IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Back to School Inches Earlier as Schools Confront Disruptive Tech Like Generative AI

As students nationwide begin the new school year, our September ed-tech issue looks at how artificial intelligence is impacting learning and efforts to build the next generation of IT experts.

A group of high school students walking into school a building.
Shutterstock/Monkey Business Images
By the time you read this column, kids have likely returned to school for the start of the 2023-2024 academic year. But only a few districts in the country have held to a post-Labor Day start date, which used to be the de facto standard.

To fact-check my feeling that these dates have inched ever earlier in the decades since Gen X graced the halls of K-12 institutions, I did some research. A CNN piece examining “why August is the new September” points to the advantages earlier start dates offer relative to assessment testing, which rolls around in the spring. More time to teach translates into better prepared kids. Earlier start dates also enable more breaks throughout the school year (no, we didn’t imagine that either), letting both teachers and kids recharge for more learning.

Another reason cited for starting earlier is to end the instructional year before June hits. Energy to shoehorn more lessons into the last few school days in June wanes as minds turn to summer once Memorial Day comes and goes. While all of those are fair arguments, I have to draw the line at starting school in July, which is the case for a handful of districts across the country. But it’s not up to me, and that’s probably for the best.

The slow backward march of school start dates shows that the K-12 education sector can adapt to changing needs and circumstances. Perhaps nothing better supports that point than the pandemic-era shifts to remote and hybrid learning over the past few years. That pivot and its unprecedented scale showed administrators and educators just how central technology is to modern education. It also injected new life into connectivity and digital equity conversations, as lack of Internet was underscored as an inhibitor to academic development. And even pre-pandemic, technology was providing a vital tool in helping educators bring individualized learning to students with different skill levels and different learning styles.

In this issue, we cover several of the most pressing ed-tech issues in 2023, boosted by our bench of reporters at Government Technology’s Center for Digital Education (CDE). And while technology is known for being in a state of constant change, these topics have some staying power.

"Programs Nationwide Aim to Build Pipeline of STEM Experts" documents some interesting approaches to pointing students toward careers in technical fields like science, technology, engineering and math. The field has matured to a point where there’s good data to support creative strategies that have proven effective in chipping away at the workforce gaps that threaten the U.S.’s competitiveness across the globe.

Our cover story, "Generative AI Hits Education, Ushering in a Sea Change for Schools," takes on the unequivocally disruptive generative AI wave that is crashing across the educational spectrum (along with nearly every other sector imaginable). There’s a lot of healthy skepticism and outright fear about something so transformative that is difficult to grasp and not fully understood. From states to school districts, and every organization in between, policies on the technology are in their formative stages. Some are pausing the use of tools like ChatGPT while they study it more fully, while others are encouraging experimentation with guardrails in place. But one thing is clear: Students are likely already using it, whether they know it by that name or not.

Former teacher turned curriculum developer Betia Bentley is not alone in her belief that educating students on AI should be a national requirement, telling CDE’s Aaron Gifford, “AI is in our life not by choice, so it should not be a choice to learn about it, just like English, math and computer science.”

This story originally appeared in the September issue of Government Technology magazine. Click here to view the full digital edition online.
Noelle Knell is the executive editor for e.Republic, responsible for setting the overall direction for e.Republic’s editorial platforms, including Government Technology, Governing, Industry Insider, Emergency Management and the Center for Digital Education. She has been with e.Republic since 2011, and has decades of writing, editing and leadership experience. A California native, Noelle has worked in both state and local government, and is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, with majors in political science and American history.