Town Hall Recap: What’s Next In Learning 2024

At Getting Smart we have an annual tradition of kicking off the year with a “What’s Next in Learning” Town Hall that focuses on trends and opportunities we see on the learning horizon. 

In this particular Town Hall, we talked about five big ideas that are driving innovations in equity. 

Check out an edited and linked transcript below that walks through these ideas, highlights a few of the leading exemplars and threads them together.

AI As Learning Partner

Nate McClennen
Happy New Year, everyone! As we embark on the new year, we’re excited to delve into the potential of AI in education. Although AI is a widely discussed topic, we’re bringing fresh perspectives with four key areas to consider for what’s next in AI.

First, let’s acknowledge the vast array of AI-driven EdTech solutions emerging daily. While we’ll highlight a few, there are numerous others out there, and we encourage you to share any innovative tools you’ve encountered.

Secondly, as AI ushers in more personalized solutions, it’s vital to balance this with a continued focus on purpose, community, and learning experiences. How can AI enhance these aspects?

Thirdly, we need to ponder the uniquely human skills that AI cannot replace. What are those essential, distinctly human capabilities in the face of AI’s advancement?

Now, onto our four main ideas:

  1. AI in Tutoring Boom: Since Bloom’s 1984 study on the 2 Sigma problem, we’ve been inching closer to providing an individualized tutor for every student. Examples like Khanmigo, Khan Academy’s digits, ASU Prep’s math AI tool, and Amira Learning showcase accelerated, personalized learning. Additionally, tools like School Joy connect students with career experts, fostering mastery-based learning tailored to each student’s potential.
  2. Creative Design of Learning Experiences: This involves AI-supported tools like Project Leo from Da Vinci schools, a personalized project generator that has created thousands of projects for students. XQ is also contributing with high-quality learning experience designs. Knowledge, a comprehensive project-based learning tool, is redefining how students initiate and complete projects with expert guidance. Ethan Mollick’s insights on AI as a superior innovator suggest a shift towards more personalized, student-driven learning experiences.
  3. Increased Efficiency for Teachers: With tools emerging to automate mundane tasks like rubrics and assessments, teachers can focus more on building meaningful relationships and providing support to students. The recent launch of Chat GPT’s marketplace exemplifies this shift, allowing anyone to create and share educational solutions, thereby enhancing teachers’ efficiency and student engagement.
  4. Challenges in AI Adoption: Despite these advancements, Education Week’s survey reveals a gap in AI utilization among teachers due to time constraints, lack of knowledge, and concerns over students’ independent thinking skills. Sites like Teach.AI offer resources to introduce AI into schools and districts, yet there’s still a hurdle in widespread adoption. We’re curious to see if 2024 becomes a pivotal year for embracing AI in education after 2023’s innovation surge.

In summary, our focus is on tutoring, learning experience design, increased efficiency, and addressing the challenges in AI adoption. These areas represent the exciting potential and the hurdles we face in integrating AI into the educational landscape.

I’d love to open it up. What are you thinking? What makes sense to you? What did we miss here in these 4 ideas? What are you wondering?

Tom Vander Ark
Hey, Nate, I’d like Christian Talbot from Middle States Association (MSA) to describe what what he’s trying to do in response to support schools.

Christian Talbot
You beat me to the punch, Tom. I didn’t even get a chance to raise my hand there. So Middle States is an accreditor where we’re in about 115 countries. We have over 3,000 members around the world and we’re building an endorsement system. So think of like a set of endorsements, that sort of stack together or interlock that will help schools get off the sidelines. And think about how to use AI responsibly. And the first endorsement will be around literacy, safety and ethics, because that’s the precondition for all responsible use.

And then we’re building endorsements in governance and infrastructure and essential learner experience of things made that would connect with some of the stuff you talked about around AI and learning experiences. Especially things that lend students as much agency as possible. And then from there, you know, down the roadmap would be things like using AI for talent, recruitment, and development for more efficient operations, and then for advanced learner experience. And we’re gonna pilot this with schools. Actually starting later in the in the winter or early spring and hopefully have a lot to share with you.

Tom Vander Ark

Thank you, Christian. I see Dave Richards is on from Michigan Virtual. They’ve done a nice job providing guidance on how schools can effectively use AI.

David Richards

Yeah. You know, I appreciate the shout-out the team has been incredible. Actually, they’ve set up this year an AI lab where they’re just doing a ton of work with districts and different research institutes to take a look at some of the impact statements. Chris Stanley, who’s from Grosse Pointe Schools on this call has recently connected with them as well, just trying to work with districts at the local level. So yeah, it’s it’s been pretty positive. And starting to gain a lot of momentum

Tom Vander Ark
It’s exciting to see Ian from School Joy here. Nate, you mentioned SchoolJoy’s work in community-connected projects and career exploration. Ian, you must be excited about the possibilities you see.

