Next week is my son’s last week of school. It has been quite a year. Natural disasters including Hurricane Sandy (which cancelled classes for weeks in some schools in the Northeast) disrupted the schedule for many students. Mandatory budget cuts resulting from sequestration meant that my son’s beloved speech therapist found herself looking for another job.
These are some of the events and issues I’m remembering as the 2012-2013 school year comes to a close.
1. Sandy Hook Tragedy Stuns the Nation
On December 14, six months ago today, 20 children and six adults were killed by a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut. Their deaths sparked huge and emotional debates about gun control, mental health and school safety. Some have contended we need to train teachers to carry concealed weapons, place armed guards in schools and outfit children in bulletproof clothing. But U.S. lawmakers have still offered mostly talk but little real action, notably with the defeat in the Senate of legislation for extended background checks on guns in April.
2. Climate Change Becomes Part of U.S. School Curriculum
Under new science education guidelines, U.S. students are now to receive instruction on climate change; as Care2 blogger Judy Molland wrote, the “guidelines also take a firm stand that children must learn about evolution, the central organizing idea in the biological sciences for more than a century.” However, states are not actually required to adopt the new standards, though 26 states, including Arizona, California, Iowa, Kansas and New York, are “seriously considering” doing so.
3. President Obama Calls for Free, Universal Preschool
Obama highlighted the importance of universal preschool education in his State of the Union address, noting that kids who do not attend preschool are 25 percent more likely to drop out of school, 60 percent more likely not to attend college and 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime. Nonetheless, a number of conservative voices belittled the proposal (even suggesting that universal preschool could “undermine family values”).
4. Students Use Social Media to Turn the Tables on Bullies
Even as states and school districts implement anti-bullying policies, we still hear too many reports of bullying and of students victimizing other students via Facebook and social media, sometimes with tragic results — and of LGBT teachers being cruelly outed and even fired (by schools with a religious affiliation in some cases — so much for tolerance). But some are turning the tables on cyberbullying by using these same tools to create powerful anti-bullying messages: bullies and hate can be fought.
5. Sequestration Imposes Steep Cuts on School Budgets
On March 1, $85 billion in automatic budget cuts went into effect under sequestration, the result of Congress being unable to reach a budget deal back in 2011. Among these cuts are a significant reduction — $600 million — in the amount of funds for special education and students with disabilities; $725 million cut from Title I funding (for schools and school districts with a high percentage of students from low-income families) and cuts to college access programs.
6. MOOCs Raise Questions About Online Education
2012 has been dubbed the “year of the MOOC,” of massive open online courses that anyone with Internet access can sign up for at no fee. Some universities have begun to accept MOOC courses for college credit, setting off a sort of huge discussion among faculty at colleges and universities about whether they could be replaced by online courses that are often taught by experts in computer science and other topics. But widespread plagiarism has led to questions about how much students in a MOOC are actually learning. One study has found that online courses could actually widen the achievement gap among students.
7. Massive College Debt Makes Some Question the Value of Going to College
The zero dollar tuition for MOOCs highlighted a constantly-raised issue about college, the $1 trillion debt from student loans that many students, graduates and their parents could be weighed down with for life. Middle class families in the U.S. have found themselves unable to afford college and those with college degrees have still struggled to find jobs for the careers they incurred all that debt for. While no one would deny that having a college degree clearly has benefits, including higher lifetime earnings overall, more than a few have asked if college is still worth it.
8. 15-year-old Education Advocate Survives Assassination Attempt
Six months after she was shot in the head by a member of the Taliban in Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai was able to return to school. Malala was targeted for her campaigning for the right of girls in her native Pakistan to be educated; she spent months in a British hospital undergoing surgery after the shooting.
Thousands have called for Malala to win a Nobel Peace Prize and expressed their inspiration at her story, which is a powerful reminder of why, wherever we are and whatever a child’s abilities and challenges, education is a right worth fighting for.
Photo via nedradio/Flickr