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Learning and education lean forward

Experts say what SHOULD happen, and predict what WILL happen in K12
Clockwise from top left: Brian Eschbacher, Brisa Ayub, Theresa Morris, Jennifer Abrams, Kirk Langer, Kate Walsh, Rene Islas, Tamara Fyke, Amy Klinger, Matthew Emerson
Clockwise from top left: Brian Eschbacher, Brisa Ayub, Theresa Morris, Jennifer Abrams, Kirk Langer, Kate Walsh, Rene Islas, Tamara Fyke, Amy Klinger, Matthew Emerson

What should happen and what will happen in various areas of education over the next few years elicits different answers from educators and from other experts.

For example, one expert on teaching believes districts should be supported with the funding to retain their best teachers. However, this expert believes state policymakers will continue to lower standards for teaching certifications in an effort to fill perceived shortages.

One administrator says educators still need to upgrade their skills when it comes to teaching with technology. At the same time, more schools will make better use of augmented reality and wearable technology in 2018 and beyond.

The forecasts below also cover assessment, English language learners and social-emotional learning, among other topics. Read on to see if they match your outlook on the future of public K12 instruction.  


Theresa Morris, mathematics assessment developer of Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity

How it should evolve: Reduce end-of-year, high-stakes tests

Educators should shift to more frequent and varied assessments that judge students on assignments that require them to tackle real-life concepts.

These types of assessments—when conducted at the time students are mastering specific concepts—more accurately measure whether students are developing soft skills such as communication, collaboration and problem-solving, Morris says.

“Waiting for the one, end-of-year assessment is archaic,” she says. “It’s efficient, but that’s about all it is. Does it tell us everything we need to know? No.”

She hopes that states such as Texas, which is moving toward a frequent-and-varied assessment system, will provide proof of improved student outcomes to convince more states to make changes.

How it will evolve: Community-based accountability systems

To better assess overall performance of schools and districts, the Texas Association of School Administrators and other organizations are developing community-based accountability systems.

“If what’s important is that the community is reflected in the  classrooms, then you have to have the buy-in and connections that are missing in so many cases,” she says.

That means providing community members with thorough reports on academics, finance, safety and other topics. This will be a more effective system than states issuing letter grades to individual schools, she says.


Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality

How it should evolve: Bigger push to attract and retain quality teachers

“We need a massive overhaul in pay and not just base pay, which is really low in some places. We also need differentiated pay,” Walsh says.

For example, schools may have to pay STEM teachers more, particularly in high schools. Over the last few decades, administrators have had trouble retaining top STEM instructors, who can often find higher salaries in the private sector. States should also become more deliberate about filling shortages in certain disciplines.

While there are plenty of student teachers who want to work in mainstream elementary school classrooms, states need to require more candidates to pursue special education credentials. Finally, teachers willing to work in impoverished or rural districts—as well as those who simply excel—deserve base pay increases, rather than bonuses.

“You have to make it something on which you can base a mortgage,” she says.

How it will evolve: Lowering qualifications for teachers

Some states have allowed districts to fill classrooms with local professionals through alternative programs that don’t require traditional credentials—and Walsh expects this trend to spread.

“We’re already seeing the fallout from everyone buying into the idea of a national teacher shortage,” Walsh says. “We’re seeing states rolling back what were already pretty low bars for entry into the profession.”

Some areas and disciplines have experienced shortages, Walsh concedes, but 400,000 teaching jobs have been added over the last few years as the student population has remained the same. “That could not have happened if there was a national teacher shortage,” she says.  

Social-emotional learning

Tamara Fyke, author of Love in a Big World and SEL curriculum developer

How it should evolve:

Interest in more intentional SEL continues to grow rapidly. Still, many educators feel they don’t have the time or resources to launch a comprehensive initiative. Teachers need PD to blend SEL into everyday instruction, rather than offering it as a separate lesson.

“They need to see it as part of what they already do so they don’t see it as a burden,” Fyke says.

One way funding might increase is if schools, districts or states can connect SEL to a growth in test scores and other performance measurements.

How it will evolve:

“I’m grieved by the fact that we have so many kids dealing with big life issues,” Fyke says. “But I’m thankful the pendulum has swung away from test scores to looking at the needs of kids as human beings.”

