Superintendents offer education forecasts for 2019

School district leaders weigh in on technology, relevant instruction, data-driven decisions and achievement gaps

Four superintendents look ahead to 2019 in education, and forecast where public schools will make the most progress and where they will fall short. These district leaders discussed a range of topics, including assessment, accountability and flipped learning.

Luvelle Brown

Superintendent, Ithaca City School District (N.Y.)

Most progress: As technology infiltrates every aspect of K12 education, the word will gradually drop out of use. Educators in the coming years will talk about coding and creating algorithms, rather than iPads and Chromebooks.

“I’m banning the word ‘technology’ from my district,” says Brown. “We refer to computer science, computational thinking, digital literacy—the skills people need, rather than the devices.”

When it comes to assessment, ESSA will allow districts to transition away from high-stakes testing. “I see us doing much more with portfolios and formative data, and not trying to make the connection between one test and teacher performance,” he says.

Fall short: The testing transition may take some time. “We will continue to attempt to reform a broken model, rather than creating something new,” Brown says. High-stakes testing, along with brick-and-mortar classrooms and seat-time requirements, represent pillars of the old system that will be hard to dislodge.

“I still see us grading schools and holding them accountable with some type of assessment, rather than creating a model around a skills-based approach and using digital environments.”

Read more 2019 education forecasts: Education paves its own path

Chris Gaines

Superintendent, Mehlville School District (Mo.); President, AASA/The School Superintendents Association

Most progress: Educators will step up initiatives to make learning experiences more relevant. These efforts will include advances in personalized learning, internships, apprenticeships and other programs. “Students will have more options for how and when to learn, and more choices in how to show mastery,” Gaines says.

At one of his elementary schools, for example, students choose from a weekly menu when to practice math and to learn social studies. In high school, students in the My Path program create their own classes. They also make public presentations to show progress, he says.

Fall short: Though momentum will build behind assessment reform, various stakeholders—including state and federal lawmakers, the media, colleges and some parents—will continue to place too much emphasis on “snapshot tests that don’t give insight into the whole student,” Gaines says.

“Do we want a nation of test takers or do we want a nation of critical thinkers who are self-aware and who can communicate well?” he says. “What we have in terms of federal accountability may not be exactly what parents and employers are looking for in students.”

Some tests will remain necessary to provide the accountability that shows how taxpayer dollars are being spent on schools, but measuring true learning will require more innovation, he says. “We can’t let scores on tests define the opportunities a young person has or doesn’t have,” he says. “This is slowly changing in some places, but we will fall short in making significant change in 2019.”

Michael R. McCormick

Superintendent, Val Verde USD (Calif.)

Most progress: Is 2019 the year of data-driven decisions? As ESSA standards exert more pressure, educators will make significant progress on taking actions based on the data they collect, McCormick says.

They will be helped by data visualization software that illuminates trends in achievement, discipline, attendance and other areas. But the transition will require a change in perspective among administrators.

“It’s one thing to see trends; it’s a whole different cultural element to do something constructive with the data,” McCormick says. “But we will be motivated to make progress.” New technology will also allow educators to use virtual reality more purposefully in the classroom. “New cameras are building our internal capacity to create our own VR experiences for our students,” he says.

Fall short: Is technology always a “force multiplier” for instruction? McCormick says he’s concerned that in the coming year, K12 may still not fully leverage the promise of edtech, particularly when it comes to software that supports personalized learning.

“Are students actually using software tools to create products that demonstrate their learning in ways that weren’t available before? Are they using these tools to collaborate on projects and presentations with students and adults beyond their classroom walls?” he asks. If not, “the promise of personalized learning as the silver bullet for education could remain unrealized.”

Jeff Gorman

Deputy Superintendent of Schools, Mount Vernon City School District (N.Y.)

Most progress: Educators will make substantial strides infusing technology into daily instruction through blending and flipped learning, Gorman says. Another big impact will be the SAMR model—substitution, augmentation, modification and redefinition—which guides teachers in designing edtech-driven lessons. “The use of STEAM/STEM learning experiences and easy-to-use interactive technologies will emerge as a standard for good teaching,” he says.

Some buzzwords may fall out of use as the activities they describe become entrenched in the classroom, he adds. “We are 18 years into 21st-century learning, and I think that this term should stop being used,” Gorman says. “The days of 1-to-1 initiatives have faded, and they are becoming just part of effective college and career readiness.”

Fall short: The achievement gap between subgroups will continue to widen as political divisions roil the country. “The ongoing racism and polarization between Democrats and Republicans will affect our efforts on personalizing instruction for every child based on their needs,” he says.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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