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Outlook 2017: Experts forecast the future of K12

Thought leaders weigh in on a wide range of topics affecting K12 education
Adopting tech, preventing segregation, harnessing power of social media will be education priorities in 2017.
Adopting tech, preventing segregation, harnessing power of social media will be education priorities in 2017.

Education faces no shortage of important challenges in the quest to improve our nation’s schools. Whether it’s the debate over testing, racial issues, learning standards or shrinking funding, 2017 promises to be a year of change—for better or worse.

We asked education thought leaders and experts to identify a single issue in K12 education where shifts in policy or practice could lead to significant improvement in outcomes.

What would need to change, and how could it happen? Who would need to be involved? We asked them to discuss solutions, not problems. Here’s what they told us.

How to adopt tech effectively

Education is in a digital shift, says Steven W. Anderson, a former IT director and a recognized expert in infusing technology and social media into learning.

“Many schools and districts are going 1-to-1 or bring your own device or are in the midst of some other sort of digital rollout,” says Anderson, who blogs about web 2.0 and the connected classroom. “Much of the money, time and energy spent when it comes to professional development is centered around the teacher in the classroom, and rightly so. They are directly impacted by this transition.”

But what about the school principal who is tasked with evaluating the use of that technology? What about the curriculum coordinator tasked with ensuring teachers are delivering instruction appropriately? What about instructional coaches or other academic leaders?

Administrators and district leaders at all levels are often left out of the professional development equation when it comes to this digital transition. “More time, money, energy and attention needs to be placed on the technology-centric professional development needs of school and district leaders,” Anderson says. “It’s important to be able to distinguish what good technology integration looks like and what not-so-good technology integration looks like.”

More important, he says, is getting leaders involved in the process. “District leaders need to be less like evaluators and more like coaches. If they understand how technology can and should be used in the course of learning, then they can also have conversations and offer suggestions to take teaching and learning to the next level.”

A push to outlaw separation

Efforts to achieve racial equality in the classroom are falling by the wayside, says Alan Singer, a social studies educator and historian in the department of teaching learning technology at Hofstra University.

“United States schools have grown increasing segregated by race, class and ethnicity since the 1970s,” says Singer, who has written numerous articles on education issues for the Huffington Post. “This becomes crucial to address if we are to sustain this country as a diverse democracy.”

Evidence has long shown that minority students do better when they attend integrated schools, while the academic performance of white students is basically unaffected in such schools, Singer says. Given the political and racial climate in the country, however, districts are seeing the pendulum swing in the opposite direction. How can it swing back?

First, state and federal courts must broaden the Brown v. Board of Education decision and ban any laws that create segregation. “District administrators can promote school integration within their districts where possible and end tracking programs that segregate students,” he says.

Social media counteracts isolation

Although teachers work in school buildings among hundreds of faculty, staff and students, they often spend most of their day in the classroom isolated from colleagues, says Will Deyamport, a teacher and instructional technologist who focuses on professional development and reimagining learning spaces.

“Their classrooms become silos shut off from the rest of the school community,” says Deyamport, the host of the popular Dr. Will web show. “Instead of having a vibrant, collaborative learning community, it’s as though each teacher runs their own independent school within the confines of their classroom.”

While this has been the practice for much of the modern history of K12 schooling, this isolation has robbed teachers of the opportunity to learn, grow and receive feedback from their colleagues. To combat this, more teachers are turning to social media to connect with other teachers.

“When using networks like Twitter, for example, teachers are finding the space and community to build personal learning networks,” he says. “The beauty of developing a PLN or ‘getting connected’ is having access to scholars, thought leaders and practitioners regardless of their physical location.”

The payoff is that each network is unique to the individual teacher, who can seek feedback, classroom resources and conversations related to a variety of educational theories and practices, Deyamport adds.