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Shaping Education in 2016: 6 Stories That Defined the Year

As we head into 2017, our editors are pausing to spend some time with family and friends. We’ll be back January 3.

In the meantime, here’s a look at the stories that shaped our schools in 2016.

See you in the New Year!

1. The 2016 election ushers in a new president and secretary of education.

This time last year, few thought Donald Trump’s presidential run was anything more than a publicity stunt. Now, he’s the President-elect.

Trump’s subsequent pick of billionaire Betsy DeVos irked some public school advocates. Some questioned whether DeVos’ outright support of school voucher and charter programs would adversely impact public schools. Others wondered aloud whether the longtime education reformer might work with Trump to dismantle the federal education department.

We won’t know what Trump has in store for schools until he officially takes office. But look for 2017 to feature fierce conversations about school choice, the elimination of Common Core, and the role of charter schools—all issues Trump raised on the campaign trail.

2. Student protests spread nationwide.

Thousands of high school students—many of whom weren’t old enough to vote during the latest presidential election—staged protests in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidential election.

From Los Angeles to Denver to Maryland, disgruntled students joined walk-outs and marches, raising significant safety and security concerns for school district leaders and local law enforcement officials.

With Inauguration Day less than a month away, educators are preparing for further unrest, while looking to engage students in productive conversations about civics and politics.

3. States prepare for ESSA, despite uncertainty.

Amidst the frenzy of this year’s election and all its repercussions, it’s easy to forget that a new federal education law is being implemented as we speak.

Throughout the country, states and districts are putting the finishing touches on accountability plans to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

With more leeway in how they choose to evaluate their schools, states are using data to examine a range of non-academic indicators, such as student social-emotional learning, school climate, and community engagement.

4. Creepy clowns test schools’ security and communication efforts.

If you’re looking for the most bizarre story of the year, the creepy clown phenomenon of fall 2016 has got to be at the top of your list.

What started as a few reports of people dressed as clowns stalking local neighborhoods quickly turned into a full-blown social media frenzy for schools. “Creepy clown” reports cropped up on Facebook and other media outlets. In some instances, people dressed as clowns made threats of violence against local schools.

The phenomenon lost steam after Halloween. But that’s no reason for educators to be any less vigilant. Here’s a few ways to be prepared.

5. PISA results reveal that U.S. students are still behind.

The results of the 2015 PISA test showed that American students’ performance in math dropped close to the bottom of the 35 industrialized countries that participated in the survey.

Although there were some signs of progress, especially in terms of equity, American students, on average, tested out in the middle of the pack on science and reading exams.

6. Graduation rate hits all-time high.

In a year filled with its share of bizarre and downright depressing headlines, here’s one on which to hang our hats.

Earlier this year, the White House and Department of Education announced that the American graduation rate reached a record-high 82 percent.

Although there’s some controversy surrounding the latest calculations, it’s still a welcome bit of news.

What education-related stories defined or impacted your work in 2016? Tell us in the comments.

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