Every December veteran educator Larry Ferlazzo looks at the year in education news and makes his list of what he thinks the best — and the worst — of it was.
Of course it is subjective, and if you disagree with him, tell him (nicely) in the comments.
Ferlazzo is a teacher of English and social studies at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento He has written numerous books on education, writes a teacher advice blog for Education Week Teacher and has his own popular resource-sharing blog.
See whether you agree with his assessment. You can find links to his lists from past years at the bottom of this post.
By Larry Ferlazzo
As usual, I don’t presume to say this compilation is all-encompassing, so I hope you’ll take time to share your own choices. I’ll list the ones I think are the best first, followed by the worst. It’s too hard to rank them within those categories, so I’m not listing them in any order.
The Best Education News Of 2018
* The November elections brought lots of good news:
- The new Democratic majority in the House might be able to hold Betsy DeVos more accountable.
- Three additional states voted for Medicaid expansion, which should help huge numbers of kids and their families (research has already shown the positive impact on students when they have health insurance).
- Dozens of teachers won elections across the United States, including 2016 National Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes (who became the first African American congresswoman from Connecticut).
- Tony Thurmond defeated Marshall Tuck and his millions of dollars from charter-school backers to become state superintendent of public instruction here in California.
It wasn’t all good news, and some school funding measures lost, but — overall — it was a very positive development for education.
* The teacher strikes that hit across the United States in the first part of the year — and the public support they received — won some concrete improvements for teachers and schools. Beginning in West Virginia and then spreading to Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona and other areas, #RedForEd brought attention to the teacher compensation crisis, along with the need for increased overall education funding.
* School shootings are tragic and are highlighted in the “Worst News” section. However, how students have channeled grief and anger into organizing against gun violence has to be listed here under “Best News.”
* Even a die-hard Warriors fan like me can admire LeBron James for his basketball skills and his community commitment. He’s putting millions into supporting a public school in Akron, Ohio, that is implementing lots of ideas that researchers say should work.
* There have been several important and positive developments in the field of education research.
- A misleading “graph that never dies” is often used by opponents of school funding to supposedly show that, despite evidence, additional education moneys do not help students. At long last, two education journalists published accessible explanations about how that graph, and other versions of it, are wrong. You can read Matt Barnum’s article here and Matthew Di Carlo’s here.
- In addition, education researcher C. Kirabo Jackson co-authored a study finding something that all teachers know many critics appear to not understand: reduced school funding results in reduced student academic achievement. One would hope that this fact might dissuade some from ranting about us teachers “needing to do more with less.”
- Kirabo also authored another important study that found “the impact of teachers on behavior is 10 times more predictive of whether they increase students' high school completion than their impacts on test scores.”
Perhaps advocates of value-added measurement to assess teachers might want to take note.
* The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation admitted that, after spending $575 million on pushing teacher evaluation efforts, the policies they were pushing didn’t work. The good news isn’t that they wasted their money. Instead, the good news might be that a failure of that magnitude might reduce their level of hubris going forward. Though I’m holding my breath, it would be nice if newer education mega-funders would learn the same lesson a bit sooner.
* I’ve long been concerned about the manipulation and poor implementation of Social Emotional Learning and what can often be its lack of connection to racial equity issues. The Aspen Institute published a report raising those issues very eloquently: “Pursuing Social and Emotional Development Through a Racial Equity Lens: A Call to Action.” I have questioned the value of some of the reports Aspen has put out about SEL, but I think this one should be studied by every school that thinks it is emphasizing SEL at its site.
* School dress codes can be problematic in many ways, including often being sexist and racist. However, thanks to student and community input, and more reflection on the part of educators, there appears to be momentum toward making dress codes more equitable.
* New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) has initiated an effort to make the city’s specialized high schools more diverse. A similar effort is going on in our Sacramento school district. We can only hope that these are just tips of the iceberg, and that schools around the country will create initiatives to increase the number of students of color in academically advanced programs/schools.
* Millions of students had great learning experiences in their schools this year.
The Worst Education News Of 2018
* Tragic school shootings, at Parkland and at Santa Fe High schools, along with others, make The Onion’s headline “ ‘No Way To Prevent This,’ ” Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens” a regular truism. However, the “Best News” section highlights the incredible organizing done by students in response to gun violence.
*The Supreme Court ruling in the Janus case was a huge blow to teachers unions, educators, students and their families. On the face of it, letting people gain the benefit of union representation without having to pay for it is just not fair. But it’s safe to say teachers unions are here to stay. As the saying goes, “Don’t mourn — organize!”
* The terrible Trump administration policy of separating refugee parents from their children on our southern border resulted in widespread revulsion, including from educators. Fortunately, the public outcry forced the end of that terrible policy. However, the children, their parents and their teachers will be dealing with its negative impact for years to come.
* The Trump administration considered another bad idea (one of many). This one was to merge the Education and Labor Departments. It didn’t go anywhere. And speaking of bad ideas, DeVos proposed eliminating the federal office supervising English Language Learners. After all, there are only 5 million ELLs in our nation’s schools — why should there be a federal office looking out for them?
* DeVos did not make millions of students and their families feel safe when she initially said that it was up to individual schools if they wanted to report undocumented students to immigration authorities. She finally admitted that she was wrong, but it’s not as if immigrant families need more reasons to feel insecure. President Trump added fuel to the fire when he proposed ending birthright citizenship. How many of us teachers are going to have our students asking us, “Am I still going to be a citizen?” Of course, he didn’t stop there as he continued demonizing immigrants by attacking the thousands of Central Americans in migrant caravans, including many families, fleeing violence in their countries.
* African American children are continuing to find themselves targeted, ranging from a 9-year-old being falsely accusing of groping a woman to a 12-year-old having the police called on him because he accidentally mowed part of the wrong yard. And many schools are no refuge from this harassment as the Government Accountability Office found that African Americans are disproportionately suspended. Yet, in the face of this evidence, the Education Department has reduced its investigations of civil rights complaints against schools. Fortunately, the department’s Inspector General announced plans to look at dismissals of these complaints. By the way, you can check out if there have been complaints against your school at this ProPublica database.
* The K-12 T.M. Landry School in Louisiana — the source for all those viral videos of African American students learning they were accepted at Ivy League schools — was exposed for fraudulent academic records and child abuse. It was just the latest “miracle” school that has had the curtain ripped off it. When will the public, and reporters, learn that when a school sounds too good to be true, it probably is?
* The closure of 265 schools in Puerto Rico is certainly not going to help families there recover from Hurricane Maria. Plenty of research has shown the negative impacts that school closures have on students and communities. In fact, a new study came out recently. We can hope that this new school year goes well for to teachers, students and their families, though, I suspect they would rather have had an effective disaster response plan to the disaster instead of our thoughts and prayers now.
* Millions of students should have gotten a better education than they did this year.
You might also be interested in previous editions of this list: