2013 was a big year for education.
President Barack Obama announced his plan to rate colleges based on quality and accountability measures, and to tie financial aid to their performance. Legislators reversed a doubling of student loan interest rates to keep the rates low for the time being – though some students are still unsatisfied with the deal. States across the country advanced with their implementation of the Common Core State Standards, much to the dismay of some parents. And American students continued to flatline on national and international tests.
But with two major education governance bills overdue for reauthorization, a full transition to the Common Core still on the way and an ever-expanding sphere of alternative routes to higher education, 2014 could be just as pivotal for education.
Here are a few issues to continue to watch in 2014:
1. Common Core implementation: As more states continue moving toward a full implementation of the Common Core State Standards, more parents, community members and politicians have begun to push back against what they claim are federally led, national academic standards.
Parents in at least 17 states held a day of action in November to protest the standards by keeping their children out of school and rallying at local education departments.
Some opponents have say the standards bear similarities to the "one size fits all" education reforms from No Child Left Behind and worry that assessments aligned to the standards will perpetuate a culture of over-testing in the United States.
Others claim the standards are state-led in name only, and that support from the federal government – such as financial incentives through Race to the Top grants – pressured many of the 45 states and the District of Columbia to adopt the standards.
Aside from ideological pushback to the grade-level benchmarks for reading and mathematics, states have also struggled to work with colleges to implement the standards and face challenges in preparing teachers and staff to teach to the new standards, often times because they don't have the funds to do so. Although many states have already begun teaching content aligned to the standards, several said they don't have the funds and resources to properly train teachers.
In at least six states, fewer than half of the teachers had received some sort of professional development related to Common Core, according to an August report from George Washington University's Center on Education Policy. Additionally, six states said they had reduced or stopped buying computers and technology needed to administer Common Core assessments, four said they cut training for school staff to administer the tests, and three said they reduced or stopped professional development for teachers due to a lack of funding.
With a growing concern that many teachers may not be sufficiently trained to teach to the new standards, educators worry students will perform poorly on the Common Core-aligned assessments, which all states are expected to begin using in the 2014-15 school year.
Both New York and Minnesota released scores for tests aligned to the Common Core standards in August and saw significant drops in reading and math, which leaders attributed to the rigor of the new standards. And those assessments don't just carry weight for the students; many states are implementing teacher evaluation systems that are at least partially dependent on how well their students perform.
2. Teacher evaluation: In order to receive waivers to relieve states of some of the strict requirements of No Child Left Behind, they have to adopt new teacher and principal evaluation systems. Since the waivers were first made available in 2011, 41 states, the District of Columbia and eight California school districts have received permission to deviate from the sweeping education law passed during the early part of President George W. Bush's first term.
But the federal government is also requiring states to use student academic growth data in their teacher evaluation systems. A handful of states, including Washington, Oregon, Arizona and Kansas, have had their waivers put on high-risk status – and are in danger of losing them – for problems related to their teacher evaluation systems.