5 Challenges for School Districts

We conduct research interviews throughout the school year with K-12 educators and administrators as a continued effort to understand what is most important to school district leaders, including the initiatives that receive top priority in their districts and the main challenges their districts are facing. Over the course of these conversations, we identified 5 challenges that school districts of all sizes are experiencing.

1. Teacher Readiness & Training

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Ensuring that all teachers have the necessary training on resources that are available to them, and more specifically – finding the time to train their teachers, is a huge challenge for school districts. Teachers need to have the proper knowledge in place so they can most effectively use resources and methodologies to impact learning.

The director of technology at a large district in Florida tells us, “We are trying to provide the resources teachers need for the change, as far as how they are instructing students. We’re trying to make sure teachers have access to online training materials that will assist them with that.”

A 5th grade math teacher at a small district in North Carolina shares her view of training from a teacher perspective: “We’re very lucky that we keep a lot of the same teachers. For anyone who’s new, I can’t imagine walking into this district and trying to keep up with all of the trainings we’ve had over the last 5-7 years. We have certain things in place we use. We’re so used to having used it for the past umpteen years. If someone new comes in, it’s overwhelming.”

Finding the time to train teachers is also a challenge for a technology integrator at a school in Connecticut. Once her district finds a solution, they need to get substitute teachers to fill in so they can take their teachers out of class to train them.

2. Budget

Budget is frequently mentioned as an issue for school districts when we talk about the challenges and barriers they face. Although this is not new and will most likely continue to be a challenge over the years, it is worth mentioning in the context of this conversation.

For a technology integrator in Connecticut, budget is always an issue “because you have to pick and choose which pieces you want.” There is only so much money allocated for digital resources and programs, and districts want to get the best parts of those solutions for their teachers and students – sometimes this means only purchasing certain parts of a solution rather than the entire package.

Simply raising the funds needed for resources is a challenge for a Catholic school in Kentucky. This school also has difficulty deciding how to allocate the funds once they receive them.

3. Digital Divide

There exists a digital divide in many districts, where some students have greater access to technology away from school than others (such as wifi, laptops, tablets and smartphones they can use at home or on the go).

This unequal access to technology presents a unique issue. A library media specialist is finding that they can’t require certain technology in a BYOD program or when students are at home because not every student or parent has the ability to purchase what the district wants to require. She says, “We have some schools in low-income neighborhoods and those parents don’t have internet access.”

When students and parents in a district don’t all have the same level of access to technology outside the classroom, teachers need to look for ways to modify assignments and balance the use of technology in and out of the classroom to level the playing field and ensure that all students are able to learn effectively.

4. Solutions Don’t Work Together

Teachers want all of their online resources and programs to work together seamlessly, without any glitches. They want to be able to easily move from one application to another without having to log in and out multiple times.

A technology integrator shares with us, “At my school, the teachers are very receptive to technology. They welcome it and they are eager when I approach them with a new tool or device to make it a little easier. Sometimes it’s frustrating if bits and pieces work in isolation – you need to go to this browser for this, et cetera. I get the most response from teachers if a solution is all-inclusive.”

It’s encouraging to hear that teachers are receptive to new tools and devices, and it makes sense that teachers see more value in these new things if they all work together and are easy to use.

5. Teachers Have Multiple Responsibilities

Teachers feel overwhelmed with all of the responsibilities they have, both in and out of the classroom, related to their teaching careers.

A district instructional technology specialist at a large district in North Carolina tells us that teachers “have so much other stuff to do – grading and attendance program, Power Teacher, Common Core State Standards and so many tests, that sometimes it feels like they don’t have any time to actually teach the students.”

The first step to helping teachers manage their responsibilities to enable them to effectively impact students is to acknowledge everything they do and thank them.

What are your district’s challenges?

Feel free to add a comment below about the challenges in your district. Is your district experiencing the same things mentioned in this article? What other challenges are you facing in your district? Was there anything in this article that surprised you (and why?)?

Along with these challenges districts are experiencing, the educators and admins we spoke with also shared some key initiatives that are happening in their districts. Learn about their key district initiatives in this post: 5 Key District Initiatives.

