Here is veteran teacher Larry Ferlazzo’s annual list for the best/worst education news of the year. Ferlazzo teaches English and Social Studies at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, California. He has written seven 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. What did he miss?
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 2014
* Despite the best efforts of many “school reformers” to scapegoat us teachers as the source of education’s problems, and despite their efforts to justify those beliefs by implementing unfair and arbitrary teacher evaluation methods, state after state using these instruments this year found an infinitesimal number of teachers to be “ineffective” — including Florida, Rhode Island, Maryland and New York. Of course, unwilling to be confused by the facts because they don’t support their beliefs, some reformers are now demanding changes to the evaluation systems they forced upon us.
* High school graduate rates are at their all-time high, drop-out rates have decreased and National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test results increased, with the biggest improvement among students of color.
* Colorado students organized a successful large-scale protest campaign that stopped their district from making changes in their Advanced Placement History course curriculum. Some school board members didn’t seem to like the fact that the course includes looking at some of the less favorable aspects of our country’s history — another example of not wanting to be confused by the facts.
* Ras Baraka was elected mayor of Newark, New Jersey, with opposition to the state’s “One Newark” reform plan for that city’s schools. That particular over-reach by reformers was highlighted in a devastating New Yorker piece titled “Cory Booker, Chris Christie, and Mark Zuckerberg had a plan to reform Newark’s schools. They got an education.”
* Two destructive “school reformers” left the public scene:
Michelle Rhee stepped down as chief of StudentsFirst, which is great news for most teachers, students and their families. The bad news is that might leave her with more free time to meddle in the Sacramento school district where I teach, since that’s where she lives.
John Deasy resigned (or was pushed) from his position as Los Angeles school superintendent after a series of arrogant and disastrous maneuvers, including a fiasco of trying to purchase thousands of iPads. Earlier this month, the FBI seized twenty boxes of documents related to that program from the District’s offices.
* Lily Eskelsen García was elected president of the National Education Association and will provide a powerful voice, along with her counterpart at the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, to support teachers, students and their families with a progressive and positive education agenda.
* It was a very rough election night, though there were two clear education bright spots that had a lot to do with the support the candidates received from teachers — Tom Wolf was elected governor of Pennsylvania and Tom Torlakson was re-elected California State Superintendent of Public Instruction (though I think he should stick to education and not pursue a career as a country music recording artist).
* The good news is that Karen Lewis of the Chicago Teachers Union is recovering from surgery on a brain tumor. It would have been extraordinary if she had been able to run against Rahm Emanuel for mayor of Chicago, but the fact that she is recovering and remains in the fight for better communities and schools is the best news of all.
* Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize.
* The central role of standardized testing in schools came under increasing attack from many different directions and has even forced some major proponents to at least make rhetorical retreats. It’s still unclear, however, how it will all “play out.”
* Dana Goldstein’s book, The Teacher Wars, was published and became a bestseller. One of the best, if not the best, book out there that discusses the present state of schools and how we got here.
* The millions of students who had great learning experiences in their schools this year.
The Worst Education News Of 2014
* Two particularly awful tragedies struck educators and their students in other countries this year — the apparent murder of 43 student teachers in Mexico by police and drug traffickers and the massacre of 148 students and teachers at a Pakistan school by the Taliban.
* Of course, the United States was not immune from the killings of young people. The thoughts, prayers, and hearts of many educators went out to their families and, though a few teachers demonstrated incredibly poor judgment, others tried to use the Ferguson and Cleveland tragedies as opportunities for everybody — including us educators — to learn.
* In another attempt to blame teachers for challenges facing schools, California judge ruled in the Vergara lawsuit that tenure and due process is to blame and not poverty, lack of resources for schools in under-served communities, or minimal professional support. The suit inspired a similar case in New York. Fortunately, in California, Governor Jerry Brown has appealed the decision and, with luck, it will eventually be laid into the dustbin of history.
* The Obama administration appeared to learn little from its countless missteps it has made in the name of “accountability” for K-12 public schools and announced plans to start treating colleges and universities the same way. It’s all very bad stuff, though it would have been nice to hear the outrage now being voiced by college presidents said by them when we were being attacked. And the Obama Administration announced plans to treat college teacher preparation programs even worse.
* Social Emotional Learning threatens to become just another in a long line of good ideas manipulated and used by school reformers in harmful ways. More and more, it’s being used as a substitute to providing adequate resources and even being used to evaluate prospective teachers. A column appearing in The New York Times even called for genetically identifying children who supposedly needed more SEL skills and then sorting them in schools.
* A video from a Chicago professional development session showed why teachers are going out of their minds.
* A new study found that less than one-half of one-percent of research studies related to education were replicated. And it gets even worse. Remember that when the next “research-based” fad comes calling.
* The millions of students who should be getting a better education than they are receiving.
The Most Important “In-Between” Education News Of 2014
The Common Core Standards continue to be under attack, with a few states withdrawing their support. In the long run, I don’t think the Standards themselves or state opposition is going to make that big of a difference in what we do in our classrooms. However, I am appreciative that it’s bringing additional light to the role of unaccountable private foundations in shaping education policies.
You might also be interested in previous editions of this list: