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2010 might just go down in history as the year "education reform" became more than a phrase tossed around by school district policy wonks. Americans are more aware than ever of the need for change in our nation's schools-and they're taking action. From President Obama's Race to the Top initiative to parents in Compton, California being the first in the nation to present a petition allowing them to take over their local elementary school, seismic shifts rocked the education world this year. Here are our 12 biggest education reform stories of 2010-one for each month-that are sure to drive the conversation well into 2011.
In January, the Obama Administration's Race to the Top education reform grant competition put a $4 billion carrot in front of cash-strapped states and the District of Columbia. To get the money, districts had to agree to rigorous standards and teacher evaluation changes. The machinations of the states competing for the money made news throughout 2010. But, not every state entered and singer John Legend even went on Morning Joe to express his outrage over New York State skipping the competition. RTTT is now the single-largest discretionary program in the history of the U.S. Department of Education, and John, there's always next year.
Hurricane Katrina may have killed over 2,000 people, but in February, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the disaster was “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans.” Duncan put his foot in his mouth on an episode of Washington Watch with Roland Martin and the subsequent outrage forced an apology. Sadly, Paul Vallas, Superintendent of the Recovery School District in Louisiana, and Louisiana Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek supported Duncan's comments.
Photo via Cliff Owen at the Associated Press.
The March debut of education historian and NYU professor Diane Ravitch's bestselling education book “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education” sent shockwaves through the ed reform community. A former proponent of standardized testing and common standards, Ravitch's current viewpoints are 180 degrees from her beliefs in the 1990s when she served as Assistant Secretary of Education under both President George H.W. Bush and President Bill Clinton. Since the book's release, she’s emerged as a voice willing to skewer the underfunding of schools and the demonization of teachers.
Photo courtesy of Jack Miller
April brought the announcement by the New York City schools of the closure of the infamous "rubber rooms"-controversial holding pens for teachers under investigation or removed from the classroom for incompetence. Over 500 teachers got paid a full salary-often over $100,000-for reading or playing cards in these rooms while going through the district's due process system. School officials said it was too hard to fire teachers because of the union. Some teachers complained that "they had done nothing wrong except expose principals for playing with student test scores."
In May, Arizona decided that learning about the state's history as part of Mexico, and that Mexican-American soldiers fought in Vietnam, is bad. Governor Jan Brewer signed a bill banning ethnic studies in response to complaints over a Tucson Unified School District program that teaches Mexican-American history and culture. Apparently students being exposed to the literary contributions of Mexican-American authors is the educational equivalent of the apocalypse. A national outcry emerged but since states have the right to decide what students will learn, the law goes into effect on January 1, 2011.
June saw the unveiling of the Common Core Standards Initiative, a "state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO)." The initiative began developing consistent, national K-12 English and math standards in 2009 to ensure that for the first time in American history, students nationwide get a consistent, high-quality education.
If teacher effectiveness should be measured by standardized tests, then those test need to be reliable and scored properly, right? In July, Florida got rocked by scandal over significant declines in FCAT scores, showing that test results aren't mistake proof. The drop in scores was blamed on the state switching testing companies, prompting questions over whether the old testing company had been inflating scores, or if the new company, NCS Pearson-paid $254 million to administer the test-had made mistakes.
In August the Los Angeles Times released their groundbreaking “value added data” teacher rankings database. Over 6,000 elementary teachers received grades ranging from most to least effective according to their ability to boost students’ math and English standardized test scores. In the aftermath, one teacher committed suicide and the United Teachers of Los Angeles called for a boycott of the Times. Critics say the method's flawed, but the call for using value added data to rate teachers has grown nationwide.
Oscar winning director Davis Guggenheim’s education documentary Waiting For Superman debuted in September. The film set the education reform tone for the second half of the year by painting charter schools, Harlem Children’s Zone CEO Geoffrey Canada, and DC Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee as the heroes of education reform. Conversely, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Randi Weingarten-and most public school teachers-were portrayed as tenure preserving champions of educational mediocrity. Love it or hate it, Superman spurred the national education reform conversation like nothing else in 2010.
Photo Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
Waiting for Superman made Michelle Rhee a national household name, but voters in Washington, D.C wanted the controversial chancellor of the city's public schools to permanently clean out her desk. The defeat of former D.C. Mayor, Adrian Fenty was widely seen as a referendum on Rhee and her bull in a china shop style of firing teachers. She announced her resignation in October and subsequently launched education advocacy group, StudentsFirst.
November brought the shocking resignation of New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. and Mayor Michael Bloomberg's even more surprising announcement that he was appointing former Hearst Magazines Chairman Cathie Black as the new chancellor. Critics derided Black's lack of credentials and experience and pointed to the appointment as further evidence of the corporate takeover of public education. Bloomberg's solution? He gave Black a deputy with real education know how.
In December McKinley Elementary in Compton, CA became the first campus impacted by a new state law, the "parent trigger". Organizing group Parent Revolution, helped parents collect enough signatures to demand that the troubled school be taken over by a charter operator. Accusations of impropriety and intimidation flew from both sides and a state investigation is sure to continue into 2011.