Must Read Blog April 20, 2023

4 Strategies for Tackling Emerging Challenges in K-12 Education

Separating the signal from the noise in product development is always a challenge. One needs to only consider the current volume of Chat GPT coverage as an example of what product leaders grapple with in striving to balance between current customer needs and potential market-drive hype. This month, we offer some perspective on four signals K-12 teachers and administrators are looking for from supplier partners (as they pursue their organizational data needs) along with four strategies C-Suites can consider for tackling these emerging ed-tech challenges.

1. Offer districts integrated data capabilities to enable a holistic view of student success

The instructional materials market has experienced tectonic shifts in the past few years with the increasing convergence of content, assessment, and platforms. This convergence has enabled teachers to use real-time data to inform and adjust classroom instruction. For example, a recent EdWeek survey found that progress-monitoring and formative assessments are the top two methods educators are using to gauge learning loss. With data-driven instruction becoming the norm, company and organizational leaders need to develop and communicate a clear vision of how the data captured in their products informs real-time teaching opportunities. 

At the platform level, progress tracking tools are not only informing teaching, but also pulling together data from multiple sources to enable personalized learning experiences. In our recent interview with Aaron Feuer at Panorama Education, we discussed the importance of schools having a view into students’ academic skills as well as their metacognitive skills and overall well-being. MTSS tracking tools, as an example, report on multiple dimensions of student success, including academic, attendance, SEL, and behavioral indicators. 

Leaders should anticipate increased market demand for data informing a holistic and personalized view of student performance. This expectation will demand that companies integrate or partner with adjacent platforms to meet district customer and classroom user requirements.   

2. Ensure data-capture practices focus on equitable outcomes

The population of children entering K-12 is becoming increasingly diverse with implications for data collection and disaggregation. Simultaneously, districts are facing pressure to implement equitable teaching practices, which requires tracking data disaggregated by student race as well as other demographics.  

Providers have an important role to play in ensuring data collection and analytics are managed equitably. Some companies have navigated this dynamic successfully by allowing students to self-report and submit data that describes how they identify. NameCoach, for example, integrates with popular LMS platforms to allow students to record the pronunciation of their name, as well as their preferred pronouns. Infinite Campus now offers gender options other than M/F in a number of states.  

Platform companies have an opportunity to help districts collect and responsibly disaggregate data to help cater to the emerging diversity of student bodies. Companies and organizations should identify opportunities within their platform for students to self-report demographic data. At the same time, they should also remain clear and transparent about how this data can and is being used to inform interventions that are rooted in equitable practices.

3. Offer implementation support aimed at measuring success

As districts access an increasing amount of data, they may need wraparound supports for acting on the data. 

In our reflections for 2023, we noted that administrators are tracking against challenging academic acceleration goals with a need for supplier partners to recognize where districts are and what resources they have at their disposal. A recent report from CALDER validates that decision makers are struggling to execute on post-pandemic plans and need more implementation support from suppliers. The report indicates that districts failed to meet their recovery program goals during AY 2021-22 because of implementation challenges such as staff capacity and scheduling difficulties. 

Compounding implementation challenges, many districts are grappling with declining student enrollment. With increasing options for alternative schooling models, administrators are facing more pressure to provide quality experiences. Suppliers should emphasize effective implementation models and long-term partnership scenarios with decision-makers. 

4. Track state legislation to keep abreast of emerging market needs and opportunities buoyed by public funding

Draft legislation can allow providers to anticipate market needs going forward, if not predict where public dollars might flow next. For example, California recently created the Expanded Learning Opportunities Program (ELO-P) through legislation passed in 2022. The ELO-P provides funding for after-school and summer school enrichment programs for kindergarten through sixth grade, seeking to remove financial barriers faced by many families and students to attend after-school programs offered by private providers.

Finding ways to invest in tracking policy dynamics is always important for K-12 providers. For those unable to access government relations services, other options exist. The K-12 space has an abundant array of policy and advocacy organizations that are tracking key issues at the Federal and State levels. Product, sales, and marketing teams can take advantage of policy tracking databases maintained by groups like the Education Commission of The States and the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). These databases can be filtered by topic, state, and keywords. They point to not only volumes of legislations across states, but also specific requirements for vendor contracts.  

In conclusion…

To keep up with an ever-evolving political landscape and maturing expectations for data-driven instruction, company and organizational leaders should be taking these complementary, discrete steps to anticipate state and district needs to support students. Tracking and acting – as appropriate – on these steps will help organizations keep pace with market dynamics, and also position them as partners to districts in their pursuit of more effective and equitable teaching practices.