The top stories in education in 2012 include the adoption of new methods for evaluating teachers and exciting advances in education technology, according to this article. The past year also included news about a high-achieving Kansas school district that bucked popular trends in education and the adoption of more online testing. There also was increased attention on online teacher-training programs and other education reform efforts. 


In 2012, new teacher-evaluation systems and merit pay spread across the country. Technology continued to transform classrooms, and presidential candidates made education an unexpected focus on the campaign trail. Yet widespread problems in America’s education system persisted, and the nation remained behind much of the international competition.

At The Hechinger Report, we traveled from coast to coast to examine new approaches to improving U.S. schools and to answer important questions about what’s working and what isn’t.

On the eve of 2013, we’ve selected 13—a baker’s dozen—of our top stories from the past year to highlight what we found in 2012. These stories provide insight into some of the most staggering problems facing U.S. public education today, and look at promising strategies for solving them.

1. In India, a college building boom

In 2011 and 2012, Hechinger reporters traveled the globe to find lessons for America from the higher-education systems of Canada, China, Poland, South Korea and other countries. In India, we found a massive college building spree under way. A third of India’s 1.24 billion people are under the age of 14. Acknowledging that the country’s youth could be an asset in efforts to become a world power or a disaster that drains resources and fuels social unrest, the Indian government has responded by rapidly expanding access to higher education.

2. New teacher-evaluation systems in Tennessee have rough road ahead

More than two-thirds of states are in the process of overhauling how they evaluate their teachers in an effort to ratchet up the quality of the teaching force. During 2012, Hechinger partnered with reporters across the country to look at how these reforms are transforming local schools andclassrooms. Tennessee was one of the early adopters of a new evaluation system. We examined how teachers and principals are handling the changes there, and how the state is responding to their feedback—both positive and negative.

3. The little district that could: How one Kansas district keeps a near-perfect record on state exams

In the Waconda School District in north-central Kansas, nearly 100 percent of students pass state tests, graduate from high school and enroll in college. The methods behind the educational success of this school district, which encompasses four blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em towns stretched out on the plains, are in stark contrast to popular education reforms elsewhere in the United States. Waconda doesn’t link student test-scores to teacher evaluations; it has no plans to distribute iPads. The district’s approach is rooted in the basics, with a community that champions education, coupled with faculty dedication and a relentless focus on early intervention.

4. Despite massive budget cuts, there’s a building boom in U.S. higher education

Hechinger investigation this spring uncovered a multibillion-dollar building boom at U.S. colleges and universities—despite budget shortfalls, endowment declines and seemingly stretched resources. In 2010 and 2011, schools spent $11 billion building new facilities on American campuses, more than double what was spent a decade earlier. This story is part of our ongoing coverage of the changing costs and value of a college degree.

5. College enrollment shows signs of slowing

Harvard, Yale and a few other selective universities may have announced record numbers of applications in the spring, but higher-education officials have begun to fret over signs that college enrollment is starting to drop. Many universities are offering serious discounts just to fill seats. Still, more than 40 percent of private colleges have reported enrollment declines. Even community colleges—which had seen double-digit growth in recent years—experienced enrollment dips in 2012.

6. Millions spent on improving teachers, but little done to make sure it’s working

Helping struggling teachers improve has become a big concern—and a big business—across the country. The federal government gives local districts more than $1 billion annually for teacher training. New York City’s schools spent close to $100 million last year just on private consultants. Yet even as districts increase accountability for teachers, few are monitoring the companies, universities and in-school programs that are supposed to help them get better. A Hechinger seriesinvestigated who was making money from professional development, and what teacher-training strategies yield the most success.

7. A Newark school prepares—again—to reinvent itself
A new feeling of hope pervades Quitman Street Community School in Newark, N.J. Quitman—a school of 493 pre-kindergartners through eighth-graders in Newark’s high-crime, high-poverty Central Ward—has become a symbol of Superintendent Cami Anderson’s new push to turn around struggling schools. But in recent decades, school and city alike have been beaten down and subject to wave after wave of so-called rebirths, renewals and reforms. The Hechinger Report partnered withNJ Public Radio and NJ Spotlight to share Quitman’s story, dispatching a team of reporters to cover its daily trials and triumphs as well as the lessons it provides for schools and communities nationwide.

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