Predictions for K-12 Education in 2015

 It is tough to think about what is on the horizon for K-12 education in 2015 without thinking about the changes that have occurred in the last few decades and the challenges that have remained constant.

Like many of today’s teachers, I used pencils and typewriters when I went to school. Today’s kindergartners arrive on their first day of school with tapping, swiping and “Googling” skills that it has taken many of us years to master. By middle school, they are texting, tweeting and posting photos on Instagram—tasks that no one had heard of even just a few years ago.

Photo credit flickingerbrad via Flickr

At the same time, our schools are faced with some of the same challenges as they were 20 or more years ago: dealing with large class sizes and shrinking budgets and ensuring that students of vastly diverse backgrounds and abilities are all successful. These are perennial hurdles for schools and teachers.

There is no question that there are great education innovations on the horizon for 2015 and beyond, but it is also only realistic to recognize that these challenges will remain and new ones will emerge. However, as I visit schools around the country, one thing is crystal clear: the key to improving student outcomes—or, as Edudemic defines in its mission, “creating awesome students”—is great teachers. So while my first four predictions for 2015 may be right on target, the only way they will result in accelerated student learning is if No.5 is accurate as well.

Here are my top five predictions for 2015 and beyond: 

1.   Continued Focus on Rigorous Learning Goals

While there have been many points of view in 2014 about which academic standards are the best standards, there seems to be just as much agreement that we want every one of our students in every one of our classrooms to be on the path to achieving at the highest levels. I predict that in 2015 this discussion will continue, and the national conversation—and debate—around standards will create benchmarks for all of us to strive to achieve.

2.   Increased Use of Data to Improve Individual Student Outcomes

As a result, the entire education community—parents, educators, students and companies such as Pearson—will sharpen its focus on how we improve individual student outcomes. Learning analytics and other data tools will support us as we collaborate to create an educational environment that transforms teaching and learning for all students.

3.   Tone of the Assessment Conversation Will Change (for the Better)

In the last few years, the conversation around student assessment has been fraught with controversy. However, during 2014 we have seen a growing consensus on the need for better, fewer assessments that provide timely insights into the teaching and learning cycle. I believe that in 2015—fueled by the ways that technology can make assessment data a powerful tool for personalizing learning—we will see a more positive and productive conversation about how assessment data can be used to provide more timely, useful feedback for teachers and students.

4.   Emphasis on Ensuring That Students Are Not Just College-Ready, but Career-Ready as Well

For the past few years, we have talked a lot about graduating college-ready students. In 2015, I think the focus will emphasize preparing them for careers as well. One big measure of the efficacy of education is, “Did what you learn actually advance your ability to pursue a successful career?” I think we will start to examine more deeply what “career-ready” means and create programs and innovations to support ensuring that students are on that path.

5.   Greater Emphasis on and Investment in the “Person” Who “Personalizes” Learning: TEACHERS

In 2014, there was a lot of discussion about the ways that digital tools personalize learning to improve outcomes. In 2015, there will be an increased focus on the reality that it is digital curriculum combined with excellent teaching that results in students learning new skills and applying new knowledge effectively. Digital learning solutions provide teachers with valuable insights about their students. However, talented teachers who have learned how to translate those insights into timely interventions for individual students —or acceleration for students who are moving ahead quickly—are the key differentiator when it comes to sustained improvement in learning and teaching.

Keep in mind that technology is an enabler—not the be-all and end-all. Without a measurable investment in professional learning opportunities for teachers, our investments in hardware and digital curriculum for schools will not improve student outcomes.

To keep our collective “eye on the prize” and achieve our shared goal of creating “awesome students” who are successful in school, college, career and life, we must support and invest in teachers. If this prediction comes true, then from my perspective as the parent of two middle-schoolers, I think 2015 will be a year of continued improvement in learning outcomes for our country’s K-12 students.

Don Kilburn is currently the president of Pearson North America, where he leads a teammany of whom are former teachersfocused on accelerating the shift to services and digital, while transforming the company by putting learner outcomes at the center of everything Pearson does. He has been in the education industry for more than 20 years and has a son and daughter in middle school.