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Thanksgiving Gratitude: Reasons to Appreciate Our Schools

If you’re like me, you’ll probably spend a lot of time this weekend eating turkey and watching football. Oh, and napping.

Of course, Thanksgiving is about much more than lounging and having fun. It’s also about giving thanks for the many great and wonderful people and events that shape our lives.

I’m thankful for a lot.

We launched this website, which took forever. That was a first for me. Since we’re on the subject of milestones, I also recently got engaged. It’s been a pretty big year.

And not just for me personally, I might add. Our schools have also seen a lot of change. The jury is still out on many of those reforms. Even still, as we crisscross the country to gather with family and friends, it’s a good time to reflect on what’s gone right in schools this year.

Below are three of my reasons to give thanks for schools. I hope you’ll read them, and share your own in the comments.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The best teachers and school leaders on the planet

The education landscape is changing. So, too, are the roles of teachers and school leaders.

In a world where students can find the answer to most any question at the push of a button, our teachers are being challenged to rethink the very nature of education. And many of them are embracing this challenge with gusto.

Instead of peppering students with facts and figures, educators must now teach students how to apply knowledge to deeper concepts and problem solve. It’s quite literally a new way of teaching!

Add to that diminishing resources and increasing competition and it’s easy to understand how even the best educators might become overwhelmed.

Despite these challenges, however, teachers continue to push relentlessly forward, putting forth new strategies to engage students in innovative ways.

Our teachers suffer a lot of abuse—and incredible criticism. Through it all, the best among them work hard every day to put students first. And that’s something to be thankful for every day.

Higher student graduation rates

This year saw the fruits of educators’ hard work. The U.S. Department of Education reported the highest national graduation rate of all time.

In 2014 (the most recently analyzed year), education officials reported a national graduation rate of 82 percent. What’s more, 2014 marked the fourth year in row that the national graduation rate increased.

More promising, the academic gap between white students and African-American students narrowed by nearly 3 percent.

We still have a long way to go to level the academic playing field and help students achieve their full potential. But a steadily increasing graduation rate is happy news—and cause for celebration.

A fuller, better picture of student achievement

Few people, I think, would disagree with this statement: Over the last decade, our schools have focused too heavily on test scores as a means of assessing student achievement. Much of that emphasis can be attributed to standardized tests written into the now defunct No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the NCLB replacement with plenty still to prove, school leaders are reframing the lens through which they view student achievement.

New indicators such as social-emotional learning, college and career readiness, and school climate and experience have entered the lexicon, encouraging educators and education officials to look beyond the test and consider the full school experience.

The jury is still out on ESSA. But, at least for now, it appears the law and the states that are charged with implementing it, are open to embracing a more holistic approach. If that’s not progress, it’s at least hope.

Many challenges ahead

Take this weekend to be thankful for all that we’ve achieved in schools this year.

Then gear up—because a lot of questions still remain.

Will we ever overcome the achievement gap? Is it possible to level the academic playing field? What will new rules under ESSA mean for schools? To that end, what will a new administration in Washington mean for schools?

The questions and challenges are endless. Here’s to all of us working together to keep the focus on what matters: student achievement.

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving? Tell us in the comments.

For more on the challenges ahead for schools, don’t miss our What’s Next for Education series.