2011: Top Stories in American Education

This was a hopeful year in the world of education, here is my brief best-of list. It is by no means comprehensive, let me know what I missed.

10.  Senate Hearings on For-Profit Schools











While not offering a lot of systemic change, the for-profit university hearings revealed a cultural poverty in the world of higher education. In many ways, it offered the public their first reason to dis-trust the University model. Even the official word itself, “University” was dragged through some mud, as we heard tale after tale of these so-called accredited schools exploiting students for profit. Their main defense? “hey not fair!”, “sure some for-profits are bad, but it’s not fair to focus just on us, the non-profits are sometimes just as bad.” The whole process made a lot of people cynical about the University and fostered a lot of healthy criticism.

- Some For-Profits Allow Cheating

- Early Senate Testimony (worth watching!)

- Probe of Executive Pay

- New, but Scaled-Back Regulations Decided

- Explanation of New Rules

9. The Downfall of University of Phoenix

In part because of #10, but also due to economic trends and waning interest, U. Phoenix’s rise to power stopped abruptly in its tracks

- Enrollment nearly cut in half


8. The End of No Child Left Behind

George Bush’s signature education bill became a wholesale failure as more and more states ask for waivers to exempt themselves from its constraints. Although the bill is still in effect, it is, essentially, dead.

- States Apply to Federal Government for Waivers


7. Bill Gates

The billionaire continues to try his hand at saving the world [of education]. I recently was made aware of a similar attempt by a philanthropist by the name of Walter Annenberg who donated $500 million towards a similar large-scale education reform effort focused on effectiveness. What happened to his so-called Annenberg Challenge? Schools certainly didn’t get any better… hopefully The Gate’s Challenge–and the Zuckerberg Challenge–are more fortunate.

- The Plan for Education
- TED Talk on School Budgets
- His Op-Ed in Washington Post

6. Digital Badges
In the most intriguing attempt yet to offer a legitimate alternative to traditional accreditation, the Mozilla Foundation released the beginnings their new open badge framework. While it’s still early in development, and even earlier in gaining widespread acceptance, the concept is a powerful one that will likely have a lot of influence in the accreditation revolution that is on the horizon. Most notably, the open badges framework seems like it could fit seamlessly with a lot of other ed.tech resources.

- The Impact of Badges and Questions for the Future
- Openbadges.org
- The DML Badges Competition

5. The Flipped Classroom (Khan Academy)
Watch the TED video, Sal Khan says it best… and really listen closely. While he’s stirred up a lot of controversy with this flipped classroom concept, it’s mostly because people aren’t paying attention to what he is saying. The idea is not to replace teacher’s with videos, it’s to liberate teacher’s from the one-size-must-fit-all lecture format, so they can utilize classroom time for things that are more valuable: motivating students, encouraging them in their work, keeping them accountable, good discussions, project-based learning, and focused sessions on the most difficult concept.

- TED Talk
- Wired Article Describing First “Flipped” Classroom Prototypes

4. New Culture of Innovation and Educational Freedom
While the Khan Academy and Open Badges projects are the too most singular examples, this year has brought us a lot of other great projects that, more than ever, are carefully blending new technology with thoughtful pedagogy. It almost seems as if the disruption caused by the new technology has caused innovation across the board. While most of these concepts are still in the very early stages and some of them might not be the final answer, each of them represents an important step towards a new educational platform.
- Coursekit
MIT OCW and the new MITx Program
- Skillshare
- University of the People
- The Saxifrage School
- Learning, Freedom, and the Web
- The Barefoot College
(See Bunker Roy’s TED talk)
- Arne Duncan and The DoE Invest in Innovation
- Duolingo
(TEDxCMU Talk by creator Luis Von Ahn)

3. Student Loan Debt > $1 Trillion
Over the past 40 years, costs in higher education have risen more than any other industry. Enough said.

Story and Debt Clock

2. Occupy Wall Street

- NYU Offering OWS Courses Next Semester
- The People’s Library
- Occupy Student Debt

1. The Khan Academy Knowledge Map
You may think it crazy to list the Khan Academy twice, but the knowledge map they’ve created is something wholly separate from the flipped classroom concept. Moreso, this map concept could be the beginning of our educational futures. Khan, thus far, is only using it as a tool to manage student’s progress through his program… but, theoretically, all these new ideas (open course content, open-syllabi, badges, skillshare, coursekit) could eventually be integrated into this sort of framework. More thoughts on this idea forthcoming… call it the Universal Knowledge Map.

- The start and future of the Knowledge Map