Education in 2024: Partners break down 8 big trends

Collaboration will grow between K12 schools and employers as academic growth and interventions are carefully assessed as AI drives the edtech evolution.

One of the biggest forces impacting education in 2024 will be labor shortages—and not just in the classroom.

Pressures on the wider U.S. workforce caused by a lack of employees with the requisite skills will drive more collaboration between K12 schools and employers, say product developers who are forecasting 2024’s biggest education trends.

It will also drive a surge in popularity in career and technical education programs. “As the talent shortage concern shifts to the state level, 2024 will be a year of increased collaboration between employers, schools and government agencies,” says Jeri Larsen, the chief operating officer of YouScience, a career guidance platform for students.

“The goal will be to create a more responsive and adaptable education system that ensures the workforce remains well equipped to meet the evolving demands of the job market.”

District leaders will be updating curriculums with a deeper focus on future-ready skills and adding more work-based learning, STEM education and vocational training programs.

“These efforts will be aimed at equipping students with the skills that are in high demand in the job market and promoting a broader range of career paths,” Larsen notes. “With a rapidly changing job market and evolving skill requirements, schools and education systems will find themselves under increased scrutiny to ensure that students are adequately prepared for the workforce.

Employers should grow ever more eager to collaborate with schools and districts, predicts Hans Meeder, a senior fellow for education and workforce education at YouScience and a former deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Education.

“Yet, a challenge lies in the limited experience of schools and districts in systematically collaborating with business partners,” Meeder points out. “Many are still navigating this uncharted territory, actively searching for tools, guidance and real-world examples to establish partnerships that are not only effective but also sustainable.”

What other issues will be top of mind for K12 leaders and their teams in 2024? Here are predictions, hopes and forecasts from solution providers that cover a range of education topics.

Academic growth and interventions will be carefully assessed

The disruptions of the pandemic will continue to loom large over academic progress, and administrators will be emphasizing growth and doubling down on the most effective interventions, say thought leaders at NWEA, the testing firm. Here are some of their insights:

  • Which academic interventions are working best? “While school districts made some progress in reducing pandemic-related achievement gaps in the 2021-22 school year, progress stalled in the 2022-23 school year. Interventions that have strong evidence of efficacy include high-dosage tutoring, summer school programs and double-dose math classes. Districts should adopt these high-impact interventions while continuing to monitor implementation and adapt interventions to local context so that students can have access to meaningful opportunities to catch up on unfinished learning.” —Ayesha K. Hashim, research scientist
  • Classroom practices that support high-growth learning will be essential. “The cornerstone of elevating educational quality rests upon strengthening the student-teacher relationship. By fostering meaningful and constructive interactions and offering valuable feedback to students, we empower them to take greater ownership of their learning. Recent research underscores the efficacy of specific approaches and practices in promoting substantial learning growth, such as allocating time for retrieval practice (where students benefit from multiple opportunities to reinforce new knowledge) and maintaining flexibility in student group dynamics (allowing for effective student movement between learning groups), among others.”—Chase Nordengren, principal research lead, effective instructional strategies
  • Research-based interventions will be needed to help older students with reading fluency. “National data shows that almost 70% of eighth graders are not considered proficient in reading based on 2022 test scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as The Nation’s Report Card. In 2024, districts will be working to find research-based interventions to help older students with reading fluency. Middle and high school teachers will need support to help older students with foundational reading skills to address this problem. Programs that emphasize repeated reading and giving older readers the opportunity to choose practice readings on topics they find engaging will help older readers improve fluency.” – Laura Hansen, NWEA director of academic services
  • A data-driven revolution in gifted and talented identification. “In 2024, states are poised to revolutionize their approach to gifted and talented education, driving greater equity and inclusion through a dual strategy of data-driven identification and the implementation of state policies mandating access to gifted services. Universal screening, encompassing a multitude of assessment tools, will ensure that no gifted potential remains unnoticed, while continuous monitoring and transparent reporting will guarantee equal access to the selection process. Simultaneously, state policies will require the development of individualized learning plans for gifted students, promoting inclusive enrichment opportunities, differentiated instruction, and robust teacher professional development.”—Scott Peters, senior research scientist

Edtech evolution will be all about AI

The expiration of ESSER funding and tightening budgets will force K12 leaders to prioritize, says Jeremy Cowdrey, the CEO of Discovery Education. That means, in the wake of the COVID-era flood of edtech, administrators and their teams will begin paring down the edtech resources they are using down to the most effective platforms.

