Cristal Ball

A look ahead at some of the trendiest trends of 2014…

Why it seems like only yesterday that we were All Hailing the EduPreneur, raising our wassail boxes to his (and her) unique ability to *do well* by *doing good.* So what does 2014 have in store for us? Will it be as disruptive, innovative and excellent as its predecessor, or will it be even more disruptive, innovative and excellent? What new jargon will climb to the very top of our *must spout* list? And how much leftover wassail will it take before we all forget that 2014 was supposed to be the year of universal proficiency? Here’s a peek…

The Common Core debate gets auld
Reader: while you’ve been playing Candy Crush and binge watching Vanderpump Rules, I’ve been getting my history on. If the increasingly heated debate over our Common Core is starting to feel a little auld, that’s because we’ve been having more or less this same fight for the last 100 years. The efficiency experts of the 1920’s, with their dream of transforming teaching into a mechanized, routinized (read cheaper), easily measured profession that groomed future workers, aren’t that different from today’s policy experts and think tankers. Even the proposed *solutions* (merit pay, scripted curricula) have a whiff of the mildew about them. The big question, still unresolved after all these years: are teachers artists/philosophers who create or are they mechanics who follow manuals? 2014 prediction: whatever happened to those efficiency experts anyway???

Students matter—but lawyers get paid
The court case that has Californians transfixed these days isn’t Kardashian v. Odom but Low-Income Students v. Lemons. You see, even as the state’s lowest performing schools are plagued by incredible teacher turnover, these same schools have filled up with *lemons* who keep on dancing, no matter how unpleasant things are made for them. Fortunately a made-for-soundbites solution to this somewhat contradictory—not to mention statistically improbable—problem is just a click away: eliminate tenure protections for teachers, on the books in CA since 1912, you know, for the kids. And if *impact litigation* fails to at last drive the lemons into the Pacific, there’s always the ballot. 2014 prediction: a spontaneous gra$$roots uprising in which students and parents demand that their schools take the *Lemon Pledge*

Reform hits the *g* spot
You know what tastes great when you’re done *crushing* the achievement gap? A Venti soy, half-caff, caramel macchiato with two shots of vanilla syrup. And by vanilla, I mean va*nil*la. It turns out that Reform, Inc. may finally have cracked the code for overcoming poverty without actually doing anything about poverty. It’s called *gentrification,* and it’s all the rage in reformy hot spots like ChicagoWashington, DC and New Orleans2014 prediction: the Fordham Institute opens up a satellite office in Cleveland because, well, Cleveland rocks.

Reform, Inc. discovers children of the corn 
It’s among the most fiercely urgent questions of our time: once the great age of relinquishment has dawned, what is an ambitious—not to mention well-funded—reformer to do next? Excellent news Heartlanders: Reform, Inc. is headed your way next. There’s just one wee problem: they’ll have to find you first! You see, education reform is primarily the business of city folks and coastal types who view the vast middle section of the country solely from a safe distance of, say, 30,000 feet. But that’s not to say that they’re completely ignorant about what goes on down there. Take the 48 % of *education insiders* who agree that “Life in rural America is significantly different from life in urban/suburban America.” As my nephews of the corn would say: Yuh think??? (hand gesture optional). 2014 prediction: the reformers’ love affair with the Heartland lasts the length of a corn dog.

Privacy makes a comeback
Student data has never been more lucrative vulnerable. But student privacy advocates have some powerful new BFFs, like Arizona charter chain Basis Educational Group. How much does Basis care about student privacy? More than you’ll ever know… When the company applied to open a new charter in Texas recently, it kept much of the info on the DL, blacking out info on more than 1/3 of the application’s pages. That’s because, like a growing number of charter operators, Basis is literally private (shhhhhh!), meaning that even basic information is *proprietary* or *confidential.*  2014 prediction: with nearly 1/2 a million students now attending for-profit schools, redaction is poised to become the new data sharing.

