It’s that time of the year when best and worst lists are compiled — and that’s no easy task when it comes to education in 2017.

A lot has happened since President Trump took the oath of office and Betsy DeVos was confirmed as education secretary by the Senate, after Mike Pence became the first vice president in history to break a tie for a Cabinet nominee. So what were the biggest education developments? And what were their effects?

Every year, Larry Ferlazzo, a veteran teacher of English and social studies at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, takes on the job of deciding. Here is his latest effort. Ferlazzo has written numerous books on education, writes a teacher advice blog for Education Week Teacher and has his own popular resource-sharing blog.

See whether you agree with his assessment. You can find links to his lists from past years at the bottom of this post.

By Larry Ferlazzo

Here is my annual recap of the year’s best and worst 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 2017

* More states are backing off from using student test scores as part of a teacher evaluation process.  That’s good news because of increasing research showing that those scores don’t provide accurate pictures of student academic achievement and, in fact, don’t show student advancement in many other important skills. (They also penalize teachers of so-called at-risk students.)

* Speaking of using test scores to evaluate teachers, Bill Gates announced that his foundation would no longer fund projects that promote that practice. Instead, he said, the foundation will focus on “local ideas.”  That’s good news, though, of course, the devil will be in the details.

* Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones was awarded a MacArthur Genius grant for her work on the impact of segregation in schools and housing. You can read an example of her work here.

* An attempt by the state of New Mexico to water down the teaching of evolution and climate science was largely beaten back by grass-roots opposition.

* A federal judge in Arizona ruled that the state’s stopping a Mexican American studies program was wrongly driven by “racial animus.”  The termination of the course ended up being a perfect example of the community-organizing adage that “your opponents often do the best organizing for you,” as it helped create momentum for ethnic studies courses to expand rapidly throughout the United States.

* Federal data was released showing a decrease in school violence and an increase in students feeling safer at their schools.

* The high school dropout rate has continued to decrease for all ethnic groups. Education researcher Kirabo Jackson points out that this positive development also has an often unreported effect on standardized test scores. While various test scores used to label schools might not be increasing rapidly, that “slow” growth coincides with that substantial reduction of the dropout rates across all ethnic groups. So the overall student population taking the tests now has different, and more challenging, characteristics than the student population that formerly took the test.

* The New Teacher Center released an important report finding that increased levels of teacher leadership in schools led to increased student academic achievement. It would be nice if central offices and principals read it.

* Researchers found that when teachers at charter schools unionized, student achievement went up. How about that? It’s almost like “teacher working conditions are student learning conditions.”

* The Obamacare repeal failed, so its many benefits to our students, their families and our schools continue to be safe — for now.  Yes, it’s true: What happens outside school has a big impact on what happens in school.

* Millions of students had great learning experiences in their schools this year.

The worst education news of 2017

* President Trump kicked things off at his inauguration by saying that schools are “flush with cash” and our “beautiful students are deprived of all knowledge.” He got the “beautiful students” part right but blew it on everything else.

* Trump announced the repeal of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which could result in 20,000 teachers in the program facing deportation, along with 780,000 others.

* Betsy DeVos became U.S. secretary of education after a disastrous confirmation hearing that she blames on being “undercoached” (way to model taking personal responsibility!). In addition to making a number of verbal miscues (no, public schools are not “taxis,” and  school choice is not “Uber”; schools aren’t like “food trucks,” and education is not a “side of fries”; and historically black college and universities are not “pioneers of school choice”), she has also made many destructive policy decisions, including ones on civil rights and for-profit colleges.  If her school choice plan is approved by Congress (or if she takes action on choice without congressional approval), her legacy will only get worse.

* The Supreme Court announced that it will hear a case next year that will probably lead to the prohibition of required payment of union fees and a terrible blow to teacher unions and others (not to mention students and their families).

* Millions of teachers, students and their families suffered, and continue to suffer, from Hurricanes HarveyIrma, and Maria (especially those in Puerto Rico), as well as the Santa Rose fires.

* The Koch brothers have begun an 11-state effort to recruit and convince Latino families that they should support public school privatization efforts.

* In what might be the most offensive school-related comment by a public official this year (during a time when there has been a lot of competition for that title), an Oklahoma state lawmaker suggested that the state save money by turning over all English Language Learners to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). “Identify them and then turn them over to ICE to see if they truly are citizens — and do we really have to educate noncitizens?” said Republican Rep. Mike Ritze.

* A Florida high school apparently never got the memo that shaming students is not an effective method of instruction and is unethical. In the tradition of schools in the recent past that have given students colored wristbands for certain privileges and special dances based on behavior and grades, this high school “segregates students at lunch based on GPA.”  In fact, a lot of schools in Florida and in other states now use similar practices.

* As the PBS News Hour reports: “In 30 states, geographic communities can legally break away from large public school districts and form their own. As a result, a growing number of white and wealthier neighborhoods are creating their own schools and siphoning property taxes away from poorer, more diverse districts.”  I guess we all have to replicate the work of Nikole Hannah-Jones and others like her.

* More and more schools are grading students’ social and emotional learning skills. Bad idea! Learn more at “Why schools should not grade character traits.”

* Millions of students should have gotten a better education than they did this year.

The most important education news of 2017 that isn’t good or bad

* Most states have submitted plans to the U.S. Department of Education about how they are going to implement the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, the successor law to No Child Left Behind. It’s easy for plans to look good on paper. Let’s see how they are implemented.

* Smarter Balanced and PARCC are the two most common standardized tests given in K-12 schools throughout the United States. In an underreported story this year, all Smarter Balanced state English test scores went down, and most PARCC states went up.  I’m not sure what it means, but it seems important to me.

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