8 Education Stories We’ll Be Reading in 2018

As we wade into 2018, I thought I’d give my not-so-famed prognostication skills a spin. Here’s my best guess at eight education stories we just may be reading in the year ahead:

1. Conference small talk leads to a massive but short-lived pivot in education advocacy. At the NewSchools Venture Fund Summit, Chan-Zuckerberg education honcho Jim Shelton is overheard quietly telling his Gates Foundation counterpart that Mark Zuckerberg has developed a taste for “stranger things” and is hungry for more. Gates chief Bob Hughes notes that Bill Gates is intrigued by “stranger things too.” Within hours, dozens of education advocacy groups, think tanks, university departments, and media outlets adopt new “verticals” dedicated to “strange” strategies and interventions. After being inundated in grant applications related to “psychic phenomena, UFOs, and the achievement gap,” Hughes and Shelton eventually clarify that they were just chatting about the Duffer Brothers Netflix show Stranger Things. One frustrated grantee grumbles to the Washington Post, “I wish we’d known that before we spent a quarter million on a reorg, a new website, and a new Vice President of Stranger Things Development.”

2. NEA honors Betsy DeVos as its “Fundraiser of the Year.” At a ceremony during the annual National Education Association Convention, NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia allows, “While we’ve had our differences with the Secretary, we’re truly grateful that she’s helped us to raise tens of millions by starring in all those ads depicting her as an enemy of children, teachers, and kittens. So, thanks!” DeVos accepts the award in absentia.

3. U.S. Department of Education fumbles Black History Month once again. This year, during Black History Month, the Department of Education spells W.E.B. DuBois’ name correctly. That elicits sighs of relief from senior Department staff, who remember last year’s stumbles. Unfortunately, the Department also announces that it is excited to honor “civil rights icon Martin Luther.” After being besieged by confused notes from educators asking how to link Luther’s 95 Theses to civil rights, the Department clarifies, “We apologize for any confusion. We meant Mr. King Junior, not Mr. Luther. And the President wants to be clear that he thinks that Mr. King Junior is doing a terrific job.” At a celebratory White House luncheon, President Trump observes, “You’re hearing more and more about Mr. King Junior these days, and deservedly so!’” Many Lutherans are crestfallen at the bait-and-switch.

4. Wal-Mart launches its own “Daily Education News Blast.” With Wal-Mart’s decision to enter the thriving daily education news bulletin game, Nielsen tracking shows that there are officially more daily education news blasts than there are students in the United States—and loads more news blasts than there are outlets funneling news into them.

5. The NGA announces that its focus will be shifting from “readiness” to “preparedness.” After “extensive research and discussion,” the National Governors Association announces that it is moving away from the phrase “college and career readiness” and will henceforth set its eye on “college and career and life and culinary-skills preparedness.” To accompany the shift, NBC launches a big new glam event, “Preparation Nation.”

6. A new AIR analysis finds fault with the analyses of state ESSA plans. The American Institutes for Research receives a hefty IES grant to conduct a meta-analysis of the dozens of analyses of states’ ESSA plans. AIR researchers conclude that the analyses were “not ambitious enough” and “failed to adequately enumerate the consequences for plans which failed to pass muster.” AIR does rate six analyses as deserving of an A, but that means that 73 analyses fell short. Most of the 73 bitterly complain that AIR’s review of their reviews is neither fair nor comprehensive.

7. Oberlin cracks down on cultural appropriation. Striking a blow against cultural appropriation, Oberlin adopts a new policy that students will only be allowed to eat a given food, wear a given garment, or purchase particular bathroom products if they can document that the item in question was originally eaten, woven, or created by a member of their own racial or ethnic group. Oberlin’s Vice President for Non-Appropriation Assurance explains to CNN, “We’ve really got this down. At orientation, students will be ordered by race and ethnicity and then issued an encoded ID card for on-campus purchases. At each station in the food court, for instance, we’ll have non-appropriation monitors with scanning equipment. If students want to purchase an item—say, a taco or a slice of pizza—they’ll just run the ID card showing they’ve been verified and approved to purchase the item. If they’re not, the monitor will steer them to a more ethnically appropriate food. We’re hoping that local establishments will opt into the program.” The campus newspaper lauds the program as “a welcome next step towards multicultural harmony” and “a rejection of the oppressive, patriarchal notion of an American ‘melting pot.’”

8. Responses to confusing Janus ruling leave Ed Week reporter with whiplash. After MSNBC’s Supreme Court reporter announces that the justices have ruled in the Janus case that unions can continue to collect agency fees from nonmembers, AFT president Randi Weingarten lauds the “invaluable role that the Supreme Court plays in safeguarding our freedoms.” Moments later, when MSNBC’s reporter realizes he has misread the complex decision, and that the Court has actually ruled that agency fees are a violation of First Amendment freedoms, Weingarten denounces the Supreme Court as “a Trumpian, corporate, right-wing threat to American democracy.” Over on FOX, union critics engage in mirror-image gymnastics. Education Week‘s Mark Walsh, who gets stuck trying to write the story, is bed-ridden for a week with a debilitating case of whiplash.

Come December, we’ll take a look back and see just how well I fared. Anything worse than six out of eight, though, and I’m afraid I’ll be disappointed.

— Frederick Hess

Frederick Hess is director of education policy studies at AEI and an executive editor at Education Next.

This post originally appeared on Rick Hess Straight Up.

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