher said, ‘we didn’t read this aloud in class, they did the reading on their own.’ And I though what kind of discussion was there about the concerns about raising the federal minimum wage?” Zeier stated.
Zeier said that, after herself and other parents got wind of the assignment, another parent and local business owner offered to talk to the class about the potential pitfalls of raising the minimum wage, but “the request didn’t go anywhere.”
Zeier, who through her role with CWA has spoken out against the controversial Common Core State Standards for Montana, emphasized that she is very much pro-public schools and was highly complimentary of the school that her children attend and its staff. However, she said that she and other parents are concerned about seeing assignments that seem to be pushing a political agenda.
She gave another example of a Social Studies assignment that summarized the Bill of Rights, but omitted the 2nd and 10th amendments.
In an email to Media Trackers, Kim Anthony, Curriculum Director for Billings Public Schools (BPS) said that it was difficult to “fully address the concern” without knowing additional information regarding the classroom context of the lesson, though she emphasized that the curriculum is designed to be politically neutral.
“Generally speaking, Billings Public Schools works to provide our students with real world questions and problem-solving,” Anthony wrote. “Our curriculum is designed without bias or agenda, and our teachers provide information based on teaching and learning as opposed to politics. Questions are, of course, hypotheticals and are designed to provide examples, not to instruct as to belief.”
She also stated that, to her knowledge, no parent had yet come to BPS officials with concerns regarding the minimum wage math assignment.
Zeier stated that she emailed the BPS Superintendent Terry Nelsen Bouck’s office regarding the assignment, but received no response.