Claudio Sanchez is the senior member of the NPR Ed team, with more than 25 years on the education beat. We asked him for his list of the top stories he'll be watching in 2016.
1. The New Federal Education Law
The long, grueling fight to overhaul the 14-year-old No Child Left Behind law is over, but that'll turn out to be the easy part. The new Every Student Succeeds Act returns most government oversight of schools back to states. But there are no guarantees that the states will do a better job than the federal government in two key areas: closing the achievement gap and raising the performance of the absolute worst schools.
There will be some relief for students burdened by excessive testing. But for the most part states will continue to rely on test scores, using them to punish schools rather than for improving curriculum and instruction. Reading and math scores will drop for all kids on the new, tougher standardized tests linked to the Common Core. But the dismal performance of groups that struggle will trigger more scrutiny from civil rights groups in 2016. We'll also see those groups pressure states to deal with teacher quality and funding.
2. Moving On From Common Core
The controversy over the much-maligned Common Core State Standards will diminish. States will continue their efforts to re-brand or rename the standards, while for the most part following them. Despite the political controversy, the push for high academic standards will continue, and we'll see little of the "race to the bottom" that happened under NCLB.
3. Charter Schools Under A Microscope
The charter school movement will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2016. With 6,700 schools and nearly 3million students across 43 states and the District of Columbia, charters are a powerful force. The federal government has poured billions of dollars into charters, and polling shows that a majority of Americans support them. But you can expect these publicly funded, privately run schools to face new scrutiny, and new criticism.
We'll see more scandals involving fraud, corruption and mismanagement, despite efforts to weed out "bad actors" who've exploited weak charter laws in several states. As Joe Nathan, a senior fellow at the Center for School Change, who helped write charter school legislation in 32 states, puts it: "We have not done enough to deal with the crooks and charlatans, of which we have our share."
Charters will also be one of the very few education issues to get any attention in the presidential campaign.
4. Dreamers Dreams Deferred
There will be an even stronger backlash against the push for greater access to college for undocumented students. Dreamers — students brought to the U.S. illegally as children — will face greater opposition because of the stalemate over immigration reform. The angry, anti-immigrant rhetoric from Republicans running for president will also shape this debate. Look for state lawmakers to consider even tougher measures to deny dreamers any benefits and push them deeper into a legal and educational limbo.
5. Goodbye Race-Conscious Admissions
Watch for the U.S. Supreme Court to ban race in college admissions, forcing institutions to abandon affirmative action policies. Schools will have to rethink how they recruit and enroll students in efforts to increase diversity. This will fuel an already tense situation on many campuses. Expect minority student protests and campus unrest to intensify.
6. Student Debt Takes Center Stage
Higher education leaders, or what presidential candidate Senator Marco Rubio calls "the higher-ed cartel," effectively killed the Obama administration's attempt to create a more transparent, consumer-friendly way for students and parents to rate colleges. But with many of the presidential candidates calling for tuition-free or debt-free college, we'll see these institutions undertake a more serious discussion about changing their pricing policies — largely out of fear that lawmakers in Washington will step in and do it for them.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Let's ask what happens in the new year in education now that a national educational has changed. The No Child Left Behind law has been left behind, so is federally mandated types of tests that students take across the country. So, what happens next? NPR education reporter Claudio Sanchez, part of our Ed team, spoke with us about what to expect in 2016.
CLAUDIO SANCHEZ, BYLINE: Well, what's coming is a huge and sweeping change in how the federal government oversees public schools. The long, grueling fight over the 14-year-old No Child Left Behind law is over, but that will turn out to be the easy part. The new law returns most government oversight of schools back to states, with no guarantee that they will succeed where No Child Left Behind failed, closing the achievement gap, raising the performance of the absolute worst schools.
So we will see less testing - probably. But we're going to see reading and math scores drop for all kinds of reasons, tougher standardized tests, namely.
The dismal performance, though, of low-income minority children will trigger much more scrutiny from civil rights groups in 2016. They're going to organize like never before to pressure states to deal also with teacher quality in funding.
INSKEEP: So this battle that's been taking place on the federal level moves to states. And then there's another battle that involves both the federal government and the states over Common Core, these standards across the country that have been so controversial. What happens there?
SANCHEZ: Well, the controversy over the much-maligned Common Core Standards will wane in 2016. Most states will finish rebranding and quietly adopting the Common Core...
INSKEEP: Rebranding - what do you mean by that?
SANCHEZ: Well, what I mean is (laughter), we've already seen a lot of states just rename the Common Core Standards. Indiana is a perfect example. They have renamed their standards Hoosier Standards
INSKEEP: This is the state that dropped, very publicly, Common Core a couple of years ago. So now - or a year or so ago, so now they're going to continue in a different form.
SANCHEZ: That's right. What people are saying, though, about the Common Core is that even if - whatever you call them - that there's not going to be a so-called race to the bottom as we once saw under No Child Left Behind. We're actually seeing all 50 states raise their standards, and that's a good thing.
INSKEEP: What about charter schools?
SANCHEZ: Charter schools are going to celebrate their 25th anniversary in 2016. There are 6,700 schools and nearly 3 million students in 43 states. That's huge.
Charters, by the way, Steve, often function as parallel school systems in some places. The federal government has put billions of dollars into charters over the past 20 years. The polling shows that a majority of Americans support them, but charter schools will increasingly come under fire from an unexpected critic, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Despite her longtime support of charters, she's blasted them for not taking what she calls the hardest to teach kids, especially those with learning disabilities. This is, by the way, an accusation that teachers' unions have been making for years and they're going to make more forcefully in 2016. It also means that charters (laughter) may very well make it into the presidential campaign debate.
INSKEEP: Well, what are the presidential candidates saying about higher education?
SANCHEZ: Well, higher education, of course, is another huge issue. Higher education leaders, for example, scrapped or at least opposed and pretty much defeated a proposal by the Obama administration to create a more transparent way for parents to decide what schools are best, which schools are the best buy.
And Senator Marco Rubio, who has denounced the higher education community and calls it the higher-ed cartel has been adamant about exposing what he feels is the abuse of higher education in terms of costs, in terms of transparency. So he's after them.
But here's one thing that's going to go on in 2016. As part of the presidential debate, the whole discussion about tuition-free and debt-free college is really going to raise the political heat on higher education because parents are just fed up with what they're getting for what they're paying and the fact that they're having to borrow so much more money to pay for their kid's college education.
INSKEEP: That's Claudio Sanchez of NPR's Ed team. Thanks for the forecast.
SANCHEZ: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.