5 Big Challenges for Schools in 2023

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Newly sworn-in elected officials, from governors and lawmakers to state and local school board members, must now confront five big and often polarizing issues in the second half of the 2022-23 school year.

Policymakers on both sides of the political aisle will continue to focus on teacher retention, school safety, and academic recovery from the pandemic. But they’ll also work on more contentious topics, such as parents’ rights and LGBTQ students’ rights.

In a Jan. 11 Seat at the Table online discussion, Education Week Opinion Contributor Peter DeWitt, Assistant Managing Editor Stephen Sawchuk, Staff Writer Libby Stanford, and EdWeek Research Center Director Holly Kurtz took an in-depth look at how these issues are likely to play out for the rest of this school year and beyond.

1. Bans on teaching specific topics

In states with majority-Republican lawmakers, there has been more scrutiny over curriculum materials that some conservatives deem as teaching “critical race theory” and a push to ban certain books that deal with gender, sexuality, and racism. These policies are already affecting the way teachers talk about these topics with their students, and they will continue to affect what materials districts are purchasing and using in the classroom, Kurtz said.

2. Increasing calls for more parental control over what students learn

The last few years have seen an increase in parents’ rights groups that advocate for more parental control over what students learn in school. These groups—many borne out of conservative politics—have been leading the calls for banning certain topics and books. They’ve been campaigning to seat school board members who are sympathetic to their cause, Stanford said. However, there are survey results that show that a majority of educators and parents agree that parents have a lot of involvement in curriculum and other school operations already, Kurtz said. It’ll be interesting to see if there will be legislation introduced to make school board elections partisan, when traditionally they have been nonpartisan, Sawchuk said.

3. Addressing chronic staffing shortages

School districts across the country have been dealing with staffing shortages for teachers and a host of other jobs. Addressing the challenges with the teacher pipeline has become a more bipartisan issue, and educators will likely see more bills tackling that issue, Stanford said. In Congress, a bill introduced in December would incentivize states and school districts to increase the minimum K-12 teacher salary to $60,000 and provide yearly adjustments for inflation through new federal grants.

4. Using proposed changes to Title IX to protect LGBTQ students

The U.S. Department of Education, in June, announced proposed changes to Title IX, the federal sex-discrimination law, that would mean explicit protections for LGBTQ students. The proposed changes are expected to be finalized this year. However, the proposed changes do not say anything about whether transgender students have a right to participate in school-sponsored sports aligned with their gender identity—perhaps the most contentious issue within the broader debate over rights for transgender students. The Education Department plans to conduct a separate rule-making process about that issue this year, Stanford said.

5. Teaching about climate change

Schools are already suffering the consequences of climate change, but right now they aren’t doing much to teach students about the science of climate change and its implications for the world, Kurtz said. One of the most common reasons district leaders gave for that is that teaching about and addressing climate change was not in their state standards. So it will be interesting to see if more districts and states codify climate change education as part of their science standards, Kurtz said.

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