A teacher who owes $410,000 in student loans

Liz Kelley, left, and her sister and fellow teacher, Sheryl Silverberg, 45, at Ms. Kelley’s home in Ballwin, Mo. Credit: Whitney Curtis/ New York Times

“The federal government has become the biggest, nicest and meanest student lender in the world,” writes Kevin Carey in the New York Times. It’s very easy to borrow for college. It’s easy to defer repayment. But it all comes due eventually.

A Missouri high school teacher owes the federal government $410,000 for student loans. Liz Kelley, 48, hasn’t made a single payment, so the interest keeps mounting.

Liz Kelley received her graduate education degree in 2001.

Liz Kelley received her graduate education degree in 2001.

She borrowed $26,278 for a bachelor’s degree in English from Maryville University, a private school near St. Louis. After graduating in 1994, Kelley enrolled in law school. That delayed repayment on her loans and let her borrow $37,000 for the first three semesters.

After a serious illness, she quit law school and decided to go into teaching. A married mother of four, Kelley borrowed to pay for child care and tuition so she could study education at Maryville. After finding a teaching job, she borrowed again to earn more graduate credits to raise her pay.

She stayed in graduate school for five years, which let her put off repaying her loans. Graduate school and child care added $60,700 to the principal and the interest kept mounting. Her debt totaled $194,603 by 2005.

In the recession, the Kelleys lost their home to foreclosure and divorced. The loans came due — but the teacher was able to defer payments for three years due to hardship. She owed $260,000.

By this time, Ms. Kelley’s children were reaching college age. One received a financial aid package that included $12,000 in Parent PLUS loans, a federal program that allows parents to borrow money for their children’s college education after the children have reached the maximum on loans of their own. She agreed, hoping to minimize her children’s debt. She briefly enrolled in an education Ph.D. program at Texas A&M before withdrawing, but not fast enough to avoid an additional $7,458 in loans.

. . . After her loan deferment ended, she enrolled in another, similar federal program called forbearance, also because of an economic hardship. The hardship this time was the loans themselves.

In a little more than a year, the final forbearance will expire. The loan servicer could garnish her wages — she teaches at a parochial school — and eventually her Social Security.

“She had taken out her first student loan 25 years earlier and had yet to make a single payment,” writes Carey. With accumulated interest, she owes $410,000. Monthly loan payments would be $2,750 for 30 years.

If she found a public school job, she could use income-based repayment, which would link her payments to her income and erase the remaining debt after 10 years. “But that would still mean a decade of what she describes as ‘futile’ payments that won’t even cover her monthly interest expenses, leaving nothing to put away for retirement.” Carey writes.

I guess she objects to paying anything, ever.

From No Child Left Behind to Every Student Succeeds 

The newest proposed version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act — this one’s likely to become law by year’s end — has been released. Ed Week’s Politics K-12 has the details on what’s, unfortunately, named the Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA). Did we learn nothing about overpromising from No Child Left Behind?

States would still have to test students in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, and break out the data for whole schools, plus different “subgroups” of students (English-learners, students in special education, racial minorities, those in poverty).

But beyond that, states get wide discretion in setting goals, figuring out just what to hold schools and districts accountable for, and deciding how to intervene in low-performing schools. And while tests still have to be a part of state accountability systems, states must incorporate other factors that get at students’ opportunity to learn, like school-climate and teacher engagement, or access to and success in advanced coursework.

States and districts will have to use locally-developed, evidence-based interventions, though, in the bottom 5 percent of schools and in schools where less than two-thirds of students graduate.

Deciding on teacher qualifications will return to state and local control.

“ESSA doesn’t come close to getting it all right, but it’s a vast improvement on NCLB and the status quo,” concludes Rick Hess. “ESSA retains the big thing that NCLB got right for students (e.g. transparency) while stripping away ham-fisted dictates that created problems for students and schools.”

Arts integration — or just arts and crafts?

Four Philadelphia elementary schools are testing whether arts instruction improves math and science learning.

When teachers try to integrate the arts — music, visual art, creative writing, dance, etc. — in their classrooms, they risk sacrificing academic content, warns Susan Barber on Edutopia. She suggests five guidelines to prevent arts integration from becoming just arts and crafts.

Teachers can find arts-integration lessons with an academic focus that are aligned to Common Core standards at sites such as the Getty, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Kennedy Center, Barber suggests.

‘Computational thinking’ in every class

Fifth graders sketched designs for “Rube Goldberg machines” that would turn on and off lights or feed a pet fish. Each team member “spent a few minutes sketching out how one part — a marble run, say, or a Lego Robotics kicking foot — would operate within the machine,” then handed it off to the next person, who’d design the next step, writes Chris Berdik for the Hechinger Report.

