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Best and worst education news of 2013

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The year is not quite over but veteran teacher Larry Ferlazzo already has his list for the best/worst education news of the year, and here it is. Ferlazzo teaches English and Social Studies at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, California.  He has written five books on education, writes a teacher advice blog for Education Week Teacher, and has his own popular resource-sharing blog. See if his list resembles your own.

By Larry Ferlazzo

It’s time again for an annual recap of education news. As usual, I don’t presume to say it’s 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 2013 — So Far:

*A number of states have decided to  delay — in one form or another — their use of the next generation of tests geared towards Common Core Standards.   One can only help that this is just the first of many steps they will be taking towards recognizing the shortcomings of these kinds of assessments and their misuse for accountability purposes.

* The successful boycott of the unnecessary MAP standardized test by teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle that spread to six other local schools and inspired educators everywhere. Teachers who participated in the boycott were not disciplined (as had been threatened) and using the MAP tests have now been made optional. Garfield teachers’ strategy of organizing a united front of teachers, parents and students demonstrated that collective action can have a major impact on education policy that affects our classrooms.

* Passage and approval of California Gov. Jerry Brown’s new funding formula that not only increases school funding across the board, but provides more monies to districts with higher numbers of low-income students. We can only hope that it will be a model for other states to follow.

* The deaths of children (and adults) as a result of the terrifying Oklahoma tornado will never be considered anything but awful news. But the heroic response of local educators risking their own lives to save their students is another reminder that teachers do put the interests of children ahead of their own.

* Two new exciting books, authored by some of the best minds in education policy, were published: Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools by Diane Ravitch and Teacherpreneurs: Innovative Teachers Who Lead But Don’t Leave by Barnett Berry, Ann Byrd and Alan Wieder. These “must-reads” are follow-ups to their previous exceptional books.

* More research was published supporting the view that, yes, our students need good schools, but if we’re truly serious about providing them with genuine opportunities, what really needs to happen are major economic and political changes. I suspect quite a few of us are tired of hearing the refrain of “No Excuses” when we point out this reality.

* And more and more research was published pointing out that, you know, schools in the United States are generally doing pretty well, though you wouldn’t know that by a lot of public rhetoric.

* Charlotte Danielson is the guru for many districts that are initiating new teacher evaluation programs. Arthur Goldstein discovered a video of her declaring that standardized test scores should not be used in those teacher evaluations. I wonder if district administrators are listening? And, speaking of test scores and their validity in determining teacher quality, an important study determined that teacher success in helping students’ develop non-cognitive skills (an area of high-interest these days) had no relation to their Value Added Measurement (VAM) score.

* In his annual appearance on this list, Harvard professor Roland Fryer failed once again to prove that extrinsic motivation increased student achievement. One of this year’s failed experiments was giving students cellphones and sending them daily “inspirational” text messages. It didn’t work, but it did receive an advertising award.  In addition, the U.S. Department of Education unveiled not one, not two, but three studies showing that teacher merit pay generally makes things worse.

* Bill de Blasio’s election as mayor of New York City has got to be on this list.  He’s promised to reverse many of the education policies pushed by his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, that has caused so much damage to that city’s schools.

* This next one is a good news/bad news mix, and it relates to Social Emotional Learning.  The good news is that a major study was announced showing what many of us knew already: that social emotional learning isn’t enough — poverty causes a lack of self-control and perseverance and it’s not the other way around.  That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t help our students develop those qualities (though not grade them).  The bad news is that this research has not stopped some “school reformers” from trying to hijack the concept of “grit” and character education to further their own agenda.

* The millions of students who had great learning experiences in their schools this year.

The Worst Education News Of 2013 — So Far:

* The North Carolina legislature went off the deep end in a number of areas, including eliminating teacher tenure and pay raises.

* Attacks on low-income communities continued with massive school closures in Chicago, Philadelphia and elsewhere.

* Here we go again — Cleveland’s newspaper published the Value Added ratings of teachers.  And it appears like papers in Florida and Los Angeles (again!) will be joining them soon.

* Sadness, on a number of levels, in seeing the indictments of 34 Atlanta educators, including its former superintendent, as a result of the test-cheating scandal there.

* More disappointment in seeing how public office holder Tony Bennett changed the Indiana state “grade” given to a charter school backed by a major campaign contributor. A positive consequence of his action is that it’s prompting a major public reappraisal of the usefulness of this kind of school-grading. It’s unfortunate, however, that it took a scandal to make that happen. (Bennett left Indiana, moved to Florida as state superintendent but didn’t last long there.)

* Two surveys found what many of us knew already — that teacher morale is plummeting in the face of “school reform.”

* Bill Gates’ PBS-televised TEDTalk where he said that believed teachers should be videotaped as part of the evaluation process and that such a system would cost about $5 billion. The teacher he showed a video of in his talk said she disagreed with him. And, even though his foundation announced at the same time they want to start listening to teachers more, there was no chorus of “preach on, Bill!” from educators across the United States.

* Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s granting of a waiver from No Child Left Behind to eight California school districts (including the one in which I teach). Yes, it’s nice that the districts don’t have to waste money on hiring mostly ineffective for-profit tutoring services anymore, but that doesn’t trump the fact that neither teachers or parents had any involvement in writing the waiver request that includes all sorts of other changes, including ones related to teacher evaluation. In addition, it’s a distraction from the truly important California work of adjusting to our new school financing system. It’s also nice that both CORE leaders and Gates (see above) want to now collaborate with teachers, but it’s a little late to do this after most decisions have already been made. They might want to remember that the French root of the word “collaboration” means “working with” not “doing to.”

* The millions of students who are not getting the education they deserve.

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

The best — and worst — education news of 2012

The Best (and Worst) Education News of 2011

The Best (and Worst) Education News of 2010

 (Correction: An early version gave the wrong first name for Tony Bennett.)