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Making policy personal: why education is critically important to individuals and society

Published: Saturday, Dec. 28 2013 10:15 p.m. MST

In 2013, the Deseret News looked at education issues at the policy level and through the eyes of those most affected by it: learners, teachers, all of us.

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Covering education for the Deseret News takes me to two distinct spheres. One is the “policy place” where lawmakers, reformers, education administrators and advocacy groups grapple over the best way to educate U.S. children and adults — and how to pay for it. It’s a land of reports, graphs, balance sheets and legislation.

The other is the place where the learning actually happens. It might be a classroom, a dining room table, a college library or even a computer station. It’s anywhere learners and teachers — the school kind and the family kind — come together.

My favorite education stories of 2013 brought the two spheres together, exploring trends, policies and innovations through the eyes of those most affected.

The experiences of one high school girl born with mild Down syndrome and another with a more severe disorder revealed rewards and challenges of including students with disabilities in regular classrooms.

A young woman who aged out of the foster care system illustrated the difficulties of attending college without family support — and spotlighted a new program designed to help.

A divorced dad’s efforts to stay involved in his children’s lives uncovered a promising new trend: fathers are volunteering at their children’s schools in increasing numbers. Research shows positive effects on grades.

Along with my readers, I felt the worry of a mother whose 3-year-old didn’t talk and another whose third-grader couldn’t read. I learned about the hurdles such parents face and rejoiced because these two found help from inside and outside the public school system.

Not all stories allow such personal tellings, though. The education world of 2013 was rife with talk of technical innovation, changes to traditional college structure and efforts to improve the achievement of K-12 students in the U.S. The Deseret News waded in.

On the higher-education front, efforts to change the credit hour system to one based on what students know and can do instead of how much time they spend in class showed promise. So did exciting ideas for blending face-to-face instruction with improved ways of learning online.

Some say reforms like these will bolster learning and save costs for college students and their families. Others say these innovations could dismantle higher education’s finance model. I’ll be watching.

Stories about the new Common Core standards adopted by most U.S. states tackled misunderstandings and spelled out areas of controversy. The subject remains contentious; expect more stories.

What happens in education policy is critically important because it affects what happens between learners and those who teach them. And that spells the future for each learner, and for our society. It is a privilege to tell you about it.

In no particular order, here is a list of 2013's most impactful national family stories from the Deseret News:

1. How MOOCs are changing education by Celia R. Baker

2. Toddlers and touchscreens: The research is mostly good news by Celia R. Baker

3. Common Core curriculum attracts controversy by Celia R. Baker

4. Is college getting too expensive? by Amy Choate-Nielsen

5. Left in or left out? Schools debate how to meet needs of kids with disabilities by Celia R. Baker

6. Improving graduation rates for refugees and immigrants by Gretchen Krebs

7. Character skills impact ability to finish college by Celia R. Baker

8. How a 'gap year' between high school, college can change the rest of life by Celia R. Baker

9. How sports are siphoning funds from academia by Celia R. Baker

10. Homeschool co-ops socialize kids, help parents pool resources by Celia R. Baker

Email: cbaker@deseretnews.com Twitter: @celiarbaker

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