IE 11 Not Supported

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

Staff Recruitment, Online Safety Top CoSN’s List of K-12 Hurdles

The biggest accelerator of K-12 innovation is changing attitudes toward demonstrating learning, and the top hurdle is staff recruitment and retention, according to an annual report from the Consortium for School Networking.

Illustration of five people sitting around a table made of large puzzle pieces that they are putting together.
Shutterstock/hand idea
K-12 leaders across the nation consider generative artificial intelligence the emerging tech enabler in education today, while attracting and retaining educators and IT professionals remains their No. 1 hurdle as leaders, the professional association Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) reported this week.

Identifying “hurdles, accelerators and tech enablers” for K-12 innovation, CoSN’s 43-page report published this week is an annual update on those three categories, based on input from more than 140 educators and IT professionals in the U.S.

While professional recruitment and retention ranks as the top hurdle for the third consecutive year, the placement of other topics shifted from prior reports. Generative AI was new to the list of tech enablers this year, just as AI — not generative AI — was new to that list in 2023.

CoSN CEO Keith Krueger said in a news release that these topic changes represent a turning point in education and show a need for collaborative efforts among those in the instructional technology space.

“The best aspect of the annual Driving K-12 Innovation report is not to tell education leaders ‘the answer’ about K-12 innovation today. Rather, it is a thoughtful framework for thinking about innovation focused on hurdles, accelerators and tech enablers,” he said in a public statement. “Too often ed-tech stalwarts start with the technology when advocating innovation. CoSN flips that tendency and starts with the ‘why’ (hurdles).”

The CoSN report attributes the ongoing challenge of staff recruitment and retention to social and emotional burnout of educators, along with low pay compared to what they would make in other sectors, “causing them to set aside their passion for teaching and leave the field.” It cited 2022 research from the Rand Corporation, a nonprofit policy think tank, that said 85 percent of school principals and 73 percent of teachers complained of job-related stress, compared to 35 percent of working adults from other professions.

The No. 2 hurdle, according to CoSN's report, is ensuring cybersecurity and online safety. The third hurdle is scaling innovation and inertia of education systems, meaning schools need to adapt to what is working well in a larger effort to develop industry standards across districts and states. By contrast, digital equity, the evolution of teaching and learning, and technology and the future of work were not among the top three hurdles in the latest report, though they all made the list in prior years.

Topping the list of “accelerators” this year is changing attitudes toward demonstrating learning, which involves assigning value to student learning and “relating this learning to higher education, vocational training, career pathways, and living in the real world.” Building the human capacity of leaders, or strengthening the professional community of K-12 schools, came in at No. 2. And the third is learner agency, meaning students can be molded into leaders and innovators.

In the “tech enablers” category, generative AI took the top spot because it’s recognized as a transformative force in education that changes not only how students learn, but what they need to learn.

“As school systems worldwide explore the benefits and challenges of this technology, they are both developing and seeking expert guidance to meet the urgent need for policies and processes that ensure the safe, effective, and responsible use of genAI for all stakeholders,” the report said.

The second-ranked tech enabler this year is analytics and adaptive technologies — using data to inform instructional decision, and selecting tools that adapt to the student. No. 3, rich digital ecosystems, encourage the practice of connecting digital systems to support student learning and school administration.

Topics that made the list of tech enablers in prior years but do not appear this year include untethered broadband and connectivity, blended learning tools, cloud infrastructures, mobile devices, extended reality, and tools for privacy and safety online.

The report concludes with recommendations from CoSN advisory board members who assisted with this annual project. Collaboration across K-12 communities and an emphasis on awareness of the speed of ed-tech innovation were common themes in their comments.

“We are in a sweet spot of exponential growth if we can leverage the technological advances we have seen over the past few years and build upon the COVID-inspired universal awareness that learning can happen in ways other than a traditional classroom,” Mary Wegner, an assistant professor at the University of Alaska Southeast, said in the report. “Be brave and lean into this space so we can ensure that all students and teachers have opportunities to learn and contribute within the educational ecosystem.”