Each fifth grader designs one part of a Rube Goldberg machine. Credit: Chris Berdik

Each fifth grader designs one part of a Rube Goldberg machine. Credit: Chris Berdik

In the affluent Pittsburgh suburb of South Fayette, “computational thinking” is integrated into every grade and class.

In the past five years, South Fayette has created STEAM (science, technology, engineering art and math) labs where K-12 students can work on coding, 3-D printing, computer-aided design and robotics.

“Computational thinking means breaking complex challenges into smaller questions that can be solved with a computer’s number crunching, data compiling and sorting capabilities,” writes Berdik.  That problem-solving approach can be “used in everything from textual analysis to medical research and environmental protection.”

The elementary school STEAM lab is filled with “markers, clay, straws, motors, pipe cleaners, bottle caps, sensors, felt and wires,” writes Berdik.

. . .  one class of second-graders recently learned how to use simple circuits to make a game in which the correct answer to a double-digit math problem would light up a little bulb.

“Last year, we did a digital storytelling project in here using stop-motion photography,” (STEAM teacher Melissa) Unger said. “It was spring, and the kids were learning about the life cycle of a butterfly in their regular classroom. So the teachers took that technology piece out of here and back to their classrooms, where students created animations of the life cycle.”

In Anthony Mannarino’s seventh-grade technology education class, “students have created everything from model planes to gears to more ergonomic handles for pots and pans.” Their designs are printed on 3-D printers. Students learn “habits of mind,” such as persistence.

“Whatever you design, there’s a lot of math,” one student said. And there’s plenty of trial and error. “I printed a case for my phone, and the first time, it was a couple millimeters off,” the student explained. “So I had to fix it and print it again. You have to keep trying until you get the result that you want.”

In middle school, a STEAM coordinator helps teachers weave the technologies into their lesson plans.

Students have made apps to help learn foreign languages. They have parlayed a science lesson on energy into the building of tiny, electrified, energy-efficient houses. They’ve used Scratch to animate their writings from English class and mixed music lessons with coding to build digital bands.

High school students can take technology entrepreneurship and human-centered design, as well as Advanced Placement programming. South Fayette students have won awards for their designs, such as  a “geriatric walker that deploys an extra stabilizer when helping someone get up from a chair and sounds an alarm when the walker is tipped beyond its center of gravity.”

Why do dogs chase cats?

At a Harlem elementary school, children are asked to come up with a question and use the Internet to find the answer, reports NPR.  Sugata Mitra, a British education technology professor known for giving street kids access to a “hole-in-the-wall” computer in India, developed SOLE (Self Organized Learning Environments).

MITRA: You’re going to work with these six computers; the question is, why do dogs chase cats? And, of course, you can talk as much as you like, you can walk around, you can move, you can look at other people’s work. You can do whatever you like.

Working in groups, students have 20 minutes to research the question. Then they report their findings.

STUDENT: A dog can grab and easily wound or kill the cat by crushing her in his jaws.

STUDENT: He might injure a cat by biting too hard even in play.

STUDENT: Like many things dogs do, chasing cats is instinctual.

MITRA: They are the first group who are trying to explain why.

STUDENT: Some want to play with the cat. Others perceive cats as prey and will harm a cat if they catch her.

The education industry is “under threat” from technology, Mitra tells NPR. It must change in order to survive.

SOLE looks like an interesting exercise, but not a revolution in learning.

Feds run the worst schools in America

Navajo students ride home from Lukachukai Community School in Arizona. Credit: M. Scott Mahaskey

The Bureau of Indian Education’s network of schools for Native American children is “arguably the worst school system in the United States,” writes Maggie Severns on Politico. Reports have detailed its failures for 80 years. “It’s just the epitome of broken,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan told Politico. “Just utterly bankrupt.”

Tucked into the desert hills on a Navajo reservation 150 miles east of the Grand Canyon, Crystal (Boarding School) has cracks running several feet down the walls, leaky pipes in the floors and asbestos in the basement. Students come from extremely troubled backgrounds, but there is no full-time counselor. Last year, a new reading coach took one look at the rundown cinder block housing and left the next day. Science and social studies have been cut to put more attention on the abysmal reading and math scores, but even so, in 2013 only 5 percent of students were considered to have grade-level math skills.

. . . The 48,000 students unfortunate enough to attend BIE schools have some of the lowest test scores and graduation rates in the country — even as the education they’re getting is among the nation’s most expensive: At $15,000 per pupil, the system costs 56 percent more than the national average.