5 Key District Initiatives

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In our continued efforts to understand what is most important to school district leaders, including the initiatives that receive top priority in their districts and the main challenges their districts face, we conduct research interviews with K-12 educators and administrators throughout the school year. Over the course of these conversations, we identified 5 key initiatives across districts of all sizes.

1. 1:1 Environment

The goal of moving toward a 1:1 environment is becoming more prevalent as districts across the nation work diligently to prepare their students to take the Common Core assessments, which will be delivered online. Districts want to make sure they have the necessary technology and infrastructure in place, along with the proper training of teachers and students, so that students can complete the Common Core assessments online without confusion or glitches.

Many districts are piloting particular devices, like iPads, in a 1:1 environment with certain grade levels (i.e., elementary school or grades 5-12), learning as they go and then rolling out the 1:1 program for the rest of the district after revising their plan to avoid the mistakes they encountered with the initial pilot program.

When teachers and administrators talk about creating a 1:1 environment in their schools and districts, many mention that they are incorporating a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) component.

Teachers love the enhanced aspects of personalized learning that are made possible by providing every student with a device: “It’s amazing and powerful that the iPad can be tailored to each individual student’s needs. It frees up the teacher to work on higher level thinking or students who need to be pushed or need extra support. Instead of doing flash cards with a student, the iPad can do that with a student. Students give feedback so they know what they’re doing correctly and incorrectly.” (Technology Integrator, CT)

2. Common Core & Curriculum

There is an emphasis in school districts on the shift from teaching the existing state standards (which are specific to each individual state) to teaching the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in ELA and mathematics.

Districts are engaging their teachers in professional learning workshops to prepare them for this shift, by helping them to find resources that are better aligned to the true intent of the CCSS. District administrators are working with teachers to update curriculum maps with these CCSS-aligned resources.

The “massive amount of testing that’s going to be required” by the Common Core is a huge concern for a teacher in California.

A technology integrator in Connecticut says, “Now testing will take a different route on computers or iPads – making sure students have the proper skills to take assessments using technology is another big discussion.”

3. Blended Learning

With the vast array of digital resources that are available, districts are encouraging their teachers to incorporate a blending learning model into their instruction. Blended learning is seen as a mixture of learning in a physical building (school classroom) and learning in an online environment.

An eLearning Specialist in Georgia shared his district’s understanding of blended learning with us: “Taking the best of online learning and the best of classroom learning and combining them to provide the best experience possible for the student. It extends the classroom beyond time and space, and it makes the curriculum available 24/7.”

At that large district in Georgia, one of the Spanish teachers who teaches Spanish 1 and 2 courses has students enrolled at 6 of the district’s high schools. The course content is delivered through an online platform, and most of the students have worked out with their counselors the best time for them to take the course.

The key to successful blended learning, according to a 5th grade math teacher in North Carolina, is to find the balance between using the computer and paper/pencil. It’s taken her several years to find the balance of teaching math with computers, and now she is in a comfortable place with how she has blended the learning for her students.

4. Print to Digital Transition

Along with the previous three trends, the overarching vision of a print to digital transition is present in today’s schools. Districts are at varying places in their transition to completely digital content, and some are moving at faster paces than others.

An instructional technology coach in a smaller Pennsylvania district uses specific programs and sites to find learning resources, and teachers can add any resources they find to the district’s learning management system.

Another district doesn’t really have text books anymore. The curriculum teams show the teachers where they can integrate content from their programs where they have subscriptions.

5. Data-Driven Instruction

With more data available to teachers, it is becoming easier to adapt instruction based on what the data shows.

“The teacher can immediately have the data and know that 90% of the students got the concept and 10% didn’t – and then they know they need to differentiate for the students who didn’t get it.”

Methods of collecting data range from traditional clickers to various iPad apps. Regardless of the data collection method, “More and more, data collection is becoming more prevalent – teachers need to collect data on everything students are doing.”

What are your district’s initiatives?

Feel free to add a comment below about the initiatives in your district. Is your district focusing on the same things mentioned in this article? What other initiatives are main areas of focus for you and your district? Was there anything in this article that surprised you (and why?)?

 

Along with these key district initiatives, the educators and admins we spoke with also shared the greatest challenges in their districts. Learn about their challenges in this post: 5 Challenges for School Districts.