A new report outlines four critical challenges facing public education and identifies steps that school and district leaders must take in the next two years to ensure that digital learning has a lasting effect on students.
“The Nation’s Schools Are Stepping Up to Higher Standards,” from the Alliance for Excellent Education, notes that the nation’s education system is begging for an overhaul, and the coming years are crucial as policy makers and educators strive to create an education system that addresses student needs and ensures that all students emerge ready to compete on a global level.
“The next two years will see unprecedented developments in K-12 public education as states set fundamentally higher-than-ever standards for students of all socioeconomic backgrounds,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “Technology can play a vital role in supporting teachers and helping public schools and districts meet these challenges, but technology by itself is not the answer; simply slapping a netbook on top of a textbook is not enough. But when districts develop a plan to pair technology with effective teaching and more efficient use of time, technology can accelerate the pace of improvement and boost student outcomes.”
Increasing needs for higher student achievement
Every state requires all students to graduate college- and career-ready, and the nation’s schools must be able to meet this standard. Estimates maintain that just 25 percent of high school students actually meet this requirement. High school graduation rates hover around 72 percent overall, with that rate closer to 50 percent for minority students. Half of all students entering a community college will need remedial courses, and 20 percent will need help when they enter a four-year institution.
Unpredictable funding has left schools, districts, and states scrambling to do more with less. In fact, per-student spending has declined in most states since 2008.
In FY 2011, 18 of 23 states that made midyear budget cuts were forced to cut from K-12 education. In FY 2012, 42 of 50 states dealt with budget shortfalls.
District leaders must think creatively and reallocate existing resources to support teachers. For instance, the report suggests offering online professional development and streamlining expenses to find extra funds.
The future of teaching
Many teachers do not have adequate training and support—both of which are essential in student-centered learning environments. A large number of teachers leave the profession within the first few years owing to a lack of support and mentoring. Half leave in the first five years, and U.S. schools spend more than $2.6 billion each year replacing teachers who have dropped out of the field.
Many schools must hire teachers who are not well-versed or properly trained in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics—all high-need areas that will continue to be of great importance of students.
The definition of a teacher is changing from one that implies a “sage on the stage” to a definition that paints educators as facilitators, engaging in discussions with students and giving up a bit of classroom control to let students take ownership of their learning.
Growing technology needs of students and society
Comprehensive planning is necessary to use technology effectively and to its full potential. Using technology for technology’s sake, and without proper implementation, makes more work for teachers with little to no increase in student achievement, the report says.
When it comes to digital learning, proper programs embrace what the report identifies as the three Ts: teaching, technology, and time. Educators should use digital learning tools effectively, as well as using time differently in the classroom to keep students interested. “Teachers” can transition to “education designers” to help personalize learning for students.
Teaching involves increasing professional learning for teachers and focusing on the best instruction to meet student needs. Putting pedagogy before technology ensures that technology tools enhance high-quality teaching, the report says.
Some schools are implementing flipped learning to maximize instructional time and capitalize on in-class time. Project-based learning and student-teacher discussions can help students make real-world connections to what they learn in a classroom. And a push for competency-based learning is growing, as some schools are moving away from seat time and toward demonstrations of subject mastery.
Broadband access is key to successful technology initiatives, the report says—especially if states want to close the digital divide in their schools and communities. Access to the right technology devices can make classes more interactive, boosting student engagement and helping them learn to collaborate.