As the K-12 sector prepares for the start of a new school year, the prevailing trends and challenges ring a familiar refrain. School violence, cybersecurity threats, the rise of artificial intelligence, staffing issues, and financial decisions amid looming federal pandemic aid deadlines all remain top of mind for school and district leaders. And that’s not even getting into the persistent issue of curriculum wars, including book bans and backlash against them.
To help you stay ahead of developments, K-12 Dive has gathered some of our top coverage from 2023 so far as a one-stop resource on trends to watch in the months ahead.
Will school shootings in 2023 outpace last year’s record high?
There have been more shootings with more victims in the first three months of 2023 than the same period last year.
By: Naaz Modan and Kara Arundel• Published April 4, 2023
If trends from the past five decades continue for the remainder of the year, there would be about 400 shootings in 2023, outpacing last year’s record high of 273.
Based on 53 years of data, a predictive model estimates "approximately 400 shootings this year, which follows the observed trend of increased gun violence at schools since 2018," said David Riedman, founder of the K-12 School Shooting Database, which is updated daily.
Though Riedman's data collection dates back to 1970, he acknowledges it is still a relatively small dataset for applying predictive statistics. "There is no way to know for sure" what the final number will be, Riedman said.
School shootings to break another record if trends continue
The number of school shootings by year
But there have already been more shootings, with more victims, so far in the first three months of 2023 than during the same time frame last year.
The mass shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee, that took the lives of six — including three children — on March 27 brought the year’s school shooting count to 89, with 75 total victims injured or killed. By comparison, there were 80 shootings with 65 total victims killed or wounded by March 27, 2022.
2023 shooting victims higher than this time last year
School shooting victims by first quarter of year
Mass shootings on school grounds have also increased in recent years. The Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit group that catalogs incidents of gun violence in the United States, defines mass shootings as having 4 or more victims — either injured or killed — other than the shooter.
By this definition, there were 10 mass shootings on school grounds in 2022, according to data from the K-12 School Shooting Database. So far in 2023, there have been two.
The most recent year to see no mass school shootings was 2020, when schools were on lockdown due to COVID-19. Other than that, there have been mass shootings every year since 2014.
Mass shootings peak in 2022
Number of shootings with 4 or more victims since 1970
Increase in shootings lead to district communication
With the increase in mass shootings and overall gun violence on school grounds, schools have had to double down on safety measures, including mental health support for students. They've also been proactive in communicating with their communities about safety measures when tragedies take place elsewhere.
Following the Nashville shooting, for example, Superintendent Gary Waddell of Santa Clara Unified School District in California sent a letter to the school community that listed the district’s safety precautions.
"While yesterday’s incident occurred outside of our area, media coverage can still cause responses of stress, anxiety, and fear," said Waddell. “School safety continues to be our first priority," Waddell wrote.
In Georgia's Marietta City Schools, Superintendent Grant Rivera held a virtual town hall just one day after the mass shooting in Tennessee, to discuss school safety questions he had received from the community "throughout the afternoon."
"I just felt like tonight was an opportunity to come together and share with you a bit as to how we approach this … and certainly be transparent to the degree that I can about what we're looking at going forward," said Rivera during the town hall.
In the past, Rivera has also sent emails about school safety protocols to parents, but he said some details on school safety were omitted intentionally for confidentiality and safety reasons.
"You send your child to school every day with the expectation that they're going to come home … And I think moments like these tragic school shootings challenge that for all of us."
Building trust in these kinds of conversations is key, said Emily Torres, a program manager at the National Center for School Safety. Torres has experience in youth violence prevention, helping schools change policies to support student health, and community engagement and outreach.
"The really important piece is that we try to meet the community with where they are with their concerns … and try to listen to what they're saying that they want, and that we're also communicating," Torres said.
Schools, she said, should be communicating what happens in case of different events, from fire drills to credible shooting threats. "And if they don't know that, it can really add to the fear, it can really add to the trauma, that our students and our communities are facing in these different events."
Article top image credit: Seth Herald/Getty Images via Getty Images
4 ways the National Cybersecurity Strategy could shape K-12
From increasing tech companies’ accountability to combating ransomware attacks, ed tech experts weigh the significance of the White House plan.
