Pandemic – We’re Not out of the Woods Yet
At this point in mid-January, our country is experiencing new levels of impact from COVID-19. Amazingly, both the daily number of new cases and current hospitalizations in the U.S. are surpassing those of January 2021. But there is encouraging news—for those who are vaccinated Omicron generally causes less serious symptoms, and in other countries that were hit with Omicron earlier than the U.S. (such as South Africa, the U.K.) the variant tended to peak quickly and then decline after a short period.
But even with the hopeful signs, Omicron is extremely disruptive for our nation’s school districts. We are seeing more schools around the country returning to some form of remote learning on a temporary basis. COVID-19 has hit staffing levels very hard; some schools report that as many as 30% of teachers are out due to the virus. There are many reports of district office administrators filling in as substitute teachers when there aren’t enough normal substitutes available. All of this creates a tremendous challenge for teachers, schools and districts. Our hope is that, as in other places, the Omicron variant burns out quickly.
Nevertheless, this latest variant reminds us that we are not out of the woods yet, and our school systems may continue to be impacted by the pandemic in unpredictable ways throughout the new year.
Digital Equity Getting Increased Attention
In 2022, we expect to see significant, large-scale efforts launched across the country to tackle the issue of digital equity—both within K-12 and more broadly in underserved communities around the nation. To date, 26 states have announced digital equity initiatives (under a variety of labels)—calling out the need for not only improved access to devices and broadband connectivity, but also digital skills and digital literacy instruction. I’m going to share more about this in the coming weeks.
Continued Acceptance of Digital Learning
Even as we (eventually) go back to more in-person learning, the K-12 market has been changed forever in terms of the recognition and acceptance of the power of digital learning. Digital learning brings the ability to drive many advances in the teaching and learning experience: moving toward personalized education and assessment-driven delivery of instructional materials; classroom management tools that can save teachers time; higher levels of student engagement from high production-quality animations; and a general increase in the ability of a teacher, school or district to make better data-informed decisions. Digital learning was already growing in acceptance across the K-12 market—COVID-19 dramatically accelerated that acceptance. The genie won’t go back in the bottle.
A Favorable K-12 Funding Environment
Federal stimulus dollars typically take a lengthy time to make their way into the hands of districts. The federal government passes appropriations bills, there is a lag for those funds to end up in the hands of states, and then another delay for those funds to finally end up in the bank accounts of districts. 2020/21 is no different. According to The Learning Counsel, there is approximately $157 billion in K-12 federal appropriations that remains to be spent as of the end of 2021. Some of this is restricted in its use, but the $125 billion allocated for K-12 in the American Rescue Plan Act is relatively unrestricted in what the funds can be spent on, and only about 10% of that has been allocated to districts as of the end of 2021. In addition, Governor Gavin Newsom of California recently requested a $100 billion budget for K-12 and community colleges in 2022, a dramatic increase.
The funding environment for edtech companies should be very favorable, which will create lots of opportunities for more districts to benefit from the many fantastic tools and other products that exist to improve students’ learning.
Greater Focus on Credentialing and Career Pathways in High Schools
We are seeing more from districts around the country about interest in bringing programs into their high schools that will enable career—focused certifications, and more career pathways opportunities. I have long been a fan of career programs into high schools—studies have long shown that bringing career relevance to high school students improves student engagement, graduation rates, test scores and college acceptance rates. As the pandemic, and overall technological advances, have caused education systems to re-evaluate the outcomes they want to deliver for students, I expect to see further development in this area.
While we are certainly in a challenging environment at present, we see tremendous opportunity ahead during 2022 for growth and development in the K-12 market and K-12 edtech specifically.
Keith Oelrich joined Learning.com as CEO in 2012. A pioneer in the K-12 online education market since 2000, Keith has served as CEO of several companies which have collectively provided K-12 online education programs to thousands of districts, tens of thousands of schools and millions of students and their families.
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