Looking Back to Look Forward: A List of Lists

Last year I attempted to rank the top education stories of the year using Google (e.g. 2,200,672 results in 0.18 seconds versus 1,607,000 results in 0.12 seconds). It was fun, but it was bit too nuanced (algorithmically speaking) to work. (My top ten stories of the year, according to this measure, were: 1. Race to the Top,  2. Bullying, 3. Recession and public school, 4. Common Core Standards 5. New York Wins Race to the Top, 6. Parent Trigger, 7. Waiting for Superman, 8. Character Education, 9. PISA results 2010,  10. Arne Duncan.)

So, this year, I simply Googled for “Education 2011” stories and found some good summaries of the year’s top education events—and Rick Hess’s predictions of next year’s important issues and trends. Without further ado:

The Condition of Education 2011

This is a fascinating report from the National Center for Education Statistics that, says NCES, summarizes “important developments and trends in education using the latest available data. The report presents 50 indicators on the status and condition of education, in addition to a closer look at postsecondary education by institutional level and control. The indicators represent a consensus of professional judgment on the most significant national measures of the condition and progress of education for which accurate data are available.” Some of the important indicators, which you might call perennials, include:

  • Reading—Young Children’s Achievement and Classroom Experiences
  • Paying for College: Changes Between 1990 and 2000 for Full-Time Dependent Undergraduates
  • Mobility in the Teacher Workforce
  • U.S. Student and Adult Performance on International Assessments of Educational Achievement
  • High School Course taking
  • Community Colleges
  • U.S. Performance Across International Assessments of Student Achievement
  • High-Poverty Schools
  • Enrollment Trends by Age
  • Preprimary Education
  • Early Education and Child Care Arrangements of Young Children
  • Enrollment
  • Academic Outcomes
  • Reading Performance
  • Reading Achievement Gaps
  • Mathematics Performance
  • Mathematics Achievement Gaps
  • Student Effort and Educational Progress
  • Student Attitudes and Aspirations
  • Time Spent on Homework

Best and Worst from the Left

From the Washington Post, this is The Century Foundation’s Richard Kahlenberg’s take on the year. Among “the worst” trends/events in his estimation were “the misguided obsession with teachers unions” (see Wisconsin and Ohio, Terry Moe and Steven Brill) and the best, not surprisingly, “Ohio residents [who] repealed the wrongheaded attack on teachers.” Also on the best list were North Carolina voters who “backed a return to school integration in Wake County public schools.”  In the worst column for Kahlenberg was the Obama Administration’s Race to the Top program “encouraging states to lift charter school caps.” On the positive side, he says, were “some political figures”  who began to realize that we “need to stop demonizing teachers and their democratically elected representatives, and focus instead on what really matters: reducing poverty and school segregation.”

The Koret Task Force Best (5) and Worst (5)

The Hoover Institution’s well-regarded education policy movers and shakers (chaired by our own Checker Finn) provide a very straightforward list.

The Best:

  1. Reinvigoration of school choice via opportunity scholarships and vouchers.
  2. The rollback of collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) in Wisconsin, Indiana, New Jersey, Idaho, and (temporarily) Ohio.
  3. California State Board of Education’s rules that allow the “parent trigger” to operate.
  4. Former DC chancellor Michelle Rhee’s teacher-evaluation system left in place by new mayor Vincent Gray without substantial change.
  5. Indiana’s overall record of education reform.

The Worst:

  1. The Atlanta cheating scandal.
  2. Bungling of reauthorization of No Child Left Behind by a slowpoke Congress and a Constitution-oblivious president.
  3. Postponement and delay by Race to the Top–winning states and weak oversight by the Obama administration
  4. Governor Jerry Brown moving California from bad to worse.
  5. The unions’ victory in Ohio in overturning Governor Kasich’s collective bargaining reforms.

Ed Week’s Top 10

The editors of the industry’s paper of record have “handpicked memorable articles from 2011.”

