Beyond the Trends: Finding Opportunity Amid the Challenges in K–12 Education

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“In a crisis, be aware of the danger, but recognize the opportunity.”
—John F. Kennedy
 

 

It would be easy to look at the current K–12 landscape and think that things look bleak. As we went about identifying the most pressing trends for our 2022 Trends in K–12 Education report, a host of challenges stood out.  

Record high teacher turnover. Politically charged atmospheres. Pandemic-related learning loss and trauma. Obstacles standing between school districts and critical initiatives around diversity, equity, and inclusion all resulted in a tumultuous 2020-2021 school year 

Take a step back, however, and the sum of these struggles amounts to something more: the opportunity to reimagine education.  

For K–12 Educators, Finding Hope Amidst Hardship

When the pandemic first emerged in 2020, K–12 school districts around the nation found themselves facing a task that looked nearly insurmountable. How could they continue educating students, avoid disruption in learning, and mitigate the numerous hardships and inequities exposed by the impact of COVID-19? 

One of the most gratifying parts of the job I do at Hanover is working with educators around the nation, learning about their biggest challenges, witnessing their commitment to solving those challenges, and being able to play a role in helping them do that.  

In the two years that have passed since the pandemic first emerged, I’ve seen educators face challenge after challenge, determined to provide students with the education they deserve. And while these challenges remain as prevalent and present as ever, today’s educators are learning to navigate them. In the process, they can strengthen the foundation on which K–12 stands, improving the likelihood that school districts will be able to face and surmount future challenges as well.  

The 2022 K–12 Trends: DEI, Learning Loss, Politics, and More 

If the first step to solving a problem is acknowledging the problem exists, K–12 educators were heading in the right direction even before the pandemic began. Working with more than 350 school districts from around the nation — from urban, suburban, and rural settings, and with varying demographics — our team at Hanover is privileged to see and understand a comprehensive range of perspectives across the education landscape.  

Reflecting on the past year (or, really, the past two years) and where we see the sector heading, we’ve identified five trends that we predict will shape K–12 education over the course of 2022:  

  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives Face Risk of Derailment
    Beset by political and sociological tensions, districts will reframe DEI initiatives to highlight their communities’ shared values and build consensus to move forward and foster a more equitable and inclusive culture.
  • Districts Confront Record-High Teacher Turnover
    With more teachers leaving the classroom, districts will look to strengthen support for teacher and administrator well-being to counter complex staffing shortages and increase retention. 
  • Students Continue to Struggle with Trauma and Learning Loss
    Pandemic-related disruptions have introduced an array of stressors and struggles for students. Districts will need to develop and implement programs designed to support their social, emotional, and academic recovery.
  • Politically Charged Atmospheres Create Challenges for District Leaders
    As politics increasingly creep into the education climate, superintendents and school boards will work together to build consensus and relationships with communities in the face of increased polarization.
  • Short-Term Funding Requires Complex, Collaborative Decision-Making
    With an influx of federal funding intended to mitigate pandemic-related challenges, districts will assess how they can allocate those dollars to both meet immediate needs and advance long-term goals to improve student outcomes. 

Of course, identifying these challenges is only a single step toward solving them. These are deeply systemic issues that, in turn, need systemic approaches. The good news? We have an army of educators who are ready to innovate — if they don’t get burned out by the polarized rhetoric in school board rooms. 

Daunting Times Call for Collaboration, Consensus Building Among All K–12 Stakeholders

While many people hoped that the 2021–2022 school year would bring with it a return to normalcy, many communities are now recognizing that “normal” has a new look. The impact of the pandemic — combined with challenges that predate it — will continue to shape districts not only this year, but for years to come.  

Even the temporary challenges — such as school closures, mask mandates, and virtual learning — have introduced long-term issues that have polarized communities and eroded relationships between school districts and the communities they serve. But even amid so much difficulty, there’s also reason to hope. From this year’s trend report: 

“K–12 districts now have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to re-envision how they fulfill their missions, to reconsider how teachers teach, to re-examine how students learn, and to determine how to best engage staff and communities.

We see signs of this in districts’ renewed focus on strategic planning. Many of the district leaders we work with will revise strategic plans in 2022 to reflect the current context or will start from scratch. Both scenarios require districts to answer difficult questions (“What are our goals?”) and make difficult choices (“What strategies will enable us to succeed?”).

District leaders have a critical opportunity in 2022 to step forward in bold new directions, equipped with data-informed research, a sense of cooperation and collaboration, and a willingness to acknowledge that some of the solutions that worked in the past may no longer work in the future.”

For K–12 Districts, the Question Remains: “Now What?”

It’s not enough to know the problems—you also need to identify solutions. Download 2022 Trends in K–12 Education to learn how you can address the biggest challenges facing school districts this year. 

 

— Leila Nuland, PhD, Managing Content Director, Hanover Research

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