More districts will consider trauma-informed teaching methods and revise disciplinary systems with practices such as restorative justice—which focuses on repairing damage rather than punishment. The current volatile political climate is also helping people in and outside education realize the importance of SEL instruction in promoting civil discourse.

Enrollment & Choice

Brian Eschbacher, executive director of planning & enrollment services of Denver Public Schools

How should it evolve:

Districts could provide more information to better help parents in the research process when choosing schools.

“How do we make getting into schools as equitable as possible?” Eschbacher says. “How can we teach parents about schools so they don’t have to spend 40 hours doing research? That can be overwhelming when they have so many things going on.”

Districts could leverage websites to provide families with seat inventories at each school—much like big box stores, such as Best Buy, let consumers know how many units of a particular TV are in stock. Eschbacher hopes to see more school systems using data to match students to schools.

This could reduce waiting lists and better ensure schools in a district are evenly filled.

Districts also should work to accommodate families who move into a district after the choice process has been completed. Denver, for example, holds back seats until the start of each school year.

“We have to shift to year-round school choice,” he says. “Not just one round of school choice.”

How will it evolve:

Districts are making the enrollment process easier for parents. In Houston, Families Empowered recently launched a single application system for more than 50 charter schools in the city. 

“You’re hearing the parent voice coming through more than some of the politicians and that’s a great thing,” Eschbacher says. “Regardless of whether you like charters, we can all agree that making it easier is better.”

Denver now offers one application for its charters and district schools, and other cities are making similar changes.

Professional Development

Jennifer Abrams, consultant, former coach for new teachers in several Silicon Valley public school districts

How should it evolve: Don’t abandon in-person PD for online programs

“For some types of professional learning, those mediums can be effective, yet I worry we might move too far into that direction and lose sight of what needs to be done face-to-face and in the community,” Abrams says.

PD sessions also need to become more engaging and relevant than traditional “sit-and-get, rush-through opportunities about best practices or keynotes that talk at us about collaboration,” she says.

Abrams also says all educators need more training in communicating with parents, other community members and even political leaders.

“No one taught me Political Savvy 101 in my credential program,” she says. “We need to learn to communicate with other adults with humanity and maturity, and to advocate for our profession at the national, state and local levels.”

How will it evolve: More online PD

Online PD—particularly training conducted via Skype or Google Hangouts—will increasingly provide educators with global K12 perspectives, she says.

“With fewer dollars going to professional learning and with teachers wanting their learning to be increasingly online, just-in-time and financially feasible, I imagine that PD will evolve to even more asynchronous interactions that can happen on demand,” Abrams says.

At the same, in-person coaching will continue to gain traction in may districts, particularly through professional learning communities.

English language learners

Matthew Emerson, Federal programs specialist of Canyons School District (Sandy, Utah)

How should it evolve:

Emerson hopes to see more curricular materials developed for older English language learners as they work to grasp more complex academic concepts.

“They require resources that engage them more deeply but still honor the fact that they might be at a basic sentence level or might not have a single word of English in their vocabulary,” he says. “It’s a very delicate balance.”

ELLs also would benefit if more schools adopted a co-teaching model. In his district, for example, a certified ESL teacher who speaks Spanish works in the classroom alongside science and math teachers to support students who are still attaining fluency.

Administrators should also consider creating bilingual, co-teaching schools that students could attend no matter where they live in a district.

How will it evolve:

Emerson remains somewhat pessimistic on the evolution of ELL instruction: “I think we’re going to muddle along for another decade trying to meet needs in different ways, until the need is going to become so great that educators are going to demand more resources or a better model.”

Those resources include higher pay for a teaching profession that has grown more demanding, and more effective PD that includes collaboration in professional learning communities. “I think there is a struggle in our country to view English learners as children,” he says. “We only view them as the groups they belong to.”

Gifted & Talented instruction

René Islas, executive director National Association for Gifted Children

How it should evolve:

All states must develop policies geared toward equity in the identification of gifted and talented students. Also, states and districts need to establish clearer policies on allowing gifted students to work at accelerated rates, including skipping grades.

