It's time again for media pundits to make their lists of top news stories of the past year. In the world of education, 2013 provided plenty of fodder.
At the top of its list, The Atlantic noted a trend in schools toward expanding focus from "hard" skills (reading comprehension, science knowledge, etc.) to include teaching of so-called "soft" skills like self-restraint, grit and resilience.
Controversies about Teach for America, a nonprofit effort to recruit and place recent college graduates in challenging schools, also made Atlantic's list. The program's brief five-week training program and short two-year teaching requirement drew escalating complaints in 2013.
"Research continues to show that Teach for America teachers do reasonably well or even sometimes better compared to other similar teachers. However, veteran educators now claim that the program is being used to push experienced teachers out (rather than fill in where certified teachers weren’t available) and to advance a pro-charter agenda," the story said.
Massive school closings in Philadelphia, Chicago and Detroit caused consternation in 2013. "Community members, teachers, and local politicians protested in nearly every case, The Atlantic noted, but district officials claimed that dwindling funding and decreased enrollment gave them little choice."
Implementation of digital technology continues to gain momentum in schools, but major glitches happened in 2013, the story said. Ambitious efforts to put computer tablets in student hands were derailed in California by students who hacked their iPads, and in North Carolina by malfunctioning Asus tablets running learning software developed by Rupert Murdoch's education division. Massive Online Open Courses lost some credibility with news that few students who signed up for the courses finished and passed them.
The National Education Association put teacher job cuts at higher education institutions at the top of its list of important 2013 stories.
"Students are being turned away from higher education institutions in great numbers due to faculty layoffs," NEA reported. "They are also unable to register for classes they need to graduate, and are not receiving basic campus services due to job losses to everyone from tenure-track professors and adjuncts to counselors, library and health care aides."
The National Education Association is asking Congress to pass the Keep Our Educators Working Act and a $23 billion Education Jobs Fund.
NEA highlighted three big learning trends for 2013: smart use of technology in schools; advance of the Common Core State Standards now adopted by 45 states (more on that to come); and increased recognition that learning can happen anytime and anywhere, not just in the classroom. Look for more emphasis on learning in museums, nature centers and via the Internet, NEA said.
Common Core standards for public schools were a lightning rod for controversy in 2013, and made many year-end lists of top education stories. The standards — developed by governors and school leaders — are intended to raise educational achievement and increase clarity about what students know. Critics say the standards are a one-size-fits-all approach to learning that hasn't been field-tested.
"The state-initiated, federally funded effort to make academic standards higher and state tests tougher ran into a small but vocal surge of opposition in 2013, including parent protests, petitions, and even an arrest," according to The Atlantic.
Some parents have pulled their children out of public schools as a result, the story said. Meanwhile, most states continue to carry out the Core experiment in their classrooms. Expect to see more stories about Common Core in next year's list of big education stories.
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