Tired of top 10 lists yet? Just two more — yesterday I posted my highly-subjective take on the top 10 events in SFUSD in 2010; tomorrow’s list is the top 10 education stories of the decade. Today? the top 10 U.S. education stories of 2010 (again, listed Letterman-style, 10th to first):
10. Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) stalls in Congress: Upon taking office in early 2009, Education Secretary Arne Duncan called No Child Left Behind a “toxic brand” and returned to its old name, ESEA, pledging a revision of the law that was less punitive on schools but equally demanding of achievement. Early this year, the Administration released a blueprint for revising ESEA, but Congress hasn’t made much progress on the work. Now that control of Congress has shifted to Republican hands, that work could go even slower. Prognosis for 2011? Don’t hold your breath for a bold redesign of the Bush Administration’s signature education law, but Obama insiders say reauthorization will be a top priority in the new year.
9. Billionaires, everywhere, dabbling in education: Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame and fortune (and “The Social Network” ignominy) gave $100 million to Newark, N.J. public schools. Mr. Zuckerberg’s generous donation was enough to prompt New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to cede some authority over Newark public schools to its high-profile Mayor, Cory Booker. The donation follows similar investments in other education projects by billionnaires Bill Gates, Eli Broad and Warren Buffett; it also, fittingly, has spawned a satiric Facebook group — Billionaires for Educational Reform.
8. The “parent trigger” comes to Compton: A mini thunder-clap hit California in early December, when parents at a Compton Unified elementary school announced they had collected enough signatures to satisfy requirements in the state’s “parent trigger” law to demand that a charter school operator be brought in to take over their school. Not so fast, said State Board of Education President Ted Mitchell. After hearing numerous complaints of intimidation and deception, Mitchell told journalist John Fensterwald that he would ask the California Attorney General to conduct an investigation into the signature drive. Stay tuned.
7. Teachers had a difficult year: In several states, including California, New York and Colorado, debates over teacher evaluation and seniority in teacher contracts reached a fever pitch. The Los Angeles Times added fuel to the fire with a high-profile report on a complex statistical approach to measuring teacher effectiveness, called value-added assessment. The Times, using data it obtained from Los Angeles Unified, published a database ranking teachers employed by that school district, prompting anger from teachers –the newspaper report was even blamed for a suicide committed by a teacher who was ranked as ineffective. Most recently, The New York Times published a critique of the use of value-added assessment in its city’s schools — experts said New York’s implementation of the tactic did not shed much light on teacher effectiveness.
6. Bullying gets greater attention in the wake of several student suicides: The death of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University freshman who committed suicide after an intimate encounter with another man was secretly taped by his roommate, led to some national soul-searching on bullying. Gay celebrities and regular folks taped moving accounts of coming to terms with their sexuality as part of the It Gets Better project; in October the Department of Education issued a 10-page letter as guidance to school districts and colleges, reminding them that students have a civil right to be free from bullying.
5. Michelle Rhee is out (for now), but Cathie Black is in: And the trend of big-city mayors choosing anyone but a career educator to lead a school system continues, with Michael Bloomberg choosing publishing executive Black to succeed Joel Klein in leading the massive New York City school system. Come again? For a minute there, it looked like the New York State Board of Education was going to balk at issuing a required waiver for Black to step into the post — she’s not a certificated educator — but ultimately the appointment went through. In Washington D.C., Michelle Rhee stepped down from leading the city’s public schools after her boss, Mayor Adrian Fenty, suffered a crushing primary defeat. Rhee quickly bounced back, however — in early December she announced on Oprah that she is starting Students First, a nationwide education advocacy organization.
4. States adopt common core standards: The premise behind the common core standards is good — students in different states should still be expected to learn the same things and all states should offer an equally rigorous curriculum. But there are concerns, too: for one thing, California’s standards are actually more rigorous than the common core. For another, some worry that the common core brings us one step closer to a national curriculum and a corresponding lack of local control in education. So far, 40 states have adopted the common core (including California).
3. Education budgets take a major hit nationally — thank goodness for ARRA and Edujobs! The deep economic downturn has hit state budgets very hard — a hit that has trickled down to school systems. Luckily, the Federal government came through with significant aid through the ARRA stimulus bill. Just as those funds began to dry up, the Feds came through again with Edujobs — an infusion of cash meant to save teacher jobs in 2010-11 and 2011-12. For SFUSD, that infusion means $10 million in the bank to prevent against layoffs next year (there have been calls to spend some of this money now to restore an hour cut from the T-10 security guards as part of last year’s budget deal with UESF).
2. The year of the Edu-mentary: “Waiting for Superman” made quite a splash when it officially opened in September 2010, but it was just one of several education documentaries bemoaning the state of education in the U.S. today — see “The Lottery” and also “Race to Nowhere” as additional examples that got people talking. My beef with “Superman” and some of the other documentaries is how one-sided they are, reducing the debate to a tidy 90-minute narrative arc, with none of the complexity and context that is necessary to really understanding the problems and difficult choices we face in improving our educational system (they also really minimize the need for INVESTMENT in education — it’s never been more true on a national scale that we get the schools we are willing to pay for).
1. Race to the Top: I just sermonized about the need to invest in schools, and the Obama Administration has increased Federal spending on education dramatically — no more dramatically than the $4-plus billion Race to the Top fund. States were encouraged (and sometimes arm-twisted) to compete for the funds, but the money comes with some big catches: states must link test scores to teacher evaluation and they must agree to implement one of four so-called turnaround models to improve failing schools. The problem? For starters, none of the turnaround models have ever been shown to consistently improve schools; for another, no one has found a way to use student test scores as a reliable and replicable predictor of teacher quality. But the worst aspect of Race to the Top is that the money doesn’t necessarily go where it is most needed — instead it goes to states that are politically willing to play the Administration’s high-stakes game regardless of its questionable policy underpinnings.
Tomorrow: the top 10 education stories of the decade.