Now that the 2023-24 school year is underway for many school districts across the country, it’s time to start thinking about how to make it the most successful year yet. But it requires preparation and knowing what lies ahead. That’s why District Administration has gathered insight from leading experts in K12 education to help you kickstart the year with the knowledge of the latest trends and top-of-mind issues impacting the profession.
Looking at edtech
Let’s start with the obvious: artificial intelligence will dominate the education sphere. We’re already seeing some of the largest school districts in the country embrace this technology. Others will likely follow.
“Teaching and learning are now definitely tech-enabled, and we’re seeing embrace edtech tools in the physical classroom,” says Jenn Mitchell, senior director of product marketing at Instructure. “And of course, AI is about all anyone is talking about. There will be a continued proliferation of new AI-centric apps and tools.”
However, with this newfound excitement comes a responsibility between educators and edtech providers.
“But it’s important that schools and edtech providers work together to adopt AI thoughtfully and in ways that actually enhance the learning process,” Mitchell adds. “AI tools should drive teacher efficiency, boost teacher efficacy, and/or enhance the student learning experience it will be insightful to see how many tools can actually deliver on these goals as the application of generative AI matures.”
She also explains how the relationship between teachers/administrators and AI is evolving. They’re starting to embrace it, despite original headlines claiming “doomsday is near” when ChatGPT was first released in November 2022.
“Both teachers and administrators are indeed excited and looking for strategies to leverage AI,” she says. “There are, understandably, still reservations around academic honesty. Still, we’re seeing shifts in attitudes around AI as they gain a better understanding of how its power can be harnessed in service of teaching and learning.”
As for teachers, they find potential in AI to help streamline certain tasks, for instance, creating sample assignments and generating passages at different reading levels, Mitchell notes. It also serves as a good starting point for building new assignments and generating communications.
“We will see wider adoption as AI-enhanced tools and features become more integrated with the tools educators are already using,” says Mitchell. “Districts should foster strong dialogue with both teachers and students to determine guidelines and training to ensure AI is adopted intentionally, safely and equitably.”
Speaking of equitable instruction through edtech, Instructure’s latest EdTech Top 40 report underscores the fact that teachers want to meet every student’s needs, but they first need to know where each student is in their learning.
“Connected to this is the expanded focus on measuring skills and competencies in service of lifelong learning for both students and teacher professional development,” says Mitchell. “We will see innovations designed to serve the learning in K12 to college and career with tools for learning pathways, credentialing and certifications.”
As for 2023-24 and beyond, Mitchell says she is most looking forward to seeing how districts leverage providers to empower teachers to do what they do best: teach and inspire.
“How they help drive deeper and better adoption, deliver tools to save teachers time or make lives a bit easier, and improve user experience so teachers can stay focused on what’s important—helping each student move forward.”
Teacher recruitment and retention
It should be no surprise to you that this pandemic-related issue continues to plague K12 schools across the nation. At a time when the teaching profession has become more complex than ever, coupled with external political influences and other issues like student behavior, educators are abandoning the profession more than ever. Thus, hiring will continue to be a top priority for administrators this school year.
“Many districts are struggling to recruit and retain teachers as a variety of job-related stressors have driven teachers out of classrooms,” says Russ Davis, founder and CEO of SchoolStatus. “In Washington state, for example, K12 schools saw more teacher turnover in the last school year than in the past three decades. To support high-quality, effective education, schools will need to invest in programs that can support teachers, such as professional development and mentoring.”
Leveraging data in critical conversations
How can educators communicate the impact the pandemic has had on their students and staff? At a time when the success of school districts is often determined by media headlines and conversation, it’s important that K12 leaders utilize data to reveal the truths and achievements of their schools.
“Most of the current conversations have focused on the specific data points—like a single math test score,” says Chris Minnich, president of the NWEA. “It’s imperative that we move beyond this superficial layer and dig deeper toward more meaningful dialog that is rooted in a connection between data, curriculum, instruction, and starts with these two questions: 1) How do you intend to use this data to support more effective instruction or better systematic decisions? 2) What do we need to change, and how will we measure that it’s working?”
“Simply put, data must have a purpose and impact, and it must be intentionally placed across connections points within education,” he adds. “Why bother collecting or tracking a specific data point if it has little to no bearing on a student’s life?”
Districts have been tackling student attendance issues since the onset of the pandemic. However, leaders should expect a “new wave,” argues Erica Peterson, director of education and engagement for School Innovations & Achievement.
“We have experienced an ongoing wave of chronic absenteeism amongst our students, which can have serious, lifelong impacts, such as the inability to master basic grade-level skills, significantly higher rates of dropping out and incarceration, and increased likelihood to experience poverty in adulthood due to increased lifetime earning potential,” Peterson says.
The current level of chronic absenteeism is already severe and will require a comprehensive approach that addresses the root cause,” she adds. This school year, we can expect to see schools taking the matter much more seriously.
“In the 2023-24 school year, we will see more districts implement a systems approach to attendance management, regularly analyzing attendance data, recognizing attendance as an equity lever, and focusing on positive school-home communication,” Peterson says. “We will see districts make significant strides in improving attendance rates and ultimately fostering academic success.”