With the White House’s release of its National Cybersecurity Strategy last week, some K-12 technology experts remain cautiously optimistic the plan will lay a foundation for much-needed upgrades to help school districts nationwide. A key focus in the national plan is to shift the burden away from local governments and under-resourced consumers. Instead, the strategy suggests the cyber defense onus should fall more on major technology companies.
District technology leaders “are doing everything they can to protect networks and data, but as the federal government has shown, K-12 is just a top target for things like ransomware,” said Keith Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking, or CoSN.
While the National Cybersecurity Strategy is a great first step, Krueger said, there needs to be “swift follow-through at all levels of government.”
Holding tech companies accountable
Between 2016 and 2021, school district vendors were “responsible” as the entry point for 55% of K-12 data breaches, according to a 2022 report by the nonprofit K12 Security Information Exchange.
In New York City Public Schools, a January 2022 cyberattack on ed tech company Illuminate Education led to a data breach of 820,000 current and former public school students. That followed a similar mass data breach in Chicago Public Schools in December 2021, when nonprofit ed tech provider Battelle for Kids fell victim to a ransomware attack.
Krueger said it’s notable the White House strategy calls for shifting cybersecurity responsibilities away from individuals, small businesses or local governments — which could include schools.
Vendors “have a moral responsibility to defend secure applications and also protect their infrastructure,” said Keith Bockwoldt, chief information officer at Hinsdale Township High School District 86 in Illinois. Ultimately, both districts and vendors need to do their part to protect staff and students’ personal data, he said.
“If the cost of an application goes up because of it, knowing that I have a secure infrastructure or a secure application that I’m using, I’d be willing to pay for it,” Bockwoldt said. Though, he added, that opportunity to pay more for a guaranteed secure app doesn’t often arise.
The national plan also seeks to provide grant opportunities to encourage companies to secure their apps.
“I think that’s a good olive branch on the government’s side,” Bockwoldt said.
More cybersecurity training
Another goal of the national strategy is to build up and diversify the pipeline for cybersecurity professionals. One way will be to continue funding the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s Cybersecurity Education and Training Assistance Program.
A current grant recipient in that program is Cyber.org, a virtual cybersecurity education program that began in Louisiana and recently expanded to all 50 states. It’s important to begin educating students on cybersecurity as early as kindergarten, said Laurie Salvail, executive director of Cyber.org, in an emailed statement.
“Ensuring that every K-12 student is exposed to cybersecurity in the classroom is essential [for] growing their confidence to pursue careers in the workforce,” Salvail said. Addressing the shortage in these postions will help both private and public organizations in protecting themselves “from outside threats, advancing U.S. innovation, and diversifying our country's cybersecurity workforce,” Salvail added.
The cybersecurity profession is dealing with significant workforce shortages across the board. In the K-12 sector, it’s even more difficult to find someone and keep them for more than a couple of years, often due to budget constraints.
Both Bockwoldt and Krueger said they’re excited the White House strategy aims to bolster the cybersecurity workforce. But Krueger said schools will have to get more creative in hiring cybersecurity professionals by partnering with community or vocational schools or training students within the district.
The shortage of cybersecurity professionals “is just getting worse,” Bockwoldt said. “We need to continue to focus and get more people engaged in the industry to take on these positions, to learn about technology and also be able to build a workforce.”
Momentum for E-rate update?
For state agencies overseeing cybersecurity, the strategy is a “wake-up call” to include school districts in state plans and funding for network protections, Krueger said.
In December, the Federal Communications Commission sought public comment on using its E-rate program to pay for school and library cybersecurity upgrades, such as advanced firewalls. Firewalls are just one way to protect schools from a bad actor entering their networks, Krueger said, adding that districts have to uphold even more stringent protections just to keep cybersecurity insurance.
“We certainly would not say it’s a once-and-done panacea,” Krueger said. “But for the E-rate program to not even do that [upgrade firewalls], it’s just taking a frustratingly long time to get the FCC’s attention on this.”
Though there are hopeful signs the strategy will encourage the FCC to fund more cybersecurity efforts in schools, Krueger said, ultimately, “the proof is in the pudding.”
