Artificial intelligence (AI) encompasses a broad set of tools developed to perform tasks that have historically required human intelligence. The new generative AI tools, such as ChatGPT, are not programmed with a specific set of instructions; rather, they are trained on sets of data and algorithms that guide how they respond to prompts. We are increasingly using a range of AI tools—such as autopopulate suggestions, navigation systems, facial recognition on phones, and ChatGPT—in many aspects of our lives. Because of the prevalence and power of these tools, their rapid development, and their potential to be truly disruptive—in positive and negative ways—it is critical that school districts develop policies, guidelines, and supports for the productive use of AI in schools. Later in this commentary, we discuss many of the short-term positives and negatives of using AI in schools. The greatest impact of AI, however, is how it can transform teachers’ roles and student learning.
During the 2022–23 school year, artificial intelligence (AI) evolved from an experimental technology few had heard of into readily available technology that has become widely used by educators and students. There are many ways educators can use AI that may positively revolutionize education to benefit classroom instruction, to support data use and analysis, and to aid in decision-making. The biggest potential upsides of AI for education will be accompanied by major disruptions, however, and districts will need time for thoughtful consideration to avoid some of the worst possible pitfalls. This commentary focuses not on how best to harness the potential of AI in education over the long term but instead on the urgent need for districts to respond to student use of AI. We argue that during summer 2023, districts should adopt policies for the 2023–24 school year that help students to engage with AI in productive ways and decrease the risk of AI-related chaos due to society’s inability to detect inappropriate AI use.
Chronic absenteeism (when a student misses 10 percent or more of instructional days during the school year for any reason) has spiked by an alarming degree, increasing more than twofold statewide, from 14% in 2020–21 to 30% in 2021–22. This increased absenteeism during 2021–22 is, of course, not entirely surprising. When students returned to school after a year of pandemic-induced virtual learning in 2020–21, they were encouraged to stay home if they had any symptoms, and many students had to miss school to quarantine after an exposure to COVID-19. Even though the pandemic is largely behind us at this point, early warning signs show that we now face challenges with attendance that could persist into the long term; although data for the current school year (2022–23) will not be released at the state level until fall 2023, locally released data show that the patterns this year may be as worrisome as last. How do we urgently move the needle on our high rate of chronic absenteeism so that it does not become the new normal in our state?
Last week, the California Department of Education released test scores of all students in Grades 3–8 and 11 for the first time since before the COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s results represent the first opportunity to understand fully how California students’ learning has been affected by the pandemic and related school closures. The test results show a substantial decline in student learning in both English language arts/literacy (ELA) and mathematics between the 2018–19 and 2021–22 academic years.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, school principals had to pivot, navigating the virtual world of engagement and instruction as well as the physical and mental toll of COVID-19 on students and staff. 2021–22 was supposed to be better, but for many principals, it was worse. Schools went back in person, but staffing shortages created daily challenges to covering even the basics, and COVID testing and tracing became additional urgent demands on already overwhelmed staff. Educators were emotionally and sometimes physically exhausted due to COVID.
California’s plan to expand the existing Transitional Kindergarten program as part of a universal pre–K program for all four-year-olds marks a substantial investment in the state’s children and families. In order to ensure a successful rollout, California should learn from recent research on other states’ pre–K programs and fund research infrastructure for formative evaluation that will help identify and address implementation challenges, drive continuous quality improvement, and ultimately ensure the provision of rich, developmentally appropriate classrooms for all California children.
As we move into fall and the beginning of a new school year, districts are facing myriad decisions, the consequences of which will determine how quickly and effectively they are able to recover from the effects of the pandemic and move education into a new era. This PACE commentary focuses on the kinds of decisions districts and unions are confronting together as well as on the ways in which collaborative labor–management relations can contribute to a stronger education system designed to meet all students’ needs.
Students with disabilities have been especially affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. They and their parents have reported higher levels of anxiety and depression, the loss of specialized services and supports, and poor results from distance learning. Compared to the general student population, families with students with disabilities are more likely to express concern for their mental health and their children are more likely to experience little to no remote learning.
The unprecedented closure of schools as a result of the global pandemic has had a dramatic—devastating, even—effect on our communities. In its wake, COVID-19 has exposed persistent inequities in our public school systems and has magnified concerns about providing for students’ basic needs, their emotional well-being, and their academic progress. Yet, as is often the case, hard times lead to opportunities to reimagine and rebuild.
This fall, schools and districts will likely return to full in-person instruction amid a lingering pandemic while being faced with the challenge of addressing heightened student academic and wellness needs associated with lost learning opportunities, extended periods of isolation and physical distancing, and other challenges students encountered during the pandemic. Though the demands on schools will be high, the resources available to schools will also be considerable, with state and federal dollars filling many district coffers to a level previously unmatched.
