Thursday, November 14, 2019
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Top 11 school stories for 2018

Voxitatis found the following 11 stories in 2018 to be the most likely to influence schools in the near future. Many of them were reported by students, but the lives of students, school personnel, and other members of the community who engage in constructive dialog with the schools are affected by every one of them.

[1] Sex abuse unchecked in Chicago Public Schools

The Chicago Tribune ran an extensive series of investigative reports in the summer concerning the sexual abuse of students by teachers, coaches, and other employees of the Chicago Public Schools, the nation’s third-largest district (excluding Puerto Rico). The body of journalism exposes a school system where officials have too often tried to ignore widespread abuse of students over the years.

[2] Teachers protest, leave teaching, become the good guys

Mass protests by teachers and other education professionals this year in six states led schools in those states to shut down in some cases over tight budgets, small raises, and poor conditions. Annual pay increases for teachers have been lower than the average annual increases seen in private-sector jobs since 2010, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Combined with historically low unemployment rates across the nation, the pay lags in the teaching profession may be responsible for the greatest exodus of teachers since 2001, when the US Labor Department started tracking this statistic.

In the first 10 months of 2018, public educators quit at an average rate of 83 per 10,000 a month, according to the Labor Department. While that is still well below the rate for American workers overall—231 voluntary departures per 10,000 workers in 2018—it is the highest rate for public educators since such records began in 2001.

With the protests, the inequity in the teaching profession, which rewards longevity more than most professions, was highlighted and in some cases mitigated through awareness.

[3] 1-to-1 computer program ineffective in Baltimore County

An expensive program in Baltimore County Public Schools, the nation’s 26th (or so) largest district, provided laptops to every student but produced no appreciable change in student achievement. Scores on standardized tests remain flat, the Baltimore Sun reports. Parents generally felt out of the loop and disrespected with the $147-million initiative by former (and ousted) Superintendent Dallas Dance and thought the money could have been used for more evidence-based or effective improvements.

[4] Maryland gets a new test to comply with ESSA

The Maryland Board of Public Works in December approved two multi-million-dollar contracts for a new testing program, the Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program, which will involve Maryland educators more in the development of the tests and guarantee compliance with the federal law known as the Every Student Succeeds Act. Many of the tests will be computer adaptive tests and could reduce the testing time over all, but educators would still like to see the state use the SAT instead of the MCAP for high school students. Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Judkins (full disclosure: she’s my boss’s boss) told the board that while the SAT was a good predictor of college success, which would certainly benefit students, the topics it tests are not the same as the ones in the Maryland state standards approved by the state school board and for which schools must be held accountable under the law.

[5] Gun violence begets student protest, a report, not much change

A shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in February tipped the balance in the debate on gun control and the Second Amendment, leading to the massive, student-led March for Our Lives protests in hundreds of cities on March 24.

March for Our Lives in Washington (Voxitatis)

The federal government released a report in December after studying what might be done to keep schools safe from gun violence. It called for schools to “take a hard look” at training and arming selected school staff, to increase access to mental health services, and—without reservation—to scrap the Obama administration’s discipline guidance.

[6] Government shuts down at year’s end over a border wall

The federal government reached an impasse when President Donald Trump dug in over funding for a border wall. He had originally asked for about $5 billion, but the figure has been reduced through some compromise to about $1.3 billion for a fence in some areas along the southern border. Democrats are holding out as well, in hopes of spurring greater immigration reforms that prevent the federal government from forcing students to be deported when they have come to this country illegally but in pursuit of the American Dream.

[7] Voters continue to reject school privatization

Arizona voters struck another blow to voucher programs, which use money that has been earmarked for public schools and give it to either charter or private schools (or the families that send their kids there), when they defeated Proposition 305 in November. Popular votes on similar measures over the last 30 years have mostly failed at the ballot box.

[8] Md. governor rides a purple surfboard in a blue wave

“Tonight in this deep blue state, in this blue year, with a blue wave, it turns out I can surf and we had a purple surfboard,” the exuberant and emotional Maryland Gov Larry Hogan, a Republican, said after winning re-election in November, the first Republican to do so since the 1950s. But across the country, Democrats won in big numbers, turning the US House of Representatives into a majority-blue body and placing Nancy Pelosi in line to replace Paul Ryan as Speaker of the House.

Congressional districts in the US still suffer from gerrymandering, and complaints continue about the last compromise to slave states: the Electoral College in presidential elections. The delegation in the US House from North Carolina, for instance, will include nine Republicans, three Democrats, and one open seat due to absentee voting irregularities and other issues, despite Democrats getting about 50 percent of the House votes.

[9] Voters overwhelmingly approve school funding in Md.

Voters in Maryland overwhelmingly approved a ballot question for a constitutional amendment that would force the state to use revenue from casinos and commercial gaming to supplement public education. Education funding questions on the ballot in at least six states mostly passed, with only Colorado defeating a statewide measure to increase school funding.

[10] Puerto Ricans continue Hurricane Maria recovery

More than a year after Hurricane Maria devastated people in Puerto Rico, the island was still reeling in the aftermath. The government is virtually bankrupt, and many children and their families have left. Schools are therefore badly underused, and the government has controversially closed hundreds of them, the Miami Herald reports. Children have been accepted at many schools on the mainland.

[11] Air conditioning and other upgrades needed

Related to climate change and the massive heat wave around the world, schools that used to be fine now need air conditioning and tend to send kids home, out of class, because of heat. The heat wave has also caused some schools and other buildings to burn down in wildfires.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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