Calls to combat ransomware
As districts are often targeted in ransomware attacks, Krueger and Bockwoldt said it’s encouraging the national strategy has placed an emphasis on private and global partners rallying to combat these incidents.
Ransomware is “so prevalent out there,” Bockwoldt said. “There really has to be a concerted effort and focus on this one because it impacts everybody.”
More action will be needed to carry out the strategy, he said, and districts would especially benefit from more cybersecurity training as a part of partnerships. Additionally, districts should start reaching out and building relationships with their local FBI offices even when they aren’t in a cybersecurity crisis, Krueger said, so school leaders know who to contact if a cyberattack occurs.
Article top image credit: lucky-photographer via Getty Images
K-12 anticipates a summer of school construction
As schools plan for a surge of ESSER-supported upgrades over summer break, many administrators remain concerned about spending deadlines.
By: Kara Arundel• Published May 10, 2023
Just beyond the schoolhouse doors of Shiwi Ts'ana Elementary School in Zuni, New Mexico, stand tall buttes with flat tops, steep sides, and rock formations that turn a golden color as the sun dips in the sky.
It's a breathtaking sight that more children and school staff will enjoy once an outdoor learning space is completed at the end of this summer.
"We live in a high type of desert area, but we have a lot of pretty views," said Zuni Public Schools Director of Finance Martin Romine. "We want to get [students] out where they can enjoy nature."
The $1.2 million project will include construction of Wi-Fi accessible stadium seating that will sit next to the school playground so kids can easily move between recess and class time. Construction will start as soon as this school year ends and should finish by the time students return for the fall, Romine said.
Like Shiwi Ts'ana Elementary, schools across the country are anticipating a burst of federally funded facility upgrades this summer. The timing coincides with a loosening of backlogged projects and the summer break that makes school construction logistically easier with fewer students and staffs on campuses.
Although Congress approved the pandemic Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds in 2020 and 2021, it takes months or even years to plan and execute construction projects. Supply chain problems and labor shortages created even more challenges for districts that must spend the funds by federally imposed deadlines depending on the three ESSER allocations. The last and largest allocation at $121.9 billion — known as ESSER III — has an obligation deadline of Sept. 30, 2024 and a spending deadline of Jan. 28, 2025.
"We're hopefully making a difference in how kids view school and in their enthusiasm levels about coming to school, because we're doing things that haven't been done before."
Director of finance for Zuni Public Schools
In Zuni, the district is also gearing up for summer construction of a $1.3 million outdoor learning area with a pond that captures rainwater and elevated teaching platforms for its middle school. Romine said it will be an inviting space for lessons, lunch and after-school activities.
"The money has been very beneficial to allow us to complete projects that we hadn't even thought about before the money became available," said Romine. "We're hopefully making a difference in how kids view school and in their enthusiasm levels about coming to school, because we're doing things that haven't been done before."
Prepandemic construction needs
Across the nation, schools are setting aside some of their COVID-19 recovery funds to improve facilities by replacing doors and windows, upgrading heating and cooling systems, building new roofs, modernizing classroom lighting, enhancing security and more.
According to data services firm Burbio, 23.9% of about 6,500 school districts' ESSER III spending plans — representing about $92 billion — dedicate money to facilities and operations. Repairing or replacing HVAC systems and ventilation is the No. 1 project, followed by facility improvements to prevent illness, according to Burbio's research as of March.
Districts spend one-fourth of ESSER III funds on facilities
Repairing or replacing HVAC systems and ventilation is the most common facility project, followed by facility improvements to prevent illness.
Healthy and functional airflow became a priority for facility projects as schools tried to minimize the spread of COVID and lure students and staff back onto campuses after months of remote learning.
But actually, many school administrators had known years before the pandemic that their HVAC systems needed replacement or repair. According to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report from 2020, an estimated 41% of districts needed to update or replace HVAC systems in at least half of their schools — representing about 36,000 schools nationwide.
Many school and district leaders say there has never before been such a demand for facility improvements that has aligned with an unprecedented influx of flexible federal funding.
"I would say that the extra dollars have been amazing for our school district," said Trisha Schock, executive director of administrative services for North Central ESD 171 in Wenatchee, Washington. The district provides education-related services to 29 public school districts, as well as a tribal school, a charter school and several private schools.