Fick val?
Reader: have you been longing to witness a decades-long experiment with school choice for yourself but lack the krona to get to Sweden? Great news! Now you can experience the wonders of choice-i-fi-cation, right here at home. Today’s destination: Minnesota, the first state to permit charter schools, where academies of excellence and innovation are popping up like ice fishing shanties atop one of the state’s 10,000 frozen lakes. The newest of these schools share a common trait with the snow that currently blankets the North Star State: whiteness. In the last five years, the number of mostly white suburban charters grew by 40%. In fact choosy Minnesota moms and dads now have a dazzling array of single race charters to choose from. 2014 prediction: this alarming trend will be completely ignored and, thanks to reform $$ falling like snowflakes, Minnesota will only charter harder.

Choice is the new orange
Illinois has long been known for putting students first  putting politicians in jail. But lately a full-fledged case of choice fever has struck the land from whence I hail as pols embrace the idea of the cash following the kid—with a lil detour into the campaign coffers. Forget about selling fake drivers licenses or Senate seats—that’s so old school, not to mention way too much work. New school pay 2 play in the Land of Lincoln literally involves new schools that hoover up tax-payer money but don’t have to say how that money is spent. And did I mention that there’s an element of international intrigue to boot? 2014 prediction: the more things change, the more they stay the same. In other words, someone is going to jail…

Don’t put that wassail box down just yet!
You didn’t really think we’d seen the last of the EduPreneur did you??? 

Send tips, comments and your own 2014 predictions to


  1. How the heck did you know I’ve been playing Candy Crush? Like, non-stop? I think it’s a Bill Gates plot. I mean, he commissioned someone to create it (he could never manage that himself) to keep all of passionately pro-public education but easily distractible types busy. Anyway, what wine box would you recommend while playing?

    BTW, I hate to scare you, but you chose exactly the same crystal ball picture as did Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune, and, frankly, I’m not sure you want to have anything in common with him or them. You might think about changing that.

  2. Happy New Year, Dienne! I changed pic to an older school version 🙂 Btw: I’m going to be in Chicago the first weekend of April. Hope we can meet in person.

    1. That would be most excellent (and I know you’re all about excellence)! Feel free to email me anytime!

  3. The answer to your question are teachers artists at mechanics is yes. Teaching is both an art and a science. The science part is having common goals. Hence the common core. But you can’t reach those goals but forcing teachers to follow a script. If we think of the core as goals and free teachers to help students meet those goals we would actually end up with well educated kids.
    But as long as we remain mired in a test til they drop mode, teachers and students will remain frustrated

    By the way, please keep quiet about the Vanderpump Rules binge and the Candy Crush addiction!

  4. Those pesky parents in Minnesota – in both Minneapolis and Minnesota, charters enroll a higher % of low income, a higher % of students of color, and a higher percentage of English language learners than do district public schools. St. Paul’s first African American elected to the city council, and former Mn State Commissioner of Human Rights, has established a metro & nationally recognized school and is opening a 2nd school later in 2014.
    Easy to sneer, much harder to make a difference. These folks are.

    1. Thanks for writing. I’ve been following with great interest the back and forth between Charter School Partners and Dr. Myron Orfield at University of Minnesota who has been studying charter performance in your area for the past five years. What’s happening in Minnesota is important as you’re leading the way–in this case, back to single race schools that underperform their public counterparts. I’m especially troubled by the surging growth among suburban charters that cater to more affluent white families. This truly seems like a step back for a progressive state that once set such a high standard for integration. You’re right–it is easy to sneer and much harder to make a difference. But it’s even easier to cheer, especially when you’re being paid to wave the poms…

    2. I’m a Minnesota parent who realizes what is really going on here, and I don’t appreciate it one bit. Stealing funding from public schools, segregating our communities, purposely undermining confidence in public systems to union bust. No thank you, Joe Nathan. I’m not buying what you are $elling. As long as you shame teachers and communities, your reforms will fail. They are not authentic, because you do not bother to work with the people who are in the trenches every day, unless they happen to be TFA or E4E, or perhaps charter teachers who parrot you for job security.

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