2016 Top Education News Stories

2016 has been a tumultuous year in education. From the Supreme Court’s decision on affirmative action in higher education to the campus carry debates to Betsy DeVos’s appointment as Secretary of Education, there has been a lot to talk about in education across levels and across the nation. As 2016 comes to a close, ToBecomeATeacher.org has taken time out to recap the 2016 top education news stories, paying attention to stories on a national level as well as some of the events that have impacted K-12 and postsecondary students and educators.

2016 Top Education News Stories: National

The Appointment of Betsy DeVos

devos_headshot_300_322In November, the President Elect appointed Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. DeVos has a long history of supporting charter schools and engaging in educational philanthropy. Of course, this is only what we already know. Much less is known about her views on higher education. As reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education shortly after her appointment, “It’s hard to find evidence of Ms. DeVos having taken any positions on higher-ed policy.” While not all educators are happy with the appointment, there are at least two things DeVos’s appointment makes certain. First, despite Trump’s vague campaign threat to abolish the Department of Education  (early on in his campaign, he did state, “I may cut the Department of Education–Common Core is a very bad thing. I think that it should be local education”), with DeVos’s appointment, everyone can assume the Department of Education will continue to operate under the current administration. Second, there is little question than anyone hoping to see Bernie Sanders’ free tuition for all dream realized will likely have to wait four to eight years. For this reason, the appointment of Betsy DeVos is clearly among the 2016 top education news stories.

2016 Top Education News Stories: K-12

High School Graduation Rates Reach a Record High

In 2016, the most welcome top education news story was no doubt the nation’s rising high school graduation rates.  While some states and regions continue to lag behind, in 2016, President Obama announced that graduation rates nationwide are now at 83.2%. This still falls well behind many nations, however, including Portugal, Slovenia, Iceland and Japan, which all boast high school graduation rates of 95% or higher.

Teachers’ Salaries Continue to Lag Behind

Constitutional Amendment Pension RallyWhile not news to most educators, in August, the Economic Policy Institute released a report confirming what most teachers already know: Educators wages are lagging behind. What many educators may not know is that in 2015, they were making 17% less than comparable workers (in 1994, they were only making 1.8% less than comparable workers). Lack of support, low wages and anti-union policies are all seen as factors driving teachers’ low wages and in turn, leading to a growing shortfall of qualified teachers in many U.S. states. Find out where U.S. teachers are most well compensated and where their wages are lagging well behind the estimated living wage for a family.

The New SAT

From a student perspective, the new SAT is no doubt 2016’s top education news stories. Just when tutors nationwide thought they had cracked the SAT formula, in March 2016, the new version of the Scholastic Assessment Test for college was rolled out.  While some critiques warn that the new test is harder, there is at least a bit of good news for test takers. First, students will no longer be penalized for guesses and multiple choice answers have been reduced from 5 to 4, making it more likely that a wild guess may result in a correct response after all!

Opting Out of Standardized Tests

In 2016, the debate over standardized testing continued. Although a 2016 poll by by Phi Delta Kappa International found that 59% of respondents are against parents opting out of standardized testing and only 37% are in favor, in some states and regions, feelings about standardized testing are more contentious than others. In New York State, for example, parents, students and teachers continue to question the value of standardized tests, with organizations like NYS Allies for Public Education leading the way.

2016 Top Education News Stories: Postsecondary

The Supreme Court Decision on the UT’s Affirmative Action Policy

In June, the Supreme Court rejected a young woman’s challenge to a race-conscious admissions program at the UT Austin. In the case of Fisher v. University of Texas, a student contended she was denied admission based on the fact that she was white. Supporters of affirmative action celebrated the 4-3 Supreme Court victory, which sent a clear message to admissions officers that they could continue to take race into account when recruiting students. Following the decision, Laurence H. Tribe, a law profession at Harvard, told the New York Times,  “No decision since Brown v. Board of Education has been as important as Fisher will prove to be in the long history of racial inclusion and educational diversity.” This ranks Fisher v. University of Texas among the 2016 top education news stories.

Campus Carry Laws

glocksOn August 1, 2016, Texas’s new campus carry law went into effect. Since then, some students have started to carry guns on campus, but thousands of students and faculty have also voiced their opposition. The Daily Texan, a campus paper at UT Austin, reported that some graduate students had started to hold gun-free office hours at a local bar (unlike the university, local bars do have the right ban guns). The most widely covered news story to come out of the campus carry protest, however, was the spectacular Cocks Not Glocks protest. While it is illegal to display sex toys in Texas, it is not illegal to carry a gun. To “fight absurdity with absurdity,” thousands of UT Austin students (with the support of a local sex toy supplier) created the Cocks Not Glocks campaign, which has since been profiled on everything from The Daily Show to the BBC. Whether the students campaign can reverse the government’s decision to permit guns on campus is yet to be seen.  Learn more about campus carry laws and the history and current status of guns in schools.

The Rise of Hate Crimes on Campus

Following the election of Donald Trump, hate crimes soared and many of these hate crimes took place on university campuses. From the appearance of swastikas on campus dorm doors to incidents of verbal and physical harassment, campuses have been on high alert since November. What first appeared to be just a few isolated incidents quickly escalated into a nationwide problem. Indeed, a list of reported incidents (and this is not even a complete list) published by the Chronicle of Higher Education reveals that from progressive campuses in the Northeast to more traditional schools in the South, hate crimes are on the rise.

“Emily Doe” and Sexual Assault on Campus

In 2015, Emma Sulkowicz carried a 50-pound mattress around the Columbia University campus all year to protest the university’s inadequate response to a complaint that her alleged rapist was permitted to continuing studying on campus without any major consequences. In 2016, the issue of sexual assault on campus continued to make headlines and arguably on a more serious level when Emily Doe chose to publish the persuasive testimony from her rape trial. In this case, Brock Allen Turner, a twenty-year-old Stanford student, was charged with three accounts of sexual assault but given a gentle and short sentence by a judge who feared a longer and more severe sentence would damage the young man’s reputation. When Doe released her statement to the media and it went viral, Stanford University officials and the judge were left to defend themselves, making “Emily Doe” another one of 2016’s top education news stories.  Read more about sexual assault on campus and how to prevent it.

Bernie Sanders’ Revolution

Bernie Sanders as a young student activist in 1962 (Chicago) .

One of the most surprising 2016 top education news stories was Bernie Sanders’ rise to fame. While Sanders was in fact running for Democrat nominee and not just promoting accessible higher education, much of his campaign platform focused on making education affordable, eliminating student debt and getting young people back on their feet again. Given Sanders’ platform, it is no surprise that a high percentage of high school, college and university students embraced the unlikely candidate until the bitter end. While the call to “feel the bern” may already seem like a distance memory, Sanders’ campaign at the very least put affordable education on the map as a major concern for Americans nationwide, and it seems likely that we will continue to hear from Sanders’ followers (many first-time voters in 2016) over the coming decades.

Contributor: Cait Etherington, Dec. 24, 2016


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