This Year in Education, and a Look Ahead

12/16/2017 02:33 pm ET

As educators, parents, and advocates, we’re all used to facing challenges and changes in education on a yearly, monthly, and even daily basis. For many people, this past year has seemed full of unnecessary hurdles and confusing decisions. The fact is, when facing tough times, we have two important responsibilities to benefit children. The first is being champions for people and policies that best serve our community. The second is adapting and making the best of situations that can’t be immediately changed, modeling behavior that shows kids that we shouldn’t let obstacles stop progress. So, let’s look back at the year in education, think about the future, and discuss in the comments.

United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos recently completed her “Rethink School” tour, which was met with mixed reception. The goal of the tour was touted as showcasing “creative ways in which education leaders are meeting the needs of students in K-12 and higher education.” The tour stopped in six states and DeVos mainly visited private, religious, and charter schools along the way. Critics of DeVos’ message primarily point to the negativity in some of her messaging. In Casper, Wyoming, DeVos called school a “mundane malaise.” Previously, DeVos has referred to public schools as a “dead end.” It seems that more so than simply being inexperienced, DeVos is an adamant foe of public education. Unfortunately, her message and methodology seem flawed, with an incorrect presumption that public schools can’t – or won’t – offer personalized learning. I’d love for my readers to share some creative things you’re doing or seeing in classrooms – whether they’re in public, private, or alternative schools.

In early October, Mitchell Zais was nominated as deputy secretary of education. Zais, a former Superintendent of Education in South Carolina, is a vehement opponent of the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Zais also has a controversial background in regard to Early Education initiatives, commenting in 2011 that he believed that five-year-olds are “too young to learn.” While the Common Core can be considered controversial, early childhood education is not. Time and again, studies have shown that kindergarten – and the years leading up to it – are crucial to educational success.

Contending with people in power that have very different viewpoints than us (and ideas that we may find troubling) is certainly a challenge. It is crucial not to let it intimidate or demoralize us. So, what can we do? First, we must stay informed on the issues – those that affect us and our kids, as well as larger  trends. Secondly, it’s up to all of us to get involved! That means in our schools and communities, and by making our voices heard –  not only locally –  but state and nationwide.

In positive news: this year, New York State became the first state to offer full coverage of four-year college tuition for students whose families make less than $100,000 a year. The state is also investing $8 million in e-books in an effort to lower out-of-pocket costs for students. This initiative makes higher education more accessible to working- and middle- class families.

We’ve also seen a focus on media literacy this year. While it’s a shame that many of us feel we need to second guess mainstream media, it’s a good opportunity to flex those critical thinking skills. When discussing media literacy with young people, it’s great to focus on the difference between facts and opinion. You can read my strategies to help kids master critical thinking here, and I hope you’ll share yours in the comments!

What did you consider education milestones, challenges, and opportunities this year? What are you looking forward to next year? 

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