Next, Islas hopes all teachers receive more PD on gifted instruction as many gifted students remain in mainstream classes. Finally, Islas says parents need the power to hold schools accountable for educating gifted students through an IDEA- or  IEP-like process.

How it will evolve:

An increase in federal grant money for gifted instruction shows a growing interest in meeting the specific needs of these students, particularly those from underrepresented or low-income backgrounds. “There’s an interest in exploring what makes these children tick,” says Islas, noting the immense popularity of The Big Bang Theory sitcom. 

Teaching with technology

Kirk Langer, Chief technology officer of Lincoln Public Schools, Nebraska

How it should evolve:

“You can buy things faster than you can change human behavior,” Langer says. Most districts have come a long way in solving the problem of access to technology and supplying sufficient bandwidth for all their devices. But educators need to catch up.

“We’re still going to be in a position where we’re not leveraging the technology to its fullest capacity because we have not ramped up teachers’ skills and the pedagogical skills,” he says.

He also hopes to see even smarter digital textbooks. For instance, a book could detect when a student reads the same passage multiple times. If the student is struggling, the book could provide extra help.

How it will evolve:

Immersiveness is the name of the game, says Langer. Augmented reality will have a bigger impact on classrooms as teachers realize certain concepts can be taught much more effectively in PD. With augmented reality, students in a physiology class can manipulate a human heart, and in physics teachers can more powerfully demonstrate the dynamics of motion.

Fitbits and similar wearables also will become more common, and not just for counting steps in P.E. These devices will detect increases in blood pressure that could signal a student experiencing the stress that leads to behavioral problems.

Finally, the touchscreen has migrated from tablets to less expensive Chrome-books and similar devices, and it will have big learning impacts. For instance, keyboards aren’t very useful to “show your work” on math problems.

Touchscreens allow students to write out and share problems. Touch also helps the youngest students—who don’t have the motor skills to type—grow comfortable with computers and digital learning.

Safety & Security

Amy Klinger, Director of programs at The Educators’ School Safety Network

How it should evolve: 

Educators become emergency responders “I wish we would see teachers and educators being classified or perceived as first responders,” Klinger says. “When a kid goes down in the cafeteria, it’s a teacher who deals with it until EMS arrives.”

Designating educators as first responders would make funding available for more frequent and more comprehensive emergency training—similar to the training that police, firefighters and others receive.

“There are multiple bomb threats daily in U.S. schools, but there isn’t any bomb threat training specific to teachers or educators,” Klinger says. Klinger also hopes the emphasis will shift to training as schools buy more security technology. “When we go into schools to do training, we hang our coats on the mobile attendance station because nobody’s using it,” she says.

“People buy all this stuff and never train anyone in how to use it.”

How it will evolve: 

Focus on active shooters “What we see is, unfortunately, a continuing emphasis on active-shooter training at the expense of other, more likely threats,” Klinger says. While some educators receive worst-case scenario training, all school personnel will need to develop their skills in dealing with more common incidents, such as medical emergencies, non-custodial parents and non-violent intruders.

Digital Citizenship

Brisa Ayub, Director of educational programs at Common Sense Education

How it should evolve:

Educators must extend instruction in digital citizenship from a one-time lesson to a topic that is taught every day and integrated into other subjects.

“We don’t want digital citizenship viewed as only a precaution,” Ayub says. “It something being learned because it helps students create values, empathy and connections.”

Educators should also find games or other tools students use to experiment with social media and other online communications in simulated environments that aren’t broadcast onto the World Wide Web. This allows students to make mistakes and learn from them.

“We always refer to kids as digital natives, but just because they can move things around on a screen doesn’t mean they understand the impact those behaviors have,” she says.

How it will evolve:

More educators will focus on teaching students to be digital leaders, Ayub says. “Digital citizenship has evolved from just telling students to be safe and responsible online,” she says. “Now it’s, ‘How are you moving beyond yourself and thinking about the large impact you’re having online?’”

Schools will also offer teachers and other adults more PD in digital citizenship. “There’s the social-emotional learning side of it—it’s not just about protecting data and having a strong password,” she says. “It’s also understanding how you’re affecting others and how media is affecting you.”