Education Predictions for 2012

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What can we expect in the world of public education in 2012? (For a good review of what happened in 2011, check out this link.) I’ll start by considering three nagging questions.

1. Will this be the year that some school districts say ‘No mas!” to No Child Left Behind’s harsh rules?

2. Will we have that long-awaited national conversation about the goals of public education?

3. And will political leaders rise up against the excesses of for-profit education, so effectively documented in the New York Times (December 13, 2011), where we learned that the school superintendent of one for-profit charter chain that enrolls 94,000 students is paid $5,000,000 a year? (By contrast, Dennis Walcott, who is responsible for over one million New York City public school students, earns $213,000 a year.)

Sadly, I fear that the answer to those three questions is NO, NO and NO. Professional educators — who are generally reactors, not actors — will be busy trying to keep up with the latest new new thing (this year it’s the Common Core). I don’t expect rebellious behavior from superintendents and school boards, no matter how much they claim to be chafing under NCLB. Expect instead a further narrowing of the curriculum, more testing, larger classes, and the continued heroic behavior of most teachers under difficult circumstances.

Because this is an election year, the politics of public education are even crazier than usual, meaning that serious debate over the federal role in education won’t occur in 2012. Republicans are running against the very existence of the federal Department of Education, not debating subtleties of achievement measures. Not only is there zero chance of a national dialogue, the probability that anything useful will happen in the re-authorization of NCLB is pretty slim, unless it happens very early this year.

And because money talks in education, the for-profit crowd seems likely to continue its creeping expansion. A few more exposés like Stephanie Saul’s wonderful New York Times piece (linked above) won’t be enough to make us care about what amounts to the selling of other people’s children.

Classroom
What will happen here in 2012?

However, I can imagine four and perhaps five hopeful scenarios for 2012. In ascending order of importance (my judgement call), they are ‘Growth in Home Schooling,’ ‘Shutting Down Failing Charter Schools,’ ‘Board/Union Cooperation,’ ‘Whole School Evaluation,’ and ‘Blended Learning.’

I think it’s safe to predict more Home Schooling, fueled by a stagnant economy, policies that allow home-school students to participate in some school activities, and parental dissatisfaction with public education’s relentless focus on math and reading. Parents want more for their kids, and, if one parent can’t find a paying job outside the home, why not teach your own?

A larger number of failing charter schools will be closed in 2012. It’s happening now in California, New Orleans and Washington, DC. While the stated reason is often financial, as Andy Rotherham wryly notes, that’s how they got Al Capone. What that means: it’s easier to prove financial mismanagement than educational malpractice, but they often go hand in hand. If the non-profit public charter movement gets its act together and both raises and adheres to high standards, there’s no stopping this movement in 2012.

Board/Union Cooperation is not some dream scenario. It’s happening because the Race to the Top competition got the two sides talking, because the Gates Foundation and the U. S. Department are putting dollars behind it, and because quite a few leaders on both sides of the table are reading the tea leaves. Union leaders are well aware of the threat posed by charter schools, which do not have to unionize. Whether there’s pressure on school boards to stop their meddling is an open question, but there’s a trend toward decentralization that could grow. It’s not just Hillsborough, Florida, folks. This could be big in 2012. Maybe we will see shorter contracts that leave more decisions in the hands of the people in the school, instead of dictates from on high.

Whole School Evaluation is a sleeper for 2012 because all the public attention has been directed toward measuring the effectiveness of individual teachers (often so the ineffective ones can be removed). But quietly and behind the scenes, a few leaders have recognized that evaluating every teacher individually would entail testing every subject in every grade — and that’s both illogical and insane!

Concrete plans are being developed and implemented that use multiple measures to draw conclusions about how much or how little the entire school is progressing. And when a school rises, everyone involved — including office staff, custodians, attendance officers and the like — stand to benefit. Washington, DC, which has been in the spotlight (and sometimes the cross hairs) for its controversial “Impact” system, uses what seems like a sensible Whole School Evaluation approach. Esther Wojcicki and I wrote an op-ed, “Trust but Verify”, on this subject a few months ago, if you’d like to know more about how it could work.

But my personal pick in 2012 is Blended Learning, an idea whose time has certainly come. Sal Khan and the Khan Academy are the most visible (and most successful) manifestation, but I hear that forward-thinking educators in many districts are recognizing that, while kids are going to be in schools, there is no reason they cannot be connected with students across the district, the state, the nation and the world. What’s more, the traditional ‘stop signs’ of 8th grade, 9th grade, 10th grade and so forth are now meaningless. If a child can use technology to help her move through three years of math in one, she should be encouraged to dig deep and move at her own pace. And when a child needs a year-and-a-half to get through Algebra, that’s fine too.

