Five Important Questions Education Leaders Should Focus on in 2017

Published Fri Jan 20 00:00:00 EST 2017

By David Levin, Chief Executive Officer

Together we can address education’s most important issues to improve student outcomes in the New Year.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse on January 18, 2017 and can be viewed here.


Last year was a turbulent year around the world, one where huge (and in many cases unexpected) change has ushered in a period of uncertainty. With a new President and a new Secretary of Education transitioning in the first months of 2017, there’s uncertainty in the education space as well. But I’ve always felt the New Year presents an opportunity to refocus and reset goals. As we look ahead to 2017, what are the areas we as an education community should be focused on?

Here are five important questions I have about K-12 and higher education that I suspect institutional leaders will be thinking about all year:

  1. How can educators provide effective intervention in the early years so all students are on track by third grade? According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress reading assessment, two-thirds of all fourth-graders fail to read at a proficient level. And research has shown that those students are four times more likely not to graduate from high school on time. Helping students who have fallen behind is one of the greatest challenges teachers face. Technology can help by providing personalized paths and support for students and by giving teachers powerful data and tools that free them up and help them differentiate instruction. The schools that can effectively support students in the early years are going to see achievement improve for more students in the long run.

  2. How can teachers become better prepared to support America’s growing English Language Learning population? The number of English Language Learners (ELLs) in U.S. public schools continues to grow. Focusing solely on Spanish-speaking ELLs, however, misses broader questions of how to support ELLs who speak other languages, and how to embrace these diverse cultures in ways that empower students and make schools safe, vibrant learning centers. This is a tremendous challenge for educators. As the composition of student populations continues to change, we must provide appropriate and intentional instructional support for all students and give teachers the training and resources they need to support the diverse needs in their classrooms.

  3. How can educational leaders and policymakers support and accelerate digital transformation in the K-12 system? If you walk into any American public school, chances are you’ll see some technology in use. Most public schools today operate in a blended print-digital environment. But layering technology on top of the existing structure can only minimally improve outcomes. To realize the full potential for technology we need to provide support for educators to help transform the delivery model. I expect in 2017, we’ll see movement toward changing instruction in a way that will begin to unleash the promise of technology. That means doing the hard work of supporting teachers. It also means focusing on the issue of seamlessly integrating technology by encouraging school districts and technology providers to support IMS Global interoperability standards. Without industry-wide coordination on this issue, schools will struggle to piece technology solutions together in coherent ways.

  4. How can colleges work with local school districts to help ensure students are prepared? The cost of remediation is extremely high, both for colleges and for students who are paying for non-credit bearing courses – courses they very often fail and that end up as barriers to success. In an effort to improve student preparation, some colleges are focused on math – and a few are partnering with local high schools to offer programs for students that would ensure they’re ready to take college level math their first semester. Solving that math riddle could go a long way toward helping colleges improve retention and graduation rates. One model for this approach is Harper College, a community college in the suburbs of Chicago that is working with feeder districts on math preparation.

  5. How can colleges improve graduation rates and ensure students are getting maximum value out of their college investments? We all know that college is expensive, and an investment that for many students means taking on debt. Ensuring that all students have the chance to go to college is an important goal. However, the focus on access ignores the fact that an estimated 40 percent of all students who enter four-year schools fail to graduate within six years and only 28 percent at two-year schools attained a certificate or associate’s degree within three years. College is a great investment for students who graduate – but can lead to crippling debt for those who borrow money and then drop out without earning a credential. Access is important, but the most important conversation we need to have is about completion.

Addressing these important issues won’t be easy, and in many ways they carry over from 2016, 2015 and before. But with the New Year here, I feel refreshed and optimistic about what we can accomplish. Here’s to an exciting and successful 2017!