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It’s been another big year for American education. The Common Core continued to shake up classrooms, amid bitter political feuds and parent protests. Schools around the country are also rushing to prepare the technology for new online standardized tests that are paired with the standards. And digital devices in the classroom are increasingly popular, but faced high-profile scrutiny after the Los Angeles iPad rollout failed. As always, Hechinger reporters traveled the country to report back on what these, and other trends, mean for students and teachers.
It’s been a big year for our organization, too. We’ve doubled our full-time staff and are producing more content than even seemed possible when we started four and a half years ago. But as much as we’ve enjoyed 2014, we can’t wait for 2015. We’ll be launching several major new projects and will be showcasing our work on a new website coming in January. While you’re waiting for that, take a look at some of our top K-12 stories from the past year:
Sara Neufeld kicked off our year-long coverage of extended learning time with a close look at lessons learned from Chicago’s extension of the school day and year. According to interviews with dozens of teachers, administrators, parents and students, the longer school day has rolled out with a host of problems, primarily funding-related, and introduced some logistical nightmares.
In March, a frustrated father posted a subtraction problem from his second-grade son’s math quiz on Facebook with a note to the teacher calling it ridiculous, adding to a growing backlash against the Common Core. The Hechinger Report’s Sarah Garland asked a couple of the lead writers of the math standards why the problem was so difficult. Their response? Don’t blame Common Core. Blame a poorly written curriculum.
Hechinger sent reporters around the globe in 2014 to bring back lessons for the U.S. from Japan, Australia, The Netherlands, and Singapore. In Singapore, Sarah Butrymowicz found that glitzy tech that serves no purpose other than being cool is frowned upon. Unlike in America, digital devices are increasingly viewed in Singapore as a means to bring students together in collaboration, rather than to separate them into personalized learning bubbles.
In 1964, a summer campaign to register blacks to vote in Mississippi was marked by violence and murders of three civil rights workers. For the 50-year anniversary of what is now known as Freedom Summer, Hechinger reporters spent weeks traveling the state to see how communities were commemorating the tragic events and learned that despite state laws requiring teaching civil rights lessons in every grade, many students don’t learn about their state’s violent past until late in high school, if at all.
As superintendents and principals around the country are cobbling together whatever dollars they can to buy more computers for their classrooms, Jill Barshay took a look at a cautionary tale from Hoboken, New Jersey, where an experiment with giving every student a laptop failed. After facing problem after problem, Hoboken abandoned the laptops entirely this summer.
This year, Hechinger took a deep dive into the digital divide and added a blended learning fellow to cover digital education issues. In her debut piece, Nichole Dobo traveled to Maryland’s rural Garrett County where schools only recently installed reliable, high-speed Internet service. Teachers are using the new service to develop high-tech lessons that retain familiar agricultural themes, but there are still large needs for upgrades and training teachers at a time when money is scarce.
The Common Core marks a stark change in what American public schools will expect students to do in the classroom. But big changes are in store for teachers as well, as Alexandra Neason reported. Still, for the most part, on-the-job teacher training, which has long been criticized for its ineffectiveness, hasn’t changed much in response to the demands of the Common Core.
In Mississippi and across the country, the path to prison often starts very early for kids who struggle to manage behavioral or emotional disabilities in low-performing schools that lack mental health care, highly qualified special education teachers, and appropriately trained staff. Once in detention centers or prisons, the needs of special education students are rarely met. These students tend already to be academically behind, and encounters with the justice system early on only increase the likelihood that they’ll drop out of school or end up incarcerated as adults.
Following her analysis of corporal punishment in Mississippi, Sarah Carr examined harsh discipline in ‘no-excuses’ high schools, which, critics argue, contribute to a rise in racially skewed suspension and expulsion rates for low-level misbehavior. Many of the families involved come to appreciate the intense structure, but only if they also come to trust the mostly young educators who enforce it. As school leaders in New Orleans are discovering, forging that trust is far harder than teaching someone to say thank you and toe a line.
In her first Hechinger piece, our new West Coast correspondent Lillian Mongeau traveled to Oakland to interview unaccompanied children who have recently come to the U.S. to flee wanton violence, to escape grinding poverty, and to reunite with family living in the U.S. Whatever their reasons for coming, the vast majority of the newly arrived children are now attending the one American institution legally bound to serve them: public schools.
As part of our on-going look at technology in schools, Jackie Mader traveled to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains to visit the tiny Piedmont School District. In 2009, the district adopted a one-to-one laptop program in its oldest grades. In 2012 it installed a wireless network for the entire town, so that students can access the Internet at home. Unlike many school districts with technology programs, Piedmont has a broad mission: use technology to resuscitate a dying rural town.
In December, Sara Neufeld wrapped up her nearly three-year-long series on Quitman Street Renew School, a failing school in Newark, New Jersey. Earlier in 2014, Neufeld told the story of two 12-year-old students. One, Nydresha, found a passion in cheerleading. The other, D’Andre, hopes that if he’s successful enough in school, his mother, a former drug addict, will want a bigger role in his life. In the final piece, Neufeld concludes that Quitman has turned a corner. Still, there are miles to climb. Quitman is testament to the fact that school reform done honestly takes a long time.