"The Answer Sheet"
By Valerie Strauss
November 30, 2016
Every year, veteran teacher Larry Ferlazzo writes a list of the best/worst education news of the year. Here is his 2016 version, which includes “bad” news that includes the consequences of the 2016 presidential election, in which Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton. See what you think.
Ferlazzo teaches English and social studies at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, California. He has has written numerous books on education, writes a teacher advice blog for Education Week Teacher and has his own popular resource-sharing blog.
Ferlazzo says that he doesn’t presume that his list is all-encompassing, and he hopes readers will share their own ideas about what 2016 brought to the world of education. In his list below, he first looks at the best news and then the worst — but does not rank them within these categories.
By Larry Ferlazzo
The Best Education News of 2016
- A ballot initiative to raise the cap on charter schools in Massachusetts was defeated in a major victory for district schools, students and their families who would have been harmed by an expansion.
- California voters approved three major education initiatives on the ballot raising billions of dollars for schools and expanding bilingual education.
- High school graduation rates reached a record high across the board, but substantial opportunity gaps remain for those in low-income community, particularly students of color.
- Interest in restorative practices in schools as an alternative to student suspensions and other punishments (which disproportionately impact students of color) has been increasing. Unfortunately, research on best practices in high schools like the one where I teach is still lacking. We’re trying our best and hope more studies will come out in the near future.
- Surprise, surprise – not! Research sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education found that teachers working in lower-income communities were comparable to those in higher-income ones, so a difference in teacher quality was not responsible for disparity in student academic achievement. Though I’m not holding my breath, it would be nice if these findings would result in creating social and economic policies that would impact the factors that have been found to impact student achievement, such as economic, health and housing issues, as well as reduce the number of times we teachers are blamed for things that are beyond our control.
- Efforts to expand ethnic studies classes in schools picked-up steam, with California passing a law to create a model curriculum for these courses and new research showing major student academic gains as a result of participating in them.
- A major effort to decimate teachers unions and, in fact, all public employee unions, was defeated when the U.S. Supreme Court deadlocked in the Friedrichs case. However, the victory may very well be short-lived when President-elect Trump and the Republican Senate fills the vacant U.S. Supreme Court seat. This expected setback to teachers unions is somewhat ironic considering the results of new research which finds 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.
- A California appeals court overturned the infamous Vergara decision attacking teacher tenure in the state and dealing a setback to anti-union reformers.
- 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.
- Millions of students had great learning experiences in their schools this year.
The Worst Education News of 2016
- The election of Donald Trump sparked a “hate spike” targeting immigrants and students of various ethnic, religious and racial groups in schools. Even where harassment was not present, teachers reported fear and uncertainty creating high-levels of stress among students and families across the country, though some critics inaccurately accused educators of “fueling student anxieties.”
- Campaign promises made by Trump during his campaign to promote vouchers — among other things — and his decision to nominate billionaire Betsy DeVos, who has been behind disastrous charter school and school choice initiatives in Michigan, spells bad news for America’s public schools.
- Police shootings of African-Americans hit close to schools again this year when “adored school cafeteria manager” Philando Castile was killed by a Minnesota police officer who has been charged with manslaughter. The shooting, as well as others, pushed more educators to grapple with ways to engage with their students on race and racism, and to organize and confront its institutional aspects. Black Lives Matter also initiated plans tochallenge education policies.
- Recovery? What recovery? A new report finds that 23 states are spending less per student now than they were in 2008 when the Great Recession hit.
- Though more teachers of color are being hired, they are leaving more quickly. Even with an increasing public recognition of this problem, more must be done.
- As incredible as it may seem, schools in twenty-one states still use corporal punishment in schools. U.S. Education Secretary John B. King, Jr. called for its abolishment, but it’s unclear what effect a lame-duck administration will have on policies in those states.
- 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.
- 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 should have gotten a better education than they did this year.
The Most Important Education News of 2016 That Isn’t Good or Bad
- 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. There is hope that it will bring positive change to our classrooms. However, as they say, the devil is in the details — and it is unclear what the upcoming Trump administration will do in regards to enforcing it.
You might also be interested in previous editions of this list: