By Teachers, For Teachers
It’s no understatement to declare that the year 2014 will bring with it significant, tangible modifications to the educational paradigm. While educators across the country have already noticed a great deal of shifts within technique, objectives and technology, a host of recent developments put us on the verge of the next wave of teaching. While the industry has already been shifting at a noticeably pace, more and more educators – as well as students, politicians, organizations, businesses and families – will be both a part of and affected by the impending changes.
A few of the expectations you can anticipate for 2014 relate to standards and testing, economic pressures, technological integration, politics and policy, and educational philosophy. Each of these areas alone is enough to generate a noticeable impact on education; combined, however, 2014 will mark the beginning of unprecedented innovation in the American educational landscape.
By the end of 2013, 45 states have adopted the Common Core State Standards, making these standards officially “common” and giving America a nationally agreed-upon set of core educational values. While many states adopted these standards several years ago, most of their “full implementation” school years are this year: 2013-2014. This means that while districts are no strangers to the Common Core State Standards anymore, they are only just now officially required to implement and measure these standards. As everything in teaching goes, it takes time, practice, and coordination to effectively implement any changes; so now that the Common Core is becoming “official,” it will have a broader and more critical impact on how schools teach and measure students.
Perhaps the biggest (and most controversial) baggage the Common Core State Standards bring along is the comparative measurement tools (i.e. standardized testing) that will steadily take on even more precedence than they already have. In years past, states had their own standards, which meant that you couldn’t tell by looking at data which states were doing better or worse than others. Now, Common Core aligned standardized tests will allow students to be fairly compared nationwide. These assessments are currently being developed and are slated for use -- any guesses? -- during the 2014-2015 school year.
It’s old news that the American economy has struggled in recent years, and many privately employed workers have seen their paychecks and benefits get slashed. Public employees, on the other hand, have been partially sheltered from the economic pullback others have faced, but this will change too. Already some financial decisions have altered the fundamentals of how education is occurring. Employee pensions are being rigorously re-examined, as states – like Illinois, for example – are realizing that their financial situation cannot sustain these long-term liabilities. Additionally, changes to federal and state funding have altered the ways that certain districts can provide supplies for their students and teachers. Areas in Texas, for example, have been affected by budget deficits in recent years that caused the legislature to reduce funding. When there is an increase in standards but a decrease in funding, economic tensions may require districts and teachers to be much more creative in their approach to getting students to reach academic standards.
Districts across the country are scrambling to obtain the latest and greatest technology to integrate into classrooms. Although technology has consistently played an important role in recent decades, 2014 will be a “tipping point” kind of year, in which more schools will have more technology than ever before, and some of the experimental pilot programs districts have instituted over previous years will blossom into full-fledged supportive training systems for their educators.
Technology like the iPad and its popular 1-to-1 program (one iPad for every student), computer labs with the accompanying websites, research, and application power, and students’ own uses of mobile devices and social media will greatly impact the nature in which information can be consumed. In some cases, districts are considering incorporating some version of a “technology class” into the regularly curriculum, considering it to be just as essential for the next generation as the arts and sciences.
But with the increased economic struggles, a few aspects of technological integration will stand out in 2014. First, will districts be able to hire enough staff to acquire, manage, and train educators in this technology? Many districts have increased their technology, but not their tech staff. Second, what will happen to the areas of the country in which it is more difficult for the districts or families to afford this technology? The achievement gap between the haves and have-nots may noticeably widen in coming years.
Politicians making claims about education are never in short supply, but some critical decisions are coming up that require attention. In addition to the standards and testing that have been discussed above, state boards of education and politicians in general have become very interested in teacher evaluations. The teaching profession has come under fire more so than its public employee counterparts because there historically has been a lack of transparency and oversight with teachers (or at least this perception exists). Teacher unions and the privileges that accompany them (tenure, pensions, etc.) have fallen under scrutiny, and now state boards are reconsidering what and how an educator should be evaluated.
There are many “traditions” within education that have been re-examined in recent years, and 2014 represents the year that many of these ideas will find broader support and implementation from higher levels of authority. These areas include the educational philosophies related to homework, grading, testing, student learning, and technology, among others. As educators continually ask, “How can students learn better?” and “How can students be better assessed?” the answers lead them in directions that deviate from what has been considered the norm.
Homework may be considered more as practice than as a graded assessment; tests (as we all know) will take on higher and higher stakes that reflect student, teacher, and district achievement; conventional A-F letter grades may give way to other versions of reflecting student achievement with both academics and behaviors; student-centered learning takes larger precedence as teachers remove themselves from the epicenter of the classroom; new technology – although it largely lacks years of longitudinal data – will continually be emphasized as the education of the future. Aspects within each of these areas will compound exponentially in 2014 as major decisions will be made regarding what teaching is and how policy will dictate what gets attention.
Private and Charter schools have served as alternatives to the public school system, but have traditionally been reserved for the more economically privileged. Now, however, growing doubt regarding public schools, the Common Core, funding, testing, and a plethora of other areas causes families to reconsider the benefits of a non-public school education for their children. The number of charter schools has increased in recent years, offering unique perspectives on education that diverge from the restrictive norms parents feel encumbered by in public schools. Although these schools typically cost more than the tax-supported public education, parents in 2014 will be more willing to make the financial sacrifice to avoid the contentious politic-ridden atmosphere of their local public school.
What do you see as the biggest aspects of education to look out for in 2014? Do you think we should be bracing ourselves, or should we be welcoming these upcoming innovations? Share your ideas in the comments below!
Jordan Catapano is an English teacher at Conant High School in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated, he also sits as the District Leader for the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and serves as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website ACTWritingTips.com.