By Tyrone Howard, Senior Fellow, International Center for Leadership in Education (a division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) and Professor and Associate Dean for Equity, Diversity & Inclusion at UCLA
This blog post originally appeared on HMH’s Shaped blog on December 19, 2018.
For K-12 education, 2018 was an important year—and 2019 won’t be any different. It’s essential that educators across the nation remain steadfast in understanding the complex needs of students, families, schools, and school personnel.
While many issues will continue to affect the educational landscape in 2019, here are five areas that we should pay particularly close attention to in the new year.
1. The political voices of educators will be prevalent.
The election of Jahana Hayes, the 2016 National Teacher of the Year, to the U.S. House of Representatives from Connecticut, along with the election of Wisconsin State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers to the Governor’s seat, are just a few examples of educators throwing their hats into the political ring to bring issues of education and educational equity into the national spotlight.
According to Education Week, during the midterm election of 2018 we witnessed at least 177 current teachers seeking elected office across the nation, with 43 of them winning office. In Oklahoma alone, dozens of teachers filed papers to run for statewide office. The ongoing political agency of teachers demonstrates their willingness to be more vocal, active, and politically engaged in situating teachers’ and schools’ concerns at the local, regional, and national levels.
I predict that 2019 will result in even more educators speaking up around the needs for teachers, advocating for better working conditions, pay, and public support. Many educators will also begin to think about seeking elected offices in 2020, a big election year.
2. School safety will remain a top priority.
School safety remains of high significance in all states. While the debate about gun control continues without much resolve in sight, school leaders must continue to identify the most effective means to keep all students safe.
The tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in February 2018 was yet another reminder that all schools must remain vigilant around student safety. Two things must remain connected to this issue as schools seeks solutions: the refusal to criminalize certain students and increased support for mental health screening. Under the guise of school safety, many schools often double down efforts to criminalize students (namely students of color) by increasing the numbers of school resources offered, greater police presence, more metal detectors, and surging numbers of random searches. These measures often unfairly target students and fail to create feelings of safety, instead creating feelings of antagonism and surveillance.
My prediction (and hope) is that in 2019, more schools will consider doubling down on student safety by placing more resources into mental health practitioners, social workers, therapists, and mental health screening for all students. Such an approach would be an important step in being proactive around student safety and prioritizing student health and well-being. The Children’s Mind Institute contends that there are an estimated 17 million people under 18 years old with mental health challenges, with millions not receiving the support they need. Schools can play an important role in being part of a collaborative solution for this growing challenge.
3. Teaching civic debate will become even more important.
Civility in debates will become more important in 2019. Given the political climate we currently face, levels of hostility and contentiousness are unavoidable, even in schools at times. K-12 schools can and should help students develop the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed to understand the importance of free speech, how to engage with dissenting viewpoints, and how divergent ideas can—and should—exist in a democratic society.
Much of today’s current political rhetoric is often steeped in an inability or unwillingness for some individuals to hear, listen, and empathize with others. To that end, schools can serve as incubation labs that are not centered on narrow, hateful, political ideology, but instead steeped in honoring the vigorous exchange of different ideas, encouraging free inquiry, encouraging healthy and respectful debates, and enabling students to realize the benefits of living in a pluralistic society where people co-exist, even if they see the nation and world in radically different ways.
To that end, schools can be sites that are not merely safe spaces but also brave spaces that encourages dialogue; honors, respects, and recognizes differences; and holds all people accountable to do the work of sharing experiences, listening, learning, and coming to new understandings—a feat that’s often hard, and typically uncomfortable.
4. Diversity will remain a staple in schools.
Ethnic and racial diversity will continue to be a reality that schools will need to be prepared to address. Many districts, cities, counties, and parishes across the nation continue to see unprecedented shifts in the ethnic, racial, linguistic, and cultural make up of its students. The most dramatic shifts are not occurring on the coasts in places like Los Angeles and New York but rather, in the nation’s center. States like Nebraska, Kansas, Ohio, Iowa, and Missouri are experiencing surges in immigrant and Latinx populations and decreasing numbers of white students.
Schools will have to continue to place a persistent spotlight on equity by examining the experiences and outcomes of students of color compared with their white counterparts. Namely, the areas of reading and math proficiency, graduation rates, discipline rates, and college-going rates are where many gaps remain stubborn in schools across the nation. The prediction is that in 2019, schools will become even more diverse, while many school staffs will fall short in matching their racial, ethnic, and linguistic diversity.
5. Poverty will remain a common and important issue.
Despite the robust economy that continued to sustain itself in 2018, it could not disguise the stubborn reality that poverty still affects far too many children, and schools are the locations where the effects of poverty are often on display daily for educators. The National Center for Childhood in Poverty estimates that approximately 15 million children—or 21 percent of all children—live in poverty in the U.S.
Schools have to and will continue to provide a vital role for these students. From providing two and sometimes three meals a day to addressing food insecurities that many students face, to offering wrap-around services at schools including medical, vision, and dental services that children might not otherwise be able to receive, schools must continue to fill in the gap, with no end to poverty in sight for many. Learning outcomes are directly tied to students’ ability to be at optimum health—physically, physiologically, and psychologically or emotionally.
Poverty compromises learning, and it’s therefore vital that states provide adequate supports for schools who have the responsibility to just teach content to students.