In the post-COVID era, primary and secondary schools deal with many difficult problems that require immediate attention. Fortunately, educators and administrators across the country are passionately working to implement innovative and diverse solutions. Here are some challenges that K-12 schools are facing and the policies and programs being implemented to address them.
Teacher shortages and low pay
Though a lack of money is still a real issue for many schools, new streams of funding have allowed for teacher pay increases across the country. Governors in 24 states have made a policy proposal that addresses teacher salaries and benefits—whether it’s a 5% pay raise for all teachers in states like West Virginia and Kentucky, raising base starting pay, or offering retention bonuses as seen in states such as Virginia and South Carolina. People looking to educate and help the younger generation, despite a lack of government funding, can study the various K–12 leadership policies at Rockhurst University. By enrolling in its online Ed.D. in K–12 leadership program, students can learn and develop alongside the Teacher Vacancy Task Force initiated by the state of Texas, which aims to employ record numbers of new teaching staff. Efforts such as these that student teachers will learn about at Rockhurst University are undoubtedly a government response to chronic teacher shortages and high turnover rates among new teachers.
States are also working to widen the teacher pipeline to address teacher shortages. Efforts to broaden curricula, reduce upfront training costs, and work with community partners remove barriers for people interested in a teaching career. States such as Wisconsin are investing in “grow your own” programs that recruit qualified community members and offer on-the-job training. Such programs have the additional bonus of being more representative of the local population and understanding its unique needs and limitations.
Equality of access to education
While teacher pipeline efforts are working to diversify the teaching workforce and provide more representative education for students, many states have made further efforts to ensure their populations have equal and fair access to education. Universal pre-K has been an explicit priority for more than a third of states. Childcare subsidies in states such as Illinois and New York also ease the financial pressure on poorer families.
On a federal level, proposed changes to Title IX regulations by the U.S. Department of Education have the intended result of reducing gender discrimination in education. New resources allow parents and students a greater awareness of what might constitute inequality between the resources and facilities of male and female sports teams. Furthermore, the proposed changes to the regulations protect the rights of transgender students to participate on the team of their chosen gender identity; however, there are some nuances to this based on the sport played and the age of the student involved.
Technology and artificial intelligence
The sudden shift to home-based learning during the COVID-19 pandemic had several immediate impacts on schools. One of these was increased investment in new technologies, particularly those that involve the Internet and distance-based learning. Though schools are generally held in person now, distance learning remains an emergency backup option for many, and technology such as computer programs and apps is integrated into curricula to mitigate the effects of teacher or funding shortages. Hardware, software, and connectivity support are widely offered by local education agencies, particularly among low-income students who are less likely to have such access already. In addition, many schools are working to provide assistive technology and equipment for students with disabilities.
In the wake of drastically lower test scores over the past few years—correlated with distance learning—schools realize that further improvement is necessary. Online learning does not adequately address different learning styles and also limits the amount of direct oversight and support a teacher provides for students. The rise of artificial intelligence has forced governing bodies to create flexible yet comprehensive regulations about the use of this and other types of technology; thus, while many schools still incorporate some element of technology, there are still many issues to be resolved.
Teachers have taken advantage of programs like ChatGPT to create lesson and educational plans and perform administrative tasks. On the other hand, concerns around plagiarism and cheating have led to many schools employing software to check if student work has been improperly cited or pulled from another source. Yet, when such software fails, that’s a missed learning opportunity for students: by not completing their assignment, the teacher is not given the chance to provide individualized feedback to help that student improve their knowledge and skills. Furthermore, since artificial intelligence programs sometimes provide inaccurate or limited information, regular oversight is required to ensure that students are being taught correctly.
Skill building and support
Schools across the country are working to teach skills that match those most needed by the wider workforce. Technical education, STEM courses, and vocational training are examples. The U.S. Department of Education has developed many programs to ensure that students are trained in fields that meet market demand, Unlocking Career Success being one of them. Like many technical programs, it emphasizes work-based learning, obtaining workforce credentials, and receiving informed career advice and guidance. Furthermore, many schools are partnering with colleges to provide dual enrollment possibilities that expand access to facilities and resources for high school students.
Mental health skills have long been ignored by school curricula, but post-COVID, federal funding has specifically allocated money for courses and support. Along with up to ten-fold increases in money for mental health professionals and services, many schools are offering social-emotional upskilling for teachers and courses for students. Additionally, the pot of money given to schools can be spent on other things, such as art, theater, and music classes, multilingual learners, outreach for students with chronic absenteeism, or after-school enrichment activities.
Many policies and programs are in place to resolve the issues currently facing schools and educators. New funding has been made for training and support for more holistic interventions and community partnerships. There is also a recent appreciation for the need for personalization and flexibility in educational planning. Though many educational agencies are still learning about new technologies and support options, there is widespread determination to fix the problems faced by schools and offer better educational opportunities for students in the future.