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Our annual look back at the year’s most popular Education Next articles is itself a popular article with readers. It’s useful as an indicator of what issues are at the top of the education policy conversation.

When we crafted the introduction to this list a year ago, for the top articles of 2020, we observed, “This year, as our list indicates, race and the Covid-19 pandemic dominated the discussion.” Since then, a new president has been inaugurated, but our list signals that the public hasn’t entirely turned the page: both the pandemic and race-related issues attracted high reader interest in 2021, just as they did the year before.

Several articles directly or indirectly related to the pandemic and its effect made the top-20 list. The no. 1 article, “Pandemic Parent Survey Finds Perverse Pattern: Students Are More Likely to Be Attending School in Person Where Covid Is Spreading More Rapidly,” by Michael B. Henderson, Paul E. Peterson, and Martin R. West, reported on what the article called “a troubling pattern: students are most likely to be attending school fully in person in school districts where the virus is spreading most rapidly.” The article explained “To be clear, this pattern does not constitute evidence that greater use of in-person instruction has contributed to the spread of the virus across the United States. It is equally plausible that counties where in-person schooling is most common are places where there are fewer measures and practices in the wider community designed to mitigate Covid spread.”

Other articles whose findings related to the pandemic or had implications for education amid or after the pandemic included “A Test for the Test-Makers,” “The Shrinking School Week,” “The Covid-19 Pandemic Is a Lousy Natural Experiment for Studying the Effects of Online Learning” “The Politics of Closing Schools,” “Addressing Significant Learning Loss in Mathematics During Covid-19 and Beyond,” and “Move To Trash: Five pandemic-era education practices that deserve to be dumped in the dustbin.”

Articles about race-related education issues also did well with readers. “Critical Race Theory Collides with the Law,” “Teaching About Slavery,” “Ethnic Studies in California,” and “Segregation and Racial Gaps in Special Education” all dealt with those topics.

Perhaps the conflicts over pandemic policies and Critical Race Theory helped provide a push for school choice. Choice—whether in the form of vouchers, scholarships, or charter schools—was the subject of several other articles that made the top 20 list, including “School Choice Advances in the States,” “School Choice and the ‘Truly Disadvantaged,’” “What’s Next in New Orleans,” and “Betsy DeVos and the Future of Education Reform.”

Who knows what 2022 will bring? We hope for our readers the year ahead is one of good health and of continued learning. We look forward to a time when pandemic-related articles no longer dominate our list.

The full Top 20 Education Next articles of 2020 list follows:

 

1. Pandemic Parent Survey Finds Perverse Pattern: Students Are More Likely to Be Attending School in Person Where Covid Is Spreading More Rapidly
Majority of students receiving fully remote instruction; Private-school students more likely to be in person full time
By Michael B. Henderson, Paul E. Peterson, and Martin R. West

 

 

 

2. Critical Race Theory Collides with the Law
Can a school require students to “confess their privilege” in class?
By Joshua Dunn

 

 

 

3. Teaching about Slavery
“Asking how to teach about slavery is a little like asking why we teach at all”
By Danielle Allen, Daina Ramey Berry, David W. Blight, Allen C. Guelzo, Robert Maranto, Ian V. Rowe, and Adrienne Stang

 

 

 

 

4. Ethnic Studies in California
An unsteady jump from college campuses to K-12 classrooms
By Miriam Pawel

 

 

 

 

5. Segregation and Racial Gaps in Special Education
New evidence on the debate over disproportionality
By Todd E. Elder, David Figlio, Scott Imberman, and Claudia Persico

 

 

 

 

6. Making Education Research Relevant
How researchers can give teachers more choices
By Daniel T. Willingham and David B. Daniel

 

 

 

 

7. Proving the School-to-Prison Pipeline
Stricter middle schools raise the risk of adult arrests
By Andrew Bacher-Hicks, Stephen B. Billings, and David J. Deming

 

 

 

 

8. What I Learned in 23 Years Ranking America’s Most Challenging High Schools
Most students are capable of much more learning than they are asked to do
By Jay Mathews

 

 

 

 

9. A Test for the Test Makers
College Board and ACT move to grow and diversify as the pandemic fuels test-optional admissions trend
By Jon Marcus

 

 

 

 

10. Addressing Significant Learning Loss in Mathematics During Covid-19 and Beyond
The pandemic has amplified existing skill gaps, but new strategies and new tech could help
By Joel Rose

 

 

 

 

11. The Shrinking School Week
Effects of a four-day schedule on student achievement
By Paul N. Thompson

 

 

 

 

12. Computer Science for All?
As a new subject spreads, debates flare about precisely what is taught, to whom, and for what purpose
By Jennifer Oldham

 

 

 

 

13. The Covid-19 Pandemic Is a Lousy Natural Experiment for Studying the Effects of Online Learning
Focus, instead, on measuring the overall effects of the pandemic itself
By Andrew Bacher-Hicks and Joshua Goodman

 

 

 

 

14. School Choice Advances in the States
Advocates describe “breakthrough year”
By Alan Greenblatt

 

 

 

 

15. The Politics of Closing Schools
Teachers unions and the Covid-19 pandemic in Europe
By Susanne Wiborg

 

 

 

 

16. Move to Trash
Five pandemic-era education practices that deserve to be dumped in the dustbin
By Michael J. Petrilli

 

 

 

 

17. School Choice and “The Truly Disadvantaged”
Vouchers boost college going, but not for students in greatest need
By Albert Cheng and Paul E. Peterson

 

 

 

 

18. The Orchid and the Dandelion
New research uncovers a link between a genetic variation and how students respond to teaching. The potential implications for schools—and society—are vast.
By Laurence Holt

 

 

 

 

19. What’s Next in New Orleans
The Louisiana city has the most unusual school system in America. But can the new board of a radically decentralized district handle the latest challenges?
By Danielle Dreilinger

 

 

 

 

20. Betsy DeVos and the Future of Education Reform
My years as assistant secretary of education gave me a firsthand look at how infighting among education reformers is hampering progress toward change.
By Jim Blew

 

Congratulations to all of our authors!

— Education Next

P.S. You can find the Top 20 Education Next articles of 2020 here, 2019 here, 2018 here, 2017 here, 2016 here, 2015 here, 2014 here and 2013 here.

P.P.S. You can find the Top 10 Education Next blog posts of 2021 here.

Last updated December 14, 2021