December 31, 2007

Education stories of 2007

The following is my personal list of top U.S. education stories from 2007.

  1. No Child Left Behind continues to show little evidence of improving schools. The release of the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress scores may have been spun faster than an Elvis single, but they provide no evidence that NCLB is dramatically improving education in the U.S. (Yes, I promise to retire that phrase.)
  2. No Child Left Behind reauthorization becomes donnybrook. Right before Labor Day, George Miller released draft reauthorization language for the testing part of NCLB. By the end of the year, it had sunk underneath the weight of its complexity and NCLB politics.
  3. Utah's conservative voters reject vouchers. Utah is the reddest of the red states, and its 2-1 rejection of a statewide voucher program should be the nail in the coffin of similar sweeping proposals. And if you really think it will, I have a few George Romero films to show you.
  4. Katrina's aftermath continues. When peripatetic urban education chief Paul Vallas left Philadelphia for the New Orleans Recovery School District, you know that the problems of New Orleans schools continue... and are a magnet for ambitious reformer wannabes. I'll give Vallas full credit for jumping from a difficult district to one in its third year of post-Katrina crisis.
  5. Education disappears as presidential campaign issue. Despite the multimillion-dollar spending promises of the Ed in '08 crowd, candidates want to talk more about Iraq, subprime mortgages, health-care, and immigration. Is getting us out of Iraq easier than reforming No Child Left Behind?
  6. Public pre-kindergarten programs continue to expand. According to Pre-K Now, in 2005-06, at least half of the states had at least 10% of 4-year-olds in public pre-k programs, and four of the five largest states (except California) had at least 20% in public pre-k programs. I suspect those percentages are higher now.
  7. Harvard gains and becomes a leader. For all the Sturm und Drang surrounding Larry Summers's exit from Harvard, nothing showed the contrast with successor Drew Faust than her backing away from Summers's rapid-expansion plans in Allston, an attempted fait accompli that had upset faculty and Allston community leaders. Oh, you thought I was thinking of the announcement that Harvard was eliminating loans for all families with annual incomes under $180,000? Yeah, there's that, too. Sure, the tuition announcement may have been motivated by threats to make colleges spend 5 percent of their endowment every year, but Harvard's move is changing expectations.
  8. Teach for America alum hired as DC superintendent. Whether you approve of her style and decisions or not, Michelle Rhee has confirmed that the real story of Teach for America is not the (largely discredited) argument that the young liberal-arts college graduates show you don't need pre-service programs. Instead, the larger social significance beyond the program is that Teach for America is the training ground for a generation of public-service entrepreneurs. (Want historical precursors? See James Trent's Inventing the Feeble Mind for the story of how WW2 conscientious objectors helped start the postwar deinstitutionalization movement. Or John D'Emilio's Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities for how opportunities to form an intellectual and cultural community can shape the future.)
  9. Nicholas Negroponte's $100 $188 machine begins shipping. The One Laptop per Child initiative gets its first miracle, shipping the green-and-white XO machines in December. I got stuck in the hype and participated in the Give-One-Get-One deal (today's the last day!). No, it wasn't just for the year of T-Mobile hotspot service (which effectively makes the cost $70 or $180, depending on whether you have T-Mobile cell service), or the fact that my spouse can now write in the outside Florida summer heat. But having taught a course called "Schools and the Future," I'm aware that a piece of technology is not an education reform. The second and bigger miracle is if the combination of inexpensive machines and greater internet access will change the lives of children in poor countries. If it does, there will be interesting rebound effects in the U.S. (thus my inclusion of this as a U.S. story, in addition to its origins at MIT).
  10. Joel Klein's henchmen attack Diane Ravitch. On October 31, New York Sun reporter Elizabeth Green revealed how taxpayer funds had been used to compile a dossier on Klein critic Diane Ravitch, a dossier that a corporate-funded advocacy group head used to smear Ravitch. In the Ed Week blog she shares with Deborah Meier, Ravitch called the partnership between Education Department PR flacks and outside advocates a set of scare tactics intended to intimidate other Klein critics who did not have the standing of Ravitch. Maybe my new line should be "spinning faster than the New York City Partnership"?

As the old car ads say, your mileage may vary. Tomorrow I'll list stories to watch for 2008. Until then, have a safe New Year's.

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Posted in Education policy on December 31, 2007 12:31 PM |