As we bid adieu to 2018 and look forward to another year of tranquility and comity, it’s time for my annual prognostications. Now, some have noted that my soothsaying is mostly renowned for its record of unfailing inaccuracy, but I shall soldier on undaunted by the sniping of those bean-counting naysayers. Thus, without further ado, here’s my best guess at ten big education stories we can expect to read in the year ahead:
1. In January, dozens of governors laud the importance of career and technical education, and propose to boost state funding for career readiness and job training. For no reason in particular, one lucky governor gets a fawning write-up in the Atlantic. He/she is promptly hailed for his/her far-seeing agenda, with his/her state immediately becoming a touchstone for policy analysts, a must-reference for journalists, and a “strategic priority” for funders.
2. In February, after being impeached on 34 counts by the U.S. House, President Donald Trump dashes out of the White House and sneaks into “Lil Pals,” a preschool operating off the lobby of DC’s Trump Hotel. “Never WANTED to be President anyway,” Trump tweets. “I just want to stay here with my new friends, Mikey, Stormy, and Rudy. They shared their applesauce. I told them I’m very rich and can get us McDonald’s. But they don’t even care. SAD!”
3. In March, the Coalition for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math decides that its STEAM moniker is insufficient, dated, and “just so 2015.” It formally rebrands itself as STEAMED: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math, and Everything Delightful. The news causes prodigious excitement in the burgeoning 24/7 education media. The 74 declares, “Education world is ROCKED by bold expansion of STEM mission.” Chalkbeat reports, “STEM and STEAM didn’t eliminate the achievement gap, so it’s time to get STEAMED!” The Education Post declares, “STEAMED students ready to fight for delight.” Meanwhile, the popular press has a field day. USA Today: “Kids are ready to get STEAMED at Louisiana’s back-to-school crawfish boil.” Playboy: “Party campuses are welcoming STEAMED freshmen with steamy fare.” Observing all this, the executive director of the STEAMED coalition allows, “Perhaps we didn’t think this through as fully as we might have.”
4. In April, two students trigger a hullabaloo at Oberlin when they are apprehended for eating egg rolls and enchiladas in public. The problem? The incident report cites the students for violating the institution’s Ethnically Appropriate Cuisine Code Regulation 2(a)iii, by “publicly consuming ethnically identifiable foodstuffs in a questionable combination without possessing the physical characteristics required for consumption of the foodstuffs in question.” Worse, the students are unable to produce papers demonstrating even a hint of cuisine-appropriate ancestry. After an extended disciplinary process, the students are put on double-secret probation and required to pen letters of apology to nations and campus groups deemed authentic consumers of the offending foodstuffs. Oberlin is cheered in the Chronicle of Higher Education for its “forward-thinking efforts to promote cuisine equity.”
5. In May, the U.S. Department of Education issues guidance clarifying that the fact that “student loan payments are annoying” is not acceptable grounds for forgiveness. The announcement is met by ferocious criticism, with one New York Times headline declaring, “Betsy DeVos to student borrowers: Drop dead, already!” The story quotes one student, a 29-year-old poet who attended Bennington for six years, explaining, “I’m paying hundreds of dollars a month in student loans. By the time I pay my iPhone bill, my Uber credit card, and my Netflix subscription, things are crazy tight. It’s like debtor’s prison.”
6. In June, a little-known non-profit called “Tomorrows Are for Tomorrow” is awarded tens of millions in new funding from prominent foundations. In a bit of inspired genius, founder/CEO Paul Banksley, an out-of-work vacuum cleaner salesman, manages to redefine the whole pursuit of 21st century skills. As he explains in his hugely popular TED talk, “I asked myself, what’s next? What comes after the 21st century, anyway? So, I looked it up. It’s the 22nd century. And then it hit me. I told them we needed to stop talking about 21st century skills . . . and start focusing on 22nd century skills. It blew their minds.”
7. In August, murmurs indicate that the Gates Foundation is having second thoughts about its current strategic plan. The rumors are quickly shot down. Six weeks later, though, Gates announces “a strategic pivot” to focus on small high schools. A press release explains, “The Foundation has recently come to believe that this is the next frontier in school improvement as we look to cultivate 22nd century skills.” It’s simultaneously announced that Gates will be making a “nine-figure” investment in Tomorrows Are for Tomorrow, whose founder—the fabled Paul Banksley—is now a front-runner for a Nobel.
8. In September, former Vice President Joe Biden becomes the 27th declared candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. During his announcement, Biden is asked about whether he’ll hold fast to the Obama-Biden education agenda. Biden says yes, mentions his wife’s role in community college reform, and promises that education will play a big role in his campaign. When asked about the particulars of his education agenda, Biden flashes his famous grin and says, “A three-letter word: JOBS.” When asked about educational accountability, Biden resurfaces some of the concerns about his garrulous, undisciplined side, musing, “Don’t test you, don’t test me, let’s all agree to test the guy behind the tree!” The announcement ends in murmurs of confusion.
9. Immediately after Biden’s announcement airs, during a break from Trump’s impeachment trial, the president launches a frenzied Twitter fusillade. Trump tweets, “Jittery Joe wants to test THE GUY BEHIND THE TREE?! More attacks on real Americans. Leave my lil pals ALONE, Jitterbug! And STOP stealing the little nuts I leave out back for the squirrels!!! GO TEST ROCKETMAN. How’s THAT for a J-O-B?” The talking heads on MSNBC meticulously unpack Trump’s tweetstorm to show that it reveals, in the words of repentant Republican Max Boot, “the crippling and indelible racism woven into the very roots of the Republican creed.” Meanwhile, the Fox and Friends crew spends a morning lauding Trump for so genuinely capturing the public’s antipathy to testing.
10. In November, as his impeachment trial drags into its ninth month, Trump invites his Lil Pals to the White House for a snack and a tour of the Oval Office. Observers are struck at how assiduously some of the three- and four-year-olds keep reminding the president to say “please,” listen when someone else is talking, wait his turn, and stop hogging the best snacks. At one point, a cameraman mutters, “Preschoolers schooling the president. How ’bout that? Gotta be a lesson here somewhere.” The comment is captured by a hot mic, goes viral, and becomes the organizing meme of the 2020 presidential contest, giving rise to omnipresent t-shirts that read, on the front, “I got schooled by preschoolers. How ’bout that?” and, on the back, “Learn the lesson.”
What, a man can’t dream? Wishing all of you a very happy 2019.
— 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.