In addition to funding for capital improvements, the ESSER money has supported increased staffing, academic interventions, social-emotional outreach, enhanced curriculum, meals for students and more, Schock said.
"Just so many positive things have been able to be purchased," Schock said.
In Dearborn, Michigan, the school system will continue work this summer to add air conditioning to eight — and possibly nine — schools. Construction has already started, with workers putting in air ducts one classroom at a time as students temporarily move to other spaces in the building. By planning the work in these stages, the district hopes to complete the bulk of the project over the summer months, according to its website.
Only about one-third of the district's schools have air conditioning. The ESSER-supported project is the district’s first large-scale work to add air conditioning to its older buildings. After a November 2019 bond proposal to upgrade the district's schools failed by a few hundred votes, ESSER is allowing the district to move forward on some projects, said David Mustonen, Dearborn Public Schools' director of communications and marketing.
Research in 2022 by the Association of School Business Officials International into ESSER spending practices, highlights administrators' hopes that building improvements will make schools safer and better outfitted for active student learning and engagement.
"Our old buildings were repaired and our HVAC units were replaced along with replacing LED lighting at all schools in order to provide the best learning environment possible," one district administrator from Louisiana told ASBO.
Roadblocks to construction
School communities' enthusiasm and optimism to improve school infrastructure with billions of dollars from the federal government however has, in many places, been deflated by hard realities.
Delays getting equipment and materials due to pandemic-related supply chain woes has meant extending timelines for construction projects. For example, there have been delays of 10 to 15 months for various HVAC, window, door and roof replacement projects, said Elleka Yost, director of advocacy for ASBO.
"Unexpected delays caused by supply chain issues and labor shortages in the construction sector are a huge concern for districts seeking to use funds for such purposes," Yost said.
The Warden School District in Washington began HVAC and chiller replacement projects in February 2022, with an anticipated completion date of August 2022. But as of early April, neither had been finished.
The contractor had multiple delays on products and equipment along with a staffing shortage, according to information Schock received from the district.
At the 1,100-student Zuni school system, Romine is worried about the timing of another ESSER-funded project. A pool building, which has sat boarded up for the past 12 years, is set to get new HVAC and dehumidifying units. While the pool and its diving board are in good shape, the facility is unusable without proper air and ventilation systems, he said.
Many in this rural community are hoping the $1 million project can be completed because once it is, it will be the only swimming pool for area residents and for students.
"Now this one concerns me, because if the drawings take six months, it's going to put us up against a very close deadline to get all the equipment in and get it installed before the funds expire," Romine said.
Another ESSER-funded contract to replace the chiller at Zuni High School was signed in January 2022, but is only 85% complete as contractors wait on needed parts, Romine said.
Another project to replace the HVAC at Twin Buttes Cyber Academy — paid for with $1.7 million from the federal recovery money — wrapped up last fall. The district had planned for that upgrade even before the pandemic, giving it a running start when the ESSER money was allocated, Romine said.
"Unexpected delays caused by supply chain issues and labor shortages in the construction sector are a huge concern for districts seeking to use funds for such purposes."
Director of advocacy for the Association of School Business Officials International
Along with project delays, inflation has driven up the costs of materials. Inflation caused Dearborn Public Schools to add $12 million onto its total $52 million budget for air conditioning at certain schools and additional classrooms at an elementary school.
Increased estimates for projects are causing districts to complete work in phases, such as choosing to repair a roof in sections rather than all at once, Yost said.
In some areas, districts incurred delays and rising costs because they were competing with other districts' projects or with non-school projects. As school districts across the country became eligible to hit “go” on construction projects, so too did their neighboring districts.
Smaller and rural districts had the hardest time finding bidders for projects. In fact, there are cases where districts received no bids at all for projects, Yost said.
Although demand for contractors has slowed and districts are having an easier time finding firms to work with, Yost said, labor shortages are more acute now. If there are no qualified people to do the work, it can't be done even if the funding and supplies are available, she said.
And in some locations, there are internal battles of whether construction is the best use of the one-time federal dollars, particularly where there are pressing needs for academic and social-emotional supports and additional teaching staff.
