It has been an annual tradition on The Answer Sheet for veteran teacher Larry Ferlazzo to assess what he sees as the best and worst education news of the year and then make predictions about the coming year. Here is his installment on the news of 2019 (and his predictions for 2020 will be coming soon).

Ferlazzo teaches English and social studies at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento. He has written or edited 12 books on education, writes a teacher advice blog for Education Week Teacher and has a popular resource-sharing blog. He has written pieces for this blog over the years, including one on how teachers can help students motivate themselves and this one, one of my favorites, titled: “NEWS BREAK (not breaking news): Teacher asks students to grade him. One wrote: ‘I give Mr. Ferlazzo an A at being annoying.’”

NOTE: As in the past, Ferlazzo says he does not presume to suggest that the following compilation is all-encompassing and he hopes that you will take time to share your own choices in the comments. He starts this piece with what he thinks is the best education news of 2019 and then the worst — though the items in each category are not in any order of importance. And then there is one bit of news that he can’t categorize. Let him know if you can.

By Larry Ferlazzo

The Best Education News Of 2019

*Teachers maintained their momentum of successful organizing into 2019, beginning the year with a successful strike in Los Angeles, and continuing through Oakland, Denver and Chicago. In all cases, unions won agreements for reduced class sizes, additional nurses and counselors, and more (we had our own one-day strike here in Sacramento). Teacher walkouts also occurred in West Virginia, North Carolina and Indiana.

*Teachers were also able to build on their organizing success by supporting candidates who won the majority in the Denver school board elections and becoming the key factor in the defeat of Kentucky’s governor.

*Several important education-related research results came out this year, including a huge study finding that teaching students about a growth mind-set can lead to increased academic achievement; another — the umpteenth one that has reached the same conclusion — that “active learning” is more effective than learning from lectures; a study finding that older students mentoring younger ones can benefit not only the “mentees,” but the mentors, too (we have found the same results at our school); and, finally, researchers found that having teacher colleagues observe each other in a “no-stakes” environment and using a simple rubric resulted in both improving their practice. With luck, teachers and district leaders will learn about this work and get these findings applied in more classrooms.

*Courts blocked the Trump Administrations punitive “public charge” rule, which would have penalized immigrants for using public services legally available to them. Some families had reportedly already begun reducing use of health care and nutrition services for their children in fear of the rule.

*California approved a common sense law letting school districts consider the financial impact a charter school might have on district finances before making a decision to approve or disapprove it. It’s a small step in stemming the funding losses affecting districts (and their students and families) throughout the state.

*There has been a growing recognition of the role of teacher implicit bias in the classroom, and some districts, including the one in New York City, are taking steps to combat it. Much more is needed but, fortunately, fewer teachers are getting away with saying they “don’t see color.”

*The New York Times 1619 Project, organized by Nikole Hannah-Jones, has been an incredible resource for teaching about American slavery and is inspiring others to look at local historical and current implications. The Washington Post published a special section on the teaching of slavery as well that can serve as a great resource.

*The Democratic presidential primary race has brought attention — off and on — to education issues, whether it’s been on school segregation, the infamous “word gap” study, or candidate position papers on their school plans. Sometimes the quality of the public discussions is debatable, but it is a good thing that education is on the table. We can only hope it stays there through the general election and beyond.

*A Gallup poll found that high school teachers (I’m sure if they asked about elementary or middle-school teachers, they’d be pretty high, too) are the fourth most-trusted professionals in the United States. The recent success of teacher activism reflects that finding, and perhaps we should be speaking out even more!

*Research found that classes for African American young males that were taught with culturally relevant pedagogy and included Social Emotional Learning and academic supports resulted in substantially reduced school drop out rates. Let’s hope that schools around the country heard about this and replicate it!

*Maybe — just maybe — people might be recognizing that, instead of putting money and faith into being “data-driven” and into “better textbooks,” two things we should be doing are giving schools more funding and helping teachers become better at instruction. We’ll see….

The Worst Education News Of 2019

*The huge college admissions scandal was bad news since it was depressing to see how much at least some universities and the entire college entrance process is truly geared toward the wealthy, and how much of the talk about equity and inclusion is empty rhetoric. Yes, they got caught, but how many have escaped detection in the past and continue to do so now?

*No big surprise, but The Washington Post did an informal survey and found that we teachers spend a lot of our own personal money on students. Since it’s probably a safe bet that we buy materials that we think are essential for our classroom, perhaps it’s an indicator that schools need more funding?

*Not only are kids in Flint, Mich., suffering from the damage caused by lead in their water, but their local schools are increasingly overwhelmed by their needs and under-resourced to meet them. And it doesn’t look like it’s going to get any better.

*This next one has, unfortunately, been on many of my previous annual reviews — hate crimes increased. And President Trump is not helping by restating “go back to your country” tropes.

*Despite substantial evidence finding that damaging effects of grade retention, more states, including Michigan and Alabama, are implementing policies “holding-back” third-graders (many who are students of color) who don’t pass reading assessments.

*Most teachers polled in the respected annual PDK International survey said they would not want their children to become teachers. Not a pretty picture.

*The vaping epidemic is hitting our students hard, and now school districts are suing manufacturers to get support in dealing with it.

*Despite how obviously wrong it is, “lunch-shaming” — the practice of not providing students a regular lunch if their parents are not up-to-date in paying money in their account — continues to raise its ugly head.

*The Koch network announced a multimillionaire dollar effort to support “innovative approaches to education.” Based on their track record, that doesn’t bode well for teachers, students or their families.

*Though teachers were able to successfully leverage their union-organizing success in the political arena in some areas, that wasn’t the result in Los Angeles, where a tax measure to support schools was badly defeated.

Not Sure If This Belongs On The Best Or Worst List

*California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law mandating that schools in California start their day later. Additional money is supposed to be provided to fund before-school activities. If that support materializes, this could be a winner for students, their families, and schools. If, however, it goes up in smoke (as so much here in California is literally doing), this move could turn into a fiasco for everybody.

You might also be interested in previous editions of this list: