Five Education Stories to Watch in 2013

Question1. Questions about school safety surfaced almost immediately following the unspeakable tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. at the end of 2012.  The school had strong safety protocols in place, but they were no match for a shooter with military-style weapons.

In 2013, look for more soul-searching conversations and concomitant action about school safety. Parents have an absolute right to expect that when they send their children to school, they will be safe and secure, and that they will be returned to them at the end of the day in the same condition. But this heated debate involves much more than amending school safety plans. On one side are the gun control advocates and on the other are the proponents of arming not only guards – but teachers and administrators, too. Where this argument will go is anybody’s guess, but it’s sure to dominate the education and political news this year.

2. High-stakes testing was in the news in 2012. While many national policy and opinion makers favored testing as a way to reform the educational system, those in the trenches disagreed. For example, parents organized boycotts against testing and local boards of education passed resolutions against testing.

The National Resolution on High-Stakes Testing has been endorsed by more than 13,700 individuals and 460 organizations. It calls on the U.S. Congress and the Obama Administration to overhaul the No Child Left Behind Act, “reduce the testing mandates, promote multiple forms of evidence of student learning and school quality in accountability, and not mandate any fixed role for the use of student test scores in evaluating educators.”

In 2013, expect the debate to heat up as more academics and education writers line up against high-stakes testing.

3. In addition, the related issue of teacher evaluations will continue to be hotly debated as teacher unions persist in questioning the wisdom of linking evaluations to testing.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo set a deadline of Jan. 17, 2013, for local school districts and unions in New York to agree on a teacher evaluation plan following the parameters set down in state legislation. If not, Cuomo warned, they would lose state aid. Only about 250 of the state’s 700 districts had approved plans as of Dec. 1.

4. Although 45 states have adopted Common Core standards, sponsored by the National Governors Association for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the implementation, cost, and quality of these assessments were increasingly under fire in 2012. Some believe Tony Bennett was defeated as Indiana’s state superintendent of education because of his support for Common Core.

In 2013, watch for news about grassroots efforts in several states against Common Core. Some states may even withdraw from the program, due to issues with the standards and assessments themselves, as well as the perception by some that they are a federal intrusion into education.

5. Parent/Family Engagement in schools made the news in 2012 with educators increasingly turning their attention to how to actively involve parents in their children’s education. On the other hand, a number of states adopted Parent Trigger legislation, which was passed to enable parents to take over schools — although most of these have been challenged in court.

The efficacy of the Parent Trigger will be debated and tested in 2013 amid concerns from educators that real reform efforts must include the professionals.

I wish you a happy, healthy, safe, and successful new year!!!

After Newtown, the Conversation Must Continue

We are all grieving.  We are all frightened. We are all bereft. Every parent, every grandparent, every sister, every brother, every relative, every friend, every teacher, every human being — has been diminished by the unspeakable massacre of little children and the caring adults who tried to save them at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

The media continues to cover every angle of this gruesome tragedy. The President and other elected officials have spoken. What more is there to say?

After this week of funerals, the conversation must quickly pivot to finding solutions to vanquish the multi-headed monster that spawned the horrific events in Newtown — and the 30 other mass murders in this country since Columbine in 1999. The feelings of caring and concern and unity – and yes, outrage — must be harnessed for the safety of our children and the future of our society.

What will that take? 

President Barack Obama has vowed to a multi-pronged initiative. Speaking at a vigil in Newtown, he promised, “In the coming weeks I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this.”

Our leaders will be required to abandon their knee-jerk comfortable and safe positions and govern with their hearts as well as their heads. The time is long overdue for a new volume of Profiles in Courage. And the public has every right to demand that the President of the United States and the Congress compose it in 2013.

Sen. Joe Lieberman has suggested a national commission on violence that would scrutinize gun laws and loopholes, as well as the nation’s mental health system and the role that violent video games and movies might play in shootings.

“This is a moment to start a very serious national conversation about violence in our society, particularly about these acts of mass violence,” said the Connecticut senator, who is retiring next month. “There are a lot of serious questions here about what is the impact of violence in the entertainment culture on everybody.”

In addition, school safety procedures will have to be revisited yet again. Since Columbine, schools throughout the country have done a much better job in the area of school safety and security. The Sandy Hook Elementary School appears to have had strong safety protocols in place. The staff implemented the lockdown procedures that had been practiced in drills, and there was communication with parents, police and fire departments.

The principal, Dawn Hochsprung, and other faculty and staff members actually ran into the line of fire, sacrificing their own lives to protect their children. But that wasn’t enough to save their precious students from a deranged shooter. All discussions about schools must include those who work there, acknowledging how deeply they honor their role of in loco parentis.

We must ask and answer troubling questions. How does our culture contribute to acts such as these? How do we identify and care for our mentally ill? How does our 24/7 news cycle and celebrity culture make a celebrity out of a berserk mass murderer? Why aren’t violent movies in the same category as pornographic ones? Why should our children be exposed to violent video games?

Finally, all of the issues, pronouncements and policies in the world cannot remove the yeoman’s share of responsibility from parents. Here are some difficult questions:

  • Does your child know how to protect his or her personal safety and what to do if he or she is threatened?
  • Are you familiar with your school’s safety procedures?
  • Do you allow your child to watch violent movies and TV programs?
  • Do you buy and/or allow your child to play violent video games?
  • Do you know what your child is doing on the Internet?
  • Are you a role model for kindness, caring, and empathy?
  • Do you teach your children how to be resilient?
  • Do you encourage creativity and constructive behavior?
  • Do you take personal responsibility and encourage your children to take responsibility for their actions?
  • Where do you turn if you have concerns that your child has the potential to be violent?

After Sandy Hook, if we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem. Let us honor the memories of the beautiful children and brave staff with a continuing dialogue and resulting action so that we will have a saner and safer society.–politics.html