Student Loan Interest Reduction

They did not pass the law that would give students lower interest rates but they probably will.

I wish to go on record as saying I don’t want those lower interest rates passed. We don’t need to make student loans more attractive. We need to make student loans less attractive.

I watched a TV show last night which included the story of a young dancer who had gotten a much-coveted $28,000 per year position as a dancer. She was lamenting that she could not pay off her $60,000 in loan debt. Of course she can’t! There was close to zero chance that her intended career would supply her with the salary needed to cover that loan debt.

Nobody should take out $60,000 in loans to get a dance degree. Or a theater degree. Or an anthropology degree. Not unless they plan to live with their parents for a number of years.


Your Budget with $50,000 in Student Loans (16.5 percent of borrowers). This is where graduates really start to feel the burden of student loans. Monthly payments are around $450, largely because private loans are necessary above $31,000 in tuition costs.
It would be a tight budget for someone earning between $40,000 and $50,0000. Student loans would be a large portion of the budget. You’d be paying about as much for loan payments as you would for food. Food is usually the third largest category in a household’s budget. Your monthly loan repayment would be about a third of what you are paying in housing costs.
Eduhonesty: I feel sorry for the girl. In my view, financial aid offices have a lot to answer for.  But reducing loan rates is not the answer. Discouraging debt is the answer. 

Starting foreign language in high school

Language learning preferably should start in elementary school — or middle school at the latest. It’s possible to learn a foreign language starting in high school, especially if a student continues to study in college and lives for some time in a foreign country, but a functional vocabulary is 5,000 words and true fluency is more like 40,000 words. That requires an enormous commitment. 

The effect of our current policy is to make most Americans monolingual. Two years of a foreign language provides the barest ability to manage in that language and after a few years many students will lose even that ability, especially when they have little intrinsic commitment to learning a second language in the first place. Unless a language is used, its vocabulary and grammar fade away, becoming no more than distant memories, a few random words that can’t be fit into any useful reading or conversation. 

I know colleges often require those two years of a language. That’s why foreign languages are now a requirement in many schools. But if we are going to require language study, we should do it right. We should start young.

Perhaps colleges should make a change. Why not require 5 years of a foreign language instead? That would push language study into the middle schools. Our graduates might then become authentically bilingual.


Eduhonesty: When a sixteen-year-old, beginning Spanish student says to her teacher, “I’m not going to learn Spanish in two years. Nobody can learn a foreign language in two years,” she is absolutely right. If she were motivated, she might be able to get a great head start, but unless she’s willing to put in many evening hours, we are wasting her time and ours.

Student Loans

We manufactured this crisis — have no doubt about it. We drone on and on and on throughout school about how our students must go to college. So they do. Whether they are ready, able or interested — they sign their name on all sorts of dotted lines to do what they were told to do. 

“Are” is not an adverb

“No, ‘are’ is an adverb,” the student said. Then she began to frantically leaf through a stack of notes, convinced her English teacher had said this. She is in high school.

I don’t fault the kid. I don’t fault her teachers, either. I strongly suspect any responsibility lies with the curriculum that ducked grammar and verbs, leaving this girl lost at sea in her foreign language class.

More Paper Sorting

Another reason so many trees died: Often, to raise test scores or improve student behavior, the administration created an activity which supplanted my lesson plan for the day. In many cases, I didn’t have time to get back to the activity since future days were already planned. But I hate to throw away a fully prepared lesson, so I kept these papers and activities, thinking a day would come when I could use my lecture and materials for reinforcement. That tomorrow never arrived, though, and more of my plans were laid waste by other administrative brainstorms.

Many trees died this year. I feel sad as I throw some of these aborted lessons into the recycling.

Summer Sorting Papers

Trees died this year, supporting the academic effort. Trees have been dying for a long time to help me out. As I sorted the papers yesterday, old and relatively new, I was struck by the fact that stricter curricula have not been kind to my students. My older original creations and copies from times when I got to choose at least some of my materials are simply better and more interesting than the materials that I have often been handed and told to use.

I kept copies of a lot of the old stuff, hoping to find a position where I could use them. I threw almost all the new stuff in the recycling.

It’s not that the new stuff is bad. But it’s not particularly good, either, and if I end up in another district where they are handing me my materials, they’ll give me more. I don’t need to fill files with mediocre assignments. Too often, the district happily provides that service free of charge.


Eduhonesty: I know my students. I can do a better job of selecting reading material for them than some faceless stranger in a board office. If my classroom has 19 boys and 11 girls, that matters. If my classroom has 23 Hispanic students and 7 African-American students, that matters too. I am in position to ask my students what they like and what they want to read. I should be picking the books.


