As the senior member of the NPR Ed team with 25 years on the education beat, here are the top stories that my expert sources and I believe will be ones to watch in 2015. For more predictions, check out our crowdsourced list.
1. Standardized Testing Under Fire
The concern about too much testing really took off in 2014 and it’s likely to grow, with more organized opposition at the local, state and national levels. The new tests tied to the Common Core, developed by the federally funded consortia, PARCC and Smarter Balanced, will continue to be targets. A moratorium, like the one teachers’ unions have called for, will gather steam.
Two unlikely allies of the testing slowdown could be Bill Gates, who’s already on the record calling for a reduction in testing, And education secretary Arne Duncan, who has said that too much testing is hurting a much-needed consensus on how to improve schools.
Teachers and their unions have blamed Duncan for pushing high stakes testing with little or no evidence that it improves instruction or truly measures teachers’ or students’ performance.
2. More Troubles For The Common Core
More (Republican-led) legislatures will call for long, drawn-out reviews, or the outright repeal, of the Common Core State Standards. Some states may simply “re-brand” the core to satisfy opposition groups, while adopting almost identical standards.
Still, in most states, the implementation of the Common Core will continue. And the more it guides instruction, the harder it will be for opponents to get rid of it completely.
3. In Congress, Deeper Divisions
Republican leaders have already said that there will be no new money for “Race to the Top,” one of the Obama administration’s signature programs.
And it appears there won’t be money for a major expansion to federally-funded early childhood education, despite its being identified often as a “priority” by both parties.
The Republican-controlled Congress will also fight the administration’s college rating system, which the president’s proposals call for putting in place by fall 2015.
4. Focus On Campus Behavior
College presidents and lawmakers in Washington and the states will focus a lot more on drinking and drugs on campus, especially as they relate to rape and sexual assault. Already, the issue has mobilized students and advocacy organizations that blame college administrators for hiding their heads in the sand and not doing more, like banning alcohol on campus.
5. Teacher Evaluation, Training, And The Vergara Fallout
This past year, the Vergara ruling in California reinvigorated the debate over teacher tenure, especially termination and due process rights.
In 2015, critics of teacher quality will take on unions in more states, beginning in New York. This will also draw more attention to colleges of education, which this past year came under fire from the National Council for Teacher Quality in a scathing report. NCTQ and Vergara supporters argue that low-income and minority students are more likely to be subject to poorly trained and incompetent teachers.
6. The Ferguson Effect: New Scrutiny For School Police
Highly publicized incidents like the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, or 12-year-old Tamir Rice, have involved confrontations with police off school grounds. But it seems likely that school resource officers — uniformed police assigned to schools in some communities — are going to get a lot of attention. Encounters between young people and law enforcement often begin on campus. A huge body of research has emerged about how and why black teenagers in particular are disproportionately punished in school, often for minor infractions, and how those experiences affect their futures. The relationship has come to be known as the “school-to-prison pipeline.” Ferguson could provide an impetus for administrators to re-examine the role of the police in keeping their schools safe.