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“We are calling this movement the great rationalization and consolidation,” Cowdrey explains. “They will seek to renew products that have high usage, personalize learning and drive deeper engagement in instruction. They will keep edtech resources that have shown a proven, measurable impact on students.”

Leaders will maintain relationships with edtech providers who are purpose-driven and offer multiple solutions from one consolidated platform, he adds.

Beyond that, artificial intelligence will likely continue to suck up all the oxygen in the edtech space. “AI will impact everything—from creating relevant lesson plans to acting as a teacher’s assistant and student learning,” says Sara Gu, co-founder and COO of ClassIn, which provides blended, hybrid and remote learning platforms. “AI tools are being developed for educators and launched into the market every week. Many of these are designed to save teachers time.”

As many AI tools are designed to save teachers’ time, Gu says she expects a comprehensive lesson-planning tool will soon emerge. “With the vast amount of material currently available on the internet and the number of databases that the [AIs] can pull from, a world where all teachers have to do is plug in their learning objectives and standards and get an array of choices in each of the categories—materials, activities, and assessments—can’t be that far off.”

Gu also predicts that student behavior will guide the development of AI codes of conduct and determine how the technology is used in schools. Gu sees a fine line between AI being used as a tool and being used to cheat.

“There is not yet one commonly accepted approach to integrating AI tools and technology into a school or school district’s code of conduct,” she continues. “Early policies range from extremely strict “student work submitted for academic credit and completed using AI will be considered plagiarism” to encouraging teachers to use AI tools in their classrooms.”

Teachers will increasingly use AI to assess and grade students and these tools could save time and reduce burnout, says Sari Factor, chief strategy officer at K12 curriculum provider Imagine Learning. “Educators will have more equitable access to actionable, research-based measures of student success to better inform instruction, allowing educators to focus on providing personalized support to students,” says Factor.

Ethical school leaders will also have to ensure that principles such as transparency, accountability, fairness, and privacy are priorities when adopting AI-driven educational tools. “Leveraging AI and digital-first curriculum to develop personalized lesson plans that cater to unique student needs, for example, will allow teachers to focus on delivering impactful lessons that inspire student success,” Factor contends. “As a result, we’ll see less teacher burnout over time.

Beyond AI, Gu expects more schools to lean on virtual and hybrid instruction to cope with teacher and staff shortages. She notes that a charter network in San Jose, California, has transferred math and science classes to Zoom where students are taught by teachers from around the country.

“We also expect hybrid solutions to gain momentum in response to student demand as schools work to balance their finite resources while offering more flexibility,” Gu predicts.

ESSER expiration requires reliable data

States and school districts have about $70 billion left to spend this school year, which “will be a mix of states and districts spending their remaining funds while also looking to the future,” says Lindsay Dworkin, NWEA’s senior vice president of policy and government affairs.

“As the one-time funds expire,” Dworkin adds, “it will be more important than ever for education communities to have access to reliable and actionable data to know which interventions have been most effective in helping students grow, and where to continue investing strategically amidst shrinking budgets.”

Because decision-makers will continue to analyze persistent learning gaps, they also will be looking for innovative approaches to instruction and assessment.

Administrators and teachers will become more discerning about edtech purchases as ESSER money expires and shortages increase workloads. Says Gu, of Classin, who estimates that schools adopted between 600 and 1,400 products during the pandemic.

“While many of these products helped plug the gaps during remote instruction, now districts are faced with the dilemma of too many tools. The process has already begun, but schools are starting to become more strategic about which tools they keep and which ones they stop using.”

The ongoing importance of equity and PD

The academic identities of educators will have to be a focal point in district administrators’ efforts to make their districts more equitable, says Fenesha Hubbard, the lead professional learning designer at NWEA.

