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 2015
* Seattle teachers went out on strike and won an exceptional list of changes, including guaranteed recess for elementary school students and an in-depth examination of equity issues such as the disproportionate number of suspensions handed out to students of color.
* Momentum continues to build for increasing use of restorative practices in school over punish-and-suspend. Similar momentum continued for increasing the use of Social-Emotional Learning (two new excellent reports on SEL were issued over the past year), but there’s a negative to that found in the “bad” section of this post, too.
* The Washington State Supreme Court decided that taxpayer-funded charter schools are unconstitutional. The case might provide a blueprint to opponents in other areas. I, and many others, are supportive of charters the way they were originally intended to operate — as laboratories for, and not “creamers” from, public schools. Perhaps this case and others might force charter advocates to reflect on that original purpose.
* States have begun concluding that high school exit exams are destructive to the education and to the lives of students, and have eliminated them. In my own state of California, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill into law that could allow 40,000 students who had denied diplomas to receive them retroactively.
* U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the architect of many policies that negatively impacted students, families and teachers, resigned. That’s the good news. The bad news is that, though everybody should be given a chance to show what they can do, things don’t look like they’ll get much better under his successor.
* Student protests in support of racial justice, against school closings, and around other issues had success in the United States and in other parts of the world, often with teacher and parent allies.
* Renowned education writer and researcher Linda Darling-Hammond’s announced her retirement from Stanford to begin an impressive new education “think tank” called The Learning Policy Institute. You can read her description of it here. Its list of senior research fellows looks like a “who’s who” of talented and progressive education researchers in the country. I can’t wait to see the results of their work!
* Momentum may be building, at least in some areas, to remove student test scores from a role in teacher evaluations. It appears that New York is near deciding on a four-year moratorium of their use in that formula.
* Kevin Johnson, the Mayor of Sacramento and a person who has done much to damage our city’s public schools, declined to run for re-election following publicity of past allegations of sexual misconduct. At one point he and Michelle Rhee, his wife, were a two-person “school reform” wrecking crew, but it appears that separate actions taken by each have damaged their credibility beyond repair.
* Democratic presidential Hillary Clinton questioned the role of charter schools and criticized the use of tests in teacher evaluations. If elected, it appears that she might be planning a break from Obama administration education policies.
* The Every Student Succeed Act, the successor to No Child Left Behind, was signed into law. Though it is by no means perfect (I’m not at all crazy about how it will impact English Language Learners), I tend to think it will be an improvement.
* Teachers, both in the United States and in other parts of the world, provided care and education to refugees fleeing violence in Central America and the Middle East. The bad news is that those numbers don’t show any sign of abating…
* Millions of students had great learning experiences in their schools this year.
The Worst Education News Of 2015
* Changes in the GED by Pearson resulted in passing rates plummeting in many areas by as much as 90 percent. As a result, thousands of predominantly low-income people did not obtain a badly-needed high school equivalency certificate and had their economic prospects severely damaged.
* Despite public warnings from some of the most well-known researchers of Social-Emotional Learning that there are not now accurate ways to measure those skills, the Every Student Succeed Act encourages their use. Even the international PISA test is getting into the act by planning a bizarre scheme to measure student collaboration by pairing them up anonymously during the test to solve a problem. Speaking of bad news related to SEL, there still seems to be an effort by some to push it as a “blame the victim” strategy to replace support for adequate social policy measures. I’ve called it the Let Them Eat Character perspective; Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman coined a different term this year for that kind of attitude – The Laziness Dogma.
* Billionaire Eli Broad began gearing up for a $500 million campaign to create nearly 300 new charter schools, which would irreparably damage the Los Angeles public school system.
* Speaking of billionaires behaving badly, the Walton Foundation announced plans to increase support for plans like Broad’s across the country, the Gates Foundation wants to now mess around with teacher prep programs, and David Geffen decided that UCLA needed $100 million for a private middle and high school on its campus.
* Who didn’t see the video of the police officer assault on the South Carolina high school student? That awful incident began to shed light on the widespread and inappropriate use of the police to enforce classroom management, as well as broader questions about the role of officers in schools, and particularly with how they relate to students of color. Similar questions have been raised in California when a recent report revealed that police in San Bernardino have made 30,000 arrests in schools over the past ten years.
* Teacher Amy Berard shared a story that gives just about every teacher nightmares in her must-read “I Am Not Tom Brady” blog post at the EduShyster blog. In it, she recounts being required to wear a microphone in her ear while a committee of adults sit at the back of the room and give her instructions on what to do and say to students.
* A big new study on online charter schools found that the results were so terrible that “it is literally as if the kid did not go to school for an entire year.”
* Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett pled guilty to a kickback scheme she arranged before she resigned. In one of the emails she sent while negotiating the kickbacks, she wrote, “I have tuition to pay and casinos to visit.”
* The Nevada legislature approved a bill letting parents take their child from a public school and use taxpayer money to pay tuition at a private or religious school – or even for homeschooling.
* For the first time in at least fifty years, in 2015 a majority of public school students came from low-income families.
* Muslim students are being harassed in schools — which should be a safe haven — because of anti-Muslim hysteria in the United States. At least the U.S. Attorney General is trying to respond to these terrible acts. And the atmosphere is not helped by over-reactions to student assignments of writing in Arabic.
* The Supreme Court made the bad decision to hear the Friedrichs case which, if they rule in favor of the plaintiffs (the likely outcome) will eviscerate public employee unions, including teachers associations.
* Students, their families and communities had to deal with terrible incidents of racism and murder. The other side of those tragedies was that educators stepped up to support students dealing with the police murders of Freddie Gray in Baltimore and Laquan McDonald in Chicago, the church killings in Charleston, and in other areas.
* Millions of students should have gotten a better education than they received.
You might also be interested in previous editions of this list: