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Stories to Watch in 2016-17

(Pixabay/Benjamin Nelan)

Equity. Testing and curriculum. Restorative justice.

Look for those themes in education coverage over the coming year, suggested a panel of journalists at EWA’s 69th annual National Seminar earlier this month. Guided by moderator David Hoff of the social marketing firm Hager Sharp, the panelists were asked to share their thoughts on the education stories to watch in the 2016-17 academic year.

Equity

Cory Turner, an editor and reporter on NPR’s education team, said state lawsuits on school funding will underscore issues of school equity in education coverage in many regions.

“After six months of coverage, I realized adequacy is just as important as equity,” said Turner, whose team has reported on the issue. In other words, equal funding and resources aren’t the same as making sure students have what they need to succeed.

In some states, the focus is on both issues, Turner noted “We all know this: Need varies widely from district to district. It depends on the kid,” he said. “You can get to equity and be a mile below adequacy.”

As states grapple with debates over equity and adequacy, the issue of funding remains at the core, other panelists said. Money is needed to ensure equity, build capacity, and bring access and infrastructure to the places that need it.

U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr., who also spoke at the conference, has said he would like to see a focus on equity under the Every Student Succeeds Act, the most recent version of the main federal law for K-12 education that was enacted late last year.

Testing

As most states continue to adapt to higher academic K-12 standards like the Common Core, state education leaders are turning their focus to testing students on new curricula aligned to those standards. 

“What is the test going to be? Who is going to make it? How much is it going to cost?” asked Elizabeth Green, co-founder, CEO and editor-in-chief of the nonprofit education news organization Chalkbeat. The panelists said it will be worth watching how the testing opt-out movement evolves as states pivot to a greater focus on testing.

Reporters will also be watching to see how states are holding themselves accountable when there is no blueprint for what type of testing works best, said Emmeline Zhao, editor of RealClearEducation.

While Green argued that Common Core would remain a major story in the year to come, Zhao disagreed. “I think politicians are over it,” Zhao said. “I think they’re moving on to beating up charter schools.”

But Green noted that GOP presidential candidates, including Donald Trump, have talked about repealing Common Core, and that an effort is afoot to roll back Common Core in Massachusetts via a November ballot measure.

The panelists agreed that the presidential election was unlikely to focus extensively on education. Instead, they said state and local elections were more likely to focus on such education issues as shifting demographics, charter schools, and school integration.

School Discipline

Beyond the views of specific political candidates, school discipline and restorative justice are becoming part of the political conversation, Hoff and others said.

“The race conversation is intersecting with education,” Zhao said. She noted that here has been particular interest in how existing discipline practices disproportionately affect students of color, and whether restorative justice is an effective alternative to traditional measures such as suspension and expulsion.

“How do you make the classroom a more sensitive, empathetic place?” Turner asked. Whether charter schools are playing a role to resegregate students is also a nationwide issue, the panelists said.

Green suggested several other education issues worth following in 2016-17: funding for higher education and the move toward universal pre-K.