DA op-ed: Critical issues in education for the next 5 years

How should school administrators be thinking about coming changes in funding, school safety, student mental health, technology and curriculum and instruction?
By: | June 10, 2019
Lori Koerner is the principal of Tremont Elementary School in the Patchogue-Medford School District on Long Island, New York.

There are numerous challenges facing our education system. Given the ever-changing dynamics of American public education, the most critical issues in the next five years include funding, school safety, student mental health, technology (the over use, instructional balance and cyber issues), and innovation and progress in curriculum and instruction.

Funding

The school funding formulas that are used have come under fire in recent years. Less funding means smaller staffs, larger class sizes, fewer programs, and diminished resources for students. Our students suffer the most from budget cuts, particularly students in lower socio-economic communities.

Public education has been a pathway out of poverty for families for generations, but that pathway is blocked when schools do not have sufficient resources to offer a quality education. School funding also includes designing new plans to coincide with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), passed by Congress in 2016.

While the accountability system has been expanded, the money to help support the additional schools identified for improvement was not. Unfunded mandates continue to unfold, and school district leaders must be creative in finding ways to support their students’ needs.

Safety

Over the past several years, acts of violence in schools in the United States have led to debates about the best ways to keep students safe. If students don’t feel safe at school, achievement suffers. Modern technology offers us systems that assist in maintaining safe schools.

The debate regarding whether school security guards should be armed is a contentious one across the nation. We need to support and uplift young children to counteract the violence that may occur when they grow up.

Ensuring that schools increase wraparound services for students, including social workers, psychologists and guidance counselors, will assist in supporting students’ well-being in the hope that school safety is not concern in the future.

Mental health

Mental health awareness among students is a growing concern. Research indicates that childhood depression and anxiety are at an all-time high. There is a growing consensus that schools have a responsibility to foster students’ social and emotional development as well as their cognitive skills. Social-emotional learning (SEL) focuses on helping students identify their strengths, manage their emotions, set goals, show empathy, make responsible decisions, and build healthy relationships.

My philosophy supports children’s social competencies and emotional well-being so that they can reach their maximum academic potential. In my current position, I lead my team in recognizing the social and emotional needs of our students.

To that end, we created spaces for children to learn self-regulation skills in emotional crisis so that they can swiftly return to their classroom and maximize instructional time. Recess breaks occur after periods of sustained instruction to heighten attention to learning and increase academic achievement.

Technology should be an enhancement to student learning, not a replacement for human interaction and instruction.

Offering children time to socialize has benefitted student happiness and well-being. It is theory meets practice – you can’t implement Bloom’s Taxonomy until you ensure Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Technology

Over the last few years, technology in education has become a powerful consideration. With children spending much of their free time over focused on the wealth of technology at their disposal, it is essential that we consider how technology is used in our schools.

Although using technology is a 21st century skill that our students will need to become successful citizens in our global society, we must be mindful of how we implement these programs in our instruction. There are a multitude of technological curricula that is designed to refine and enhance student learning.

Using technology effectively in everyday learning can help students strengthen their experiences and build on their intuitive technology skills as digital natives. However, technology can pose a threat to student privacy and security, and other programs offered on their devices may distract students.

Technology should be an enhancement to student learning, not a replacement for human interaction and instruction. Cyber bullying and social media uses have also become a realistic concern for our students. Offering professional development for teachers and parental support on technology and its use is essential in ensuring student safety and success.

Innovation

Education is ever-changing. We are preparing students for jobs that have not yet been created. A critical issue in 21st century education is to ensure that our curriculum constantly evolves and allows children to learn the skills necessary to become successful, independent citizens.

We must shift the paradigm to emphasize that play is not a luxury. It is a necessity. In many districts across the United States, recess in elementary school is being questioned, reduced, and even eliminated (National Education for the Education of Young Children [NAEYC], 1998) to increase instructional time.

School districts have shared that Common Core had placed more pressure on teachers and students to score better in the classroom; but there is no research to affirm that more time in the classroom with blocks of sustain instruction, and less time for recess and socialization benefit academic achievement.

By offering students opportunities for play, project-based learning activities, innovation labs, and curricular experiences that are relative to the real world, we open the doors for them to learn communication, collaboration, conflict resolution and problem solving, while fostering creativity and entrepreneurship.

There must be a fair balance of direct instruction and academic activities that involve movement and collaboration. Having served as an elementary teacher for 26 years prior to becoming an administrator, it is a pleasure to assist educators in reestablishing curriculum in a practical way that is guided by theory and implemented through best practice, which will foster optimal student outcomes.

Lori Koerner is the Principal of Tremont Elementary School in the Patchogue-Medford School District on Long Island in New York.


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