The past year has brought hope and progress, but also setbacks and new challenges. We made strides toward racial equity, even as some took advantage of the positive momentum and pushed misguided policies. Schools reopened, but then struggled to keep kids in classrooms. And education reform mainstays like testing and accountability continued to be debated, while new issues like masks and student quarantines were added to the mix.
At Fordham we did our best to keep up with new challenges, following our established practice of asking tough questions, conducting rigorous research, debating issues, and proposing workable solutions whenever we could. All of this is evident in Fordham’s 2021 commentary, which comprised around 500 editorials, 120 newsletters, and fifty podcasts, spanning every education issue facing the nation. Here are ten of our best posts, listed in order of publication date.
1. What to do about the Covid kindergarten cohort?, by Michael J. Petrilli, January 28
Everyone has been impacted by the pandemic in some shape or form. One group that has faced especially tough challenges is kindergarteners. Mike explains that, due to a great deal of variation in how parents handled learning during Covid-19, these children are entering “real school” with a very wide spectrum of preparedness. Mike’s solution is to add an additional grade in elementary school. While this would pose logistical challenges for schools, for these kindergarteners, it might be the only way to make up for so much lost learning.
2. I believe “antiracism” is misguided. Can I still teach Black children?, by Robert Pondiscio, April 29
In this piece, Robert wrestles with what antiracism has come to mean in 2021, and does so as a teacher who’s been in the classroom since 2002. When he decided to be an educator, he was driven by “the manifest unfairness of American education to low-income, Black, and Brown children who comprise, without exception, every student I’ve ever taught.” As an educator, he’s come to believe that holding students to high expectations and using high-quality curricula creates a culture that values achievement—and above all, that children don’t fail, but rather adults fail children. He says that “antiracism,” as it’s expressed today, attempts to shift education away from these principles. So, in this piece, he dives deep into a difficult question: “Is a professed commitment to the tenets of antiracism now non-negotiable in our profession?”
3. The common ground on race and education that’s hiding in plain sight, by Michael J. Petrilli, May 27
Following heated debates about diversity and critical race theory, Mike voices his discontent with the polarized nature of education’s “culture wars.” He argues that, in spite of great extremes in opinion, there is common ground on race and education right below our noses. The five ideas presented are straightforward and evidence-based. They provide opportunities for compromise that could improve our current situation.
4. “Public education sucks” is a weak argument for school choice, by Robert Pondiscio, August 5
In a year when public schools have often come under fire, Robert shows us how pro-school-choice arguments have devolved into anti-public-school messaging, framing charters as a superior alternative rather than worthy on their own merits. He views this line of advocacy for charters as unnecessary, unhelpful, and weak. With the new year and even more debates just around the corner, hopefully we can focus on the pros of each opposing side, not just the cons of the other.
5. More dumb things done in the name of educational “equity”, by Dale Chu, August 26
Dale addresses some of the year’s misguided actions that allege to advance equity, such as ditching grades, waving graduation standards, and scrapping standardized tests. Inspired by an episode of the “8 Black Hands” podcast that critiques these trends, Dale shares examples from California, New York, and Oregon to illustrate why these efforts stand to harm the very students they’re designed to help.
6. Blinding ourselves to America’s achievement woes, by Chester E. Finn, Jr., September 16
Grade inflation, easier (or no) tests, and turning a blind eye—oh my! Checker exposes issues that are being tossed under the rug in modern day America, and compares these with what was addressed in the 1980s with A Nation at Risk. He argues not only that we still lag far behind in performance and achievement, we are also in denial that our standards are slipping. He places what he views as our greatest obstacles to progress on the table for all to see.
7. Rigorous courses are a good thing—and good for equity, by Brandon L. Wright, September 23
Brandon responds to an article implying that Advanced Placement courses are failing to distribute their benefits proportionately across socioeconomic and racial lines. This critique is well-meaning but misguided. AP’s rigorous curriculum already benefits millions of Black and Hispanic students who would learn less if the classes were made easier. Instead, we should improve the education of disadvantaged students, and do so from an early age, so more of them are prepared later for advanced courses.
8. The college gender gap begins in kindergarten, by Michael J. Petrilli, October 7
Gender gaps in literacy begin in kindergarten and grow in elementary school, leading to and exacerbating the gender gap seen in higher education. Mike evaluates the implications of the reading gap beginning in kindergarten and discusses ways to address it via higher expectations and more male teachers in grade schools. Narrowing the elementary literacy gap could narrow the college gender gap, killing two birds with one stone.
9. Reconnecting knowledge and virtue, by Jennifer Frey, November 4
Classical education is focused on teaching not only information and skill, but also how virtue is linked with knowledge. In this post, Jennifer pulls from her experience at this year’s Higher Education Summit to explain the ways in which schooling has become disconnected from classical education’s values, as well as how and why we can reverse that. Doing so, she says, would help develop students’ character and help them better understand the world and each other—something that seems especially urgent today.
10. Teacher mental health days demonstrate districts’ priorities—and it’s not the students, by Dale Chu, November 18
What is driving sporadic school cancellations and remote learning days in places that aren’t dealing with Covid-19 outbreaks? Some claim they’re caused by labor shortages in schools, but Dale peels back the layers to expose artificial extensions of weekends and school holidays for the purposes of teacher “self-care,” with scant regard for how it affects students and parents. He calls for a new approach to managing teacher stress, especially as new virus variants emerge, that doesn’t exacerbate students’ already grave learning loss.
We cannot yet know what 2022 has in store. Facing what will undoubtedly be another challenging trip around the sun, we move forward with hope in our schools, our vaccines, and each other. Whatever comes, the Flypaper blog will cover it, and we invite you back for more quality commentary in the new year.