Perfect Storm

In today’s dispatch from the future, we look back on the factors that combined to give the 2009-10 school year the nickname many students of the history of learning in the US now use to refer to it: the Year of the Perfect Storm.

Image via El Brujo+ on Flickr

  • H1N1 & Budget Cuts

Largely ineffective efforts at curbing the spread of “second-wave/early-onset” H1N1 flu and the resulting hysteria meant that hundreds of American schools were closed for weeks at a time in the fall and winter of 2009-10. The economic downturn had already meant cuts to summer schools and professional development budgets. These circumstances left more administrators, students, parents and teachers than ever before actively seeking out (and at times creating) next-wave ways to facilitate learning.

See this article: USC Undergraduates develop summer education site in response to summer school cancellations

  • Parents’ (and students’) increased resistance towards student debt

With more American adults struggling with debt and employment insecurity, parents and students were thinking differently about the realities of taking on more debt in support of a college education. (See Drowning in Debt and Debt Slapped for examples of the kind of information that was available to students and families in 2009.)

  • US families continued to choose to homeschool their students at record rates.

Families were making this decision not only for religious reasons, but increasingly out of a general sense of frustration with other available options. Through widening social networks, more parents in 2009 knew someone who had made the decision to homeschool one or more of their children. (“The estimated percentage of the school-age population that was homeschooled increased from 2.2 percent in 2003 to 2.9 percent in 2007.” ~ National Center for Education Statistics)

  • Greater transparency of information with an increased focus on outcomes

Families experiencing greater economic pressures were increasingly interested in evaluating their “return on investment” when thinking about education. See Teens Reveal College Choice Tipping Point, which states in part, “Given the prevailing economic winds, and considering the fact that prospective undergrads (and their parents) have demonstrated increasing practicality in their decision-making over the past several years, it’s no wonder that graduates’ career placements weighed so heavily in 2009 college-choice decisions.” Responding to increasing questions about “what does this commitment of time, money, and energy get us,” colleges began to shift their marketing efforts away from trumpeting the strength of their incoming students to sharing the successes of their graduates. (See PurchaseSUNY’s tweets here and here, for example.) And college search engines prepared to include new variables such as “average net cost” and “percent of students graduating within four years” to their searchable databases.

  • More on-the-ground reporting and sharing at both the secondary and college level served as an accelerant to change.

Finally able to break out of their siloed existence in individual classrooms, learning professionals all over the world created high-powered, self-directed professional development for themselves and in collaboration with the members of their personal learning networks. (See,,, and, for example.)

And that ends today’s lesson in learning history. Comments? Questions?

(This post partially inspired
by Shelly Blake-Poch’s on-the-ground report, Twitter Has Arrived,
on his fabulous Teach Paperless blog.)

Posted on August 26, 2009, in big picture. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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