January 2, 2015

Six Issues To Watch In 2015

By Bellwether

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[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.

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