…after a Bumpy Decade for Schools

A Bumpy Decade

The new year brings to a close a decade of stormy education policy debates and challenging issues for the nation’s schools that were filled with contentiousness and political undertones.

The Struggle Over How to Improve Student Achievement

Perhaps no education issue generated more heat over the last decade than the Common Core State Standards. Common Core Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn. The standards are designed to impart to students the knowledge and skills needed for success in college and careers.

Whereas the majority of states initially adopted these standards, the consensus began to deteriorate by the middle of the decade. Critics alleged that the common core wasn’t the step forward for standards as it was billed. Some claimed that what was initially claimed to be encouragement was thinly veiled coercion. And others said that the pressure upon administrators and teachers was becoming counterproductive.

Under the Trump Administration, Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education, offered a new approach. She believed giving parents money to shop around for schools that they thought would best serve their children would become the most effective catalyst to improve education, rather than funneling those funds through school districts.

Battles Over School Choice

Charter schools, the darling of the school choice movement, at first were broadly embraced, only to become more controversial as the decade wore on. Teachers’ unions and the NAACP were afraid that charter schools, lacking appropriate regulations, would negatively impact traditional district-run schools.

But charter school advocates argued that disappointing academic outcomes in traditional schools justified alternative options. And the debate grew even more complex as virtual charters schools began to emerge, presenting new regulatory questions and, in many cases, mixed results for the students.

Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) and The “Whole Child”

And then there was the push for a “whole child” focus in schools which started decades ago. It matured into a full-blown movement as schools began to rethink their approach to develop students’ social and emotional needs. Schools were encouraged to embrace SEL and integrate it into education policy.

SEL advocates pushed schools to teach students strategies to develop self-control and responsible decision making directly. And they urged the schools to encourage nurturing students’ passion and a sense of purpose.

SEL critics argued the movement was moving too quickly to change the work of schools without clearly identifying effective strategies or ways to measure success. And, as the decade wound down, SEL advocates continued to wrestle with questions about how best to integrate the idea into the curriculum.

Education Trends for the New Decade

Technology, combined with an ever-evolving holistic view of man, holds the promise to herald in a new decade of unparalleled advancement for our children’s education. The hope is that this advancement will be transformative and beneficial enough to be able to finally eclipse the contentiousness and political wrestling of the previous decade.

The Shifting Role of a Classroom Teacher

The role of a teacher is shifting from someone who knows things to someone who is equipped to help students acquire the skills they need to gain knowledge independently. She is there to model handling situations of uncertainty or failure, and demonstrate problem-solving, life-long learning, and perpetual curiosity.

Essentially, the classroom teacher of the new decade is not there to feed information but to guide the class through activities and share in the wonder of discovery. Of course, monitoring the individual progress of the students and helping those who experience difficulties is essential. However, the critical first step is to transform the perspective of what education is all about.

Artificial Intelligence Learning

If a teacher is there to inspire and facilitate, then AI is becoming a personalized tutor. Digital learning environments and intelligent tutoring systems offer incredible flexibility with no time costs, which make for extremely efficient support systems for K12 teachers.

From language learning apps to writing tools, AI-powered systems provide individual interest-based learning. AI’s analyzing capacity enables real-time feedback and continual targeted practice. Content analysis apps allow teachers to understand students’ needs better and tailor lesson plans more precisely.

AI is the ultimate teacher’s assistant that frees the teacher of the most time-consuming and monotonous tasks, such as tests and checking papers for plagiarism. This leaves the teacher more time to focus on human-specific skills like emotional intelligence and creativity. It is expected that AI usage in U.S. classrooms will increase by nearly 50% in the next three years.

Cultivation of Empathy

While managing emotions, self-regulation, resilience, and determination may seem the most relevant aspects of emotional intelligence in education, they are not the ones that will be the central focus in the coming decade. Empathy and compassion for others, communication skills, and relationships with classmates will take their place. Why?

Because building a positive classroom culture is impossible without empathy. Empathy is necessary for building trust and friendship among students, improving student-teacher relationships, as well as creating a safe and friendly classroom environment. Emphasizing empathy has proven to raise student achievement as well.

Gamification of Education

Gamification has been a huge buzzword for years now, but the real benefits of this approach are often dismissed because they are widely misunderstood. A game here and a game there to boost engagement or reward students is not the true meaning of gamification.

Gamification requires a fundamental change in our approach to learning. It means redesigning education at its core according to game design principles. Learning is inherently fun – human brains are wired to respond positively to discovery, pattern-recognition, risk, and role play. Learning becomes boring when it stops being play, fun, and discovery-driven but instead becomes something that is done to students.

Humans play games not only as kids but as adults as well. The fundamental cross-section between learning and games is exploration, pattern-recognition, discovery, and sense of progress. Gamified education is essentially learning that has incorporated all those aspects.