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SETDA: Cybersecurity, AI and Equity Are Main Concerns

The second annual report on education technology trends by the State Educational Technology Directors Association notes that the emergence of ChatGPT has given state education leaders new problems to worry about.

Illustration of a laptop with book pages coming out of the back of it. White background.
For the second consecutive year, cybersecurity is the primary concern of K-12 school administrators across the nation according to a national organization of ed-tech leaders, but progress has been reported at the state level.

The 2023 State Edtech Trends Report, a 19-page document completed by the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) and Whiteboard Advisors, was released on Sept. 14 and based on input from state-level information technology directors, superintendents, chiefs of staff and other leaders from 45 states, Washington, D.C., and Guam.

The report also addresses the onset of generative AI use in schools, namely ChatGPT, as a new and significant area of concern. The third topic in the report was home Internet access, followed by the effectiveness of ed-tech tools.

The inaugural report last year, issued in September 2022, was largely based on information collected at a time when many school districts were transitioning back to in-person learning after the COVID-19 pandemic. In a public statement, SETDA Executive Director Julia Fallon said the 2023 report “signifies the uniqueness of this moment in time as school systems emerge from the pandemic into a technology-rich new normal rife with opportunity but also risk.”

“Last year’s needs have become this year’s priorities,” Fallon said, “and states are making progress in addressing these challenges.”

Twenty-four percent of state leaders surveyed for this year’s report listed cybersecurity as their top priority, up from 17 percent last year, while 20 percent listed Internet access (equity) and 19 percent listed technology for instruction.

Nineteen percent of those surveyed this year indicated that their state provides ample funding for cybersecurity, up from just 8 percent last year, but 42 percent of respondents maintain their state provides “a small amount” or “very little funding” for cybersecurity needs. SETDA cited Louisiana as an example of continued improvement, noting how that state stepped up data protection by providing districts with advanced firewalls, software for 24-hour network monitoring, and financial guidance for maintaining cybersecurity systems.

Regarding AI, 55 percent of respondents said they’ve seen “increased interest in AI policy development” in the past year, though only 2 percent indicated that their state has an AI initiative in place. SETDA’s report spotlights Illinois for its state legislation proposing a generative AI and natural language-processing task force that would model policy for K-12 schools.

The report said home Internet connectivity remains a “particularly thorny challenge,” citing Federal Communications Commission data that indicates 17 million students still lack reliable home Internet access. SETDA hailed New Mexico as a model of progress, noting how collaboration between several agencies in that state reduced the number of students lacking home access from 75,000 to fewer than 40,000 in less than three years.

Lastly, the report says states have improved at maintaining an inventory of ed-tech tools used in their districts and tracking their usefulness, but they still have a long way to go. Thirty-nine percent of respondents said their state “does not collect data on use or effectiveness of ed-tech tools,” down from 47 percent last year. SETDA recognized Massachusetts school leaders for publishing ed-tech strategic planning and system guides.

For all of these evolving concerns — cybersecurity, AI, equity and effective use of ed-tech tools — the report concludes that state offices and administrators must collaborate with educators, policy-makers, technology developers and other stakeholders to ensure that technology is designed to meet the specific needs of their education systems.

“State leaders can’t shy away from change or the technologies that bring it about,” Kirsten Baesler, superintendent of the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction, said in a public statement. “That’s not an option for the students we serve whose future success depends on their ability to thrive in an ever-changing, technology-rich world.”