Ian Zhu
Yes, we are thrilled about the feedback from districts and their willingness to embrace AI. We’re particularly enthusiastic about using AI to automate evidence management for learner portfolios. This approach aligns well with the foundational work districts are already doing and operationalizes common SEL definitions, making information more accessible and meaningful for parents.

Portraits That Align & Inspire

Rebecca Midles

I encourage everyone to keep sharing examples in our chat. We will reference these as we continue. Many of you have examples of graduate portraits to share, so feel free to send links. We’ve compiled several examples on our site and are open to adding more. Post-2020, there’s been a surge in schools and districts revisiting, redesigning, or creating graduate portraits. This reflects a renewed opportunity to engage communities in shaping a shared vision for future graduates, impacting the roles of leaders, educators, and systems.

We’ve seen an increased focus on learning models supporting these graduate portrait commitments, especially with AI’s growing role. This allows for more personalized resource gathering and varied demonstration of learning, leading to renewed priorities around purpose, agency, leadership, entrepreneurship, and skill credentialing.

With a future-focused graduate portrait, the process becomes iterative, bringing creative tension, especially in balancing community and individual needs. We’re also focusing on identity and belonging, as seen in Nevada’s competency-driven examples. These portraits evolve within systems, communities, and learners themselves. We’ve released resources linked to this work and are eager to hear more from you about potential developments.

Many competency-based systems are exploring educator and leader portraits, as well as self-portraits, which are critical. For example, Lindsay Unified School District is known for having competencies for all stakeholders, aligning systems for growth and strength.

Nate McClennen

Rebecca, I’ve been discussing with Josh the idea of community-designed graduate portraits versus self-portraits, both critical in defining individual learner identities.

Rebecca Midles

This combination is crucial for schools and districts. The creative tension we’re seeing is between defining what we want for graduates at a group level and where individual identity and self-portrait work come in. Ryan mentioned potential friction when states introduce portraits, but framing them as questions allows for alignment with district-level commitments.

Nate McClennen

Rebecca, could Alissa from Washington share insights on balancing state-level portrait ideas with district flexibility?

Rebecca Midles

Hello, Alissa. Could you share insights on balancing Washington state-level portrait ideas with district flexibility?

Alissa Muller

Hello, everyone. In Washington, the State Board of Education was tasked by the State Legislature to develop a statewide profile. However, the mastery-based learning work group that developed this profile emphasized the importance of not restricting districts from engaging in their own local work. So, we created a state profile and encouraged local districts to conduct their own community engagement. We believe that local findings will likely align with the state profile, even if different terms or directions are used. Overall, the response from districts has been very positive, with most appreciating the foundation to build upon and customize. Out of 295 districts, I recall only one expressing some tension regarding this approach.

Rebecca Midles

Thank you, Alissa. It’s great to see you.

I will also participate in the chat and we can incorporate these insights as we go along. I know we have other topics to cover, so I’ll dive into the chat for all these great comments.

Work That Matters

Shawnee Caruthers 

It’s been incredibly encouraging to hear about AI in education while also emphasizing the human component. This collaborative effort is essential for creating meaningful work for learners. I was reading Carlos Moreno’s book, “Finding Your Leadership Soul” and was struck by Ted Sizer’s quote, “I cannot teach a child that I do not know.” This highlights the importance of knowing students and building relationships to engage them in significant work.

In Kansas City, the Real World Learning Initiative is a prime example of collaboration for student success, involving 31 superintendents across Missouri and Kansas. They’ve agreed on protocols and outcomes for students before graduation, prioritizing equity regardless of a student’s zip code. This initiative includes work experiences, client-connected projects, and internships, creating a connected ecosystem that extends beyond the high school diploma.

Nationwide, the CAPS network, with 105 affiliates, replicates this model. Walking into Blue Valley CAPS in Kansas, you immediately feel a sense of professionalism and trust. Students act as professionals, leading to innovative products and services. Another example is EPIC by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which involves employee-provided innovation challenges, connecting students with employers for real-world projects.

Organizations like Uncharted Learning, NFTE, Junior Achievement, and FFA are making significant strides, especially in areas like Chicago. These programs inspire students, even those not interested in entrepreneurship, by fostering an entrepreneurial mindset. Startland supports Kansas City area schools with hackathons and pitch days, focusing on design thinking to prepare students for post-high school paths.

Local examples like Watershed in Boulder, Colorado, and High School for the Recording Arts (HRSA) in Saint Paul, Minnesota, show how schools can create curriculums based on student interests. Watershed focuses on solving big challenges, while the High School for the Recording Arts integrates music and arts into learning.

Nate mentioned Project Leo and the work of Mollick in using AI to create more opportunities for learner co-authorship in classrooms. By leveraging these tools, we empower students to envision their future possibilities.

Shawnee Caruthers

Now, I’d like to invite Norton Gusky to share his experiences in Pittsburgh, where they are creating a learning ecosystem centered on real-world work.

Norton Gusky

In Pittsburgh, we’re inspired by models like Cajon Valley’s and are focusing on making a difference for kids. We recently had Ed Hidalgo as a keynote speaker at a regional conference. He engaged students in conversations about their future, emphasizing the importance of asking the right questions and fostering relationships. It’s not just about AI or programs; it’s about the human connections we make and how we can use technology to enhance those connections.

Growing Staff

Victoria Andrews:
Let’s discuss growing the talent pipeline in education, an area I’m very excited about. There’s a huge opportunity to create solutions for growing and retaining talented teachers and administrators. In 2024, we face various challenges but also immense creativity in addressing these issues.

We need to rethink teacher and administrator preparation, acknowledging the barriers like cost and time. For instance, about 40% of undergraduate students work full-time and can’t afford to leave their jobs for unpaid internships. Efforts are underway nationally and in states like Maryland to make teacher residency programs more cost-effective, offering stipends to students.

Organizations like Pathways Alliance are also pivotal. They’re defining key roles like teacher apprenticeships and cooperative teachers, aiding the Department of Education’s “Raise the Bar” initiative which channels significant funding into state residency programs. This helps students understand if a district is right for them and vice versa.

We should also recognize the Department of Education’s apprenticeship programs. The town hall in November highlighted the mutual benefits of apprenticeships for learners and organizations. The Center for Black Educator Development is also noteworthy for diversifying the teacher pipeline by partnering with Philadelphia high schools, offering scholarships and practical teaching experiences.

ASU’s work in rethinking staffing models is remarkable. They’re moving towards a collaborative approach, with a primary teacher, paraprofessional, community educator, and educational leader each contributing their expertise. This model includes student interns, promoting team-based learning and growth.

Tom Vander Ark
Victoria, Scott Van Beck challenged the traditional title of “teacher,” suggesting an update in our approach to education work.

Scott Van Beck
There’s a significant shift needed from merely teaching to assessing whether learners are actually learning. This is crucial for talent development, moving away from just teaching content to focusing on student learning.

Victoria Andrews
This shift is evident in organizations like Big Picture Learning, which refer to teachers as advisors, and others using terms like facilitators. Our role is changing, especially with AI assistance coming into play. However, AI can’t replace the essential human relationship element in teaching.

Tom Vander Ark
Does anyone else have insights on changing staffing models and educational leadership roles?

Victoria Andrews
Our principal fellowship in Kansas City is reimagining the education leader’s role. It emphasizes the importance of community partnerships and collaborative leadership, moving away from the traditional, isolated approach.

New Models in Networks

Tom Vander Ark

Thanks, Rebecca, thanks, Victoria, let’s wrap up with a couple of thoughts on new schools. We’re excited about new schools and particularly new schools and networks.

I’ve been passionate about this topic for 20 years, and it still feels like a fresh, new idea in education. This excitement is fueled by new technologies and policies.

Recently, headlines indicated that thousands of schools might close due to enrollment loss. Despite potential small declines in public school enrollments this decade, I believe it’s more important than ever to open new schools. Charter school networks, in particular, continue to seize new opportunities to open. Many districts are quietly opening new schools and academies, creating innovative pathways.

Less obvious are the new cooperative structures among the 3.5 million home-schooled children. These include microschools and pods, which surged in popularity during the pandemic. Although their growth slowed in 2022, there’s a resurgence of interesting, often small, new schools being created in networks.

New schools can quickly demonstrate what’s possible in education, offering student-centered and community-connected options. Our friend Kim Smith refers to these as “horizon 3 schools”, the schools we need for the future. Recently, the Getting Smart team announced grants to various operators capable of opening or supporting multiple microschool sites. This includes a range of charter networks, school districts, and alternative school models.

Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) are a significant development in school finance and education policy. About 19 states have enacted some form of ESA or voucher program. While some are limited to special needs or low-income families, others, like Arizona’s, are unlimited. If all vouchers were used, they could represent around 15 billion dollars. With more states considering ESAs, we’re nearing a tipping point where most U.S. families might have access to an ESA.

This trend could lead to the creation of new school options, but it also raises concerns about accountability and measurement outside the public school system. It’s a promising yet disconcerting development, and it’s important to be mindful of how this policy framework evolves. This may draw us back into policy discussions to help states think carefully about expanding access to these new educational options.

Other Microschools Links:

Getting Smart Staff

The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

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