Six Issues To Watch In 2015

[Insert cliché about predictions here]. As 2015 dawns here are a few things I’m watching in the education sector this year:

Watch cities.  Increasingly municipal government is the only level of government that works with any regularity. I’d keep an eye on cities as a place for ambitious place-based education reform strategies. In Boston the mayor and an engaged philanthropic community are championing various ideas (Bellwether was involved in some of those) in ways that are illustrative of the trend. And around the country its cities that increasingly are discussed rather than states or Washington in terms of where actual results are happening. Robin Lake has thoughts on this as well. 

Ed tech starts to deliver. I’ve been skeptical of a lot of what comes under the banner of educational technology – a skepticism informed by a lot of history of over-promising and under-delivering from ed tech boosters and the industry. To be sure there is still a lot of hype but there are also some initiatives starting to show what’s possible here, particularly around personalized learning. Complicated questions remain, especially around data privacy, but the potential for technology to expand competency-based models and other ways of meeting students where they are and genuinely differentiating instruction should prove itself out more this year with teachers, parents, and policymakers.

Common Core battle disappoints.  Everyone seems to be expecting a big pivot on Common Core or at least an enormous debate. A recent article asked provocatively if we were on the cusp of a massive repeal. Perhaps the pot is about to boil over yet in practice it seems like the biggest debates about Common Core might be behind us. If Jeb Bush fails to win the Republican nomination it will be because of a broader basket of issues, not Common Core. Democrats, meanwhile, are divided on testing but there is no organized “repeal Common Core” faction within the party. It’s accountability not standards that seems most at risk within both parties.  And in the states, despite all the noise, there has been very little movement to actually jettison the standards. Behind the scenes Republican governors are nervous about the polities but not enthusiastic about ditching the policy. At this point Common Core critics might be better served by focusing on specific issues within the standards they want changed because as a framework the standards seem to be digging in.  Expect some action on Common Core assessments in 2015 but the standards themselves might be the political brawl that didn’t happen.

Charters evolve. A couple of things are true at once about charter schools. First, their quality is mixed. Second, overall, it’s getting better. And, third, in some cities and state’s it is pretty exceptional owing to a set of policies and practices that are replicable. When comparing similar students Stanford’s CREDO finds months upon months of additional learning for students in charters in some cities – in Boston it’s a year. The political debate about charters is still grounded in a national 2009 CREDO analysis rather than a more recent analysis and CREDO’s state by state reports. In December a disappointing CREDO report on charters in Ohio prompted the Republican governor there to call for policymakers to get serious about charter quality (informed in large part by this Bellwether analysis (pdf)).  That’s a good sign and coupled with the growing body of evidence about charters and a year that should see more support for giving parents greater choice in public education 2015 seems poised to be a good year for public charter schools. I also expect to see hard questions about charters and special education and English language-learners begin to get more serious attention as the charter market share grows in more cities.

Teacher prep. Take an abundance of research, add a lot of frustration, and mix with a consensus from around the education world that things are pretty broken (even if there are disagreements about the best way toward fixes) and that adds up to the potential for real attention to teacher preparation in 2015. Look for efforts from within ed school leadership, outside efforts pushing in, and ongoing pressure from the Department of Education.

Watch rural?  I don’t know if this is a wish or a prediction but it seems that the needs of rural students – including many native students – are starting to get more attention, or at least the lack of attention to these students is getting more attention. Complicated issues but also some low-hanging fruit for policymakers. Also, a great set of issues for a 2016 White House contender especially those that can’t afford to politically write off rural communities. If former Virginia Senator Jim Webb’s Democratic primary campaign gets traction that would boost the profile of rural issues even more.

3 Responses to “Six Issues To Watch In 2015”

  1. Mike G Says:

    I wonder about teacher prep. From Arne Duncan’s Bermuda Triangle speech til now, almost feels like Ed School deans finally relaxing.

    1. Fear of ED push to reform? Way down. Nothing they can’t lobby to resist/dilute.

    2. Value-added accountability? Some chance that party will end before it started.

    3. Shrinking enrollment? Haven’t noticed it yet, nothing like law school enrollments as folks wake up to job prospects of lawyers. Job prospects for teachers remain pretty good, no?

  2. Kurt Schake Says:

    I hope you are right about the emergence of Ed Tech. This has been a long time coming, with so much promise and so many false starts. (See the recent debacle with LA USD and the ‘iPad for all’ program.’) Simply put, Ed Tech is the effective use of technological tools in learning. Tools are the operative words, but all too often I have seen fascination with the technology obscure the value to learning. In my experience (twenty years at college level), Ed Tech was a separate and distinct community. Those with degrees and experience were often pure techies, not educators. The key is to approach the tools for value-added measures, to ensure educational objectives are being met quicker and more effectively with the use of media, hardware, and software. This should be achieved by integrating the Ed Tech individuals into existing academic departments, rather than serving as a separate support entity. Further, the practitioners should first be teachers that have come to the alphabet soup of Ed Tech methods, such as CAI (Computer Aided Instruction), CBI (Computer Based Instruction), and VLE (Virtual Learning Environments). There are myriad considerations for time, method, content, feedback, and supervision when implementing Ed Tech tools into learning. The student goal is to use technology to enhance individual learning, which means many options should exist, then the most effective ones further integrated and developed with the student. You are fully correct about new initiatives being centered on personalized learning. Ed Tech is diverse; one size does not fit all.

  3. Jane Says:

    I am a teacher in a rural high school district in northern California, and I am so glad to see your hopefulness regarding rural issues finally being recognized in a national conversation about education. Rural poverty is an isolation unlike the urban poverty so many programs treat, including teacher-prep programs and administrative/educational leadership. I have students who live off the grid, in sheds behind burned out trailers, inside methamphetamine labs, in abandoned cars beside the family home. I have students who have never, not once been able to participate in an extra-curricular program nor a sport because they must travel by school bus over an hour each direction, and our district does not provide a late bus. In some cases, more than you’d think, my students’ parents have chosen isolation as a lifestyle and then raised children within this paradigm, resulting in no communication between school and home. But how can this possibly be a true policy issue for Presidential hopefuls when rural areas are so sparsely populated?

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