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Teaching Opinion

The Best and Worst Education News of 2023

By Larry Ferlazzo — December 21, 2023 6 min read
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I’ve been writing annual round-ups of the best and worst education news for the past 11 years, usually for The Washington Post.

This year, though, I decided to move it here.

Here’s a look at my choices for the education highlights and lowlights from the past 12 months (not listed in any priority)—and do let me know on X (formerly Twitter) @Larryferlazzo or via email at lferlazzo@educationweek.org what you agree or disagree with, or what you think I’m missing (and I’m sure I’m missing a lot!).

The Best Education News of 2023

* Many of us have seen the success of applying restorative practices in our schools, particularly in the secondary level. However, until now, there has been limited research backing us up. A new comprehensive study has now documented widespread success of restorative practices in the Chicago school system, which should help speed up the adoption of this program across the nation.

* In 2022, several researchers found that test scores weren’t necessarily the key indicator of long-term academic, economic, or social success, which many of us had been saying for years. Additional welcome research in 2023 reinforced those important findings and concluded “that high schools’ investments beyond test score growth had the greatest returns to academic thriving, educational attainment, and school-based arrests.” The pandemic clearly caused many of our students to miss out on some school-based learning, but this research does make me (and, I suspect, others) wonder—again—about how much of the “learning loss” panic is really justified and how much of it is really just a tool by charlatans to profit from these fears or by people outside of the classroom to beat up educators for supposedly not working hard enough.

* I may be jumping the gun here, but between electoral defeats and a sex scandal, Moms for Liberty may be flaming out. They might try a rebranding, but I can only hope that more and more people will see through them for what they are. The so-called parents’ rights group cares only about fellow conservatives who hold the same views and are bent on the censorship of ideas and people—particularly those who are Black or LGBTQ+—and about amassing their own power.

* The Environmental Protection Agency proposed a new rule requiring the replacement of all lead pipes that carry water in the nation. If approved and implemented, it could eliminate the vast cognitive and physical harm caused to children by lead in the water supply.

* It seems strange to think that some people have thought in the past that giving more money to schools did not help students, but I guess it is good news to say that the primary researcher who has fueled arguments against that obvious logic, Eric Hanushek, has changed his mind. Opponents of public education will likely just find someone to invent numbers to support their case, but that’s getting harder to do.

* As I said in last year’s list, Quinta Brunson’s “Abbott Elementary” television show continued to give a lift to all public school teachers by providing an entertaining and realistic portrayal of day-to-day life in the classroom (not to mention countless clips to liven up professional development sessions across the nation). Though the writers’ and actors’ strikes delayed its fall season, what educator isn’t looking forward to its Feb. 7 return?

* Researchers found—in no surprise to teachers—that punitive teacher-evaluation efforts pushed under the Obama administration were a complete failure. Now that research backs up what many of us have been saying, perhaps districts will, instead, start paying attention to teacher-powered peer-assistance and -review programs?

* Millions of students received a great education in their schools as a result of their hard work and the hard work of their teachers and administrators. And parents/guardians supported their kids and their schools.

The Worst Education News of 2023

* Chronic absenteeism reached record highs during the past two years, which is bad for us all. Fortunately, however, it appears that those numbers are decreasing. It’s too early to tell this year for sure, but the experience at our school and conversations with other teachers across the country seem to back up these preliminary indications.

* Approval of what could be the first religious charter school in the nation happened in Oklahoma. If it stands, it could open the door for many more to come and put the core purposes of public schools even more at risk than they already are in the face of other attacks.

* Moms for Liberty may be on the decline, but attacks on educators teaching about racism and LGBTQ+ issues (and on teachers of color and LGBTQ+ teachers), including book bans, continue in many states. This climate of fear certainly does not help our students in any way.

* Sigh, there was much media attention on the imagined problem of “grade inflation” and a supposed lack of “student accountability.” If some students are not doing what we ask them to do, perhaps we should ask them why and consider helping them work through some of the issues they might describe. It probably couldn’t also hurt if we reflected on the value of what we are teaching and/or our methods of instruction. But, generally, we’re not going to help our students grow by beating them up and badgering them. Instead, we need to focus on creating the conditions that will facilitate their growth.

* The use of vouchers (public monies that families can use at private schools) continues to grow, and studies find that most are going to families who already have their children enrolled in private schools. Public schools and most students and their families lose resources as a result.

* Teacher morale is not doing great. This “Saturday Night Live” skit does a pretty good job showing how many of us feel right now. The upcoming so-called “fiscal cliff” (the ending of extra federal pandemic era support for schools) and its potential for layoffs are not going to help.

* The U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down the use of affirmative action in the college-admissions process was a terrible decision that will hurt so many of our students and their families for years to come. Nothing in it, however, limits our students from discussing their backgrounds in their application essays, so we can only hope there will be ways to limiting the damage done by the decision.

* The state takeover of the Houston school district has, by most accounts, been a disaster. Even though it’s hurting local students, their families, and teachers, the one good thing that could come out of it is that it could be the final nail in the coffin in the belief that these takeovers help anyone. Extensive research has found that state takeovers of districts fail. We can only hope that no other district will have to go through what Houston is dealing with now (including eliminating many school libraries and turning them into discipline centers).

* Nothing new here but, nevertheless, it’s not great news that yet another survey finds that we teachers spend nearly $700 per year of our own money on classroom needs. Perhaps districts could get creative and talk with us about how those needs could be supported in different ways?

Neither Best or Worst But Still Important

* Though the latest PISA results showed drops in student achievement across the world, especially in math, they also showed that the reduction in U.S. student scores were less than in most other countries. Notwithstanding the test-score skepticism I voiced earlier in this post, those declines obviously are not good news. However, the drops in American student scores tended to be less than those in many other countries that didn’t physically close their schools (or didn’t close those for long as many districts here did). One might think that other stress from the pandemic might have had a bigger impact, just like studies have found for years that factors outside the schoolhouse walls have a far greater impact on academic achievement than what happens within schools. I wonder if the potential good news here could be that some who continue to complain about the physical closures of U.S. schools might finally start focusing on something else?

Editor’s note: A very small percentage of the passages in this post previously appeared in posts at my teacher resource blog.

The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo 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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