10 Uncomfortable Truths About U.S. Education

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Change. We humans are not hardwired to alter our convictions readily. But all of us know that to evolve in our chosen professions, our thinking, even our relationships, we must reconsider how and why we do what we do. And that’s not easy.

It is in the spirit of change and renewal that we present to you the latest edition of Big Ideas, a collection of essays by 10 Education Week reporters and editors on pressing challenges in education. (The roundup below offers a glimpse at the full report.)

When we began our Big Ideas conversations for 2020, we noticed a theme starting to emerge, a questioning of assumptions: Why do we teach history? Why don’t we teach religion? Why can’t robots replace teachers? Why does the black-white student testing gap never seem to close?

Elizabeth Rich
If this line of inquiry is starting to make you feel uncomfortable or provoked, well, that is to be expected. We hope the discomfort you may feel from reading these 10 essays will empower you to change what is not working anymore for you, your classroom, your school, or your district. Many of the explorations in this report don’t lead to tidy conclusions. But they may inspire you to consider what might be standing in your way to disrupt and innovate.

And, as always, let us know what you think. Did this year’s Big Ideas resonate with you? Did any of the Big Ideas prompt you to reconsider your perspective on your work? Connect with us directly by using #K12BigIdeas.


1. The black-white achievement gap is somebody’s fault.

Why don’t black students perform as well as white students on tests? Associate Editor Christina A. Samuels dug into this question and came to a realization: Nobody is blameless. Read more.


2. We’re thinking about math all wrong. And it could hurt our students.

Negative attitudes about math—who is capable and worthy of learning it—are fueling math anxiety, writes Assistant Editor Sarah D. Sparks. Read more.


3. We need to do a better job of teaching history.

Students know that they have to learn history. But do they know the powerful reasons why? Assistant Editor Andrew Ujifusa lays them out. Read more.


4. Religious texts aren’t supposed to be in the classroom. But maybe they should.

Studying the Old Testament taught Associate Editor Stephen Sawchuk to be intellectually rigorous. But is it really possible to separate the religious text from the religion? Read more.


5. Nobody really knows who’s in charge of schools.

Centuries of fighting over racial justice, federalism, and taxation has left us a tangled web of K-12 governance, writes Staff Writer Daarel Burnette II. Read more.


6. Big tech companies want something from schools. It’s not money.

As Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft make themselves increasingly indispensable in education, teachers are getting worried, says Assistant Editor Alyson Klein. Maybe they should be. Read more.


7. The robots are coming. That could be good news.

Ignoring artificial intelligence won’t keep it out of the classroom, says Assistant Managing Editor Kevin Bushweller. Read more.


8. Local news is struggling. That’s a problem for schools.

Local journalism and education are cornerstones of a functioning democracy. What happens when one crumbles? Staff Writer Evie Blad explores that question. Read more.


9. “Segregation” might be the most fraught term in education. And the most misused.

Loaded or empirical? Incendiary or honest? Unavoidable or misleading? Deputy Managing Editor Mark W. Bomster tackles the confusion surrounding “segregation.” Read more.


10. The school choice movement depends on parents picking high-quality schools. It doesn’t always work out that way.

Parents—like all people—often do not make decisions with the cool, calculated rationality policymakers and academics may expect, writes Staff Writer Arianna Prothero. Read more.

Vol. 39, Issue 17, Page 3

Published in Print: January 8, 2020, as Disruptions for a New Decade
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