Here are some of the stories that dominated the education conversation this year—and will likely shape discussions for years to come.
Teaching Kids “Grit” (& Other Soft Skills)
“Selfie” might be the word of the year for the general public, but among educators and parents it’s probably “grit.” Here’s why: After several years of public attention focused largely on kids learning “hard” skills (statistics, reading comprehension, knowledge of science), so-called “soft” skills like self-restraint, resilience—and yes, grit—are having a heyday in schools and among parents. University of Pennsylvania researcher Angela Duckworth just won a Macarthur “genius” grant for her work on the topic. There’s a best-selling book (How Children Succeed) explaining the benefits of soft skills. From tony Riverdale Country School to hardscrabble KIPP charters, schools around the country are trying to encourage (and even grade) what educators have dubbed “SEL“ (short for “social and emotional learning”). Along with this newfound attention has come renewed discussion about the multi-screen distractedness that seems to lower patience and focus among kids (and adults), the effects of poverty on emotional states and decision-making, and education’s tendency towards faddish and vague solutions.
Power Over Big-City School Systems Change Hands
Advocates of accountability and charter schools lost out in the nation’s two biggest school districts with the arrival of a new elected school board in Los Angeles and a new mayor-elect in New York City. Already, the ambitious iPad deployment in Los Angeles has been slowed down, and NYC charter schools are preparing to pay rent or find their own buildings after 12 years of free space under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. If L.A. superintendent John Deasy resigns, as has long been rumored (despite a new contract) and incoming NYC mayor Bill de Blasio hires a new superintendent who makes charter schools pay rent and rolls back annual school rating programs brought in under Bloomberg’s reign, the power shifts will be complete, for better or worse. Of course, de Blasio can’t do much about how hard it is to get into popular schools or change state testing requirements, and the new LAUSD school board can’t pay teachers more without making class sizes larger.