A 2023 Review of Education’s Most (De)Pressing Issues: Productive Practices to Address the Pressure Points in Your District or School

A 2023 Review of Education’s Most (De)Pressing Issues:

Productive Practices to Address the Pressure Points in Your District or School

Dear Colleagues,


   At the end of every (calendar) year, I review and analyze the twenty-three Blogs that I have written that year to identify themes, consistencies, inconsistencies, and my recommended solutions to the thorniest problems in education.

   When I started writing these bimonthly Blogs—beginning in 2015 (this being Blog #207)—I’m not sure I would have believed I would still be writing at the cusp of 2024.

   A lot has happened since 2015. . . and certainly, my Blog approach and style has evolved. But, significantly—and to be candid—I continue to have no real plan of action.

   That is, most of my Blogs emerge organically from current events, just-published research or national reports, and my own work and experiences in the field.

   Somehow. . . about a week before my next (self-imposed) Blog “deadline,” things begin to jell. . . and I start writing. I write in airplanes, in hotels after days of consulting, on the weekends, on scribbled notes when a Blog title or idea suddenly emerges.

   In the end. . . my goal is to make connections.

   A connection between what initially appears to be independent events or topics. Certainly, a connection with those of you who read this Blog. But more so, a connection with the students, staff, and schools that are trying to navigate so many national, state, and/or local hurdles and barriers in their quest to produce the next generation of high school graduates who will become our next generation of leaders.

   And so, to both identify some of these hurdles and barriers, and—more  importantly—to help overcome and minimize them. . . this Year in Review.

Review I: Taking Stock of the Nation’s Top Educational Challenges

   In the last Blog, we discussed a “high-hit” list of the reasons underlying students’ current social, emotional, and behavioral challenges in their schools and in lives:

The Over-Simplification of Education:When Evidence-based Practices are Diluted, They No Longer are Evidence-Based

CLICK HERE for December 9, 2023 BLOG

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   The challenges cited were:

  • Online and in-person teasing, bullying, and harassment
  • Schoolwork and homework pressures, and being “academically behind”
  • Grades and graduation—including college/job selection, costs, and attendance
  • School safety and the threat of (gun-related and other) physical violence and injury
  • Gender identity conflicts (self and others), peer/social status, relationships and dating
  • Sleep, diet/nutrition, physical health, exercise
  • Living in poverty, along with housing and food insecurity
  • (Pandemic-related) grief and loss
  • Local/national/world events, and political divisiveness
  • Cultural, minority background, religious, disability, and/or sexual orientation stresses
  • Climate-related and other natural disasters

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   On a broader level, we recently reviewed the top national newspapers, newsletters, and daily e-Blasts in education, identifying the following thirteen persistent “high-hit” challenges to districts, schools, and educators during 2023.

   These have become (from organizational to student to societal) our:

Baker’s Dozen of Educational Issues Directly Impacting Schools in 2023

  • Funding Cliffs, Shortages, and Equity-Absent Budgeting
  • Staffing Gaps and Out-of-Field Teachers
  • Declining Enrollment and “Lost” Enrollees
  • Chronic and Cumulative Attendance Problems
  • Using “Scientific” Curriculum and Instruction in Literacy and Mathematics
  • School Discipline, Continuing Disproportionality, and the Implementation of Unproven “Solutions”
  • Gaps in Academic Skills, Readiness, and Proficiency
  • Social Media, Cell Phones, and Media Literacy
  • School Climate, and Student Engagement and Mental Health
  • Student Teasing, Bullying, Intolerance, and Social-Emotional Skill Deficits
  • Protecting LGBTQIA+ Students, Pronouns, and Gender-Specific Bathrooms
  • Book Bans, Curriculum Reviews by Parents, and Other Parental Political Pressures
  • Discussions of Race, Religion, and National/World Events

   As each of these topics would certainly require a book-length discussion, we will let you decide how many of these challenges were and are relevant to you, and in what contexts. You can then self-evaluate how you are currently addressing these challenges, and  how successfully.

   For me as a consultant—working on-site with nearly a hundred or more schools during 2023—many of these challenges significantly impacted our work together. . . as well as the analyses we conducted, and the successful solutions we implemented.

Review II: Our Analyses and Solutions for the Nation’s Top Educational Challenges

   A review of our Blogs during 2023 shows a significant overlap between the analyses and solutions we presented for the most compelling challenges in education this year, and the Baker’s Dozen of nationally-recognized challenges above.

   Indeed, when organized into specific themes, we addressed the following five broad topic areas:

  • Theme 1. Hiring, Supervising, Supporting, and Retaining School Staff
  • Theme 2. Encouraging Effective and Eliminating Ineffective Staff Policies and Practices
  • Theme 3. Special Education Services for Students with Disabilities
  • Theme 4. Social-Emotional Learning’s Illusions and Realities
  • Theme 5. Race and Equity: Research and Effective Practices

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   Below, we summarize each theme, and then share the titles, dates, and links to the Blogs in each theme—for those who want to read or re-read their detailed analyses and specific solutions.



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   To begin, however, we want to highlight our November 11th Blog which includes four Education Talk Radio interviews we did in 2023 with Host Larry Jacobs.

November 11, 2023

Solving Schools' Most Persistent Problems: Safety and Mental Health Services, Discipline and Disproportionality, Special Education Litigation, and Staffing Shortages. Solutions from Four Recent Education Talk Radio Interviews

   Embedded in this Blog are four separate 35-minute interviews where we discuss the issues below with explicit multi-level and multi-tiered interventions:

  • School Safety and their Connection with Needed Mental Health Services
  • Classroom Disruptions and the Disproportionate Referrals of Students of Color and with Disabilities to the Principal’s Office for Discipline or Suspension
  • Preventing and Decreasing Special Education Due Process Hearings and Court Litigation
  • Improving the Quality of Staff Hiring, Supervision, and Retention

   And now. . . onto our 2023 Blogs and five Blog themes.

Theme 1Hiring, Supervising, Supporting, and Retaining School Staff

   While lower than predicted, a large number of teachers, administrators, and other educators have left their district or school positions. Some of these positions remain unfilled, while others have been filled by unprepared or out-of-field individuals. Notable vacancies exist in special education, math, and the sciences, while the turn-over of superintendents and building principals remains high.

   Even when school positions are filled, the quality of instruction, administration, and support services varies considerably across the country. This speaks to the importance of professional development, coaching and mentoring, and supervision and evaluation.

   To address all of these issues, we presented a four-Blog Series with many suggestions related to high-quality recruitment and hiring, orientation and induction, coaching and supervision, accountability and tenuring, and professional growth and continuous improvement.

   Our 2023 Blogs in this area were:

April 8, 2023

Improving Hiring and Staffing in a Nation Where Teaching is At Risk: If Student Success Depends on Teachers, Why is the Selection Process so Simplistic? (Part I)

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April 29, 2023

Teacher Induction and “Tenure with Teeth”: Improving Hiring and Staffing in a Nation Where Teaching is At Risk (Part II)

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May 13, 2023

Maintaining Teacher Motivation and Effectiveness After Tenure: Accountability, Growth, Coaching, and Continuous Improvement (Part III)

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May 27, 2023

Ensuring that Post-Tenure Teachers Remain Actively Engaged as Collaborative Contributors in their Schools: Aligning the Seven Areas of Continuous School Improvement to Teacher Leadership and Advancement (Part IV)

Theme 2. Encouraging Effective and Eliminating Ineffective Staff Policies and Practices

   As one who uses the science of strategic planning—including needs assessments, resource analyses, and systems-level processes—to help districts and schools maximize their resources and student, staff, and school outcomes, I am constantly identifying, field testing, and encouraging specific effective practices.

   The “field-testing” often occurs as I consult with schools across the country in the areas of school improvement and safety, student behavior and disproportionate discipline approaches, differentiated instruction and social skill (SEL) training, and multi-tiered interventions and special education services and supports.

