The Science of Learning Blog

January 24, 2019

2019 Education Trends

BY Carrie Gajowski, MA

The past several years have seen many advances in research impacting education, in fields ranging from neuroscience to sociology. Yet the reality in classrooms has not always kept pace. As we enter another year, it is crucial for educators to be aware of what is happening both in research and education policy.

1. The Reading Wars

Literacy education in America has long been been divided between proponents of phonics, where children learn to read by sounding out each part of a new word and distinguishing between different phonemes, and those of the ‘whole language’ method, where children are encouraged to focus on the meanings of words and understanding them in context. Unfortunately, as professor Rachael Gabriel points out, the debate has often taken on the tone of an ideological battle, with back-and-forth pendulum swings resulting in contradictory policy and inconsistent classroom practice. Recent research may point to a way out. According to a 2018 meta-analysis of over 300 studies compiled by researchers in Australia and the UK, while explicit phonics instruction is indeed effective for establishing the foundations of literacy, learning to recognize the meaning of words in context is crucial for further development.


2. Every Student Succeeds Act

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), passed in 2015 to replace the No Child Left Behind Act, gave individual states more control in how they meet federal education standards. The law’s provisions were initially slated to take effect during the 2017-18 school year, but were delayed by the repeal of certain regulations and guidelines. With every state’s plan now approved, this will be the first year that ESSA is implemented across the country – though there are still questions about how districts will satisfy its requirement for evidence-based intervention at struggling schools. In addition, the law includes grants for literacy instruction, and specific tools to help parents be involved in the school accountability process.


3. Personalized Learning

ESSA also includes guidelines for states to expand personalized learning. This provides students with unique learning plans tailored to their strengths and learning styles. Personalized learning can include multiple approaches such as creating an individualized learner profile for each student, setting a learning path with specific goals, monitoring progress through personal evaluations, and varying the structure of the learning environment. Personalized education is not intended as a replacement for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or other special education interventions, but a complement that encourages students to be personally invested in their learning. While many schools may not have the resources to implement such programs, their growing popularity reflects a shift in how we think about education.


4. Social Emotional Learning

While teachers often cannot control what happens to students outside of school, Dr. Lori Desautels describes some approaches they can use to create a more conducive environment for those who may be struggling with personal trauma. These include building trust among students by sharing common experiences and empathetically engaging students on an individual level to identify their fears, hopes, and coping strategies. Teaching students effective stress management and emotional regulation not only helps maintain order in the classroom, but gives them valuable tools for their future development.


5. Equity in Education

While most people would agree that equity in education is an admirable goal, there is little agreement on how to achieve, or even define it. For instance, universally standardized education may seem to promote equity, but often results in reproducing systemic disparities. At the same time, trying to address these inequities by clustering students into abstract demographic categories risks producing other inequities by overlooking their particular differences and needs. The challenge is to envision an education system that is both broadly inclusive and individually responsive.
Overall, there is an increasing awareness of the effect that broader socio-economic issues have on students’ performance in school. And today, educators and policymakers have access to more data and research than ever before. The task going forward will be how to make sense of this data and apply it consistently and effectively in the classroom.


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