There are plenty of hurdles to the widespread acceptance of Blended Learning, chief among them being habit and tradition. Teachers are going to need help with this, because they haven’t been trained or encouraged to ‘let go’ of control, and, frankly, Blended Learning can make life difficult for the adults in charge. After all, it requires close personal attention to individual kids, instead of the usual practice of grouping kids by their age. In this approach, learning is a two-way street that demands exploration and always entails failure. No doubt some are going to try to co-opt Blended Learning either to make money from it or to cut the labor force (teachers), but, all that aside, Blended Learning is my bet for education’s big winner in 2012.

So, there you have my predictions/hopes for 2012. What are yours?

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17 thoughts on “Education Predictions for 2012

  1. So many 2012 predictions in and out of education are so ho-hum. I guess that is just a sign of the era we live in. But these got my blood flowing, for good and bad reasons. But, I have only a few blogs I read ‘religiously’ and expect no less.

    Being part of the “evil empire” of for-profits that are single-handedly wiping out public education–as if that job was not being done well-enough prior to the rise of for-profit educational management companies–and with my support of and work in quality charter schools, my longer held belief is that allowing a failing school of any kind to continue to operate without stopping that failure is immoral. So one of my hope is that, not just failing charters or money-grubbing for-profits, but ALL failing institutions of public instruction get serious, real, actual (fill in the blank) reviews and work done toward eradicating the systemic (financial and/or academic) failures that exist. But, my actual prediction is that in 2012, America realizes it cannot continue to allow students to be screwed over and not have that mean we languish economically. (Okay, so maybe it is more a hope than a prediction.)

    As that one contained a number of elements, my last prediction is simply that virtual and blended learning will become a more prominent tool, reviewed, vetted, whatever is needed to show that it can help a wider selection of students than most naysayers are willing to accept. Online alone is not going to do it because crappy teaching is crappy teaching, just as crappy administration is crappy administration and so on. Different kids need different supports. Holding them hostage either by withholding the means or by allowing them to languish virtually rather than in a bad brick-n-mortar is not a better option. So along with this increase in available online programing that is of a higher quality, there will need to be serious evaluation that does not allow a shift from face-to-face failure to online failure.

    Great food for thought, John, as always. Thanks for allowing me to add my 2-cents.

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  2. I’m tempted to say, “Tell us how you really feel!” (smile)
    Seriously, thanks for your passion….
    Now how do we comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable?

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    • All of us engaged at whatever level have to agitate more than we have up to this point. If we want quality, we have to demand it and then show the way to it. Seems like with most political issues, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. But, I could be wrong as you are dead right with the 2:32 pm post about adult battles continuing, most often to the detriment of the kids and the learning both kids and adults need to have to perpetuate more learning. Seems to me to be a dynamic–whether a great traditional district, great charter, great online or great private school, where kids learn and adults have real buy-in, amazing things are happening. Fordham did a panel this morning in DC asking if the accountability movement has ended (or something like that). We bemoan all the negatives, but fail time and time again to shout the successes from the rooftops. More press that way could possible address the negative dynamic that seems to proliferate. And then again, I could be dead wrong.

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  3. I’m hoping for a much bigger expose on the fraudulent Michelle Rhee and the money behind Students First, and deeper analysis of how deeply private foundations (and private money, such as the Koch brothers’ fortune) are deliberately undermining public education. This has already been covered, but it’s an ongoing story that needs a lot of attention.

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  4. In a states like California where funding for K-12 education comes from the State level as opposed local sources like property taxes, there will be significant tension to begin to reinvest in education while other programs struggle to receive funding. It is high likely the Governor and Legislature will adopt a common school board tactic of proposing a series of budget cuts and going to voters asking for new revenues to avoid proposed program cuts.

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  5. I’d love to predict that my concept of local Learning Communities would gain some visibility and traction in 2012 but I’m a realist to the point that the lobbyists will maintain their stranglehold on education as they do on all big topics. Ironically, to me at least, is the fact that LCs would indeed bring some sanity back to education – optimizing the use of funds, improving test scores, reducing teacher burnout, etc.- because of the local mobilization of support and engagement.

    I’m clearly and steadily becoming convinced that home schooling would be my choice for out daughters if they were reaching school age today! It’s the one VERY LOCAL Leaening Community that is available!