   And critically, my consultation does not involve one-shot “fly-by” stopovers.

   Instead, I work with districts and schools in well-planned, systematic, scaffolded visits that have clearly defined evaluation plans to validate meaningful and shared outcomes.

   This past year, our Blogs highlighted a number of areas focused on improving district- and school-level policies and practices. Some of these Blogs focused on eliminating the “procedural traps and dead-ends” that create harmful patterns and ineffective processes. Other Blogs addressed creative and/or alternative approaches that enhance staff skills and incentives toward change.

   Our 2023 Blogs in this area were:

February 25, 2023

Solutions for Selectively Mute Students and Educators: The Long-Term Adverse Educational Effects When Inappropriate Behavior is Ignored

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March 25, 2023

How the “System” Forces Schools into Decisions that Harm Struggling Students: The “Groundhog Day” Impact of Fear on Staff Mental Health and Job Retention

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June 10, 2023

Using “Flipped Learning” in a School’s Professional Development Initiative: Engaging Teachers and Support Staff in Outcome-Based PD—Even in a Virtual World

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July 22, 2023

When School Policy Undermines Effective Practice: Too Much of Anything Often Results in Nothing (or Worse)

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August 5, 2023

When High School Students Have Significant Academic Gaps: More Concerns and Common Sense Solutions “When State Policy Undermines Effective School Practice” (Letters to the Editor)

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September 23, 2023

Twelve Critical Components for (Continuous) School, Staff, and Student Improvement: Motivation Cannot Compensate for a System with Systemic Deficits

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December 9, 2023

The Over-Simplification of Education: When Evidence-based Practices are Diluted, They No Longer are Evidence-Based

Theme 3. Special Education Services for Students with Disabilities

   With thirteen different categories of disabilities, there are a wide range of multi-tiered services, supports, and interventions needed by the students identified as needing special education and/or related services. Critically, some students are not identified even though they are eligible; others do not qualify, but still need non-special education services or interventions; and others qualify, but receive incomplete or incorrect services.

   Some of this variability occurs because some districts are trying to avoid spending money or hiring personnel for special education services that are under-funded or that have no available candidates.

   Some of this variability occurs because some districts and schools (a) are more concerned with meeting the sometimes unreasoned unreasonable or annual evaluation criteria used by their state departments of education and, indirectly, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs; while others (b) still buy-into the false “general education versus special education” dichotomy that sometimes limits the flexible use of staff and strategies.

   And some of this variability occurs because some districts are unfamiliar with the nuances of the federal laws governing services for students with disabilities, and how these laws encourage effective, practical services and supports. At the same time, other districts use the law to needlessly erect barriers that undermine collaboration and creativity, and that impede positive and productive relationships with parents whose children have disabilities.

   Our 2023 Blogs in this area were:

February 11, 2023

Was a First Grade Virginia Teacher Shot Because Her Student was Denied Special Education Services? What School Administrators Face that State Departments of Education Ignore

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March 11, 2023

Judy Heumann, Special Education’s History of Litigation, and the Continuing Fight: Complacency and Defensiveness Still Stand in the Way of Students with Disabilities’ Rights

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September 9, 2023

Seven Suggestions to Help Districts Avoid Special Education Hearings: A Short-Term Win May Be a Long-Term Loss

Theme 4. Social-Emotional Learning’s Illusions and Realities

   The confusion with social-emotional learning (SEL) in schools nationwide continued this year anchored by the fact that (a) nearly 50 different SEL frameworks have been promoted over the years; (b) most have never been validated; (c) ways to consistently and objectively evaluate SEL outcomes are grossly lacking; and (d) many schools say that they are “doing” SEL when their activities are not geared toward explicitly changing students’ social, emotional, or behavioral skills and interactions.

   This confusion extends to fact that many educators do not review and attend to the research that does not support the use of some “popular” approaches, and they are not guided by the science that will help them successfully attain one of their most-coveted goals—teaching students emotional self-control (or self-regulation).

   Our 2023 Blogs in this area were:

January 28, 2023

Why “Do” SEL If It Doesn’t Improve Student Behavior in the Classroom and Across the School: Focusing on Individual and Group Skills to Enhance Student Engagement and Cooperative Group Outcomes

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August 26, 2023

Research Does Not Support Growth Mindset Strategies in the Classroom: How “Culturally Fluent Ideas” Influence Educators to Waste Time, Money, Resources, and Good Faith

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November 25, 2023

Too Many Schools are Teaching Students to Control their Emotions. . . the Wrong Way! Because They Don’t Understand the Science, They Won’t Succeed in the Practice

Theme 5 Race and Equity: Research and Effective Practices

   Issues related to race and equity continued through 2023 with few changes to (a) the funding (and other resource and instructional) discrepancies that exist between schools with high percentages of students of color and those with mostly White students; and (b) the disproportionate treatment of students of color relative to negative teacher and peer interactions, school discipline, and law enforcement involvement.

   Even as districts and schools have tried to address—especially—disproportionate discipline, their continued inappropriate use of restorative programs (and others) has not followed the research, and has not resulted (and will not result) in success or sustained success. This is largely because some districts adopt “solutions” without analyzing the root causes of their specific challenges.

   Other districts do not read and critically analyze the “research” studies that appear to validate specific programs—accepting the predisposed conclusions of (what really are promotional) reports written by those who are financially benefitting from the sale of the program.

   Critically, this has occurred innumerable times over the years with Restorative Justice Programs—for example, in the Pittsburgh and Chicago City School Districts.

   It has also occurred as some Restorative Justice Programs use restorative practices—that have been independently validated decades ago—to make it appear that their “new and improved bundled program” has legitimacy.

   But beyond these chronic issues, our attention toward the end of the year necessarily expanded to race, religion, and antisemitism with the horrific attacks and brutal killings in Israel by the Hamas terrorists. Here, we emphasized the moral imperative of calling out injustice and prejudice no matter who it involves or where it occurs.

   Our 2023 Blogs in this area were:

January 14, 2023

Ebony and Ivory: Education’s “Racial Divide” Cannot be Crossed Until We Can “Talk Like Friends”

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June 24, 2023

New Paths to Address Disproportionate Discipline with Black Students: New Directives, Research, Solutions, and Another Example of Racial Hate

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July 8, 2023

Is the Restorative Discipline Bandwagon Rolling Back? Five Reasons Why Its Roll-Out Wasn’t Warranted in the First Place

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October 7, 2023

What Boston’s Battle for Integration, Anne Frank, and the Little Rock Nine Can Teach a Divided Country: A Personal Reflection on Why Black Lives, History, and Education Matter

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October 21, 2023

Bringing Justness to Terrorism, Murder, History, and Heartbreak: It’s Not Alright (Part II—A Eulogy of Resolve)


   While it may be easy to be “depressed” regarding these significant and (sometimes) chronic educational issues, I believe that there are solutions if we dedicate ourselves to effective strategic planning, objective and data-driven decision-making, and the courage to recognize that there are rarely “quick fixes” and we need to “go slow to go fast.”

   This means that we need to be our own consumers of the research and practice, and that we need:

  • To be wary of the popular education press—who, remember, get paid for their readership and advertising;
  • To objectively analyze the methods and outcome data—even from “trusted” publishers and/or “big-name” researchers (including me); and,
  • To recognize that, even if a highly market product works (and you need to independently validate this), you must determine that it will work in your setting, with your staff, and for your students.

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   Meanwhile. . . . as 2023 turns to 2024, and our students and colleagues return from their Holiday Break, I hope that you were able to pause and reflect, relax and rejuvenate, and share some fun and new experiences during your Break.

   The “second half” of the school year gives us all an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to excellence and effectiveness... to improvement and success.

   If you experienced success during the first part of the school year, I hope that you can go “to the next level of excellence.”

   If you were not happy with your success, what two or three things can you do to regain the traction to address your needs?

   June will be here in six months. . . whether you want it to or not. If you have a choice to act now or in June. . .which will you choose?

Happy New Year,