Rather than pitting academics versus facility upgrades, school construction should be viewed as "part of the strategy to improve student learning," Yost said.
More guidance needed on late liquidation
Still, as school administrators keep a close eye on construction budgets and schedules, they're laser focused on one specific date — Sept. 30, 2024, which is the obligation deadline for ESSER III funding, or when districts must commit to projects. The spending deadline — or the point when districts must pay for supplies and contracts — is Jan. 28, 2025.
The obligation deadline for the second round of funding, ESSER II, is Sept. 30, 2023, and the liquidation deadline is Jan. 28, 2024. ESSER I's obligation and spending deadlines, at Sept. 30, 2022, and Jan. 28, 2023, respectively, have already passed.
To help keep districts in New York stay on track to plan and finish construction projects by the federal deadlines, the state Board of Education required districts to submit requests for ESSER-backed projects by even earlier dates than the federal deadlines. The board asked districts to make submissions to the state for ESSER II construction projects by March 1 and for ESSER III by Oct. 1, according to a Jan. 23 memo.
The U.S. Department of Education has offered to give districts additional time — up to 14 months — to spend down their ESSER dollars, known as late liquidation. It's the type of spending flexibility many administrators were pleading for as they began planning how to spend their allocation.
But guidance has been slow and unclear, say local and national education experts. The department issued specific guidance for ESSER I, and that guidance was released Sept. 29, 2022, a day ahead of the obligation deadline. By then, about 96% of ESSER I funds had been spent.
Only seven states and the District of Columbia applied for and received spending extensions for ESSER I. Those requests represent a delay of $6.6 million — or only about 0.05% — from the total $13.2 billion allocated.
Last week, the Education Department released more details on the late liquidation process for ESSER II. Regarding liquidation extensions for ESSER III — also known as the American Rescue Plan — the guidance only says, "The Department strongly encourages States and local educational agencies (LEAs) and other subgrantees to obligate and liquidate ARP Act funds with urgency for activities that support students’ academic recovery and mental health."
Yost said that while ASBO is grateful for school districts' opportunity to now apply for ESSER II late liquidation, it's unknown — from a practical standpoint — how many districts will be able to leverage it with the September 2023 obligation deadline. "This is only four months out," she said.
Yost said there's a high level of interest from ASBO members in applying for spending extensions for the larger ESSER III allocations, but without clear guidance on how to do so or a guarantee their districts' construction projects will be approved before the deadline, many don't want to risk being out of compliance.
Schock agrees, "I think the obligation requirement is going to become a critical piece for [districts] as they look to the future, because if they can't get that wrapped up because of things outside their control, then that's going to be a concern."
Given the long runway for construction projects and the upcoming end of pandemic recovery funds, guidance is needed now if district leaders want to rely on ESSER III spending extensions, Yost said.
"It's been frustrating on our end," said Yost. ASBO is advising members to obligate funds using the original timelines, even if that means some construction projects have to be canceled and money reallocated for other initiatives that have shorter obligation and spending timelines.
"It's not financially prudent, so we need to act as if the flexibility is not available," Yost said.
Article top image credit: Permission granted by Martin Romine
Teacher shortages likely to ease as ESSER winds down, panelist says
Teacher pay, artificial intelligence and education reform were the focus of conversations at the Reagan Institute Summit on Education.
By: Kara Arundel• Published May 31, 2023
WASHINGTON – The teacher shortage crisis could soon ease, with districts scaling back hiring as they deplete their federal emergency funding accounts and school enrollment continues to stagnate, said a panelist during the recent Reagan Institute Summit on Education.
Marguerite Roza, director of the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy, said public education has increased its workforce out of proportion with student enrollment over the last five or six decades. That situation continued especially with the unprecedented allocation of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding to help schools recover from the pandemic, she said.
But schools must obligate all ESSER funds over the next year and a half. "What we can see right now is districts are on the verge of pulling the trigger on a hiring freeze or executing layoffs or trying to close schools," Roza said during a May 25 panel at the institute.
Yet, she said, even if the teacher shortage eases out of crisis mode, schools will still need to recruit, retain and compensate qualified and prepared teachers, Roza and other panelists said.
