By Larry Ferlazzo
I usually do a recap of the year’s education news every December, but thought it would be useful to experiment with doing a mid-year review. 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 2016 – So Far
* New research on teachers unions proved to be a disappointment to many school reformers:
The data confirms that, compared to districts with weak unionism, districts with strong unionism dismiss more low-quality teachers and retain more high-quality teachers. The empirical analysis shows that this dynamic of teacher turnover in highly unionized districts raises average teacher quality and improves student achievement.
* The Gates Foundation offered a weak but, nonetheless, welcome mea culpa for some of their strategic missteps. The Los Angeles Times followed-up with an equally welcome and flawed scathing critique of the foundation’s work in schools. Anthony Cody and others pointed out The Times neglected to mention their responsibility in previously promoting some of the policies for which they were criticizing the foundation. Despite these shortcomings, these kinds of public admissions of mistakes and/or changes of mind by powerful institutions are always welcome news.
* In a pleasant surprise, the Supreme Court refused to weaken efforts by colleges and universities to promote student diversity and supported the University of Texas’ affirmative action program.
* Research shows that health challenges provide learning challenges, and Obamacare has made a big dent in that problem. The state of California has gone even further by providing health insurance to 170,000 undocumented children under the age of 18.
* In Chicago, educators continue to show their strength in the face of attacks. Thousands of teachers participated in a one-day strike and a principal who was a vocal opponent of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s school policies (and who the district was trying to fire because of it) was elected to lead the citywide Principals and Administrators Association.
* No educator will be sad that Michelle Rhee’s organization, StudentsFirst went under (the word “merged” was used, but everybody knows what it really meant) this year.
* Changes in the GED, the high school equivalency test, have been disastrous for students, with the numbers of people taking and passing it plummeting since Pearson took it over. Fortunately, the company has come to its senses and made some adjustments that should help.
* Millions of students had great learning experiences in their schools this year.
The Worst Education News Of 2016 – So Far
* Nine people were killed in Oaxaca, Mexico demonstrations against government reform proposals that scapegoat teachers as the cause of that country’s education ills. Does that scapegoating strategy sound familiar?
* Teacher’s efforts brought national attention to the terrible physical condition of Detroit’s schools and the fiscal disaster of the school district. Officials claimed teachers didn’t care for their students when they organized their sick-outs (including one who had earlier donated her kidney to a student). The state legislature and Governor responded, but their bailout package is being characterized as inadequate by many.
* National attention continues to be brought to the continuing lack of teacher diversity. Effective strategies to respond to that crisis have been highlighted, but it’s unclear if they will be enacted.
* The Department of Education released a report finding that six million kids are missing fifteen or more days of school each year.
* At the same time many states are wisely eliminating high school exit exams, others are adding new citizenship test graduation requirements despite research demonstrating they do little to promote civic participation.
* In a blow to millions of our students and their families, the Supreme Court deadlocked and, as a result, killed President Obama’s plan to provide “legal” status to undocumented residents. Research, as well as common sense, shows that maintaining the status quo will only make learning more difficult for students.
* Despite abundant research on the effectiveness of school desegregation for all students, and the availability of many effective strategies to achieve it, few efforts are continuing to be made in order to achieve it.
* School safety is very important, but it’s depressing to learn that from a new report that many school districts employ more security officers than guidance counselors. And there are certainly questions about the training some of these officers receive.
* A video made public of a Success Academy charter school teacher ripping-up the work of a first-grader (implementing a method called “Rip and Redo”) highlighted some of the excesses of so-called “no-excuses” schools.
* Millions of students should have gotten a better education than they did this year.
The Most Important Neither Bad Nor Good Education News Of 2016 – So Far
* The federal government is working with states to try to figure out how to implement The Every Student Succeeds Act. It seems like it could be an improvement on No Child Left Behind, but it’s still too early to determine if this is going to be bad or good for teachers, students and their families. As they say, the devil is in the details.
You might also be interested in previous editions of this list: