Beyond COVID-19: 2020 Education News in Review

By Guest Contributor Lisa Wolfe

Just weeks ago, named “pandemic” its Word of the Year and users of the online dictionary selected “unprecedented” as the People’s Choice 2020 Word of the Year. No “words” are truer as we have all spoken and written those two words during 2020 more than ever before in our lives. However, while COVID-19 may have (rightfully) dominated the headlines last year, there were other things happening in the world and in education that may have been overlooked. Here are some highlights:

  • IXL Learning acquired, which offers exercises and practice materials for its namesake subject. is used in more than 40,000 schools across the world, where students play its vocabulary games, take quizzes assigned by teachers, and participate in game-like competitions with others in their class or at other schools.
  • Marten Roorda departed ACT as CEO the nonprofit focused on college and career readiness solution and widely known for its college-admissions, with Janet Godwin taking the helm as the new CEO.
  • In May 2020, Cengage and McGraw-Hill ended pursuing a proposed merger after a year of regulatory review by the U.S. Department of Justice.
  • The University of California moved to drop the SAT and ACT from its undergraduate admissions process. In May 2020, its governing board approved a plan to suspend testing requirements for the next two years and then omit test scores from the review of in-state applications in 2023 and 2024. In addition, hundreds of other colleges have followed suit, dropping the SAT and ACT requirements for the 2020-2021 college admissions cycle because of cancelled test dates due to the pandemic.
  • Relief for the more than 42 million Americans with $1.57 trillion in student loan debt was a major talking point during the 2020 Presidential Election with proposals ranging from President-elect Joe Biden proposal of cancelling $10,000 of debt for all borrowers to Senator Bernie Sanders’ wish to cancel all debt.
  • The college admissions scandal – “Operation Varsity Blues” – continued to play out during 2020 with actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughliin and Loughlin’s husband fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli among those headed to jail for procuring admissions to prestigious colleges for their children. College admissions consultant, the mastermind behind the whole scandal William “Rick Singer” pled guilty and still awaits sentencing, facing up to 65 years in and a fine of upwards of $1.25 million for his role in the operation.
  • Education evangelist Jamie Casap left Google over the summer, announcing his departure in  a YouTube video.
  • Pearson saw more changes in 2020. John Fallon, CEO since 2013 departed and was succeeded by Andy Bird in October. Bird most recently worked for The Walt Disney Company, as chairman of Walt Disney International. In November, Pearson announced the creation of a new direct-to-consumer division. The new division will be co-led by two senior executives: Ishantha Lokuge joined Pearson from Shutterfly last year and now steps up to the role of chief global product officer and co-president, direct-to-consumer. Lynne Frank, most recently president of international marketing and worldwide planning and operations at Warner Bros. Pictures, joins Pearson as chief marketing officer and co-president, direct-to-consumer.*
  • Carnegie Learning acquired Scientific Learning. Scientific Learning is known for Fast Forward, an online K-12 reading and language program informed by neuroscience research.
  • Karen Cator stepped down as the CEO of Digital Promise for a new gig as the leading Worldwide Education Strategy at Apple.
  • PowerSchool continued to grow with its October acquisition of Hoonuit, a provider of data management and analytics software used by K-12 schools, districts and state education agencies that serve more than 14.5 million U.S. students.
  • Julia Fallon is the new executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA). Fallon previously was the Title II, Part A program lead for the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).
  • The online learning company K12 has changed its name to Stride, to reflect its “continued growth into lifelong learning, regardless of a student’s age or location.” At the same time, it announced the acquisitions of Tech Elevator and MedCerts. Earlier this year, K12 also acquired Denver-based coding bootcamp Galvanize.
  • Scholastic is making leadership changes. Effective January 1, 2021, Beth Polcari, current executive vice president and president, Scholastic Magazines Group, will transition to the role of president, international. She succeeds Nelson Hitchcock who, after a 15-year career at Scholastic, will retire at the end of this year. Rose Else-Mitchell is rejoining Scholastic as president, education solutions and over the next six months, will work with current Scholastic Education President Greg Worrell and Polcari to combine their existing two divisions into a single education solutions group, which Else-Mitchell will lead effective June 1, 2021. After leading his division through this transition, Worrell will continue to advise on strategic partnerships until his planned retirement after 30 years in December 2021.
  • President-elect Joe Biden nominated Connecticut Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona to be Secretary of Education. Cardona was appointed Connecticut’s first Latino commissioner of education in 2019 after two decades of experience as a public school educator. His experience spans K-12 classrooms, administration and higher ed, having served as a principal for a decade, as assistant superintendent and as an adjunct professor at the University of Connecticut.

If 2020 was a struggle, 2021 holds promise! The new vaccines for COVID-19 give us hope that we will get the virus under control, and school as well as conferences and other parts of our past lives can resume some semblance of “normal.” The Biden-Harris Administration will bring with its own approach to education at the federal level and potentially new opportunities for schools and the companies that work with them. 2020 may have made us a little shy about making bold productions for the new year, but this year’s experience proves that our education community is vibrant and strong and ready to tackle any challenge the future brings.

Pearson Appoints Andy Bird, CBE as Chief Executive
Pearson Creates New Direct-to-Consumer Division

Lisa Wolfe is the President of L. Wolfe Communications

Founded in April 2000, L. Wolfe Communications offers its clients a network of senior, experienced public relations executives with a variety of complementary experience and expertise in public relations and communications for the education and library markets.