Opinion Blog

Rick Hess Straight Up

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.

Education Opinion

Ten Education Stories We’ll Be Reading in 2020

By Rick Hess — December 30, 2019 8 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

As we bid adieu to 2019 and look forward to another year of tranquil good cheer, it’s time for my annual prognostications. Now, while some of you have uncharitably observed that I’ve an uneven record on this count, I shall soldier on, undaunted by the naysaying. Thus, without further ado, here’s my best guess at 10 big education stories we’ll be reading in the year ahead:

  1. As his impeachment trial looms, President Donald Trump’s legal team tries a new tactic. In a surprising bid to solidify his position for the Senate trial, Trump’s defense team explains that he can’t have violated the responsibilities of the office . . . because he never learned what they are. One adviser tells The Washington Post, “I don’t think the president ever heard the phrase ‘enumerated powers’ until the impeachment hearings began.” As the White House release puts it, “The president cannot reasonably be expected to comply with niceties of constitutional doctrine that he was never taught.” For his part, the president tweets, “DEEP-STATE teachers hid the truth from me in their sh#%hole schools!!!” He adds, “I have the best people. The best! Unlike my LOSER teachers, THEY finally told me about the Constitution and ‘emuneraty powers.’ Starting now, I will be the most enumerated president ever!!!”
  2. Struggling to regain her footing in a tough primary season, Sen. Elizabeth Warren announces that she’s upsizing her higher education plan. In a carefully choreographed event at a Massachusetts community college, the candidate with a “plan for everything” unveils her new and improved higher ed plan. “My first plan just wasn’t quite free enough,” Warren says. “Now, free college will really mean free.” Federal funding would cover tuition, fees, books, room and board, Wi-Fi access, travel, professional wardrobe, dorm fridges, boutique coffee drinks, yoga, Spotify Premium, fabric softener, and concert tickets. In a new campaign ad, Warren caresses a ridiculously soft-looking towel and says, “My plan? It’s not just free college. It’s free fabric softener, too!! How soft, you ask?” She winks, “Soft enough to absorb even a billionaire’s dewy, delicious tears.” The spot is a huge hit, winning the coveted ad of the year award from the influential Socialist Marketing Alliance of America.
  3. Shortly after his Senate acquittal, Trump embarks on a “You’re Fired Tour,” visiting schools across America to fire teachers (whom he continues to blame for his travails). Trump takes to showing up at schools in the early morning and apprehending teachers in the parking lot—shouting, “YOU’RE FIRED!” while a camera crew films away. The YouTube clips become a sensation. In Normal, Ill., 3rd grade teacher Mrs. Helen Benford is so startled when the president jumps out from behind a Subaru in the drop-off lane that she spills hot coffee on her pantsuit. Local teachers launch a Kickstarter campaign to cover her dry-cleaning bill, with the tag, “Give a ten for Mrs. Ben!” The effort goes viral, sparking T-shirts and tribute videos, and raising more than $500,000. This all leads to Benford’s star turn at the NEA convention, where the delegates greet her with a rousing chant of, “Fire THIS, Mr. Trump!”
  4. In March, junior Procter and Gamble marketing executive Yolanda Bertrand receives $45 million from a consortium of major funders to launch TGIF, a social and emotional learning program she conceived while kayaking in Central America. Bertrand posits that the factors which most stress out students are Teachers, Grades, Integers, and Frowny faces. Thus, she calls for getting rid of these. Labeling her model the “TGIF” approach, she embraces the slogan: “Why can’t every day feel like Friday?!” Ninety-seven partner districts agree to abolish grades and teachers, put an end to the use of “integer-based” math, and eliminate frowny face stickers. Most participating schools also do away with desks, subjects, discipline, and anything else that can, as Bertrand puts it, “get between a child and their happy place.” The program’s rollout is a huge success, with reports of plummeting student stress levels. By fall, thousands of additional schools are embracing the TGIF model. In response to whispered complaints that students aren’t actually learning much, Bertrand breezily tells USA Today, “If the critics knew so much, they’d be the ones with a book contract and an invite to join The View!”
  5. Continuing to lead on safe spaces, Oberlin College excitedly announces in July that it is instituting a “Campuswide Safe Space.” The campus’s paradigm-shifting provost tells The New York Times, “We think this is where everyone should be headed.” She explains, “We aim to be proactive about eliminating offensive ideas, behaviors, and pronoun utilization.” When asked how it will work, she says, “It’s really not that hard. It’s mostly about taking the challenge seriously. We’re installing simple audio-visual surveillance technology in hallways, classrooms, dormitories, eating facilities, and restrooms. Behavior monitors will also discreetly patrol campus to note any inappropriate language, signage, sidewalk etchings, or hand gestures.” The provost says she can’t take all the credit. “I owe a big hat tip to an exquisite little how-to manual that I stumbled across last year. It’s called 1984. The author’s name is, if I remember rightly, Georgia Norwell. Our planning team read it together, and it was just a marvelous blueprint for what we had in mind.”
