4 K-12 tech developments to keep an eye on in 2016

Industry investment hit an all-time high of $1.85 billion last year

Last year was perhaps the biggest for K-12 ed tech yet, with industry investment hitting an all-time high of $1.85 billion and even more schools shifting gears to accommodate device rollouts, online testing, and heightened interest in coding and computer science.

But despite the boom, a few ongoing issues remain relevant to all U.S. districts and administrators. The proliferation of ed tech means that deciding on new purchases is harder than ever. And continuing concerns around student data and student privacy have resulted in new laws cropping up in over a dozen states.

With just under a week clocked in on 2016 so far, here are four trends in K-12 ed tech, online learning, and digitalization you'll want to keep an eye on in the months ahead.

Increased student privacy scrutiny becomes the norm

A reported one-third of all U.S. students are already using school-issued tech devices in the classroom. Although the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s formal FCC complaint against Google has already been filed, Chromebooks and Google Apps For Education aren’t the only tech tools raising the hackles of student privacy advocates. In fact, it’s fair to say that taking student privacy seriously is a growing trend, at a national legislative level. California leads the way with last year’s Student Online Personal Information Protection Act (SOPIPA).

“By our analysis, 25 states have introduced legislation modeled on SOPIPA though several made changes to the bill’s language to address local concerns or add additional protections, e.g., Georgia’s bill includes SOPIPA-like provisions within a larger more comprehensive bill that governs schools in addition to education technology providers,’ notes The Data Quality Campaign, a nonprofit advocacy organization.


By the DQC's tally, in 2014, 46 states introduced a total of 182 bills. The end result saw 28 separate new laws aimed at protecting students across 15 states by August 2015.

Ed tech companies play larger role in district selection

So much ed tech has been introduced in recent years with such high investment that some have suggested an economic bubble exists in the space. With all of the new devices, platforms, software, and online offerings out there, it can be difficult for administrators and districts to choose one product, or even compare new kinds of technology.

Noodle seems to recognize the problem, recently announcing a new online marketplace called Noodle Markets in an effort to revolutionize how educators and districts purchase tech. Calling it a “one-stop source of comprehensive information about the vast array of paid and free educational tools,” Noodle Markets is slated to launch in 2016. It will offer support to purchasers by streamlining procurement via boilerplate RFPs and a bid creation and communication platform for those working in K-12. 

The U.S. Department of Education has also made a general call for proposals aimed at eliciting proposals that would conceptualize systems to create guidelines and give school officials necessary resources to evaluate ed tech tools' performance.

Computer science, coding become more engrained in general curricula

For years, computer science and coding have been weak points for U.S. students. But that trend is now being turned around. Major cities like Houston, Los Angeles, and Chicago have committed to offering related courses. And in Washington state, lawmakers passed a bill putting computer science standards in place and paving the way for more teachers to get certifications, while Arkansas now requires every public high school to offer computer science courses.

Arizona’s Avondale School District has committed to teaching computer science to students with one significant difference that sets the district apart from larger urban districts like Chicago, New York, and San Francisco with similar ambitions. Avondale has a game plan. There, mandatory coding classes have already been incorporated as a staple of K-8 curriculum. In New York, by comparison, computer science has a surprisingly sluggish 10-year rollout plan.

Virginia, too, now offers a coding-intensive option in the form of the Richmond Regional School for Innovation project. The project is a collaboration of 13 Virginia high schools, meant to create a single regional school with a specific focus on computer science. The school should open its doors for the 2016-17 school year. 

More schools than ever are participating in events like the Hour of Code, which help computer science become familiar in classrooms across the U.S. Another annual event, December’s Computer Science Education Week, is now in its seventh year and running strong.

More commonplace electronic tracking of performance, accountability

Now that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has redirected power over accountability in education back to individual states, some might take note of a new tracking system now implemented in Kansas.

The novel electronic portal, located on the state department of educaton's site, aims to bring school, student, and teacher data together in one easy interface for general consumption. The website lets the public browse the state’s 286 school districts, along with 24 other private and specialized public school systems, in order to compare and contrast several evaluative factors and points of information.

The platform's dashboard lets users view each school or district’s percentage of high school graduates who enroll in two- or four-year post-secondary institutions and technical colleges. The info also includes graduation, dropout, and attendance rates; teacher licensing information; student demographics; state test scores; ACT scores; NAEP scores; and more.

On its face, the new system is a win for both transparency and technology. And if the portal works well, it certainly might become a model for other states to follow, helping both districts and the general public. 

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