We’re not quite at the end of the year but let’s get a head start with the following roundup of best/worst education news for 2012. This is the considered opinion of veteran educator Larry Ferlazzo, who teaches at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento. He writes a popular blog for educators and a teacher advice column for Education Week Teacher. He has also written four books on education.
By Larry Ferlazzo
Here is my annual humble attempt to identify the best and the worst education news that occurred during the past 12 months. I don’t presume to say it’s all-encompassing, so I hope you’ll take time to share your own choices in the comment section. 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 in 2012:
* The courage and success of the Chicago Teachers Union in their seven-day strike. As union President Karen Lewis said, ““The key is that we are trying to have people understand that when people come together to deal with problems of education, the people that are actually working in the schools need to be heard. And I think that this has been an opportunity for people across the nation to have their voices heard. And I think we’re moving in the right direction.”
* Many of the November election results. Idaho voters overturned several measures harmful to students and teachers, Indiana’s pro-voucher Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett was defeated by a teacher, and San Antonio voters approved a tax increase to support an expansion of pre-kindergarten programs. A California proposition was approved to increase taxes to support schools, and Democrats, who gained a “super-majority” in the state legislature, are discussing plans to make it easier for local communities to approve taxes for school programs. And, of course, President Obama was re-elected. Despite concerns many of us teachers have about his education policies, he was a far better choice than Mitt Romney and his plan toward school privatization.
* Far-reaching recommendations released by the State of California on educator preparation, professional development and evaluation. The California Educator Excellence Task Force Report, called Greatness by Design: Supporting Outstanding Teaching to Sustain a Golden State, provides progressive guidelines for many of the major challenges facing schools today and in the future. It was co-chaired by Stanford Professor Linda Darling-Hammond. [Disclosure: Ferlazzo was a member of the Task Force’s teacher evaluation subcommittee.]
* The blog started by Diane Ravitch. Ravitch, the best-known critic of the so-called “school reform” agenda, documents key developments in education several times a day.
* The Mystery Teacher Theater 2000 competition, which opened a vibrant discussion of the role of Khan Academy in education. Teachers throughout the United States created videos that offered a “critical eye” to Khan’s work, and the contest provided an opportunity for widespread and respectful dialogue about the use of Khan videos in schools.
* The withdrawal of major school districts from federal program to fund merit pay for teachers. Despite the very strong evidence that “pay for performance” is ineffective, the federal government has continued spending money to encourage districts to initiate this type of compensation plan. Three school districts — New York, Chicago, and Milwaukee — had to return their grants because they couldn’t reach agreement with the teachers on implementing the program. Umm, you think school district officials might want to consult with teachers beforehand?
* Research findings showing that bribing people can motivate them, but not in the way you think it might. Plenty of research finds that extrinsic motivation generally is not effective over the long term and for tasks requiring higher-thinking skills. Prof. Armin Falk, however, has now found that if people feel they are not treated fairly, they do get motivated — to do worse. With luck, educators and education policy-makers will keep this in mind in the classroom and in bureaucratic offices.
* New research finds big problems with use of Value Added Measurement in secondary schools. Two studies find that VAM, a growing tool used to evaluated teacher performance despite much evidence about its inaccuracies, is especially inaccurate in evaluating secondary school teachers.
* The millions of students who had great learning experiences in their schools this year.
The Worst Education News in 2012:
* The tragic consequences of Hurricane Sandy on schools, educators and families. I know of two groups (and there are probably more) raising funds to specifically help students and teachers — Donors Choose is working with the American Federation of Teachers, and the Albert Shanker Institute is collaborating with First Book.
* The theatrical release of the right-wing backed movie, Won’t Back Down, designed to drum-up support for the widely discredited parent trigger idea. On a positive note, however, was that in addition to getting panned by critics, it had the worst box office of any major film released in the last thirty years.
* Widely publicized research claiming that “loss aversion” was effective in schools. Researchers gave young children trophies and money before they would take a test, and then forced them to give them back if they did not reach certain achievement levels. They did the same to teachers with cash bonuses. I tell ya’, implementing that strategy is going to do wonders for classroom and school district culture…
* The failure to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Though it was an uphill battle to begin with, sometimes you just have to fight for what’s right no matter what the odds of success. Happily, at least some of his public education policies are getting a “push-back” from the courts.
* A major push to use computers to gradestudent essays. In addition to how easily they can be confused, there are other reasons to be concerned. As educator Renee Moore says: “When I sit down next to each of my students or with a small group of them (physically or virtually) to share their most recent work… I am doing what no software program can copy. It is through these very human interactions that I also show them that they have worth far beyond a number on a scale.
* The failure of an initiative to including collective bargaining rights in Michigan’s state constitution. Its passage would have rolled-back some of worst excesses of school reform laws passed last year.
* The school district version of Race To The Top. Despite numerous flaws in state-wide versions of RTTT, the U.S. Department of Education decided to “double-down” on it by initiating a program to which individual school districts could apply. It created numerous conflicts between administrators desperate for money in these times and teachers who tended to have more longer-term vision for its consequences.
* A widely publicized — and flawed — study by Chetty, Friedman and Rockoff which purports to prove that students with teachers garnering lower Valued Added Measurement scores earn less money in their careers — and are less likely to have teen pregnancies — than those who had teachers with higher VAM scores. Its authors publicized their results by comparing teachers to baseball players and cavalierly summarizing their study by saying “the message is to fire people sooner than later.”
* The millions of students who are not getting the education they deserve.
You might also be interested in seeing my previous year-end “round-ups”: