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Update: Deeper holes

This story:

And what I said earlier:


This is going to sting a little: I have no more answers or insight than when I began. It’s as complicated as I imagined.

In other words: I don’t know. 

But it’s worse than I thought, too.

But there are plenty of people who will still tell me I’m wrong, or what to think, or mansplain it to me, or litigate it.

I don’t know.

The question: Why is college so expensive?

I made a comment about privatization and Wall Street (that synecdoche of our times)* being part of the problem for high costs of college, and two very different politically minded folks I knew took me to task on one end or gently probed (with the stinger of a scorpion I fear) on the other.

Here’s what I think and have experienced:

  1. I had a student loan for my Masters. It’s now in the neighborhood of 40K. I’ve been teaching for ten years. It’s only gone up because due to job losses, medical issues, etc. I’ve had to defer it several times. It’s at 4%. At this rate, I’ll never get it paid off.
  2. Sallie Mae split into two companies: Sallie Mae and Navient. I did not know this until my loan statements started coming from Navient. Navient is a private company.
  3. When trying to get a Sallie Mae/Navient loan for my older son, we were told we’d have to get a co-signer (due to all the deferments I’m sure, and is humiliating) and it would be over 12%. This website says 7.21% but that’s not what we were quoted, in writing.
  4. We applied to FAFSA for both boys. We don’t make enough to qualify for Pell Grants, (or do we?) and make too much to get inexpensive loans.
  5. I am applying to the 5K forgiveness. If I had a different kind of loan, and because work at a high poverty school, I could have obtained loan forgiveness for working there over ten years. As it is, due to the convoluted rules, I can’t. I would have had to see into the future when I obtained my loan.

Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 9.42.13 AM


So why is college so expensive:

Some say it’s because of the administration bloat. This may have merit as my own district has spent its rainy day fund largely on administrative costs.

What cannot be defended, however, is the claim that tuition has risen because public funding for higher education has been cut. Despite its ubiquity, this claim flies directly in the face of the facts. –Paul Campos

So there’s money there, just not reaching students. Fairly common.

States subsidize costs — so—

That dramatic increase occurred because during this period many states developed large budget deficits. In the late 1980s and 1990s these budget deficits increased because of popular support for tax-cutting measures at all levels of government. To give voters lower taxes, states had to reduce public services. Welfare and poverty programs were cut first, but more cuts were necessary to keep the deficits under control.

Legislators tried to preserve their state college and university budgets for reasons of pride and prestige, but the budget ax soon fell on them as well. When state appropriations for these campuses were cut, college administrators had no choice but to raise tuition to make up for the shortfalls.

To understand the nationwide impact of these budget-driven tuition increases at state colleges and universities consider the fact that 80% of all American students enrolled in degree-granting, non-profit institutions attend publicly funded colleges and universities. The tuition increases at these public institutions directly affected the overwhelming majority of American students.–Bill Zimmerman

And people has diminished ability to pay:

Reduced Means

The problem is compounded because people are less able to pay. Incomes are stagnant, some parents are unemployed, and many can no longer get low-interest home-equity loans because home values have fallen.

So families have turned to federal student loans, and even much more expensive private loans.

“Private loans are much riskier than federal student loans, because they don’t come with the important repayment plans, forgiveness programs and other borrower protections that federal student loans provide,” Asher says.

The Obama administration has been rolling out a number of measures to help students in danger of falling behind on their federal loan payments.

Nearly a half-million students have signed up for “income-based repayment.” The program limits the amount of your income that you have to pay. And officials say many more students could be signing up for this program while they’re waiting for the economy to turn around.

Quora has a page with some very thoughtful responses, from what my friend said about subsidies causing increases to other valid reasons. The supply and demand argument feels flawed in some ways and completely obvious in others. We in education have taken on the mantle of ‘career and college ready,’ with a heavy focus on the college part. But these feels like medical bills to me: if more people get cheap loans from the government, why are universities raising their prices? What am I not getting? (Except broke.)

Could it be this is the privatization I spoke of? When I speak of Wall Street and privatization, there is a lot of money to be made in education. Someone is profiting. So maybe like single-payer healthcare, college expenses should be controlled.

Now — more anecdotal stuff coming — my two sons attend and will attend two different state-run colleges. The University of Washington may be considered more prestigious, and expensive, than Central Washington University. We are not interested in pedigreed sheepskins, and neither are our sons. They’re going to the right school for them. But for some parents that’s important:

The result is a winner takes all college admissions culture. In their quest for the very best education, students and their parents do whatever is necessary to get that name-brand degree, including going into massive debt.

But what’s not funny or fair is though it’s not important to us, our sons still want an education.

Even before grants and scholarshipskick in, state governments provide subsidies to make public colleges more affordable for their citizens. But those education subsidies began to dry up in the wake of the Great Recession. In 48 of 50 states, higher-education funding was reduced to rein in budget deficits. In 15 of those states, public funding for full-time college students was cut more than 30 percent from 2007 to 2012 [source: Malcolm]. In Washington, for example, the state only covered about 35 percent of the cost of college in 2012, down from 66 percent in 2008 [source: Kohl-Wells and Frockt].


This is an in-depth look at multiple factors about college costs:

Knowing our luck historically, our boys will probably be out of college by the time Elizabeth Warren makes her stand.


The GOP blocked her proposal, naturally. Maybe between Sanders and Clinton, something will be done. We know the Golden Wrecking Ball ain’t gonna help.

We’re trying to pay as much as we can cash and carry for our boys. My parents did that for me and was their gift for my future. It paid off. If our boys worked part time they could cover some expenses, but wouldn’t begin to cover tuition and housing. Due to a faulty medical bill we were denied a home equity loan, so that’s out of the picture for now. We are truly the middle-class poster couple right now. Everything you read about ‘someone else.’ Stagnant wages. Job loss. Hefty debt and interest. Destroyed retirement accounts.

So — please– do me one favor? Don’t speak to me about how it’s not privatization and Wall Street investors. It is. What is a public service has been privatized for profit. The EdReform movement comes at a high cost, and the EdReform movement is directly related to Wall Street. EdReform pushes college, public or private.

We’ll get through this, and come out the other side. But I don’t have time to argue, debate, litigate, or explain what is happening to me personally. This isn’t some policy discussion. I just want this reigned in, for my sons and my students. I feel like I’m making promises to them I can’t keep. Correction: we can’t keep.

We’ve ruined a lot of what makes our nation great. Let’s not screw this up, too.


*Hey, I know what ‘synecdoche’ means — does that give me any points?

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Whisper and Shout

TL:DR –what I’m going to use from Miller’s The Book Whisperer.

Free choice. Free choice. Free choice.

I may need to take a little break from the Notice and Note Facebook group. Don’t misunderstand me–it’s a kind, forgiving, supportive, and collegial place. Teachers reaching out to one another for advice, sharing ideas and lessons; it’s wonderful and sweet.


…when they speak of Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer some teachers still speak the words “accountable” and “tracking.” I wonder if they read the same book I did. Many of Miller’s ideas I’ve done on my own, and it was validating to know much of her growth and process has mirrored my own. However, I am nowhere near getting students to read 40 books in a school year, but I’ll be darned if I’m not going to try.

But a few things seemed to be misconstrued by Miller, too: namely, novel units/studies and workshops.

With a workshop structure in place, my students were more engaged in reading and writing and more enthusiastic. Instead of teaching books, I taught comprehension strategies and literary elements that students could apply to a wide range of texts. I implemented the reader’s notebook, taken straight from Fountas and Pinnell’s model, in order to manage my students’ independent reading; set up reading requirements for my students based on genre as a path to choice; and assigned book talks to replace the dreaded book report. I photocopied mountains of reading strategy worksheets, lists of reading response prompts, and workshop management forms. I bought every picture book that my workshop mentors recommended.

Miller, Donalyn (2010-01-12). The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child (Kindle Locations 374-378). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Novel units were my bread and butter; now I’m going to take myself to task. Perhaps those novel units I crafted so beautifully, with artisan mastery, were for my own occupational therapy. We teachers do that sometimes, you know– give ourselves a goal in order to gain new understanding. To my credit and my mentor’s guidance. novel units were not based on single-title studies, but multiple books at various reading levels, interests, etc., based on enduring understandings and essential questions.

And as I read this passage about ‘mountains of reading response prompts,’ on Notice and Note someone shared a .pdf of this exact thing.

Where is the disconnect?

How do we go through teaching texts and determine what will be valuable in our practice, and what to disregard?

One thing I plan on doing is changing the entry task:

Take a look at a common classroom warm-up lesson: students are asked to look for grammatical and punctuation errors in a scripted sentence. Correcting the sentence may take five minutes. Discussing their corrections with students and providing feedback might take another ten minutes. Considering how little of this direct grammar instruction actually transfers to students’ writing (Alsup & Bush, 2003; Thomas & Tchudi, 1999; and Weaver, 1996), these fifteen minutes would be better spent reading, an activity that has been shown to improve students’ writing and grammar (Elley, 1991, cited in Krashen, 2004). With instructional time at a premium in every classroom, we cannot afford to waste any of it. Research has confirmed that independent reading is the better use of our time. Students in my class enter my classroom each day, get out their books, and start reading. Not only are students quiet and working (the implicit goal of all warm-up activities), but they are engaged in a productive endeavor that improves their reading performance. The amount of time I save by not having to plan and grade ineffective warm-up drills is icing on the cake. My intention is not to disparage the activities that you may use as class openers; some of them may have instructional value, but I challenge you to find anything that has more impact on reading achievement than independent reading. We teachers have more than enough anecdotal evidence that the students who read the most are the best spellers, writers, and thinkers. No exercise gives more instructional bang for the buck than reading. The added bonus for us teachers? I have found that independent reading is also among the easiest instructional practices to plan, model, and implement.

Miller, Donalyn (2010-01-12). The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child (Kindle Locations 816-829). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

The other thing is share reader’s notebook. I buy each of them a composition notebook, and will continue to model its use:

• Create your own reader’s notebook: At the start of each year, when my students are trimming and gluing their own reader’s notebooks, I make a new one for myself. I record all of the books I have read or abandoned for an entire year in one notebook, just like I ask my students to do. Each notebook serves as a record of what I have read over the years, and I use my reading lists to order books for the class library or make recommendations to my students and friends. Reflect on what you are reading: I am not suggesting that you write summaries of every book you read or your personal responses to them, but you can, if you would like to. Think about what you are reading, and observe what you like about the book or what you don’t like about it. What makes it challenging or fun to read? What sticks with you about the book when you are done?

Miller, Donalyn (2010-01-12). The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child (Kindle Locations 1716-1722). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Rethinking the whole-class novel. I am making no apologies for trying to jigsaw The Hobbit. But we currently have many single-title books, and now I have to consider how to use the titles in a meanginful way, or if at all.

• Laboring over a novel reduces comprehension. Breaking books into chapter-sized bites makes it harder for students to fall into a story. Few readers outside of school engage in such a piecemeal manner of reading. • Not enough time is spent reading. Many novel units are stuffed with what Lucy Calkins calls “literature-based arts and crafts,” extensions and fun activities that are meant to engage students but suck up time in which students could be reading or writing. • Whole-class novels ignore students’ interest in what they like to read. Reading becomes an exercise in what the teacher expects you to get out of the book they chose for you, a surefire way to kill internal motivation to read. • Whole-class novels devalue prior reading experience. What about the students who have already read the book? Admittedly, this may be a small number of readers, but I have sixth graders who have already read To Kill a Mockingbird and The Outsiders— two books that I know are taught in upper grades. Are they going to be expected to read them again? Advanced readers deserve the opportunity to continue their growth as readers, too. Yes, students benefit from the deep analysis of literature that a thorough look at one book provides, but there needs to be a balance between picking a book apart to examine its insides and experiencing the totality of what a book offers. There are other paths to teaching critical analysis and reading skills than belaboring one book for weeks. Let’s not lose sight of our greater goal: inspiring students to read over the long haul. Alternative: Rethinking the Whole-Class Novel My first suggestion on the topic of whole-class novels would be to evaluate whether you are truly required to read certain texts with your students or whether this is just a tradition. When your department has invested budget money and time in a closetful of whole-class novel sets, it is hard to break away from the entrenched attitude that reading the same book across the grade level is the best instruction for students.

Miller, Donalyn (2010-01-12). The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child (Kindle Locations 1804-1822). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Speaking to that, I’ll continue my use of short stories, etc. to teach.