“Frankly, we spend an enormous amount per student relative to other school systems for terrible results,” Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said.

After a visit to a Sioux reservation in South Dakota last year, President Obama called for “a pathway that leads to change.”
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The Interior Department wants to replace bureaucrats with education experts, improve teacher training and allow more tribal control. However, the proposal has many critics who “warn that paring back the federal government’s role will only make it easier to under-invest in schools that, by almost any measure, need money and resources the most,” writes Severns.

Corruption and mismanagement have plagued BIE schools. Often located in isolated and very poor areas, the schools have trouble attracting and retaining competent teachers. However, I think the greatest problem is that so many students come from “extremely troubled” families with high rates of alcoholism.

Students in Department of Defense schools outperform the average public school student. Black kids do especially well in DoD schools. Why? I think it’s the parents.

U.S. lags in preschool, college graduation

The U.S. is falling behind the world in college-educated workers, concludes a OECD report on education in 46 countries. “The U.S. hasn’t backslid, but other countries have made big gains,”  OECD Education Director Andreas Schleicher said.

In the past, the U.S. ranked second in the world in the percentage of adults with postsecondary vocational or academic education. Today, the U.S. has slipped to fifth position.

South Korea leads the world: nearly 70 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds are college educated. Only 46 percent of young U.S. workers have earned a certificate or degree.

The U.S. is not on track to meet President Obama’s goal of leading the world in college-educated workers by 2020. College graduation rates are falling. according to a new report. Among students who started college in 2009, the year Obama launched his college campaign, only 53 percent had graduated in six years.

College enrollment rates have fallen since 2008, especially for low-income students. In 2013, just 46 percent of low-income high school graduates enrolled in two-year and four-year institutions, according to Census data.

More than 70 percent of young children attend preschool in OECD countries, compared to 41 percent of U.S. 3-year-olds and 66 percent of 4-year-olds. “It’s an area where the U.S. trails quite a bit behind,” said Schleicher.

A  school for newcomers

PBS Newshour is airing a two part series on how schools are trying to educate immigrant and refugee students.

Las Americas Newcomer School in Houston enrolls newly arrived students who speak nearly 30 languages.  It takes a year or two to understand the language and the culture, says Principal Marie Moreno.

The way we were

This Thanksgiving pageant photo was taken at Roosevelt Elementary, Ridgefield Park, NJ circa 1955.

I played Goodwife Bradford in the Ravinia Elementary Thanksgiving pagent in 1959. I had the first line in the second act: “The common house needs cleaning.” It was my only line, because all the other girls needed to get their one line in. Then the boys came back on.

Now that I think of it, all the Indians were played by boys. Maybe that’s why the last of the Mohicans was the last.

I wonder if kids are still allowed to dress up as Indians — or is that cultural appropriation?Do they still sing, “We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing. He hastens and chastens His will to make known . . . “? (I loved the rhyme of “hasten” and “chasten.”)

No more ‘fake classes,’ schools promise

Some students were assigned to “work experience” or “service” classes that required picking up trash, running errands — or nothing at all. Others were sent home early. To settle a class-action lawsuit, six high schools in Oakland, Los Angeles and Compton have agreed to end “fake classes” with no academic content, reports the Contra Costa Times.

One of the plaintiffs, Johnae Twinn, hopes for a career in medicine. As a senior at Oakland’s Castlemont High last year, she tried to sign up for physiology and debate. Both were canceled. Instead, she was given two “home” classes — that is, no class. Another class period was spent sitting in the library. That was called “Inside Work Experience,” though she received few assignments.

Jessy Cruz failed to graduate after his high school placed him in three content-less "classes."

Jessy Cruz failed to graduate after his Los Angeles high school placed him in three “fake classes.” 

Twinn is struggling in college because of her weak academic preparation, said Kathryn Eidmann, a staff attorney for Public Counsel.

Already behind, low-income students were cheated of instructional time, Eidman told Peg Tyre in an interview. “Jessy Cruz, a named plaintiff in the suit, was a foster kid who was not on track to graduate. He was assigned to three contentless courses. He was not able to graduate. He has not gotten his GRE. He has not gotten a job.”

Eric Flood, another plaintiff, was assigned to three service classes one semester at Oakland’s Fremont High. He had to take online credit-recovery classes after school.

At Jefferson High in Los Angeles, Jason Magaña was placed in graphics, a class he’d already taken and passed, and given two “home” periods. He couldn’t get into economics, which he needed to graduate.