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2012: The Year in Education

Education was at the forefront of national discussion in 2012, with several stories capturing popular attention. EducationWorld offers a look back at the biggest stories of interest to educators this past year.

Labor Issues Come to a Head

2012From the Chicago teachers’ strike to attempts to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, labor relations and their impact on politics were a hot-button issue in 2012.

Teachers in the third-largest school district in the United States walked off the job on Sept. 10 and didn’t return to work for nearly three weeks as contentious negotiations dragged out before the national media. As both sides wrangled over salary, benefits and job security issues, Chicago parents were left to find alternative care for their children. Many told NBC News that they had exhausted available vacation time. Others made use of the nearly 150 "Children First" sites that provided students with alternative programming and meals.

After spearheading an effort to curtail collective bargaining provisions for public employees in Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker became the target of disgruntled union members. Organized labor in the state led the charge to have Walker ousted. That effort fell short, as Walker scored a decisive seven-point victory in the recall election.

Documentaries Rule

Following 2010’s Waiting for Superman, there were few education-based non-fiction films until 2012, when several releases tackled aspects of education in America.

The documentary TEACH, Teachers Are Talking, Is the Nation Listening?  featured conversations with teachers about the art of teaching and learning. This movie takes on questions about No Child Left Behind, high-stakes testing, unequal distribution of education resources and more.

The Revisionaries examined the Texas State Board of Education’s process of adopting new curriculum standards. Because textbook makers don’t print very many editions, the standards of the most populous states, like Texas, often dictate the content of textbooks in other states. When BOE Chairman Don McLeroy began fighting to have students in Texas public school learn that dinosaurs and humans co-existed, more than a few eyebrows were raised.

The award-winning documentary “Bully,” which opened in limited release in March 2012, opened a window onto the pained and often endangered lives of bullied kids. Filmed over the course of the 2009-2010 school year, the movie captured a growing movement among parents and youth to change how bullying is handled in schools and communities.

States Line Up for Common Core

Per the official Common Core State Standards Web site, “The CCSS provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.”

While nearly all of the 50 states and the District of Columbia have signed on to adopt the standards, many continue to debate the merits of the Common Core. At EducationNation 2012, experts and participants discussed what the new standards mean for students, teachers and the nation's competitiveness.

Teacher Evaluations Examined

Teacher evaluation continued to be a contentious issue in 2012, with many differing points of view regarding whether and how evaluation can be done non-punitively and in a way that informs professional development.

While traditional evaluation methods have been criticized for bias and failure to distinguish between levels of teacher competence, newer models such as value-added measures remain controversial at best.

Several complex questions remain, the most hotly debated being:

Should teacher performance be judged in part by student performance? If so, how should student performance be measured (since both test scores and “growth” are enormously complex), and how heavily should student performance be weighted within the teacher-performance metric?  

Offering a little light at the end of the tunnel, EducationWorld Community contributor Anne O’Brien highlighted a new method for teacher evaluations that was developed with the help of classroom teachers themselves.

Now called the edTPA (formerly the Teacher Performance Assessment [TPA]), the assessment was developed by Stanford University in collaboration with teachers and teacher educators. The instrument is based on a set of skills deemed necessary to meet the daily challenges of classroom teaching.

No Child Left Behind Still Controversial

2012 marked the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 2001, or “No Child Left Behind.” RAND Education experts used the anniversary as an opportunity to discuss the state of education in our nation. The general consensus was that as a nation, we are far from confident that we’ve found the “right” way to assess students’ and schools’ progress.

The past 10 years have seen a steady increase in the number of schools not making adequate yearly progress (AYP). As of 2010, nearly half of schools were not making AYP, and in 24 states, more than half of schools failed to meet this criterion. Prospects for change remain dim, given that statistically speaking, schools have a hard time exiting from a status of “not making AYP.”

In addition, some of the law’s negative effects have included (1) a reduction in time spent on subjects not assessed by standardized tests, (2) a narrowing of content within tested subjects (for example, assigning shorter reading passages, as opposed to novels), and (3) a reduction in staff morale.

Experts did, however, note some positive effects of NCLB, including improvements to schools’ curricula and increasing attention paid to underserved subgroups within the student population.

Article by Jason Tomaszewski, EducationWorld Associate Editor
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