  1. Obama Offers Waivers From Key Provisions of NCLB
  2. Wis. Labor Bill Could Vex District-Union Relations
  3. Federal Ed. Policy a Whipping Boy for GOP Hopefuls
  4. Congress Chops Funding for High-Profile Education Programs
  5. Budget-Driven Personnel Shifts Pressure Districts
  6. Frustrated Educators Aim to Build Grassroots Movement
  7. Jeb Bush’s Influence on Education Policy Spreads
  8. In War of Words, ‘Reform’ a Potent Weapon
  9. Race to Top Winners Work to Balance Promises, Capacity
  10. Mixed Report Card for Education Stimulus After 2 Years

A Quiz on 2011

This neat variation on a top ten list comes from The Answer Sheet’s Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post (you’ll have to check in to see the multiple choice possibilities and the answers):

1) “Corporate education reform” refers to a set of proposals currently driving education policy at the state and federal level. What is not one of those proposals?
2) Teach for America recruits top college graduates, trains them and then places them in high-poverty schools. How much training do the recruits get before they start teaching on their own?
3) Because Congress failed to rewrite No Child Left Behind, what did the Obama administration say it would do to help schools dealing with the law’s onerous requirements?
4) Why did the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District field-test on students 52 different standardized tests?
5) What percentage of American children live in poverty, according to new Census Bureau data?
6) Who said this: “We’ve lost our competitive spirit. We’ve become so obsessed with making kids feel good about themselves that we’ve lost sight of building the skills they need to actually be good at things.”
7) What did President Obama do on Friday, March 4?
8) President Obama disagrees with Republicans on:
9) Who said, “I’m beginning to think we are living in a moment of national insanity?”
10) What is the Opt-Out Movement?


11)  True or false: In July actor and social activist Matt Damon addressed a rally in Washington D.C. to oppose the Obama administration education policies. Education Secretary Arne Duncan wanted to meet with Damon before the rally so much that he offered to pick him up at the airport and speak with him en route to the protest.

12)  The Obama administration’s key education initiative, Race to the Top, had a competition for states to compete for federal dollars for early learning initiatives. What was not included as a top priority listed in the Education Department’s criteria for applicants?

Rick Hess’s Top 10 for 2012

Finally, the infamous bad boy of education reform weighs in with his predictions for what “we’ll be reading in 2012” (starting with number 10):

10) “GOP presidential nominee abandons primary season attacks on Department of Education; talks up education reform in push for moderates.”

9) “Aggressive efforts to tackle bullying starting to raise questions and fuel backlash. After a number of elementary-age boys are disciplined or even suspended for ‘harassment’ that included routine tussling and name-calling, many parents and school board members are asking whether the anti-bullying effort has gone too far.”

8) “Relentless attacks by media, Obama administration, and Senator Harkin on for-profit operators in K-12 and higher ed increasingly lead for-profit entrepreneurs to focus their energies in more receptive climes of Asia, the Middle East, and eastern Europe.”

7) “Conservative lawmakers push first two or three states to reverse course and abandon the Common Core, prompting fierce breaks in Republican ranks over the Common Core to spill out into the open. Jeb Bush and leading conservative governors are the face of one side; Rick Perry and the Tea Party are the face of the opposition. Clash makes it tricky for nominee to find firm footing on education standards and accountability.”

6) “Hill, administration leaders acknowledge that NCLB will not be reauthorized by year’s end. Urgency around reauthorization eases as many states obtain waivers. ‘We expect to win reelection, and then we’re hopeful we can get it done in 2013,’ says Obama administration official.’”

5)”Questions about the slow, haphazard implementation of Race to the Top promises start to fuel questions about whether the effort was oversold.”

4)  ”Obama administration officials ‘disappointed’ to see that for-profit colleges are pruning enrollment and rejecting students in response to ‘gainful employment’ regulation. One official explains, ‘Sure, we’ve promised to punish for-profits if they enroll students who don’t graduate or earn enough after completion, but we just assumed they’d find ways to ensure that these students get a degree and a good job.”

3) Even so, I expect to read: “Obama campaign makes Race to the Top, push on college affordability a centerpiece in effort to woo suburban swing voters.”

2) “Despite the improving economic picture, lagging property values and competing obligations mean education dollars are coming back more slowly that district leaders had hoped.”

1)  And, finally, “Mixed results for the Khan Academy’s ‘flipped’ classroom lead some educators and policymakers to worry that the model doesn’t work for kids who don’t do the requisite work at home. One expert notes, ‘The kids who didn’t do their reading or homework before are the same kids who aren’t viewing their lessons and lectures now.’”

Finally, without any institutional bias intended, my nomination for the best prediction of 2011 was from our own Mike Petrilli, who wrote on Flypaper that Cathie Black would be gone by April (she was actually gone by February).

And because no one else would be so gauche as to propose it, my prediction for the next President and Secretary of Education are… in a sealed envelope on my desk.

Happy New Year.

–Peter Meyer

This post also appears on Flypaper.

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