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10 Education Issues That Made Headlines in 2018

From the #RedforEd teacher walkouts to the opportunity myth, these are 10 of the most discussed national educational stories of 2018.

December 17, 2018

The TFA Editorial Team

The TFA Editorial Team

In a year when the pace of the breaking news cycle felt more frantic than ever before, stories about teachers, students, and schools trended all through 2018—and for good reason.

Our nation's education system doesn't just affect students and teachers: It impacts the well-being and future of our nation at large. From the teacher walkouts to student safety, education topics made national headlines throughout the year. Here are 10 educational issues that dominated headlines, social media feeds, and discussions among educators in 2018.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore via flickr

1.  Teachers Leading National Grassroots Movement for Education Funding

School funding remains a perennial topic within the education discussion. But 2018 proved to be a year of renewed energy and activism among educators. As stories of teachers struggling to make ends meet made national news, thousands of educators organized walk-outs and protested at state capitols. Teachers spoke out against budget cuts and wage stagnation. They wore #RedForEd t-shirts in solidarity and called on policymakers to fully fund education. The result? Teachers in some states won victories such as modest pay increases and funding for new textbooks and building repairs. In other states, teachers responded to the lack of progress by running for office.

2. A Record Number of Educators Running for Office

As the #RedForEd movement gained momentum this year, a record number of educators joined the list of candidates running for office in the midterm elections. Nearly 1,500 teachers, administrators, and support staff ran for state and local positions, including more than 250 TFA alums. At least 20 current or former teachers ran for U.S. Congress or Senate seats. Post-election results yielded a number of victories (and losses) for educators. Jahana Hayes, the 2016 national Teacher of the Year, won her race for U.S. House in Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District. Tony Evers, Wisconsin’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, defeated incumbent Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin’s governor’s race. And at least 149 TFA alumni won seats in local and state elected positions. Through grassroots organizing and campaigning for office, educators helped to elevate education as a top campaign issue in the midterm elections.

3. The Janus v. AFSCME SCOTUS Ruling

 On June 27, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 court majority landmark decision in the Janus v. American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME) case on union agency fees. The Supreme Court ruled that public sector unions—including teachers unions—can no longer require non-members to pay agency fees, as it is a violation of the First Amendment.

Before the ruling, agency fees were mandatory in 22 states. Unions charged non-members agency fees because unions are legally required to represent all workers equally, regardless of whether that worker is a member of a union or not. These fees were used to cover bargaining contracts, administrative costs incurred representing individual workers in arbitration, and other expenses that benefit both union members and non-members. The Janus v. AFSCME decision, which was one of the most important court decisions on collective bargaining rights in decades, will change how teacher unions attract membership and obtain funding going forward. Teacher unions will continue to be required to provide representation for all teachers, regardless of union membership, but will not be allowed to charge non-members for that representation.

Photo credit: Working Families Party via flickr

4. Students Leading the Conversation on Gun Control

This year some of the most influential voices leading the conversation on gun control were from students affected by gun violence at their school. As of November, 94 gun violence incidents have occurred in schools this year—the highest number to date. Following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, an estimated 1 million students led protests across the country this year, including the National School Walkout and the March for Our Lives. Brandishing handwritten posters, students demanded a ban on assault weapons and more rigorous background checks for gun owners. Student-led protests gained national media coverage and elevated students’ voices in the gun-safety debate.

5. A Growing Focus on Student Wellbeing: Physical, Mental, and Emotional

 The wellbeing of students—physical, mental, and emotional—was top of mind among education leaders in 2018. Access to recess, when students can move around, play freely and get exercise, is a growing concern among educators and parents. As educators are pressed to teach more material in a single school day, recess time is often the first thing to be cut, despite studies showing that physical activity in schools can improve academic performance and behavior. Schools are also increasingly focusing on mental health in schools through health curriculum lessons about depression, suicide, and bullying, with New York and Virginia becoming the first two states to enact laws requiring mental health education in schools in 2018. Additionally, this year marked an increased focus on trauma-informed teaching, as teachers work to figure out ways to effectively and sensitively teach trauma-affected students.

6. Waiting on the Fate of DACA Recipients

In 2018, a number of lawsuits were filed challenging the White House’s September 2017 executive order rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program launched in 2012 that provided undocumented young adults brought to the United States as children with work authorization and protection from deportation.

While the government continues to process DACA renewals, the future of DACA remains uncertain as we enter 2019. This uncertainty affects countless schools across the country. Over 9,000 DACA-protected teachers face the possibility of having to leave their classrooms and students if their work permits expire and they can no longer be employed by their schools. Educators also worry about what the future holds for their undocumented students and families, and whether their students will be able to stay in the country and pursue higher education.

Teach For America advocates for a bipartisan legislative solution that would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented youth. There are 240 DACAmented teachers in our network who make an impact across the nation as classroom leaders and role models to their students.

Students working on a science experiment in the classroom.

7. Expanding K-12 STEM Education

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) careers are a growing driver of the U.S. economy, but only an estimated quarter of schools in the nation offer comprehensive STEM curricula. In 2018, a number of educators and business leaders have called for a greater focus on expanded access to STEM K-12 education—particularly for low-income students, students of color, and girls—in order to make STEM more diverse.

This month, the White House announced a five-year strategy for STEM education. The initiative seeks to create a future “where all Americans will have lifelong access to high-quality STEM education and the United States will be the global leader in STEM literacy, innovation, and employment.”

8. Closing the “Middle Skills” Gap

Middle-skills jobs are those that require more education than a high school diploma, but less than a four-year college degree, and they account for over half of the U.S. job market. Yet only 43 percent of the workforce is trained for these jobs. This year, the conversation among educators, business leaders, and advocates has focused on diversifying students’ options after high school. An increasing number of states, including  Indiana, California, and Wisconsin, are integrating soft skills instruction into their K-12 curriculum. And organizations in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Louisiana are offering ways to build bridges between high school graduates and well-paying careers that don’t require a college degree—particularly for low-income students.

9. Supporting First-Generation College Students

A quarter of undergraduates enrolled in college are the first in their families to go to college, according to the Department of Education. While this is an encouraging trend showing that more students than ever before are able to achieve higher education, first-generation college students face challenges that often go overlooked as they work towards their diploma. First-generation college students often demonstrate lower rates of college readiness, come from lower-income families, and over one-third drop out before ever seeing graduation day. But as these challenges are increasingly recognized and studied in 2018, more colleges are celebrating and supporting their growing first-generation college student populations.

A student walking down the street wearing a graduation cap and gown.

10. New Report: The Opportunity Myth

This year, The New Teacher Project (TNTP) released an in-depth report that sheds light on "the opportunity myth,"—why so many students who do well in school are still unprepared for college and career options after graduation. The study followed nearly 4,000 students across five diverse school systems to understand their experiences. It revealed that most students—especially low-income students, students of color, English language learners, and those with disabilities—spent the majority of class time on assignments that weren't grade-appropriate or lacked rigor. Among the students who successfully graduate and go on to college, 40 percent of total students (and over 50 percent of Black and Latinx students) spend their first year taking remedial courses to cover material they were told they'd already mastered in high school. The study makes recommendations for short and long-term changes that school systems can make to prepare students for their aspirations.

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