Our Best Education Stories From This Past Year

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The most important reads from our coverage of K-12, collegiate, and international education.

By Elena Gooray

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(Photo: Joe Toreno; Model: Nadia Warner)

Education journalism sometimes gets a bad rap, bad enough to inspire a column last year with the sole purpose of determining “why education reporting is so boring.” Yet this year, Pacific Standard writers found education at all levels to be anything but. From daunting student debt and racial achievement gaps, to school health programs that can trigger eating disorders, to an Internet program that serves students through digitally outfitted buses, our reporters explored some of the biggest challenges and points of hope behind the efforts to make schools better.

The need for these stories remains urgent. Next year, the Department of Education is set to anoint Betsy DeVos as its secretary—a woman who, as Education Weeknoted, has never attended or sent children to public school. We don’t yet know what that means for our public school system. But changes are coming, and, as we await them, it’s perhaps more vital than ever that we stay informed.

“I don’t think she even knew what a BMI was before that,” her mother says. But as soon as she did know, it was all Jane could think about.

A survey showed that only 60 percent of students had home Internet service. So for the district’s next trick, Adams eyed the parking lot.

My teacher friends and I — mostly other foreigners — hung out at a sprawling modern mall across the street from our school, or at trendy cafes in upscale neighborhoods. My life felt secure; at times suffocatingly bougie. I’d moved overseas to live a bolder, broader life, only to find my world constricted to the size of a small plate of overpriced mezes.

In a decade, the white population at our local elementary school plummets from 397 to 195 white students, or from 55 percent to 23 percent of the total student body. Our children lose some of their dearest friends. Our Parent Teacher Association loses valuable leadership. The local middle and high schools tell a similar story.

The public deploys “trauma” and “trigger” in a monolithic fashion to encompass all classroom anxiety, a misunderstanding that makes intellectually honest discussions of trauma and tragedy rife with tension.

“The true charter school battle is winning over low-income and minority communities to support the programs, and there’s a chance they can lose that if they tie themselves to Trump.”

You don’t need to be a hippie to think there’s something off about treating counter-terrorism as the center of a normal secondary education.

America’s school funding system has exacerbated the problem by giving wealthy areas further incentives to draw school district boundaries that allow for the concentration of wealth (and those local tax revenues), and the exclusion of low-income families.

“But I also really want people to understand that we’re spending a lot of money very badly right now. So there’s a lot of money that’s going to colleges and universities that are not producing good degrees for their students and are leaving them lots of debt. And these are the for-profits. And there’s $40 billion a year of taxpayer money going in that direction right now. We need to halt that.”

As jails and prisons swell with black offenders, black students are disciplined at rates exorbitantly higher than their white counterparts.

So what’s the scientific consensus? Among the researchers Pacific Standard talked with, all said good bilingual programs have modest but real advantages over English-immersion ones.

“I’ve had a lot of colleagues that have talked to me about: ‘We’re colorblind in my lab. That doesn’t matter.’ They look for my approval and I tell them, “That’s the worst thing you can have.” Diversity is good. Trying to bring in people and assimilate them to be one type of individual is not a good thing.”

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