Academic identities comprise educators’ attitudes, beliefs and dispositions toward teaching and learning. “When teachers develop an unhealthy academic identity, their internalized negative perception is very likely to influence their instruction and can shape their students’ academic identity,” Hubbard, explains.

Educators will strive to better understand themselves and others by exploring their beliefs, examining their actions and strengthening their academic identity. “More teachers will identify and address their academic identities, whether healthy or not, and employ strategies in their classroom to help all students thrive,” Hubbard forecasts.

Family engagement will be emphasized

Districts will take several approaches to leveraging the strengths of families to accelerate student achievement, including by providing more learning materials that can be used at home, say Vidya Sundaram and Elisabeth O’Bryon, co-founders of the nonprofit Family Engagement Lab.

Here is what they expect will happen:

  • How can districts make the most of classroom instruction? “Improving the quality of instructional materials is a smart, cost-effective strategy to improve learning outcomes. Districts looking to optimize their curriculum investment will also implement newly available curriculum-aligned offerings, from professional learning to assessments and family communications,” says Sundaram, the Lab’s CEO.
  • What’s the role of families in effective SEL programs? “With student mental health needs outpacing many schools’ capacity to provide support, it will be even more critical to look to families as vital partners in supporting student success,” notes O’Byron, the chief impact officer. Educators can promote relationship-building between parents and children and share activities that let families reinforce specific SEL skills at home.
  • How do you envision school learning environments changing for multilingual learners? “As we continue to see an increase in the linguistic diversity of our school communities, as well as growing interest in multilingual learning environments, I am hopeful that a spotlight is shone on what a tremendous asset multilingualism is. Embracing multilingualism truly enriches school communities and, as such, schools need to be equipped to equitably and authentically engage multilingual families as partners in supporting student learning.”
  • How do you envision K-12 edtech evolving next year? “While generative AI has been the hot topic of 2023, I expect next year we will see K12 technology advancements that strengthen the capacity of teachers (such as automating repetitive tasks), and more multilingual culturally responsive learning resources for students and families.”

Literacy will revolve around the science of reading

The science of reading, or SoR, has gotten almost as much attention as AI in K12 circles over the last year. In 2024, districts navigating its adoption will, for one, have to ensure teachers, principals and other administrators are receiving adequate PD in the science of reading, say thought leaders and experts at IMSE, the Institute for Multi-Sensory Education.

“States that have passed SoR legislation recognize the need for teacher prep programs to include SoR, but getting universities to change is a slow-moving shift, even if legislation requires it,” says Janelle Norton, IMSE’s senior manager of strategic partnerships.

“Expect more administrator training in SoR as districts recognize the need for principals to understand what children need to learn to read,” Norton adds.

Teacher shortages will likely be a barrier as district leaders work to embed the science of reading in their curriculums, says Alana Mangham, a lifelong early educator and IMSE’s current director of development and implementation support.

“There aren’t enough qualified individuals in the science of reading,” Mangham notes. “Schools can only hope to find capable candidates. And, if they do, the next hurdle is paying them equal to or better than what they can make as a private professional.”

Elsewhere in the literacy spectrum

Elsewhere in the literacy realm “multilingual learner instructional practices will become a hot topic,” concludes Nicole Florez, literacy specialist and IDA structured literacy dyslexia interventionist for IMSE. She predicts more leaders will “recognize the need for culturally responsive teaching in response to the growing population of English language learner.”

“States are leveraging the right stakeholders to develop learning modules around second language learners and literacy,” she concludes.

Math will matter even more in 2024

If 2023 was all about the science of reading, state education leaders will turn their attention to providing systemic support for math education in 2024, says Karen Beerer, Discovery Education’s senior vice president of teaching and learning.

In the wake of COVID learning loss, several states have already passed new laws requiring schools to identify and provide additional math support to students and teachers.

Alabama is creating an Office of Mathematics Improvement to monitor the implementation of screener assessments, diagnostic assessments, and formative assessments for grades K5. Florida now requires students deemed “deficient” in math to receive intervention and monitoring from their district while Louisiana mandates additional professional learning in numeracy for math teachers in grades 4-8.

“While these are just a few examples of state departments of education adding additional support to math education,” Beerer notes, “I believe in 2024 these efforts will accelerate and become the norm nationwide.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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