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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and independent consultant, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com.

Education Opinion

17 Critical Issues Facing Education in 2017

By Peter DeWitt — January 10, 2017 8 min read

Education wasn’t a really hot topic for the Presidential campaign. It mostly took the backseat to Tweets, name calling, more Tweets, fake news, some more Tweets, and friends unfriending each other on Facebook because of how polarizing the campaign was then, and how the election still is now.

However, education has been a battleground of rhetoric over the years, and 2017 will certainly bring in some changes given, not only the campaign and ultimate election decision, but because of so many issues bubbling up to the top that need our attention. Some of the items may surprise you, while others seem like common sense. The 17 issues that I think will be critical this year are:

1. Betsy Devos - The New billionaire U.S. Secretary of Education pick is clearly coming in with a reputation if she gets approved. According to this USA News article Devos is the champion for school choice, and is well known for her charter school advocacy in Michigan. Educators, parents, politicians and pundits are all waiting to see what she will do when she takes over the position. Will it be that different from Arne Duncan and John King, who were both advocates for charters and school choice? According to Politico, incoming Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer has named Devos one of the 8 cabinet picks he will fight.

2. School choice - Clearly this has been one of the major priorities of Devos, so those affected by education will soon see what she plans to do. In the same USA News article from above, Devos was quoted as saying,

I'm most focused on educational choice. But, thinking more broadly, what we are trying to do is tear down the mindset that assigns students to a school based solely on the ZIP Code of their family's home. We advocate instead for as much freedom as possible."

3. U.S. Department of Education - During the campaign there was a great deal of talk about abolishing the US Department of Education, but heh, there is always a lot of talk of abolishing everything during campaigns. With Devos in power, the US department of Education will certainly take on a role. Will their role be about undoing everything that happened over the last 8 years?

4. The Common Core - President-elect Trump has been vocal about his intentions of eradicating the Common Core. What will the Common Core look like in 2017? Will it be recycled under a new name? According to this NPR article there is little to nothing that the President-Elect can do to the CCSS. However, considering it was such a political mess over the last few years, and the President-elect was vocal about it, there certainly will be some changes. Will they merely just be political rhetoric changes?

5. ESSA Reauthorization - This one is a bit more complicated. For more information click on this link to my colleague Alyson Klein’s Politics K-12 blog for an excellent run down of 5 things educators need to know when it comes to ESSA.

6. Media Literacy - Yes, media literacy...still. However, it’s just as important for adults as it is for students. If you suffered through your friend’s post for one candidate and against another, and now have to listen to the media cover the President-elect’s Tweets about everything from nuclear weapons to Saturday Night Live or Meryl Streep (not to mention fake news!), media literacy is bound to take on a different role in education. Media literacy is more important now than ever. Check out the Partnership for 21st Century Learning’s 4 C’s for help on this one.

7. Multi-Cultural Education - Can’t build a wall around this one anymore. The U.S. is made up of a very diverse population, and in order to move on we have to come to a better understanding and respect for one another. Too many negative, ignorant, racist, anti-religious, homophobic conversations are taking place, and they need to be replaced with a better understanding of the diverse country we live in, which will hopefully help our students get a better understanding of the world around them. That world around us is keeping a keen eye on everything that is happening in the US right now.

8. Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) - The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that,

One in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.”

There is a strong need for SEL. In a meta-analysis involving more than 200 studies and 270,000 students, Durlak et al (2011) found “those who participated in evidence-based SEL programs showed an 11 percentile-point gain in academic achievement compared to students who did not participate in SEL programs.”

One of the best resources on SEL is the Collaborative for Social-Emotional Learning (CASEL). Every school should be focusing on CASEL’s five competencies for SEL, which are Self-awareness, Self-management, Social awareness, Relationship skills and Responsible decision making.

