Year in Review: Education News in 2020

In our first blog post of the new year, we will be taking a look back at some of the biggest pieces of education news in 2020.

Let’s start with the obvious: the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted education for tens of millions of students (along with the lives of their entire families). The deaths of educators and the 1.2 million child coronavirus cases have contributed to a tragedy of unimaginable proportions. Although it’s still not clear how this year’s changes will affect most students academically, it is a safe bet that our most vulnerable populations (including students with learning challenges, English-language learners, and those who were experiencing academic challenges before the pandemic) are taking a significant hit to their learning and to their mental health.

On the plus side, vaccine distribution is probably set to begin this month. Though it will take many months for most Americans to get the shots, it appears that those who are most at risk should be near the front of the line. There will certainly be huge logistical problems, and it’s still not clear when a vaccine for children will be available. Teachers will probably be in the second tier, but the bottom line is that the presence of a vaccine does offer us educators, our students, and their families some much-needed hope.

One of the biggest pieces of education news in 2020 is that the pandemic brought to light just how many students do not have access to stable Internet, or a device with which to complete remote learning. Although many school districts have made huge dents in the numbers of students who did not have devices or Internet access this year, the numbers of students still without them is staggering.

It’s unfortunate that it took a pandemic to finally wake up policymakers and others to the terrible state of ventilation systems in our classrooms, as well as its impact on students and teachers. Hopefully that will be one big change this year that will impact schools for years to come.

The Trump administration’s insistence on forcing school districts to give students federally mandated standardized testing is unwise. In these circumstances, they will not help students or teachers. We can hope that the incoming Biden administration makes a better decision.

President Trump’s attack on how slavery is taught in schools and, specifically, Nikole Hannah-Jones’s 1619 Project in the New York Times, was inaccurate and bullheaded. However, that same attack can now be used by history teachers everywhere to generate interest in examining slavery’s role in America’s founding; there’s nothing like sharing irrational criticism of something to get students more interested in it.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s decision to ban college students who were registered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, from receiving coronavirus aid was just another example of journalist Adam Sewer’s Atlantic article explaining the purpose behind many Trump administration policies, “The Cruelty Is The Point.”

Trump’s electoral defeat — and the departure, soon, of DeVos — brought relief to many teachers. His incompetence in combating the pandemic, along with his unwillingness to support economic aid to states and schools, resulted in thousands of additional deaths and in the closures of many more schools than would have been necessary under capable leadership. Biden’s victory relieved many teachers, who believe they will get more support during the pandemic. Anticipation of having a teacher in the White House — soon-to-be first lady Jill Biden — was a boost to educators too.

Parents and teachers have said that hybrid instruction is not working. Many districts in areas where the coronavirus infection rate has been at a consistently high level have made the strategic mistake of putting funds and other resources into face-to-face schooling plans that are likely to never see the light of day. These efforts have often been at the expense of leaving teachers on their own to improve remote instruction, and of not providing needed social service support to the substantial numbers of students who are not participating at all in remote classes and whom schools might lose forever.

The tremendous efforts by educators to retool their instruction to teach in full-time distance-learning mode or in hybrid models is a tribute to their resilience and flexibility. Also deserving praise are the many administrators who supported them and recognized that, especially in these circumstances, “good teaching” and not necessarily “successful teaching” was the priority. A special shout-out is warranted to the thousands of teachers who stepped up on their own to connect with their students and families immediately after school closures in the spring, when so many districts were frozen in indecision.

Though the work of teachers needs to be highlighted, parents who have had to double as teachers during this pandemic deserve kudos this year. Many teachers are also parents with children at home, and how they are managing everything is anybody’s guess. Students deserve applause as well for trying to do schoolwork in miserable conditions. Many have had to take on close to full-time jobs to help their families economically survive the recession and/or take care of younger siblings or relatives, all while taking on a full workload at school. Students, though suffering, have shown extraordinary grit and courage.

Did we miss a piece of education news in 2020 that you think we should have included? What are your thoughts on education news in 2020? Let us know in the comments.

Allison Green
Boston Tutoring Services

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