  6. In the tiny township of Happydale, Mich., the district’s single teacher, Mr. Ernest Bumgartner, announces that he’s going on strike. Thinking that Bumgartner looks lonely sitting on the front steps of the schoolhouse, Superintendent Harris Piskowitz takes to stopping by each morning with a venti frappucino and a loaner iPad. Bumgartner’s strike goes national when several prominent Democratic candidates come through and spend time watching “Parks & Rec” with him on the iPad. The whole thing comes to a head at CNN’s much-anticipated “Happydale Town Hall” when Bumgartner soulfully explains, “I believe the children are our future,” and Piskowitz breaks down in tears. In the aftermath, Bravo announces a new reality series for the fall, Welcome Back, Bumgartner.
  7. A breathlessly awaited, hugely expensive, uber-sophisticated new international analysis concludes that reading and math scores only measure performance in reading and math. In a quote that gets prominent play on the front pages of The New York Times, CalTech professor and principal investigator Gerhard Montecristo observes, “You see, we have now found that these reading and math assessments are not, shall we say, strong proxies for the aggregate of human knowledge. They are not, it turns out, good measures of knowledge when it comes to history, the sciences, the arts, supply-chain management, human decency, or 23rd-century skills.” Scholars are stunned. Foundation staff are flabbergasted. Bill Gates is heard to plaintively ask the Stanford education faculty, “Dammit, how come no one ever thought of this before?” Rumor has it that Gates is met only with shrugs.
  8. Schools adapt as the list of things deemed “White Supremacist” continues to grow. When 2020 dawned, of course, the list already included punctuality, academic rigor, “Western” math, gifted education, efficiency, merit, “The Gilmore Girls,” Betsy DeVos, the Betsy Ross flag, capitalism, and the U.S. Constitution. In June, the Keeper of Cultural Correctness (a new political appointment established by Sen. Warren in a pre-emptive executive order) announces that new items will henceforth be added to the list monthly. Teachers and students are required to tune in to MSNBC for the ceremonial reading of new additions at 12:45 p.m. on the first Wednesday of every month. New 2020 additions include Ernest Hemingway novels, the Pledge of Allegiance, Disney movies made before 2017, chess teams, the Federalist Papers, Encyclopedia Brown, the oboe, Chaucer, “Western” science, and ergonomic keyboards. In a celebrated move, the New York City Department of Education pioneers the practice of having students begin each day by reciting the full, updated catalog.
  9. In the fall, a hot new video game called Schoolnite™ hits the markets. In Schoolnite™, students don virtual reality goggles; are transported to a colorful room filled with desks, books, and wall coverings; and are presided over by an adult avatar who offers a choice of “quests.” Players work with the adult avatar to seek out facts and conquer concepts, while having opportunities to practice various skills. Every so often, players demonstrate progress in their quests. Each time players successfully do so, they move on to new levels and more complex quests—culminating, eventually, in a fearsome confrontation with the Big Boss (known in Schoolnite™ parlance as the “Final Exam”). One 8-year-old, whose school is in a TGIF partner district, tells Education Week, “It’s so much fun. And I love my grown-up. She explains things to me and helps me complete levels! It’s much better than school, where my friends and I mostly hide from bullies in the storage room all day.”
  10. Orange Grove High in Orlando, Fla., breaks new ground on Career and Technical Education when it establishes a career path for Rocketeering and Space Flight. Offering the first program designed to support the nation’s nascent Space Force, Orange Grove’s centerpiece is a fully functional space shuttle launch facility, accompanied by a Zero-G gravity simulator; 1,200 form-fitted, NASA-approved spacesuits; and daily viewings of The Last Starfighter and Space Camp. With construction costs of $2.5 billion defrayed by a $2.49 billion Department of Defense grant, the deputy superintendent tells local reporters, “We think we’ve got a national model here.” In December, things hit a bumpy patch when the school’s lovable but nearsighted janitor mistakes the mission control panel for a vending machine while trying to grab a Grape Fanta, accidentally launching three students and an AmeriCorps volunteer into space. But it all blows over when, applying their “Space Camp” chops, the students make it home safe and sound.

Sure, some of these predictions may seem a little safe, but what can I say? It’s hard to get too far out ahead of the news, nowadays. Wishing all of you a wonderful 2020.

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.