Use short stories, excerpts, or poems to teach literary elements or reading skills, and ask students to apply their understanding to their independent books. Using an instructional sequence of modeling, shared practice, and independent practice, what I model and practice with students always ends with application of a skill or evaluation of a concept, using their self-selected books.

Miller, Donalyn (2010-01-12). The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child (Kindle Locations 1876-1879). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Now — if you still need a way to have students show and share their books, Miller offers plenty of alternatives to book reports or talks. I’ve done these myself, and heartened by her claims will refine my Reading Road Trip student blog for next year. The students are still too interested in “how many points is this worth?” That’s a conversation for another time.

One last thing: I am in a grown-up book club. No one read my book recommendation, So You’ve Been Publically Shamed by Jon Ronson. One woman did end up reading my other recommendation, The Psychopath Test, but this crowd is just not into the same things I am. It’s getting kind of rough. They love romances and sagas, like The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. I jokingly said our book club could be renamed to the Not Read Book Club. They tend to like bestsellers, self-helpy kind of books. But I do like the company, and we always have good talks. Finding out why people don’t read a book is sometimes more revealing than why they do.

P.S. If you’re looking for thematic books for units of study, resources abound. For example, if you want students to read about Scientists’ Struggles, click here for titles.

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The first rule of write club…


Must give credit to John Spencer once again for this idea. He tweeted:


Now the thought of Chuck Palahniuk writing the back story for a cartoon intrigues me, and I began to think of multiple mash-ups of writers and stories. This morning I envisioned a complete Nathanial Hawthorne Scarlet Letter version of Rugrats, whereas every time Angelica attempts to bully the babies she must wear her insignia “A” embroidered on her chest, serving multiple purposes. The adults are the villagers, of course, standing firm in judgment. Well, it played out better before I had coffee. Now I’m not so sure.

But what about Stephen King and a treatment of Roadrunner? I think Kurt Vonnegut could do justice to Bugs Bunny. Or as John quoted, ‘create sad backstories to all the Animaniacs.’ Brilliant. This, of course, is the essence of fan fiction, with a hefty side of writer’s craft, style, and voice for good measure.


Allow me to meander a bit:

Ayn Rand takes over an episode of Invader Zim.

Neil Gaiman rewrites a ‘Hey, Arnold’ episode.

J.K. Rowling takes on Powerpuff Girls.

G.R.R. Martin rewrites Dexter’s Laboratory.

Dr. Seuss: Ren and Stimpy, of course.

Suzanne Collins and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends.

Okay, I could go on all day. I am seeing a really fun lesson idea here: D&D dice with each number associated with an author and then a second roll for the cartoon episode. 

What other ideas come to mind?



Now–parents–think for a second. When I was growing up Bugs Bunny and his ilk alluded to operas, literature, film, etc. I know there are ‘jokes for grownups’ in current children’s media, today, too, but I am a bit out of touch with the ten and under crowd these days. My sons are 18 and 21, and they share gritty, funny binge-worthy media. We are long past the Rugrats days. If you’re a parent of kids under 10-11 and let them watch tv, what do they watch?



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Language, people!

As our culture’s norms and protocols shred and tear, an issue I’ve noticed is amazing content laced with profanity. Now, most who know me know I can have a bit of a salty tongue myself. I’m sure it’s from a past life when I was a pirate. Or perhaps it’s just a stress-reliever, kind of verbal punching bag. Maybe it’s when I was a pirate in therapy. Who knows? Regardless, there have been many times I’ve wished to use the perfect clip or content to relate a concept, yet it’s laced with vulgarities. What’s a teacher to do?

Case in point: John Oliver’s latest post about the primary and caucus rules, state by state, was amazing. I won’t link it in case there are children present. There have been multiple Daily Shows, clips from R-rated movies (as long and as bad as it is, Troy with Brad Pitt shows his naked hiney, so I can’t show that….). Glory with Denzel Washington and Matthew Broderick, also fantastic, but says the “f” word, contains war violence, and uses the ‘n’ word; however, a case is made to understanding the context of the ‘n’ word. Years ago when a publisher switched out the ‘n’ word for ‘slave’ in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is wrong for so many reasons.

Here’s my wish: if there is some content that could be easily edited, or comes edited with the language ‘gone.’ There are some programs that allow for this:

I haven’t looked into VidAngel, but it might be worth a shot.