Recruitment and retention
Kentucky Lt. Gov Jacqueline Coleman said restoring respect for educators is an essential part of recruitment and retention efforts. The state hopes to boost respect for educators through its Education First plan, which would increase pay for all school employees and provide student loan forgiveness for teachers, among other initiatives.
"We're making sure that we lift up this profession financially as well as in a culture of respect," Coleman said.
Tennessee has pledged to increase the minimum teacher salary from $35,000 in 2019 to $50,000 by 2026, Schwinn said. This pay increase will especially support rural districts that are competing with larger and wealthier districts for employees, she added.
Javaid Siddiqi, president and CEO of The Hunt Institute, said building welcoming and diverse school and district cultures can help encourage people to enter and stay in the education workforce. One practice that discourages retention specifically for people of color is the tendency to assign them "invisible tasks," such as lunch monitor or disciplinarian, with no extra compensation, Siddiqi said.
Having educators of color in schools benefits all students, not just students of color, said Siddiqi, who is a former Virginia secretary of education. "We need to do better there," said Siddiqi, adding that about 40% of schools don't have a teacher of color.
The RISE conference, an event of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Institute, centered on education reform and included sessions on K-12 and higher education topics, including teacher pay, artificial intelligence in schools and education reform.
First Lady Jill Biden, a community college professor, discussed the need to support a variety of career and college pathways for students, as well as expand access to universal preschool.
She urged leaders to find common ground on these areas. "We all want hardworking students to be successful, even if a four-year degree isn't the right path," Biden said. "We want them to be able to access learning that connects to careers that pay well and are shaping our future."
One session during the summit featured panelists who reminisced about past educational reforms and opined about what more is needed in the field.
Although education reforms over the last four decades have failed to meet the goal of providing a high quality education for every child, transformative positive changes have been made along the way, the panelists said.
For one, there's now a broad understanding that teachers are responsible for teaching all students, not just certain students, said Frederick Hess, senior fellow and director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.
"We have fundamentally changed the culture of what's expected of professionals," Hess said.
Bill Kristol, a co-director of Defending Democracy Together, said that since the release of the seminal A Nation At Risk report 40 years ago that raised concerns of low student achievement rates, education has received more attention and more public discussion. That's a good thing, said Kristol, chief of staff to the U.S. education secretary during the Reagan administration when the report was released.
While mindsets have evolved to an understanding that all students deserve to be educated, work remains to ensure all students get a high quality education, panelists said.
Geoffrey Canada, president of Harlem Children's Zone in New York City, said infants, toddlers and children who experience adverse childhood experiences need more services and supports so they're prepared to learn. Harlem Children's Zone, a nonprofit organization, provides services for low-income youth and their families.
"That trauma early on in life stays with kids forever," Canada said. A full-service community school model can help students and families in this situation to access healthcare and social-emotional services, he said.
Aligning education with health and social services may be difficult and complicated, but it's essential, Canada said.
"We find that if you bring those forces together… you begin to eliminate some of these academic differences," he said.
Arne Duncan, managing partner at the Emerson Collective and former U.S. education secretary in the Obama administration, said summer programs are especially helpful for students who are behind academically. He also recommended school systems track performance and outcomes data. The Emerson Collective, a for-profit corporation, partners with communities, business and government leaders to spur change.
Analyzing performance data can help districts better target their resources, Duncan said. "Just have honest conversations of where we're moving the needle and not and learn from where we are and challenge where we're not.”
Article top image credit: Kara Arundel/K-12 Dive/K-12 Dive, data from RISE
4 ways educators are configuring AI for classroom use
Some innovative teachers see generative AI as a tool to produce lesson prompts, help students avoid future digital divides, and more.
By: Lauren Barack• Published July 5, 2023
One of the first things Arpan Chokshi does after demonstrating how to use artificial intelligence is to create space so educators can share how they’re feeling.
“Some teachers are thrilled and see this as a game changer and a lot are cautiously interested,” Chokshi said. “And some are angry. All of these are okay.”
Chokshi, a social studies teacher at Hinsdale Central High School in Hinsdale, Illinois, runs professional development for educators on AI. He said the potential of AI generates strong emotions in everyone, but he wants teachers to think less of what AI will replace and more about what they as educators are still best at doing.
