Well, 2016 is about to go in the books. Talk about a strange year. The Brits voted to leave the EU, the Cubs won the World Series, and Donald Trump got elected president. Not sure what to make of all that. While many in the nation’s schools and colleges are aghast at the prospect of a President Trump, I’m just relieved to be waving bye-bye to President Obama and his team at the Department of Education.
In any event, it seems a propitious time to take a moment and reflect on the year gone by. In that spirit, my uber-talented RA Grant Addison and I perused the 2016 RHSU archives for this year’s top ten columns. Taking into account web hits, reader reaction, Twitter interest, and our personal preferences, here’s the “best” of RHSU from the past year. Your thoughts are welcome, both on the list and on what we might have missed.
10.How ‘High Standards’ Are Like ‘7-Minute Abs’, April 5, 2016: I’ve never really gotten on board the high standards train. It’s not that I’m opposed to “high standards.” It’s more that the whole exercise often winds up stifling any serious discussion about what students need to know or why they need to know it. In fact, it all reminds me of that ‘7-Minute Abs’ scene from There’s Something About Mary.
9. School Reform is the New Ed. School, June 15, 2016: When I fled from education schools long ago, I found refuge in a “school reform” community that, at the time, took pride in its heterodoxy and welcomed a remarkable breadth of thought. Things have changed, though. Today, I no longer see “school reform” as a refuge; rather, I see a community as consumed by its own groupthink as the ed schools were back then.
8. Education Lines Cut From Obama’s SOTU Address, January 14, 2016: This year, President Obama delivered his final State of the Union address. Rather than the usual laundry list of policy proposals, it was mostly Obama opining on the state of the world and the national mood, leaving only about three minutes on education. I wondered if more had been considered, so I had one of my inside sources give me the scoop on the lines that got cut.
7. What ESSA Means for Teachers and Leaders, March 3, 2016: It’s become pretty clear to me over the last few months that most teachers, school leaders, and system administrators have little idea what ESSA says or means. This is a problem. ESSA will only deliver on the opportunities it seeks to create if those people making decisions in states, systems, and schools understand what’s possible and make the changes work for them and their students.
6. Why You Should Learn to Love Educational Productivity, October 6, 2016: There’s a misleading sense that “productivity” is somehow at odds with nurturing students or valuing teachers. That’s just not so. Making productive use of teachers, time, and money is nothing more than ensuring that schools are promoting great teaching and learning to the best of their ability.
5. Five Harvard Edu-Lessons, January 11, 2016: One of the things I’ve always loved about teaching is the chance to unpack things that we don’t bother discussing amidst the rush of the day-to-day dealings. Here are five things that particularly struck me when I taught this year at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
4. Four Lessons That Brexit Can Offer School Reform, June 29, 2016: Brexit rattled financial markets, shocked experts, and surprised pollsters who had expected a narrow victory for Prime Minister David Cameron’s campaign to stay in the EU. School reformers have taken their own share of bumps and bruises in recent years, but sometimes it’s easier to learn by observing someone else stumble. As I watched the Brexit coverage and read the analysis, it struck me that there are four cautions to pull from the fray that America’s school reformers would do well to heed.
3. Mastery, Expertise, and the Limits of Experts, November 7, 2016: We’re all fond of citing “experts” in order to win arguments or promote policies. But we tend to be remarkably casual about what expertise actually means, or whether and when an expert’s opinion ought to carry outsized weight. And often, expertise isn’t always all that it’s cracked up to be.
2. Of Big ‘R’ and Little ‘r’ Reform, June 22, 2016: If you’ve spent more than five minutes around schooling, you probably have a strong reaction to the term “school reformer.” The very phrase tends to spark cheers or catcalls. To me, “reform” is about fighting to open up systems and policies in ways that give educators, entrepreneurs, parents, and communities more freedom to reinvent schooling, and every child a chance to flourish.
1. Education Is So Far Left, It Can’t Really See the Right, November 17, 2016: This past week, I’ve been struck by how differently things appear to me than to the vast majority of folks in and around education. Unfortunately, many in education spend so little time talking to or engaging with conservatives that they sometimes seem to conclude no “reasonable person” can disagree with their view of things.
— Rick Hess
Frederick Hess is director of education policy studies at AEI and an executive editor at Education Next. This first appeared on Rick Hess Straight Up.