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Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

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Ten Edu-Stories We’ll Be Reading in 2016

By Rick Hess — December 28, 2015 5 min read
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This past year has featured a slew of developments I’d have never expected to see. Nonetheless, people continue to ask if I’ve any thoughts on upcoming events in 2016. I suppose that comes with the territory when you work at a D.C. think tank. So, despite my shabby record as a prognosticator, I’ll give it my usual shot. Here are predictions regarding a few of the big edu-headlines we can expect to see next year:

1. State efforts to rebrand the Common Core continue apace. With great fanfare, Idaho announces its new “Idaho Grade-A Potato” standards. Colorado touts its “Mile High” standards, backing the new motto with a multimillion dollar marketing campaign. The tagline: “We don’t just mean Rocky Mountain high. We’re talking, ‘Drive across town to get a Frito pie and clean out the Ho-Ho section at Walgreens’ high.” Education pundit Andy Rotherham tells POLITICO‘s Maggie Severns, “Man, that’s high.”

2. NEA president Lily Eskelsen García is forced to apologize after another gaffe. At a University of Iowa forum in late January, she declares, “The entire Republican field consists of filthy corporate vermin bent on destroying our nation.” She later issues a correction, explaining she meant to say that the GOP candidates are “corporate-funded vermin bent on destroying the nation.”

3. In a tragic development, the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act leaves hordes of young D.C. education analysts adrift. Without NCLB, Race to the Top, or ESEA waivers, one-time education advocates eager to stay inside the Beltway are forced to take jobs lobbying for pharmaceutical firms and investment banking trade groups. In a soulful NPR segment, one former advocate says, “People told us we could go work in alleged state ‘capitals’ like Jackson and Jeff City ... but I’ve no clue how you’d get there. And, even if I did, I really doubt they have good craft beers. You know?”

4. Democrats for Education Reform maintains a brave face throughout much of the primary season. DFER president Shavar Jeffries even manages to intermittently say enthusiastic things about Hillary Clinton, at least until Clinton tells the Democratic convention, “More money works! Charter schools don’t! And remember, you can’t hug a test!” Jeffries is seen later crying softly into his beer at the hotel bar. DFER’s director of policy Charlie Barone tells a reporter, “I just need to be alone for a little while.”

5. A new poll from Pew stuns the nation when it finds that college students overwhelmingly say they feel safe on campus. College administrators are perplexed. One provost tells The New York Times, “Students have clearly developed false consciousness. It’s classic Gramsci. To survive the larger violence visited upon them daily by the university’s imperialist, white supremacist, ableist, cissexist heteropatriarchy, they have subconsciously convinced themselves that they inhabit a benign environment.” A senior official at the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights plaintively insists, “We need to ask ourselves: What can be done to make students feel less safe? That’s the only way to move forward.”

6. A contretemps erupts when the U.S. Department of Education distributes posters celebrating the Every Student Succeeds Act but the printer somehow scrambles the old and new printing templates. Half the posters wind up reading “Every Student Left Behind” (the other half trumpet “No Child Succeeds”). Thousands of students respond to the posters by promptly dropping out of school. As one such student tells Education Week‘s Alyson Klein, “When even the inspirational posters expect you to fail, it’s time to pack it in.” Klein’s story draws much comment, especially her observation, “It’s strange how a few words mark the difference between goofy high hopes and soul-deadening nihilism.”

7. After accepting the new role of “Commissioner of Chicago Youth Sports,” former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is greeted with great enthusiasm before running into trouble. When he is told about new research on the benefits of data-driven shot selection in basketball, he mandates that all city teams take a specified share of shots from analyst-determined “sweet spots” just outside the three-point arc. He requires that all teams file weekly shot tracking sheets to document compliance, triggering a fierce backlash. A Chicago Tribune columnist asks, “I know the guy means well, but what the hell is he thinking?” Duncan responds, “These kids only get one shot to play youth sports and they deserve a chance to play the game right.” Duncan’s deputy tells The Washington Post’s Lyndsey Layton, “He’s just really passionate about the game.”

8. The new president of my alma mater, Brandeis University, announces that the title of “president” will be retired from use. His strongly worded letter observes that several former U.S. presidents were slave owners and that the title “carries ineradicable connotations of a colonialist hierarchical paradigm.” Pledging to be more proactive going forward, he also announces a new collaboration with North Korea’s renowned re-education experts on a program of mandatory “goodthink” training for faculty, staff, and students—and any passerby who regularly frequent the campus. Brandeis’s BlackLivesMatter chapter immediately denounces these “tepid half-measures” and calls for his ouster.

9. A pre-K advocacy group releases a series of surveys showing most Americans think young children should be fed, housed, loved, and educated. The surveys include questions like, “Do you think little kids should learn to read?” (89 percent of respondents say “yes”). While the results do surprisingly little to change public policy, the work helps pollsters cover their children’s exorbitant preschool tuitions ... and afford some really nice vacation homes. One veteran researcher observes that this kind of pay-for-findings polling may be a little distasteful, but notes, “You need to keep in mind that some of these vacation homes are really, really nice.”

10. Not content with current loan forgiveness proposals, Senator Elizabeth Warren introduces new legislation calling for lousy colleges to pay reparations to former students. This turns out to pose a real conundrum at Ivy League schools, where students learn little but still wind up with prestigious jobs in government or finance. The befuddled president of Columbia is moved to ask at a Senate hearing, “So, would we be expected to pay our students or not?”

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up 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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