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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

12 Critical Issues Facing Education in 2016

By Peter DeWitt — December 15, 2015 5 min read
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Perhaps we have always lived in complicated times, but these days seem to be more complicated than ever. We all have to brace ourselves when we turn on the news because we know there will be multiple stories about violence and hardships taking place around the world.

Maybe I am just an optimist, but I am hoping that 2016 is the year where we actually address the issues instead of argue about them.

Schools have seen major issues over the last few years, and 2016 promises to be a year that will bring those issues to the forefront. There are amazing organizations, and people within them, that are trying their best to address the issues in order to provide a high quality education for all students.

Additionally, despite the rhetoric of politicians in the past, teachers, students, parents and leaders are working very hard every day to address the issues they face. Although there are probably more, these are at least 12 issues facing education that will envelope us in 2016.

ESEA Re-Authorization - The rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (read here for a great explanation) will no doubt be an important topic for the next few years. However, in 2016 each state will have to figure out how it affects them.

Common Core (CC) - Yes, I know that many states have dropped the CC in favor of new standards that look suspiciously like the Common Core standards with a new name. In my home state of New York, after a very destructive few years because of testing, curriculum, a governor who seems to dislike teachers, etc., the Common Core Task Force has made the decision that new standards have to be created that are more student-centered. Other states will no doubt follow suit (Update: This is not meant to imply that NY is getting rid of the CCSS).

Grading/Feedback - The last few years have caused teachers, parents and leaders to reflect on how they grade students, and whether grades actually further any learning. We need to focus on the feedback we provide to students, which when done correctly, John Hattie says can provide a .73 effect size. For more information on grading check out my friends Mark Barnes and Starr Sackstein.

Homework - Along with the idea of grades, we have had this constant battle over homework. Does it help students learn? Or is it just another way teachers enforce compliance? Alfie Kohn has written extensively about it, as well as other researchers, teachers and parents. Schools really need to focus on this issue and come up with a plan. For more information on homework, please read this great blog by Kris Fox.

US Department of Education - Now with the ESEA Act rewrite in the books, which is supposed to give states and districts more control, we are all interested in seeing what happens to the US Department of Education. What role will they have in education over the next few years? How will the upcoming Presidential elections affect the role of the Department?

Future Ready Schools - My friends Andy Marcinek, Katrina Stevens and Tom Murray, along with many others, are heavily involved with making sure that all schools are #futureready. According to the Office of Educational Technology website,

Future Ready builds on the momentum of the President's ConnectED Initiative with the launch of the Future Ready Pledge. Signing the pledge means superintendents are committing to foster and lead a culture of digital learning in their district and to share what they have learned with other districts."

I predict we will, and should, see a major push for Future Ready schools over the next year.

Politics - Yes, this was on the list that I wrote 2 years ago, but let’s face it, politics will always be involved in education. With the upcoming Presidential elections taking place, we should be ready for candidates to be talking about education. Will they bash teachers? Or will they take a different approach? The last couple of years have been filled with teacher bashing and it brought backlash. Here’s hoping the candidates take a growth mindset rather than a fixed one.

Additionally, the politics issue isn’t just about elections. It’s also about what John Hattie, someone I work with as a Visible Learning Trainer, calls the Politics of Distraction, which are the things we get caught up in year after year that just don’t matter as much as we think. Let’s stop letting them hinder our growth.

Speaking of growth...

Growth vs. Fixed Mindset - Carol Dweck’s work has enveloped teachers across the nation and around the world, the only problem is that John Hattie says it has a low effect size (.19). It’s not that the growth mindset doesn’t work, but it’s how teachers and leaders use it that often complicates the issue. Dweck wrote about it here, and I wrote about it here and here. Whatever your feeling may be about the Growth Mindset, this will be something that more and more schools will adopt, and let’s hope they actually it’s used correctly.

Women in Leadership - Earlier this year I wrote this blog about 18 women in leadership and it was well-received. Women in leadership is not a new issue, but given we have Hillary Clinton running for president this will be a topic that comes up quite often this year. We need to have more high quality leaders, and that should include more women.

Minoritized Populations - Whether it’s the Black Lives Matter Movement or LGBTQ issues, minoritized populations are going to be one area all schools need to address. Issues are bubbling up all over the country around race, transgender students and adults, as well as other populations that need to see equality. Schools are often the places where these issues rise to the top, and 2016 will no doubt be the year where we all have to have a plan on how to find equality for everyone.

Poverty - Jonothan Kozol has been writing and speaking about this issue for decades, and you don’t have to travel far away from your home to understand that we have a poverty issue. The US Census Bureau says that 46.7 million people in the US are living in poverty. Teachers and leaders are working hard to help combat it, and this will be an issue that continues to be an area we need to address.

High Stakes Testing - There is no doubt that this will be a major issue in 2016. With a huge number of “Opt-Outs” last year alone, state education leaders understand that they have to bring the amount of testing down across the nation. This will be there year we figure out how best to assess learning.

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Creative Commons image courtesy of Geralt.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.