Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Top 11 school headlines of 2020


Here is our annual look at the top school news stories for this calendar year. The Covid-19 pandemic dominated our lives, killed more than 300,000 Americans by December, caused many businesses to fail, and changed almost every aspect of school life for our students. They progressed through the school year that ended last spring and are progressing through this current school year.

Finish under caution, Indianapolis 500, August 2020 (NBC screenshot)

11. Graduation Ceremonies Go Virtual

It still counts, but graduation ceremonies this spring were usually conducted virtually, with no walk across the stage, no handshake from the principal, and no handing of a diploma and turning to acknowledge the cheering of family members. It was one of the most anticlimactic endings to a secondary school life one could imagine.

10. How School Is Different from a Business Meeting

The use of virtual technology, which has proved effective in the workplace in terms of productivity, doesn’t work as well for school subjects, because learning is more than a book and must include many social aspects. This is especially true in classes that require hands-on instruction or the extensive use of materials that students can touch, such as a first-grade storybook or a chunk of clay for a ceramics project.

9. States Hope to Change Spring Testing

The US Education Department granted automatic waivers in the spring for states to cancel federally mandated standardized tests. Although a new administration will be in the department this spring and no plans have been announced for waivers to be granted this spring, many states, including Georgia, California, Virginia, South Carolina, and Texas, are looking to cancel the tests or reduce their meaning.

8. Communities Launch Efforts to Open Schools

Some parents made plexiglass screens to use in classrooms. Others joined efforts with students to provide assistance to other schools, where students and their families were suffering from hunger, wildfires, and hurricanes. The efforts kept communities and schools connected, even as classrooms were spread out.

7. School Athletics Rerouted

Fall sports in many states, including both Maryland and Illinois, were postponed until dates this spring and summer. Student-athletes who were hoping to use their senior year this fall to win college scholarships for athletics felt a little uncertain, but many colleges also changed their recruiting plans and even cancelled some sports programs because of Covid-19.

6. Math Scores Falter with Remote Learning

Data from the fall show that students’ performance in mathematics decreased between 5 and 10 percent across grades 3 through 8 on the MAP test from NWEA, compared to scores from the fall of 2019. The increased use of e-learning among these students has been blamed for the decrease.

5. Music and Drama Groups Still Perform

Even if they had to stand six feet apart on a stage, master video or radio production skills, or wrap their flutes in a plastic bag, music and drama ensembles found creative ways to perform during the coronavirus pandemic.

4. Schools Suffer from Cyberattacks

The increased use of Google Meets, Zoom, and other online platforms to deliver lessons and other instructional materials to remote students has made attacking school networks and computers more profitable for cyber criminals.

3. Science and Civics Lessons Abound

In the year of unending lawsuits over claims of widespread election fraud, we learned about the 12th Amendment and other state-based election laws. In addition, despite misinformation campaigns, science triumphed and developed vaccines against the coronavirus with record speed and without sacrificing safety.

2. Rewriting Guidelines for Opening Schools

National guidelines, while they lasted, have generally stopped well short of providing any advice to schools about how to reopen safely for in-person learning. Where states or school districts came up with guidelines on their own, the ideas have often been ill-conceived or, at least, without follow-through or an effective execution plan.

1. E-Learning for the Masses Proves Ineffective

Whether because of the chasm that divides students who have convenient and reliable internet access from those who do not or because of teachers and students being forced to adapt their methods without preparation or training, remote learning or e-learning, as it is sometimes called, has proven ineffective for the vast majority of more than 70 million students in the US, leading to enrollment declines in public schools and concerns over the impact it will have on budgets.

Paul Katula
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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