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The 10 Biggest Education Stories of 2020

We Count Down the Most Important K-12 Education News From the Past Year

From an attack on homeschooling to pandemic pods to failed online learning, these are the ten K-12 education stories everyone was talking about this year. Before heading into the new year, join us on our countdown of the 10 biggest education stories of 2020.

Harvard University Law Professor Sparks Backlash after Calling for a Ban on Homeschooling Because It’s ‘Authoritarian’

Selim Algar | The New York Post

A Harvard University law professor has sparked controversy after calling for a ban on homeschooling.

Elizabeth Bartholet told Harvard Magazine that it gives parents “authoritarian” control over their kids — and can even expose them to white supremacy and misogyny.

“The issue is, do we think that parents should have 24/7, essentially authoritarian control over their children from ages zero to 18? I think that’s dangerous,” Bartholet said. “I think it’s always dangerous to put powerful people in charge of the powerless, and to give the powerful ones total authority.”

Bartholet’s comments were met with backlash from homeschooling parents who said she unfairly stereotyped the practice. Read the Full Story

School Districts End Contracts With Police Amid Ongoing Protests

Lauren Camera | U.S News

Denver Public Schools became the third school district in two weeks to sever a million-dollar contract with its city’s police department to remove officers from schools – a move that at least a dozen other school districts are considering following the death of George Floyd in police custody and the subsequent chorus of ongoing country-wide protests over police violence against black people.

“This topic is not new or knee jerk,” said Jennifer Bacon, vice president of Denver’s Board of Education. “People have been calling for it to end for a long time.”

“It took eight minutes and 46 seconds to say we are going to do these things,” she said referencing the amount of time the police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck according to videos. Read the Full Story

‘My Blood Curdles in Anger’: Hundreds of Lawsuits Across the U.S. Allege Schools Keep Mishandling Sexual Assault Complaints

Tyler Kingkade | NBC News

In recent years, colleges have faced intense public scrutiny around how they handle students’ reports of sexual violence, leading the Department of Education to unveil regulations this month that create new standards for how schools must respond under the gender equity law Title IX.

But K-12 schools are often left out of this conversation, even though students reported about 9,700 incidents of sexual assault, rape or attempted rape at elementary and secondary schools in the 2015-16 academic year, according to the most recent federal data.

While the new Title IX regulations include a framework for how K-12 schools should respond to reports of assault and harassment, victims advocates and education experts say that public schools have fewer resources than colleges and less institutional expertise to investigate claims. These advocates and experts point out that many K-12 schools were already not following federal rules on responding to Title IX claims, so they doubt that new government rules alone will improve the handling of sexual misconduct allegations. And they warn that continued lack of attention to Title IX by these schools will leave the youngest and most vulnerable students unprotected. Read the Full Story

Disputed NY Times ‘1619 Project’ Already Shaping Schoolkids’ Minds on Race

John Murawski | RealClearInvestigations

From the moment Fatima Morrell read The New York Times’ 1619 Project last year, the educator embraced the 100-page magazine special issue on slavery and racism as a professional godsend. Morrell, an associate superintendent in the Buffalo, N.Y., school district, where 80% of the 31,200 students are non-white, was inspired by the project’s reframing of American history that put the struggles and contributions of black Americans “at the very center” of the nation’s self-understanding.

“I just think it really becomes a curriculum of emancipation, a pedagogy of liberation, for freeing the minds of young people,” said Morrell, who was involved in the decision to adopt the 1619 Project as part of the district’s curriculum. “Particularly for our black children, it lets them know there actually isn’t something wrong with you. We don’t need to be self-destructive, to hate ourselves. There actually was an institution of enslavement that really put us 400 years behind in terms of where we are with prosperity.”

Since its publication in August, the 1619 Project has been adopted in more than 3,500 classrooms in all 50 states, according to the 2019 annual report of the Pulitzer Center, which has partnered with the Times on the project. Five school systems, including Chicago and Washington, D.C., have adopted it district-wide. It is mostly being used as supplemental, optional classroom teaching material. By and large, school systems are adopting the project by administrative fiat, not through a public textbook review process. Read the Full Story

Public School Enrollment Plummets as Private School and Homeschooling Numbers Flourish

Kerry McDonald | Foundation for Economic Education

Ongoing and renewed shutdowns of public schools across the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in astonishing public school enrollment drops.

NPR recently reported that public school districts in at least 20 states have seen shrinking numbers of students this fall, with Orange County and Miami-Dade County in Florida down 8,000 and 16,000 public school students, respectively. Los Angeles public school enrollment has dropped by nearly 11,000 students.

Families are increasingly turning away from public schooling and toward private education options during the pandemic—a trend that is likely to continue even after the virus fades. Read the Full Story

The Other Public Health Crisis? Youth Suicide

Mark Keierleber | The 74

Brad Hunstable believes his 12-year-old son died of the coronavirus — just not in the way one might expect.

As the virus shuttered campuses nationwide and put students’ social lives on pause, the Texas father lost his son Hayden to suicide just days before his 13th birthday. In an emotional video posted online, Hunstable blamed pandemic-induced social isolation — and a fit of rage — for his son’s death earlier this year.

“Social isolation is hard enough for adults. It’s even more hard for our kids,” Hunstable said in the video, which noted that students’ interactions with their peers had been reduced to Fortnite and FaceTime. “I believe my son would be alive today if he was in school, and that’s not to discount massive suffering around the world around this virus.” Read the Full Story

Our Kids Are The Hostages — How Teachers Unions Are Using Coronavirus To Try To Line Their Pockets

Varun Hukeri | The Daily Caller

National and local teachers union leaders have long promoted efforts to keep their members from returning to the classroom. But they have also used the pandemic as an opportunity “to squeeze more money from taxpayers and put their private and public charter school competition out of business,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), one of the largest teachers unions in the country, released a statement earlier this year threatening to support teacher strikes until safety measures like contact tracing, mask requirements and social distancing guidelines were implemented.

“We will fight on all fronts for the safety of our students and their educators,” said AFT president Randi Weingarten said. But other demands from the ATF are arguably motivated by political calculations rather than public safety concerns. Read the Full Story

Supreme Court Rules Exclusion of Religious Schools from School Choice Program Violates the Constitution

Richard Wolf | USA TODAY

The Supreme Court delivered a major victory to parents seeking state aid for their children’s religious school education.

The court’s conservative majority ruled 5-4 that states offering scholarships to students in private schools cannot exclude religious schools from such programs. The decision was written by Chief Justice John Roberts, who has joined the liberal justices in three other major rulings this month.

The court stopped short of requiring states to fund religious education, ruling only that programs cannot differentiate between religious and secular private schools.

“A state need not subsidize private education. But once a state decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious,” Roberts said. Read the Full Story

Love or Hate Them, Pandemic Learning Pods Are Here to Stay — and Could Disrupt American Education

Hannah Natanson | The Washington Post

Some love them. Some hate them.

But nobody working in education today can escape pandemic learning pods: the increasingly popular phenomenon in which families band together and hire a private tutor to offer in-person learning to a small group of children.

Teachers throughout the nation are sketching out schedules and pondering whether they can squeeze in pod tutoring after virtual school. They are weighing health risks, deciding on ground rules — should all pod students wear masks? — and asking parents how much they will pay. (A lot, it turns out.) Sometimes, they are quitting their jobs to lead pods instead. Read the Full Story

Where’s the ‘Disaster Plan’ to Help Students Falling Behind in Online School?

Erin Richards | USA TODAY

Ruby Rodriguez remembers the days when English class meant walking to her desk, talking to friends and checking the board.

Now class begins when her classmates’ names appear online. She sits alone at the dining room table, barefoot and petting the family dog. It’s her freshman year at St. Anthony High School, a private Catholic school in Milwaukee. She doesn’t know what her classmates look like, because nobody ever turns on their cameras.

After schools in Milwaukee went remote last March, Ruby and her friends in eighth grade at St. Anthony’s middle school missed their graduation ceremonies and parties. Her close friends attended different high schools, mostly other private schools that offered in-person instruction. St. Anthony, like many schools in urban areas, including Milwaukee Public Schools, started the fall semester online amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Virtual learning might be keeping Ruby, 14, and her family safer during a public health crisis. But it has made it exponentially harder for her to stay motivated and learn. Her online classes are lecture-heavy, repetitive and devoid of student conversation. Her grades have dropped from A’s and B’s to D’s and F’s. She stays up too late. She sleeps a lot. She misses her friends.

Like millions of students attending school virtually this year, Ruby is floundering academically, socially and emotionally. And as the pandemic heaves into a winter surge, a slew of new reports show alarming numbers of kids falling behind, failing classes or not showing up at all. Read the Full Story

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