One of the joys of our work at Tyton Partners is that we get to balance a specific sector focus – education – with a highly diverse range of stakeholders. In our K-12 practice, that ranges from keeping a pulse on parent sentiment to evaluating teacher needs and district-level priorities, and our interactions across K-12 reached an all-time high in 2022. While energizing, the reality is that our K-12 system remains incredibly stressed; in several respects, there are more questions than answers, and unlocking meaningful progress across K-12 remains an uphill battle.

Considering this, several members of our team put pencil to paper – yes, it’s still done in some quarters! – to share their perspective on notable issues that will affect various K-12 stakeholders in 2023 and potential implications.

Accelerating the Learning Curve for Students

I still remember the first time I legitimately failed an exam. Tenth-grade geometry proofs. Yikes. My best friend and I looked at each other nervously as our teacher reminded the class of when her office hours were. She had a policy that if you came to office hours and corrected your exam, you could earn back a quarter of the points lost. The next day, I went to office hours and worked through my exam with my teacher – practically doing whole sections over again. But, to my surprise, what could’ve been an embarrassing experience was instead encouraging and confidence-building. I failed, but I came out ahead by figuring out how to learn; my learning curve shifted.

A growing evidence-base shows students have experienced measurable setbacks in their learning journeys as a result of the pandemic. But rather than look around at each other terrified of what’s next, there’s an opportunity to shift the learning curve and earn some points back. Students are depending on schools to provide critical learning needs: environments where it’s okay to fail and learn from mistakes; support in building resiliency while providing a sense of belonging.

High-impact tutoring (also known as high-dosage tutoring) is one-way suppliers can support increasingly constrained administrators who serve these needs. By providing consistent, one-on-one support, high-impact tutoring can help equip students with the knowledge needed to graduate high school – no matter their academic profile. Students can also build life-long learning skills like metacognition and self-regulation, which lead to greater long-term outcomes. High-impact tutoring not only can help students fail forward but also shift the learning curve entirely by teaching skills that increase output without increasing input.

Parents’ Eyes Are Wide Open

My daughter is in tenth grade and my son in eighth; when I launched the consulting practice at then, Education Growth Advisors, now Tyton Partners, they were three and eighteen-months-old respectively. It was generally before things were “digital”, nearly everybody had a laptop – or access to one, and terms like “online microschool” were years away from entering the vernacular.

Today, my daughter swears by the Amoeba Sisters, my son hosts cellphone video chats with multiple friends simultaneously to help them with math, and my wife and I assess – at least preliminarily – our kids’ teachers based on the quality of their daily/ weekly updates via email and Google Classroom posts. In other words, things have changed a great deal in the last decade, but in many other ways, they haven’t changed at all. And that may be the most exciting opportunity for parents and their children – and schools and teachers too – as we enter 2023.

As I have seen myself as a parent – and a public-school graduate and former K-12 teacher – our current atmosphere calls for teaching and learning environments that match the richness and diversity of the world in which our children will need to thrive. And yet, for too many children, that environment remains a fairly traditional classroom setting from 8-3 pm. Why does that make sense? When was the last time you felt energized after a full day in the office sitting at your desk?

Our work engaging with parents across the past eighteen months – School Disrupted 2022and Choose to Learn 2022 – has highlighted parents’ pent-up demand for more student-centric learning models that focus on the whole child, delivering academic rigor, the joy and delight of learning, and opportunities to develop confidence and sense of self. Organizations like Vela Education Fund are supporting dynamic community initiatives to reimagine education for our children. Let’s make sure these innovations (and other thoughtful models) are also making their way back into our public-school settings, which for many students and families, is the only option. And as parents, let’s partner productively with our children’s public schools to catalyze and support the initiatives they are driving – or should be – to build better learning environments and experiences.

Teachers Need New Support Now!

In the aftermath of the pandemic one thing is for sure, teachers are burning out. As a former teacher, I recall juggling my time between creating lesson plans, adhering to state standards and district priorities, and running classrooms across different grades, class sizes, and levels of understanding. This was challenging as a new educator, but it was before the pandemic. I didn’t necessarily have accelerated learning targets at the center of my curriculum the way they exist now.

So, what can schools do to address student gaps while faced with teacher shortages? Districts are now using temporary staff, but as concerns about the quality of temporary staff grow, they are looking to other solutions. In the short-term, schools facing capacity constraints may need to turn to external professional development (PD) partners more frequently to help provide meaningful coaching and support. In the long-term, these partnerships may embed more deeply into district practice and replace in-house models.

Engaging external partners, as well as an increasingly younger – and likely non-traditional – teacher workforce, may bring changes to tried and true instructional practices. For new teachers who rely on veteran teachers to learn how to run a classroom, as I once did, these new PD partners can bring valuable support as well as relief for capacity-strapped districts. The quality of these PD partners stand to significantly shape and influence the experiences of teachers at this time and enable leverage for newer teachers.

Administrators Battle Whiplash

When I was a high school administrator, the holiday break meant recharging the batteries. This certainly holds true, but with a current K-12 environment far more stressed than it was five years ago, I anticipate administrators will need to balance R&R with a good dose of reflection and planning. Pandemic-related pressures have led to a host of challenges that require a response – undoubtedly, leaders will need to fine-tune (or reimagine) academic acceleration efforts to improve outcomes, expand teacher development opportunities to stem attrition, and evaluate new delivery models to stabilize enrollment.

As a leader, juggling so many priorities can create tension between the “back-to-basics” mentality many depend on in times of uncertainty and the drumbeat of innovation, which has only gotten louder as teachers, students, and families become more discerning. Not all districts are at the same point in their evolution – recognizing where customers are can help providers prioritize investment and align messaging. Whether a district decides to dig its heels into tradition or pursue wholesale changes, administrators will increasingly lean on their partners to help them navigate the challenges of the day.

Districts Plan for Post-Pandemic Spending

Looking back at key moments in 2022, one might think back to just a month ago when the largest Powerball lottery ticket in history was sold in Altadena, CA. Those of us who went down to the local gas station to buy a ticket were all wrestling with the same question: How would I spend $2 billion? Start with a housing upgrade? Travel the world? Spend it on experiences? Share it with friends and family?

Since Spring 2021, district leaders have been grappling with a similar question: how to spend an unprecedented sum of federal aid. For most districts, the answer was to start by addressing basic needs focusing on building upgrades and technology, including things like Wi-Fi hotspots and technology hardware. Now, with 64% of ESSER funding remaining unspent – approximately $120Bn – we’re past the CAPEX phase of replacing air filtration systems in buildings and entering a phase of spending focused on teaching and learning and supporting the educators behind it.

As companies grapple with how to best meet the needs of districts with remaining stimulus dollars, focus may be on relative laggard states such as New York and Vermont, who had spent less than 20% of their ESSER funds as of September 2022. Longer term, companies that have already had success capturing relief funds will need to take stock of how well they’ve secured their long-term position within districts. Solidifying this position includes clearly understanding the problems they are solving and the impact their solutions are driving based on evidence of outcomes.