See which K–12 trends districts are embracing in 2023–2024 to solve persistent academic recovery, teacher retention, and student well-being challenges.
There are so many different pressures on K–12 leaders today — from social and political concerns to financial and operational demands. District leaders have managed unprecedented challenges in the past, and so far, the 2023-2024 school year is proving to be no different. Partnering with hundreds of school districts across the U.S., we see district leaders continuing to wrestle with enormous challenges like academic recovery, teacher retention, and student well-being. But the specific nature of these issues and how districts are solving them continues to change shape.
As we enter a new school year, here are the top three concerns we see district leaders facing and the resourceful ways they are addressing them.
The Race to Academic Recovery as ESSER Funds Expire
With a significant drop in math and reading scores between 2019 and 2021, district leaders have rushed to speed up post-pandemic academic recovery and learning loss.
This year, that work has become more urgent as ESSER funds, which many districts used to help address academic recovery, are set to expire. As a result, district leaders are keenly focused on understanding which instructional policies, programs, and practices are effective — and which ones aren’t — before it’s too late.
Ultimately, examining academic data, assessing instruction, and evaluating programs is critical to making mid-course corrections without delay, validate difficult budget decisions, and propel more students to reach new learning milestones. District leaders know that to address this concern, they need to collect and analyze the right district data to illuminate what is working and what areas need rethinking.
However, managing the day-to-day tasks in a district often leaves little time for this kind of in-depth exploration or planning. School districts are often data rich but information poor, and district leaders are increasingly focused on narrowing this gap, allocating resources for systematic data collection and analysis. We are seeing school districts focus on tracking and disaggregating achievement data, conducting instructional audits, and enacting robust program evaluation plans, all of which help identify the subjects that need the most recovery and attention and maximize meaningful student outcomes.
Make better evidence-based academic decisions in your district with our Step-by-Step Guide to K-12 Program Evaluations.
Countering Teacher Burnout and Turnover
Employee dissatisfaction, stress, and attrition continue to present major concerns in public education. Nine out of 10 teachers report burnout and districts continue to see record teacher turnover, both of which have a negative impact on students. Addressing teacher burnout and attrition is one of the most difficult challenges for administrators to address. Many of the drivers of burnout — staffing shortages, school violence, district politicization, and responding to greater student needs with fewer resources — are out of district leaders’ immediate control.
However, there is an intensified focus this year among many district leaders to uncover and address the key factors that nurture educator well-being, and many districts are implementing multiple tiers of support to address teacher efficacy, agency, and satisfaction. These include adopting multiple care strategies, building relevant support resources into the workplace, and integrating professional learning opportunities to help teachers and staff feel more valued and respected, increase their sense of purpose, and develop new skills that will further their career path.
Use our Staff Well-Being Check-In Toolkit to build more supportive employee culture in your district.
The Fine Line of Supporting K–12 Student Mental Health
Students are living a complex reality and face ongoing concerns around school violence, bullying, alienation, and rising rates of anxiety and depression, among other issues. Decades of empirical research show that a safe and supportive school climate is closely linked to positive student achievement and engagement outcomes. However, increased political controversies and restrictions in some districts regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and social-emotional learning (SEL) are creating additional hurdles for district leaders as they try to address student well-being.
Yet, even with these restrictions, district leaders are finding ways to implement policies, programs, and practices that support the needs of every student and improve equitable outcomes. The key is working closely with students, teachers, staff, and families to discover needs, focus on data, and identify shared values that can create a foundation for implementing changes that will improve students’ well-being, and their sense of inclusion and belonging.
Many districts are prioritizing school climate as a strategy to address student well-being concerns. To begin building more positive and inclusive environments, districts often conduct school climate surveys, and dozens of states even require that schools report on climate metrics annually. These surveys incorporate student health and well-being metrics to ensure that current issues are surfaced, appropriate resources can be allocated to address them, and progress can be measured over time. Some districts are also using multiple strategies to involve more student voice in some decision-making processes, ensuring diverse student perspectives and needs are more closely considered across schools and the district.
Build a more welcoming school environment with insights from our webinar, Evaluating the Influence of School Environment on Student & Staff Well-Being.
Even amid novel hardships and ongoing challenges, we’re seeing educational leaders push forward and meet barriers with strategic thinking, data, and creative problem solving. Prioritizing data analysis related to instructional quality, well-being, and school climate in 2023–24 will allow your district to seize new opportunities to develop evidence-based, measurable frameworks to alleviate even the most persistent K–12 challenges, for years to come.
—Sid Phillips, Chief Growth Officer, Education
Weather this year’s challenges by digging deeper into our full report on emerging trends in K12 education.