9. Transgender Students - In 2010, I finished my doctoral work researching how well school administrators safeguard LGBTQ students. At the time, very few schools allowed me to do my research with them, and only a few that I did get into actually knew what transgender meant. Fast forward 7 years and schools are trying to work with students transitioning. For those of you thinking I’m pushing my agenda, I’m not. However, I have long felt that schools have to be prepared for the students coming to them regardless of their beliefs, and right now many are not, which means we’re telling a population of students we don’t care about them and they’re not reaching their full potential.

10. Recess - Students need a brain break and over the years we have seen schools get rid of recess in order to increase class time. Many of those schools will get an understanding of how wrong they were when they did that. Our students, no matter how young or old they are, need time outside. We will see more and more schools let students play so they can get their childhood back.

11. Crisis Teams - Considering the information by the Global Health Organization, we will see an increased importance in crisis teams at school. Although these have a combination of individuals involved, and different levels of involvement based on the crisis, the most basic crisis teams involve school psychologists, social workers, nurses, teacher representatives and school principals. They meet weekly to discuss students who are at risk because of mental health issues.

12. Collective Efficacy - The research around self-efficacy (Bandura) has been around for many years but John Hattie, someone I work with as a Visible Learning trainer, says self-efficacy is,“The confidence or strength of belief that we have in ourselves that we can make our learning happen.” Not all teachers, students and leaders have it, and collective efficacy is the way to help raise the self-efficacy of individuals. Through authentic collaboration and group thinking, collective efficacy can help solve the real problems that each individual school is facing.

13. Testing - Yes, testing is tied to ESSA, but it needs to have its own category as well because it remains a huge topic. The President-Elect has said many times that the U.S. is not competing at the same level as other countries when it comes to international comparisons (PISA). He actually said he wants to spend less on schools because of bad test scores (read here). What does that mean? Does it mean we will pull out of PISA? Does it mean we will see a change in how students are tested? Who knows! However, testing will play a part in educational conversations for 2017.

14. Authentic Engagement vs. Compliant Engagement - In order to get students to a level where they are assessment capable learners (Hattie) which has an effect size of 1.44 (well over the hinge point of .40 which equates to a year’s worth of growth for a year’s input) we need to involve students in more authentic learning experiences. Compliant learning will take a backseat to more authentic experiences where students have a voice in their own learning.

15. Pre-service Teacher Programs - We have millions of teachers who work hard and find innovative ways to meet the needs of diverse students, and then we have others who work from bell to bell and have lower expectations of some students. Teaching is much harder than many of us ever understood when we were in college become teachers. That understanding needs to change, and it’s based on how we prepare teachers. Higher education and schools have to work harder on their partnerships because the status quo relationships that have been happening for decades are no longer good enough. We need stronger teacher candidates that can help meet the academic and social-emotional needs of our ever-changing student population, as well as deal with an educational cycle that needs to be based on a pedagogical cycle as opposed to the present political one.

16. Leadership Prep Programs - We need better leaders. There are thousands and thousands of hardworking school leaders who go above and beyond in their daily roles as building and district leaders. However, there are many, many more who have done their time in their schools as assistant principals and are now handed the principalship. The old boys network needs to be replaced with high quality leaders. Leadership programs need to be stronger, and leadership coaching needs to become part of the norm. So many leaders want it, but often don’t have the opportunity to take it.

17. School Climate - In order for any initiative to be successful, the school climate needs to be supportive and inclusive. Why? A positive school climate, where there is a sense of collective efficacy, can help eat away at a school culture that blocked authentic learning experiences for all students. Schools face tough circumstances, like those on this list, and in order to address those issues effectively, they will have to foster a school climate where stakeholders want to be a part of the process.

Those are my 17 critical issues. Please feel free to share your choices below.

Peter DeWitt, Ed.D. is the author of several books including the best selling Collaborative Leadership: 6 Influences That Matter Most (September, 2016. Corwin Press/Learning Forward). Connect with Peter on Twitter.

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.

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