This commentary provides California’s K–12 education leaders 10 recommendations for utilizing COVID-19 recovery funds to serve English learner students. It is important for leaders to act boldly and innovatively to begin to reimagine K–12 education, in particular for English learners, whose learning has been yet more negatively affected by the pandemic than that of their English-speaking peers.
The coming much-needed influx of federal and state money to California public schools is an unforeseen and unprecedented windfall that will certainly help mitigate the many extra expenses the pandemic has created. It would be easy, and perhaps understandable, for local officials to become cavalier about how they use the extra funds they receive. The catch is that it is a one-time infusion of funds, not a permanent increase for California’s perennially underfunded K–12 system. How can local school districts best use this one-time bump in funding?
The aim of this commentary—released as part of a series on expanding learning partnerships and learning in the context of the pandemic—is to provide actionable guidance for districts, schools, and expanded learning providers interested in best serving students experiencing homelessness. We seek to answer the question: How can expanded learning be leveraged to support pandemic recovery, specifically for students and families experiencing homelessness, who face compounding challenges of not having the tools and supports to participate in distance learning as well as the emotional and logistical consequences of economic and housing insecurity?
The aim of this commentary—released as part of a series on expanded learning partnerships and learning hubs in the context of the pandemic—is to provide actionable guidance for districts, schools, and expanded learning providers interested in best serving students in special education. We seek to answer the question: How can expanded learning be leveraged to support pandemic recovery, specifically for students with learning differences?
The aim of this commentary—released as part of a series on expanding learning partnerships and learning hubs in the context of the pandemic—is to provide actionable guidance for districts, schools, and expanded learning providers interested in best serving older youth. We seek to answer the question: How can expanded learning be leveraged to support pandemic recovery, specifically for older youth who risk becoming disengaged from school and are at higher risk of developing anxiety and depression?
The aim of this commentary—released as part of a series on expanded learning partnerships and learning hubs in the context of the pandemic—is to provide actionable guidance for districts, schools, and expanded learning providers interested in best serving youth in the foster care system. We seek to answer the question: How can expanded learning be leveraged to support pandemic recovery, specifically as we look to serve the state’s nearly 60,000 youth in foster care?
From the day California schools closed in March, researchers, policymakers, and educators alike have been concerned about the impact that the pandemic would have on student learning, and worried that our most vulnerable students will experience this so-called “learning loss” more than others. Given the critical importance of evidence to inform decision-making on school reopening, we are sharing early findings on student learning in Grades 4–10 in 18 school districts that are part of the CORE Data Collaborative. Our preliminary analysis shows that there has been significant learning loss in both English Language Arts and Math, with earlier grades, low-income students, and English learners most impacted.
Essential for Youth and Community Well-Being During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Beyond
Nicole M. Ardoin
Alison W. Bowers
The COVID-19 pandemic, which presents critical threats to education overall, also presents specific, potentially irreversible, and long-term threats to environmental education—an essential field that provides numerous cognitive, affective, and health-related benefits.
Over 700,000 Californians live in multigenerational households It is imperative for school and political leaders to keep in mind that not every student lives in a nuclear family—i.e., with two parents and/or siblings—or, regrettably, in stable housing.
As schools begin this fall, educators across California are examining how they can promote students showing up for class, whether instruction is offered remotely or in person. In our previous PACE commentary, we made recommendations for expanding the metrics used to monitor daily attendance and participation in distance learning. In this commentary, we make recommendations for how educators can respond to student attendance data to ensure students get the support they need to be present and engaged in learning.
Absenteeism is a leading indicator of educational inequity. With COVID-19, taking daily attendance and monitoring absenteeism is essential as chronic absence is a key predictor of later learning loss and an early warning sign that positive conditions of learning are not in place for students. While taking attendance is more complicated in the context of distance learning, it is still possible—and necessary.
In preparing for the next school year, California state policymakers must set clear statewide expectations for teaching, learning, and student support, regardless of whether instruction is online or in person. This spring, local school districts scrambled to adapt to COVID-19 with a wide range of responses largely focused on securing delivery of online resources. Now is the time to shift the conversation back to the core purpose of school: learning. The state should establish a minimum amount of instructional time; create an instrument of diagnostic assessment and require its use; adopt instructional continuity plans; and advocate for and secure additional funding.
The global pandemic and resulting economic devastation, not seen since the Great Depression, have underscored how schools are essential to the well-being of their communities. During this time of high stress, students are reporting anxiety, depression, and thoughts about hurting themselves, as well as increasing abuse. Moving from crisis triage to action guided by core principles that center student well-being is necessary but, to do so, social-emotional care is paramount, both for children and adults. For these reasons, our recommendations include reaching out to families, adjusting expectations, developing flexible guidelines, and investing in teachers’ professional development.