Must Read Blog January 13, 2022

Equity, Engagement, Emotional Learning to Drive the Year Ahead in K-12

As we enter 2022, we continue to think about trends across the K-12 ecosystem. What signals are temporary, and when are we witnessing a more permanent shift? The past two years have produced an influx of capital, but what happens once the dollars are allocated? These are questions we ask ourselves daily.

Our team share some thoughts and prognostications on what prominent issues will persist or emerge during the next twelve months based on our work over the past year.

Education is About Teachers TooAdam Newman

More than two decades removed from the classroom, I would still argue that teaching middle school and high school English was the hardest (and most fulfilling) professional work I have ever done. On days when my 13- and 14-year-old children seem uncontrollable, I hardly imagine how I once productively engaged 150 unique students every weekday from late August to early June. It is why I fear in the current environment we continue to put our educators in untenable positions, the likes of which would not be accepted in most other professional settings. In the same way we as a K-12 community – suppliers, investors, philanthropies, politicians, and advocates – commit to creating effective, equitable learning pathways and outcomes for more than 50 million students (about twice the population of Texas), we must establish and advocate for a similar commitment to the 3 million front-line educators. We talk and work passionately to ensure the pandemic does not leave millions of students stranded; let us make the same investment in our educators in 2022 and beyond, to ensure the world-class educational system our students deserve and need.

Early Childhood Grows UpJeff Dinski

I played with blocks. I obviously played with other things too, while going to pre-school in the 1980s, but those building blocks of my childhood are emblematic of U.S. early childhood education’s broader philosophy of learning through play, with some, but limited structure. That broad philosophy has not changed in decades, and while learning through play should and will always be a critical part of early learning, we are seeing early childhood centers become more structured and in doing so, look a bit more like K-12 schools. The last five years has seen a growth of both formal curriculum and assessment products in the early childhood centers, as well as a rapid expansion of administrative tools like center management software and parent communication tools. Those trends are even more pronounced in the most heavily government funded segments of ECE – Head Start and Public Pre-K. While the Build Back Better legislation remains in doubt, increased federal funding in early childhood seems likely, which will only accelerate this trend to structure. The kids in a pre-school classroom may be the exact same age they were four decades ago, but those classrooms themselves are growing up.

Our “New Normal” Includes Supplemental LearningAshley Beuchel

From Kumon to peer and private tutoring, test-prep companies, and teacher office-hours, I have been enlisted in my fair share of supplemental learning activities over my academic life. However, these resources were often costly – in both time and money – and results were haphazard. Today’s parents have been confronted with the realities of learning loss, and those who can have turned to educational apps, tutoring services, and learning pods to supplement Zoom-school – but did it work? Now, two years later, we are beginning to live in a “new normal” and a greater dependence on supplemental learning tools and resources seems to be part a part of it. As educators grapple with how to bring supplemental learning “in-school” and ensure real outcomes, whitespace has emerged for tools that can be used both in and out of the classroom. Our “new normal” requires product and service platforms that improve and supplement instruction – easing teachers’ burden by providing digital content, improving students’ user experience, and taking the guess work out of achieving meaningful learning by implementing quality curriculum and teaching methods in a simple, accessible way.

Data (Finally) Becomes ManageableHadley Dorn

Back in the not-so distant days of scantron tests and physical gradebooks, teachers had comparatively little data at their disposal to inform day-to-day instruction. Today, the challenge is not that schools do not have enough data, but that they are adopting an increasing number of tools that produce data with varying levels of effectiveness in their ability to communicate. Think of a classroom where a student takes a formative assessment on one platform, completes the curriculum lesson for the day on another platform, then wraps up by using a different tool to conduct research for a paper. There is a trove of information that schools could capture from the different systems – such as assessment results, time on task, engagement data, and search data – but the challenge is providing a single interface for teachers to view the data. The latest findings from Digital Promise indicate that many K-12 districts use more than 26 different software tools. As district leaders become more tech-savvy, their demands for interoperability are driving product development that emphasizes streamlined communication between data sources. This will mean product developers need to consider not just how data is collected, but also how that data can inform other activities and needs across the student lifecycle.

SEL Will Dominate the Curricula, and Headlines – Kojo Edzie

Capping off my academic career in the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic crystalized the notion that success in the classroom required more than flashcards, color-coded study guides, and a #2 pencil. Social Emotional Learning seeks to support the whole student. A wave of studies has validated educators’ feelings that SEL is not a distraction from rigorous academic instruction but a contributor to long-term academic growth, as well as a potential inhibitor of behavioral problems, depression, and anxiety. Demand for high-quality SEL is greater than ever, and there is little doubt that, despite political opposition from some, SEL will continue to grow into and throughout K-12 schools in 2022. And that political opposition has made supportive implementation and clear communication critical factors to the success of an SEL product.

Experiential Learning Goes MainstreamChristian Lehr

Civil Rights attorney and activist Bryan Stevenson (have you seen Just Mercy?) claims that to develop the motivation and skill necessary to solve a problem, we need to first experience it. He calls this “getting proximate.” In many ways, these last two years for K-12 have been defined by the opposite – we got distant. Fortunately, the belief that students should engage in authentic, hands-on learning experiences persists. The concept of experiential learning is not new; research shows that students benefit more from actively developing an understanding as opposed to passively receiving information. As concerns over student well-being multiply, we need to think hard about how we excite students. One way is to flip the script – rely less on presenting content and more on designing ways for students to think, create, and interact with course material. Ensuring students “get proximate” takes a village, but many teachers have found digital tools and resources helpful in breaking down barriers. I cannot help but think back to my teaching days in Baltimore – what would have happened had I talked less at my students and given them the chance to do more? Moving forward, it is likely students will be given just that chance.