Read Me, Please! My favorites from 2016

It’s been a busy year, and if you’re anything like me, you have a growing list of articles you flagged and promised yourself that you’ll get to…eventually. Over the years, I’ve found that the holiday break allows a great opportunity for us to dig in and make a dent into that reading list. Last year I started the “in-case-you-missed-it must reads” list of NEA Today’s award-winning journalism, and I’m excited to share with you some of my favorites.

From closing the achievement gaps and charter schools to inspiring educators and social justice, plus everything in between, these articles should not be missed. So whether you’re going over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house or staying put for the holidays, make sure to read the amazing stories from the past year.

Achievement Gaps

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Goodbye Core Subjects, Hello Well-Rounded Curriculum

The opportunity ESSA presents isn’t a question of interpretation or misplaced hope that things will just be different. It’s right there in the text of the law. Gone are references to “core academic subjects,” highlighted repeatedly in NCLB. In its place is language calling for a “well-rounded education” for all students. (The term appears 24 times in the law.) Everything from arts, physical education, science, civics and government, music and foreign languages is named, making them eligible for federal funding under ESSA.

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 After Years of Cuts to Playtime, Parents and Educators Are Bringing Recess Back

In recent years, mandatory-recess legislation has been introduced in at least four states, including Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. Meanwhile, one Texas school has jacked up its daily allotment of recess to four times a day. Recess supporters point to the health benefits of exercise and movement, the way that physical activity supports cognitive development, plus the critical social and emotional learning that takes place when children have unstructured, free time to play.

 Charter Schools

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‘School Choice’ Mantra Masks the Harm of Siphoning Funds from Public Education

Many people support the idea behind charter schools, but how many are aware of the mounting troubles the charter industry has experienced lately? Probably not enough. Proponents work very, very hard to maintain a facade of success and transparency in the face of evidence that many of these schools operate without any oversight, while wasting taxpayer money and fostering inequity and racial segregation.

 Higher Education

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Educators Look to Mobilize Against ‘Professor Watchlist’

Recently, hundreds of U.S. faculty, including NEA Higher Ed members, have found themselves reported to Professor Watchlist, a website launched shortly after the election by the right-wing, well-funded political organization Turning Point USA … By calling out faculty, partisans may hope to silence them, or promote one single political ideology in classrooms, but NEA’s National Council for Higher Education President DeWayne Sheaffer has a different idea: “Let’s render the list null and void,” he says. His strategy? Report yourself, NEA educators.

Inspiring Educators

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Educators Across the Nation Give Back For the Holidays

The secret Santa who drives a school bus for Gardiner Area Public Schools in Maine is confident that his hidden identity is safe from his more impressionable students. Surprisingly, even his teenage passengers resist breaking his cover as Father Christmas … [D]uring the holidays, [NEA] members seem to step it up a notch by volunteering at food banks and clothing drives, writing checks to charities, and reaching into their pockets to buy toys for children in need. “We’re more than bus drivers,” says Charles Wilson, GBDA president. “We converse with students every day, encouraging them to study hard and follow their dreams. During the holidays, we want all of them to have something under the tree.”

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How Schools Are Helping Traumatized Students Learn Again

The numbers are stark: One in four U.S. students will witness or experience a traumatic event before the age of 4, and more than two-thirds by age 16 … Over time, a child’s developing brain is changed by these repeated traumatic experiences. Areas that govern the retention of memory, the regulation of emotion, and the development of language skills are affected. The result is a brain that has structurally adapted for survival under the most stressful circumstances — but not for success in school.

Diversity in Education

ADVANCE FOR USE SATURDAY-SUNDAY, DEC. 24-25 AND THEREAFTER - Muslim students, Ayan Artan, left, and her sister, Hamdi, pray in a hallway during school hours at Keller Elementary School in Green Bay, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011. (AP Photo/Green Bay Press-Gazette, H. Marc Larson)

Maligned and Misunderstood: Muslim Students Speak Out

Fakhra Shah, a teacher at Mission High School, knows first-hand what it’s like to be on the receiving end of anti-Muslim slurs and stereotyping. A Muslim who grew up in the Bay Area, she’s experienced them her whole life. One of her goals as an educator is to prevent bullying by teaching tolerance, which she does by demonstrating it, accepting perspectives, and creating a warm environment where all students feel loved and accepted.

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 The Lasting Impact of Mispronouncing Students’ Names

Yee Wan was only 17 years old when she moved to the United States from Mainland China. After enrolling in the bilingual program at her school, she was faced with the overwhelming and unfair decision over whether she would keep her native name or change it to something more “Americanized.” Why? So that educators would not struggle over the pronunciation. Wan later realized she had no choice but to take up the name her ESL teacher thought suited her. Her new name would be Winnie.

 LGBT Issues

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‘I’m a Normal Kid’: Transgender Students Thrive in Supportive Schools

MJ, a 14-year-old teen from Virginia, was up late one evening. It was March, 2016, and he was watching YouTube videos, trying to learn if “this is a real thing.” The more he watched, the more he realized he needed to tell his mother something. He stepped into her room and woke her with these six words, “Mommy, I feel like a boy.”

 Literacy

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Diversity in Children’s Literature Key to Understanding Today’s Civil Rights Issues

“There is a direct line between the police brutality we’ve witnessed and the portrayal of black men as monsters, which is a stereotype we are used to seeing from time of slavery,” he said. “There is a direct line between how black men are portrayed and how they are treated, and I want to counteract that idea of the thug or gangster. I’ve seen so little of it throughout my own life, but now I have a platform.”

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