During my first year teaching, I had a Spanish student who spent nearly a month with a friend in the lunchroom, skipping his classes, until he was caught. I thought he had mono. He failed various classes and I had a few sad conversations with his desperately worried mother. Responsibility for this skipping has to be put on the student, but school overcrowding in a poor district was one culprit in the situation. Lunch began early and ran almost all day, since the small available lunchroom space restricted the number of students who could eat during any given period. The wave of incoming and outgoing crowds was enough to shield this small sophomore, visiting with his friend through the hours, as pizza smells wafted around them — while their classes went on without them.  The noise level provided some protection, too, I’m sure. Making out the sound of an individual voice in that lunchroom was nearly impossible unless a listener was only a few feet away.

Poor and urban schools often have physical problems that contribute to behavioral issues. Many of these schools are old, even sometimes decrepit. The money required to repair or renovate buildings may never become available. While I regard differences in school infrastructure as one of those issues that “doesn’t matter very much” in sorting out our educational mess, I can’t duck the question of infrastructure entirely.

Infrastructure matters in subtle ways. Restrooms that are placed far from supervision encourage illicit activity, as may dead spaces behind lockers or stairwells. Schools with heavy gang activity will not lack for illicit activity. In particular, drug dealing will be happening somewhere. Student density is a key factor in bullying. When the halls are narrow and the crowd wide, students inevitably run into one another. These collisions, whether accidents or not, are sometimes taken as challenges. Fights start easily in crowded conditions, often encouraged by other students yelling, “Get him! Get him!” Adolescents love excitement.  The demographic for television wrestling is heavily weighted to young men, many in public schools.

I don’t see any realistic fix for this problem. Any fixes require formidable resources that don’t currently exist. A quick pass at some numbers will help clarify my view.
In school funding, the bulk of any costs are thrown onto the local community. Tax rates vary across this state and other states. In Illinois, property tax rates vary from less than 1% to over 8%, and perversely enough those areas with the highest rates tend to have the lowest property values. Unfortunately, this fact makes perfect sense upon reflection.  
Let’s say District A has $1,000,000 in taxable property. District B has $100,000 in taxable property. If we tax both districts at 5%, then district A will pay $50,000. District B will pay $5,000.  We can tax district A at a much lower rate than district B and still get more money for our schools. If we tax District A at 2%, we collect $20,000. We have to tax District B at a rate of 20% to take in the same sum of money.

Poor districts have to pay higher percentage rates to support their schools and, even if they do so, may take in substantially less money than their wealthier neighbors. The state and federal government will fill in some gaps, but will not equalize the situation. Let’s look at this in practical terms: Given that we are already taking a chunk of change from District B when we take 5% — which is one dollar for every twenty – how cooperative will the districts’ voters be when we threaten to further raise their taxes? In practical terms, the money may simply not be there. If we must raise property taxes to 17% to get enough money to build a new school, that school will never be built. Needed repairs and upgrades will also be postponed. The hallways will become more crowded and we will begin to look for creative solutions to our problems. Some teachers will roam from classroom to classroom because there are more teachers than rooms. Some teachers will share a classroom, even teaching classes at the same time in that one room. Some teachers will be stuffed in supply rooms or large closets, usually special education or bilingual teachers because of their smaller classes.

These adaptations, while suboptimal, do not necessarily capsize teaching efforts. I did some of my best teaching in a converted supply room one year. The many gouges on my walls in my last school were immediately covered with cheery posters and other art. I always keep a bright, fun classroom and I can make just about any room welcoming. If I have to cover almost all the walls with posters and fresh colored paper, I will pull out the trusty stickem stuff, or my glue gun if I am working with concrete. 
Still, in this time of test craziness, infrastructure does not hit the radar nearly enough. Old schools often do not have air conditioning and may have very uneven heating. That last school with the gouges on the wall was frequently in the eighties and above in fall and spring. In the winter, classrooms might fall to 55 degrees. I guarantee this affects instruction and learning.

This is a point that never seems to come up when people are castigating the teachers in these old buildings because test scores did not climb high enough.

Donate your Books

Given the 2003 Morrow study that states that “students in classrooms with libraries read 50% more books than student in classrooms without them, I wonder why school districts don’t focus more on purchasing diverse books for purposes of building up classroom libraries? This would be especially useful if we bought highly visual books designed to benefit bilingual students and early readers. Is this simply a matter of a shortage of funds? Or is it a matter of allocating resources according to curriculum requirements that do not include random, recreational literature?
My fear is that part of the reason these books may not enter the classroom is the vise of overly rigid curricula. If outsiders are picking all the books, they may not understand the complete necessity for kids to be able to find what they like to read. Readers like to read. How do we create readers? We give them the skills to read AND we find them books they enjoy. They must have freedom to choose.
A sidenote: This is one reason why teachers end up spending a lot of their own money. I have bought many books for my students over the years. I make the long drive to the Walworth County Fair in Elkhorn, Wisconsin because they have a great used book sale up there: I once got an affordable set of encyclopedias written at an elementary school reading level for around $5.00.
Any readers planning to dispose of gently used books might try contacting a teacher friend. We can usually find a way to pass them on to someone who will appreciate them, even if we can’t use them ourselves.