Look, I realize I’m beginning to sound a bit Ned Flanders about the whole thing. I would no more censor The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian than Huckleberry Finn, so how is it that content in visual formats more shocking?

So — teacher friends — how do you decide what’s worth showing? I know one that is always a hit:

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Into the maw…

Look how cute! A baby leatherback turtle!

Exhibit A: Leatherback turtle

Just like my i-Pod from years ago:


So sweet. So innocent. But yet, they grow:

Three external hard drives...
Three external hard drives…

But my digital life has turned into this:

Inside the mouth of a leatherback turtle (See Exhibit A)

Yes, this is how I currently feel about my digital hoarding. See that external hard drive with my name on it? That has ten years’ of lessons, plans, photos, videos, etc. on it. And the other day I found it in the laundry room garbage.


There were other terrible, unmentionable things in that garbage, too, and it was on its way out the door when I spotted it.

I have no idea how it got there; lately, I’m believing in house gremlins because my Apple watch, a  gift from my husband last fall, has gone missing. I have looked high and low. It’s gone. No, it wasn’t in the laundry room garbage pail, or under my bed, or stuff on a shelf. It’s gone. Will I replace it? Probably not. It was pretty cool, though. And now I’m sad.

But what would I have done if I hadn’t noticed, and rescued, the Holy Grail of Hard Drives from the bucket? Would I have missed it? Felt this strange sense of grief without being able to place it? I’ll never know. What I do know is I’ve tried to curate, delete, organize, and consolidate my digital tomes many times, and have met with odd and undermining obstacles.

Here are the storage sheds in my virtual world:

  • Google Drive
  • i-Cloud
  • The district’s personal server drives (H)
  • The district’s switch to Microsoft’s OneDrive/Office 365
  • My personal Dropbox account
  • My personal computer (Mac)
  • My school-issued computer (PC)
  • My old Macs
  • My old Dell (who knows what treasures still exist on that one?!)
  • Three external hard drives, including the rescued one.

And this digital list doesn’t include the binders I organized last summer, with labeled tabs, of many years worth of lessons, ideas, and curriculum maps.

Don’t think I’m not aware of my hoarding problem. Wait a damn minute, that’s not fair! I’m not a hoarder, I’m a saver! This has potential! And so does this! And if I don’t save the same thing in multiple places, what if it gets lost? ONLY PROVEN BY THE TRASH CAN CONSPIRACY OF ’16! The fact is my tendencies not to delete lessons has only been reinforced by multiple times when a colleague has needed a lesson or a file. This is the truth. But that doesn’t give me an excuse for not organizing this stuff better because it’s gotten completely out of hand.


You know that old saw of “preparing kids for a future that doesn’t exist yet?” I can think of something right now. I would pay a kid to curate my files/computers. Right now. I would outline the most important things/categories and have them save to two places: a hard drive and a cloud.

But how to label and categorize? Is it by medium, standard, theme, unit, or what?


  • Power Points
  • Prezi links*
  • Smartnotebooks
  • Lessons
  • Letters/Teacher Files
  • Photographs/images
  • How-to flip/blended classroom videos


  • Go through every lesson and label by CCSS? Oh no…but…


  • Files by thematic (units)
  • Files by Lesson overview:
    • Literary elements
    • Short stories
    • Grammar lessons
    • Writing workshop
    • Reading workshop


  • This would be fairly simple to do…right?

*So the Prezi thing — this made me realize how much of my work is already saved somewhere to some digital cloud, some other place, where it’s not located in one of my accessible hard drives. Dang, do we just gather all the links? The embed codes, and put it together?


Oh look...another image for my files.
Oh look…another image for my files.

The other day during testing, I set up a way to port files from the rescued hard drive to my Dropbox. When I check in after twenty minutes, it had over 2,800 files to go. It would take things off the hard drive as direct file folders: I had to unpack everything and try. This led to falling down the rabbit hole: looking at old video clips, reviewing former students’ work, reminiscing about times of yore. Okay, that is hoarding, I admit. Or is it?

Finding photographs of my sons from when they were younger? Being able to send a student a video of when he was in 7th grade (he’s now in the Navy), and having his mom be so happy to see it? Are we so burdened by our own narrative digital information we freely and capriciously trash it?

There’s got to be a better way.

Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?