Five Big Stories in Education in 2015

We've had plenty to talk about in 2015 -- from testing to read alouds to ESSA, our new federal education law.

Here are five big education stories that kept my attention this year.

What's on your list?

ESSA is the law of the land

After years of starts, stalls and stops, the era of No Child Left Behind is finally on its way out. On December 10th, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law. Only time will tell how the law plays out in practice, but shifts are clear: more flexibility on spending and assessments for states and districts, more restrictions on the power of the Secretary of Education, new systems for accountability, and perhaps an easing of focus on standardized tests.

  1. Associated Press: Obama signs education law rewrite shifting power to states
  2. Morning Consult: How Old-School Legislating Brought an Education Bill to the Finish Line
  3. Vox: How schools will be different without No Child Left Behind

The soon-to-end era of Arne Duncan

One of the longest-serving members of President Obama’s cabinet, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced earlier this year that he would leave the post. His signature initiatives, including Race to the Top and federal School Improvement Grants, drove much of the conversation in education since 2009. Some see the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act as a culminating moment for him – while others see it as a defeat of many of his priorities. Whatever your thoughts are about the administration’s education agenda, there’s no denying that Duncan’s impact was huge.

  1. Washington Post: U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to step down at end of year
  2. The Hechinger Report: Arne Duncan’s legacy – the top-down approach to education
  3. Education Week: ESSA Cements the K-12 Obama-Duncan Legacy

The growing interest in family engagement initiatives

Recognizing the impact that out-of-school circumstances and barriers can have on a student’s readiness to learn in the classroom, schools and districts are increasingly investing in efforts to improve outreach to families and caregivers to give them supports and tools to boost learning at home. In New York City, an ambitious effort to improve family engagement initiatives in struggling schools kicked off this year. We expect more growth in this area in 2016.

  1. Education Week: Parent Engagement on Rise as Priority for Schools, Districts
  2. The New York Times: A Door-to-Door Push to Get Parents Involved at Struggling Schools

The role of testing and test scores are hotly debated

The debate over the role standardized tests should play in public schools appeared to reach a crescendo in 2015, capped off by the rewrite of NCLB and new calls from President Obama to limit the time students spend taking high stakes tests. Still, test results made big news: For the first time in years, results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) showed a drop in reading and math scores.

  1. The Hechinger Report: Will a decline on the Nation’s Report Card hurt Common Core?
  2. Slate: Can the Obama Administration Really Pare Back Standardized Testing?
  3. Education Week: Students Take Too Many Redundant Tests, Study Finds

A spotlight shines on read alouds

As more cities and states invest in early learning initiatives and as research continues to show how crucial the early years are for brain and language development, the read aloud seems to be having a well-deserved moment in the sun. Parents are getting the message that reading to children from birth is important, and communities are investing in providing books to families to read at home. Yes, read alouds make for special moments of bonding and comfort between parent and child; they also introduce students to early vocabulary, life lessons and, hopefully, a lifelong love of books.

  1. The New York Times: Long Line at the Library? It’s Story Time Again
  2. The New York Times: Study Finds Reading to Children of All Ages Grooms Them to Read More on Their Own
  3. NY1: City’s First Lady Promotes ‘Talk to Your Baby’

Photo: stone65