“What can AI not do?” he asked. “Often these are some of the skills we’ve always taught: collaboration, problem-solving and empathy.”
ChatGPT launched on Nov. 30, 2022, and had 1 million users within a week. Instagram took three months to get to a million users, and Netflix hit 1 million subscribers in 2001 — 3 1/2 years after it launched.
Many educators are taking the meteoric rise of ChatGPT and other AI tools as a sign they need to work on how to adopt AI for educational use rather than fight it.
Here are four ways AI is being configured for the classroom, planning to do so in the coming school year, or supporting other educators in ways they can use the tool with students now.
Teaching educators how to use AI
At the University of Sydney in Australia, Danny Liu, an associate professor of educational innovation, is working with his peers to help them think about how to write prompts for AI. Unlike search engines, AI operates more as a programmable computer, able to return results far more robust than answering simple questions.
ChatGPT opened the door to AI for the general public, allowing queries to be written in natural language — i.e., the way we speak. But there are specialized ways to prompt AI to yield the materials educators may want for their classes. And Liu said helping educators learn how to ask AI questions well may prevent them from growing frustrated with the technology and showing it the door.
“We warn people if they write a vague prompt, and get a vague response, it’s not the AI’s fault, it’s the person using it,” Liu said. “They don’t know how to use it effectively, and the danger is they may dismiss it.”
School systems are already blocking ChatGPT from their networks around the world, including in Australia, Liu said. But blocking technology from schools has not been the most effective strategy in the past. Smartphones, once not allowed in classrooms, have been adopted into curricula in some instances — and students are practically required to have access to the internet to access and turn in school work.
Liu understands that some educators have concerns about students using AI to cheat. “It’s important to think about academic integrity,” he said. “But I hope that it’s short-lived.”
Using ChatGPT for in-class projects
In California’s San Marino Unified School District, high school social studies teacher Peter Paccone saidhis district didn’t ban ChatGPT — it gave teachers “the green light.” So Paccone, who teaches at San Marino High School has already used generative AI to create tests, develop writing prompts, and build end-of-unit study guides which he plans to hand to students at the beginning of class.
“I’ll ask them to look at the compendium and see if anything differs from what I presented,” he said.
While Paccone said some teachers will say a study guide like this could turn students into lazy thinkers, he sees AI as a way to help classes engage more deeply with what they’re learning.
If he assigns a paper on the music U.S. Merchant Marines listened to while stationed on Catalina Island during World War II, he knows AI could write up the assignment. But after students turn in their work, he could ask follow-ups in class, having students use their computers to find the top five movies in the years leading up to, during and after the war in order to compare and contrast the movie themes to the music as an in-class project.
“Even if they plugged that into ChatGPT, they still have to think about it,” he said.
Working with AI — not against it
At John F. Kennedy High School in Granada Hills, California, history teacher Scott Petri is already thinking about how he’ll stay ahead of AI with his students.
He starts classes by having students “pound out” 10 sentences in 10 minutes to 10 prompts, he said. In this way, he gets a sense of their writing style. If a student submits something that reads a bit differently than their usual colloquial phrasing, he’ll probably have a sense that AI is involved.
At Maine West High School in Des Plaines, Illinois, Dan Fouts is already using AI with his government classes, having it write short explanations based on his Google Slide presentations. After correcting for errors, Fouts uses the response to create fill-in-the-blank exercises for students, which he hands out after lectures to see what they gleaned, and to shed insight into what he expects them to remember.
Avoiding a digital divide
Both Liu and Chokshi see the use of AI as an equity issue. Chokshi said students who don’t know how to use these tools or are prevented from using them at schools will be at a disadvantage to those who do. Just as the digital divide formed between pupils who had access to computers and home internet and those who did not, the ability to navigate AI for learning and work will be critical and could form another layer of that divide.
That means there will be students who know how to use the tools, who can access generative AI because they have devices that can log on or the financial means to pay for advanced versions, and there will be students who don’t have access and won’t have the same expertise.
That’s one reason Liu is actively encouraging students and teachers who already know how to use AI to work with those who do not, in order “to make sure the knowledge of this AI is democratized,” he said. “That is important.”
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