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  6. Watching Leon Panetta speaking today I had a little fantasy going in my head: What if the Defense Dept was funded like the Dept of Ed? What if the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force all had to compete for grant funding like school districts do with the ridiculous and pitiful Race to the Top set-up? Some get funding for “innovative” ideas and some get nuthin’. If Defense was funded like our Education system is, they would be SCREAMING about the inequities. Barely a whisper when education dollars have been funneled to the “billionaire boys club” sponsored charters that discriminate against students with disabilities, foster youth and English Language learners. Our schools have become business opportunities for savvy corporate interests and our legislators, who receive big donations from these folks, just roll over and do what they’re asked. They’re destroying the foundations of our education system and the general public is being falsely told that it’s the fault of teachers, unions and pension funds. Until we respect educators, provide decent, living wages and demand that all public schools take all children or they lose public funding – we’re going to continue to see the decay of the system. For that IS the plan, ultimately. Big business wants education to be big business – and it will be at the expense of our children’s future.
    link here to Parents Across America: http://parentsacrossamerica.org/
    link here to “The Broad Report: A parent Guide”: http://thebroadreport.blogspot.com/p/parent-guide.html
    link here for Jeb Bush’s plan to take money from public schools: http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/10/jeb-bush-digitial-learning-public-schools

    We need sane academics who care about children, not profit-margins, involved with education planning. These greedy business folks need to get their paws out of the public school cookie jar.

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  7. Thanks, John,
    Hope you will join with Darren & me in urging that public schools, whether district or charter, whose students show little or no progress over 3-4 years on standardized tests, with poor attendance by students (and often faculty), will receive assistance and then if there is little or no progress, will be closed.

    Hope you will continue to urge that multiple measures will be used to help assess student and school progress. It will be interesting to see what comes from the hundreds of millions of federal (taxpayer) money that has been allocated to help develop more meaningful assessments. I am hopeful about that.

    We will see more families turning to charters – and yes, you will see more attention devoted to people within the charter movement pressing for quality, using multiple measures to assess it.

    We’ll continue to see schools that overcome achievement gaps and we’ll continue to hear some people say either it can’t be done, or it can’t be replicated or it can’t be scaled up. Same story for the last 40 years.

    Finally, there will be more people coming to understand the value of involving young people in efforts to help improve schools and society. http://www.whatkidscando.org is a great resource on this.

    Thanks for your continuing efforts and Happy New Year

    Joe

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  8. John,

    Good piece. Always fun to make predictions. Two comments:

    1.) “Blended Learning” – Salman Khan’s concept is programmed learning using videos. From his cultural perspective and cousins, he is convinced that “we can teach everytghing with knowledge maps.” Bold statement. Seconded by the G-man who thinks technology can save the day, but as of yet, has not. Khan’s program will work with self-directed learners who possess both the inititative and technology to augment their classroom learning with video reviews. Khan’s upside down view of homework is very creative. All-in-all, still a very teacher-directed progra. What we need is learner-centered teaching.

    2.) Predictions – I think you may have overlooked a prediction for the new year. 2012 will see the resurgence of the SAVE OUR SCHOOLS (SOS) Movement started July 30, 2011 at the National Rally and March in Washington, D.C. I predict that SOS will be the force that unifies all grassroots efforts across the United States (students, parents, educators, and activists) dedicated to meaningful reform (i.e., reform that improves learning and provides full educational opportunity for every child) and public education. As a member of the SOS Steering Committee, I would like to discuss this matter with you in more detail.

    Thank you for interest in public education.

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  9. I can only assume that my earlier comment was not included in your blog because several foundations who fund this are criticized. Too bad.

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    • Not sure what you are referring to, but we block obscenities and outrageous personal attacks. Criticizing foundations is certainly within the rules. Submit it again….

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      • It had nothing obscene or outrageously personal and been labeled “pending approval” when I last saw it. Maybe it got sucked into some internet glitch machine…I hope I can remember – also provided some links. Will redo.

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      • Just received this email. As the Mythbusters say; “Well, there’s your problem.” Thanks for the additional link for a great wrap-up.

        Sonja,

        I work with John Merrow on his blog, Taking Note.

        Your comment has now been approved. I believe it got caught in our
        filters because of some of the hyperlinks. But regardless, it’s all good
        now.

        Feel free to check out a breakdown of our 2011 work too, if you get a
        chance:
        http://bit.ly/tbB2Mu

        Thank you, and have a great week.

        Respectfully,
        Ted Bauer
        Learning Matters

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  10. John,

    I just found your blog/site and find it wonderfully refreshing! I also vote for blended learning and we are currently using it while living in China and have found astonishing results with our four year old.We first decided on regular school in China and it didn’t fit. Then we thought okay…we can do this. So now we have a few play groups, a paid Chinese tutor that comes to our house 4 times a week, and Kung Fu classes. For all of this we pay way less than we would on traditional school and it is more fun for the whole family. I hope to be able to repeat this process for most of her school career.

    All the best,

    Paz

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