The past year saw continued investment by states and districts in the additional decision-making freedom allowed under the Every Student Succeeds Act, particularly when it comes to requirements on providing a "well-rounded" education, as well as ongoing concern over efforts to harden school security. In many districts nationwide, stagnant pay and benefits, alongside a range of school and classroom conditions, saw an even greater number of educators hit the picket lines.
These efforts and others stand to play a key role in driving the education conversation in the new year. From new approaches to assessment to rethinking what defines classrooms, instruction and professional learning, here are five trends to watch in 2020.
Continued innovations and shifts in assessment
The Every Student Succeeds Act gave states and districts permission to try new assessment models in response to concerns students were being over-tested and that schools and policymakers had come to place too much emphasis on test scores to measure students’ and schools’ success.
While only four states are participating in ESSA’s innovative assessment initiative so far, efforts to exercise that freedom in other ways are likely to grow. The state of Washington, for example, has now approved seven pathways toward earning a high school diploma — not all of which include passing a test. Other states, including Georgia and Nebraska, are de-emphasizing end-of-year tests by measuring students’ proficiency levels on interim tests throughout the year. And several states and districts are dropping tests deemed redundant.
With some experts predicting the beginning of a “whole-child era,” attention will also continue to shift toward understanding reliable ways to assess non-academic areas, such as social-emotional learning and the arts.
Clashes between safety efforts and student privacy
Parents and students may not fully understand the level of monitoring, surveillance and data collection that occurs in schools in an effort to identify those who may have the potential to harm others or themselves. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, the number of school districts purchasing social media monitoring software is increasing.
And in the U.S. Senate last fall, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, introduced a bill that includes a requirement for schools to operate “a technology protection measure that detects online activities of minors who are at risk of committing self-harm or extreme violence against others.” The requirement would be an amendment to the Children’s Internet Protection Act, which requires schools taking advantage of E-Rate discounts to have an internet safety policy and to block obscene, pornographic or other harmful online content.
Privacy experts warn, however, the proposed legislation would require districts to spend time and money on unproven violence prevention strategies.
“This broad language could encourage schools to collect as much information as possible about students, requiring already overwhelmed faculty and administrators to spend countless hours sifting through contextually harmless student data — hours that could be better spent engaging with students directly,” according to an article from the Future of Privacy Forum.
Researchers as well as civil rights advocates have warned the massive database on students Florida is building to prevent school shootings could compromise student privacy. And concerns raised over whether a variety of monitoring methods are violating privacy are likely to increase, especially with the ongoing risk of data breaches.
Some parents are suggesting their children use the data plans on their devices and only use school networks and devices for school-related work.
Teacher activism spurs lawmaker response
Recent teacher activism over compensation, including Chicago's 11-day strike and smaller ones across the nation, have led state and even federal lawmakers to seriously examine the issue.
More than 300 bills were introduced in 2019 related to teacher compensation, and at least 45 were enacted, according to the Education Commission of the States. Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois and Idaho are among states to increase their teachers’ salaries this year.
Florida is still considering Gov. Ron DeSantis' proposed budget that would allocate an additional $1 billion for teacher pay raises and would raise the minimum salary for all classroom teachers to $47,500.
Outside of increasing pay, states are considering other incentives like public service student loan forgiveness, bonus programs, housing stipends and lower health insurance rates to boost the teaching profession and attract applicants.
The issue of low compensation even took center stage at a public education forum in December where Democratic presidential hopefuls spelled out their plans to increase teacher pay if elected president in 2020. Two candidates, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden, proposed setting the minimum teacher salary at $60,000.
As education leaders push for policy change, and as support for teachers grows, leaders are likely to continue tackling teacher pay on the state level before the issue potentially receives national attention.
Rethinking what a classroom and instruction can be
The paradigm shift of traditional classroom and instructional models — which has largely been centered around the idea of the teacher's transition from the "sage on the stage" who talks at students to the "guide at the side" who works with them — has largely been portrayed in terms of flexible seating arrangements and spaces resembling modern open office environments.
But the redefinition of what constitutes a classroom and what instruction can be is so much more, and a number of schools and districts stand to shake that up even further.
Much of these efforts are being driven by increased attention to the benefits of hands-on learning opportunities, which add real-world relevance and experience to lessons, in turn feeding in-demand career-and-technical programming. A prime example: Hixson High School, located in suburban Chattanooga, Tennessee, has forged a partnership with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency that allows the use of dozens of acres of state-owned land for student use in conservation projects, the study of agriculture and ecology, and lessons on how to operate tools.
In essence, the land becomes a classroom with uses that have also stretched to history and physical education, while also providing opportunities for land management experience that students can potentially take into future careers.
Some districts are also rethinking the title of teacher, going so far as to rebrand classroom educators as "learning engineers" to nudge educators into a "designer" mindset. The next year may better define if we are truly on the way to a time where the "formal" classroom is any environment you might be able to learn something in, and where instruction is any experience providing practical knowledge based on students' interests — or if this is just the latest trend du jour.
The changing face of professional development
Professional development has undergone significant change in recent years with the realization that, as with students, a "sit-and-get" lecture approach just didn't cut it anymore. The effectiveness of more individualized PD — delivered via mediums that have included everything from EdCamp "mini-conference" formats to digital microcredential programs — has helped further efforts to redefine the idea of what professional learning is.
But this, too, just scratches the surface.
As the idea of teacher leadership grows in popularity, schools will also need to adjust their PD models to accommodate more mentorship opportunities between the veteran educators in these roles and their younger peers, and these veterans will need additional training or mentoring of their own so the potential of new leadership roles is fully realized. For districts hoping to retain effective teachers who may not be looking to advance into administration, these programs aren't just a "nice to have" — they're on their way to becoming a must.
And this approach isn't just crucial for teacher training: Long-term coaching has also been tied to greater principal retention, and efforts like the Wallace Foundation's Principal Pipeline Initiative are also aiming to set a standard for that.