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DeVos In Charge, Teacher Well-Being And Chronic Absence: Our Year In Review

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Photo by LA Johnson/Chelsea Beck/Vivian Shih NPR

DeVos In Charge, Teacher Well-Being And Chronic Absence: Our Year In Review

We cover education stories every day. But our most popular education news of the year came the day that Betsy DeVos was confirmed as the U.S. secretary of education; our story that day was read nearly 1 million times. DeVos is a school choice activist and billionaire Republican donor who was nominated by President Trump and approved by the Senate, despite the fierce objections of Senate Democrats, teachers unions and others.

And it wasn't just that story — nearly every story we did about the secretary of education this year gained a significant amount of attention, especially when she made an incorrect remark about graduation rates and outlined how school choice would work under her tenure.

But there were other big education stories, too.

Y'all were really interested in how the systemic segregation of schools is maintained by "individual choice." The story examined the choices parents make when they select a school for their kids, given the incredibly segregated landscape of our public schools. You also loved playing a game to test your fake news judgment, something we hoped you shared in your classrooms and with your children.

Same goes for our piece about how to write a good cover letter. We hope that one helped you out when applying for internships and jobs (It sure as h*ck helped me when applying for this job).

Stressed teachers

Many of our most popular stories involved the well-being of teachers. Our story about teachers being stressed gained a lot feedback, particularly from teachers who had strong feelings about being told how to de-stress. Among other things, the article suggested yoga and meditation — but we heard from you about the many bigger issues contributing to that stress, that need to be addressed for a more permanent solution.

Another story that really resonated was our look at the student loan debt that so many teachers carry. As a recent college graduate, I can tell you the burden of student loans can be crushing. Especially when starting a new job and trying to get settled. I know for me, those first paychecks didn't go toward avocado toast, but to my mound of debt.

Mother Nature's fury

It was also a hectic year for students and teachers living in areas affected by the many natural disasters this fall. We had a hurricane that flooded Houston, a hurricane that damaged Florida and another that devastated Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Not to mention, half the West Coast was and still is battling wildfires.

That caused a lot of students to miss school and the numbers are staggering. Across nine states, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, at least 9 million students missed some amount of school this fall because of a natural disaster. And some students had to leave their homes in Puerto Rico and move to the mainland to continue their education.

Our favorite stories of the year

1. Raising Kings

If you haven't listened to our collaboration with Education Week (called Raising Kings) — go listen!

We spent the year in a radical all-boys school in Washington, D.C., that took a restorative justice approach. The year plays out in a three-part series on the Code Switch Podcast.

2. I Am Learning Inglés: A Dual-Language Comic

Another favorite of ours was a comic about kids learning two languages. We heard from hundreds of educators who read the comic with their students and colleagues. We also fielded many requests to publish the comic in Spanish (which we did here).

I personally connected with this story because I had to learn English when I went to kindergarten. While I didn't go to a dual-language school — I had to learn to speak English on my own — it was nice to see a familiar struggle of learning two languages.

3. What Really Happened At The School Where Every Graduate Got Into College

We ended the year with a big investigative story that looked at a Washington, D.C., high school where every graduate got into college.

An investigation by WAMU and NPR found that Ballou High School's administration graduated dozens of students despite high rates of unexcused absences. And we heard from hundreds of teachers across the country who told us their similar stories of chronic absenteeism as well as the pressure they feel to pass unprepared kids.

4. Break A Leg

Let's end on a good note, or maybe a musical one. We gave you the ol' razzle dazzle with our data of the most popular high school plays and musicals throughout the last century. (Note: You won't find Chicago on this list.) In a tale as old as time, this was a nice way for us, as well as you all, to reminisce about the good old days of theater.

That's a wrap

Thank you for reading and listening this year! Don't forget to sign up for our newsletter, and let us know at npred@npr.org what education stories you'd like to see in the new year.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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