As is true for many, the end of one year and the start of another serves as a valuable moment of reflection for our team at Overdeck Family Foundation. We use this time for thoughtful analysis of what we learned in the past year in order to inform our strategy for the next. Our goal in doing so, as always, is to best meet the needs of the sector and our grantee partners.
This past year brought a new “normal” that evolved alongside changing guidelines and updated information. Families, students, and educators continued to navigate the ups and downs of pandemic-induced challenges, including ongoing staffing shortages, a growing children’s mental health crisis, and the rise of a “tripledemic”—all while seeking to make up for lost learning opportunities and time. A new study by Eric A. Hanushek, a Stanford University economist, estimated that learning loss caused by the pandemic could cost students $70,000 in lifetime earnings, making it increasingly clear how COVID-19 has wreaked havoc not only on our present, but on our future. But unsurprisingly, given our work with educators and children, there were bright spots. We had the privilege of meeting 16 of the country’s most impressive teens in STEM, saw what it looks like when new ideas shake up long-held teaching models in exciting ways, supported a big investment in uncovering and researching what tutoring initiatives work best to support students, funded a first-of-its-kind experiment exploring the role of social interaction in children’s language development, and so much more.
At the end of last year, our leadership team sat down to reflect on what we’ve seen across the education and philanthropic landscape, in addition to what we’re learning from our peer funders and grantee organizations. With all this in mind, each department leader wrote five predictions for what they expect to see in 2023.
Below is the condensed version of our list:
1. Public school enrollment will continue to decline, resulting in school closures and decreased funding. As a result, districts will be challenged to make more cost-effective decisions, driving an increase in technology utilization. —Anu Malipatil, Vice President, Education
Public trust in government institutions, including education and teachers, will continue to decrease in the year ahead. Public school enrollment will also decline, gradually raising pressure on districts to make budget cuts and let go of some of the educators they hired to help with pandemic-related challenges. Investments in technology will prove valuable to automate processes and create operational efficiencies, allowing districts (and the nonprofits that work with them) to run on leaner budgets during a time of potential belt-tightening and more difficult fundraising. However, the dominant narrative will remain that schools are flush with funding, raising questions in local communities and nationally about why they are not doing more to help students.
2. Schools will still have access to large sums of money, but will fail to access and spend it in time. —Jon Sotsky, Strategic Impact & Learning Director
An impending funding cliff in 2024 means state educational agencies and school districts have a limited amount of time left to spend the $190 billion allocated by the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) to help students recover. Districts are directed to use at least 20 percent of their funds to address the impact of lost instructional time using evidence-based interventions, but submitting the plans necessary to receive and spend these funds has been a logistical challenge. In order to have the possibility of ESSER fund renewal, districts will have to show clear student improvement from their use, which makes measurement and evaluation a priority this year. Others will say it’s too soon, and that we should advocate for an extended funding cliff to give schools more time.
3. Technology and AI will expand their foray into education, enhancing content delivery, assessment, and personalization. —Melanie Dukes, Associate Program Director, K-9 Education
Technology’s role in education will continue to grow, with artificial intelligence (AI) in particular finding ways to bring a more student-centered and personalized learning experience to students across the country. The education field will grapple with how to leverage AI for good and avoid misuse, with debate ongoing about what kind of usage (ChatGPT, for example) improves learning versus subverts it. Regardless of what individual districts decide, student use of AI will skyrocket.
4. The healthcare sector will play a greater role in children’s early academic and socioemotional development. —Carly Roberts, Associate Program Director, Out-of-School Learning
In the absence of a universal childcare system, the healthcare sector will take on a greater role in reaching families of children ages zero to three and supporting them in achieving behavioral and academic milestones. As the sector struggles with workforce burnout and staffing shortages, team-based care will become more essential. Organizations that integrate new or diversified roles into the care team will be better able to weather these challenges and effectively support families.
5. Family engagement will remain a critical element to addressing learning loss. —Lina Eroh, Communications Director
The pandemic made it increasingly clear how important engaging the family is to student success, driving demand for family engagement solutions across the country. This demand will stay strong, and nonprofits and schools will continue to incorporate family engagement practices into their operations, with technology-enabled open-ended communication tools that make it easier for educators and families to partner scaling quickly. Yet despite the rise of these tools, parents will continue to overestimate how well their children are performing in school. Closing this gap will be key to addressing learning loss.
6. Tutoring, which has already taken center stage in academic recovery, will continue to scale through tech-enabled models. —Melanie Dukes, Associate Program Director, K-9 Education
The education system will be challenged to use adults in new ways to support student success, but the funding priority for the coming years will focus on tutoring. While previously something that occurred after school or outside of school altogether, tutoring will now be incorporated into the school day, with evidence-based practices for high-impact tutoring, such as sessions multiple times a week with the same tutor, leading to measurable impact and learning acceleration for students. Scaling tutoring will remain a challenge, but programs that incorporate a hybrid approach, merging technology with human tutors, will see increased opportunity for impact at scale.
7. The expansion of high-quality summer and afterschool programs will be crucial to help children catch up, but the demand for these programs will greatly outweigh supply. —Carly Roberts, Associate Program Director, Out-of-School Learning
Students spend 80 percent of their time outside of school, but only about 14 percent of children participate in afterschool programming, and even fewer have access to consistent and robust STEM programming. These programs, which often blend rigor and joy, can address gaps in academic skills and student engagement by designing learning environments for curiosity, collaboration, and fun. Given the persistent needs for both academic recovery and student wellness, with 37 percent of high school students experiencing poor mental health, getting these programs back up and running will be critical. But accessibility will be hindered by staff burnout and retention challenges, meaning much of the demand—and opportunity—will continue to be unmet.
8. Workforce challenges for nonprofits and schools will remain, but employers will begin to gain momentum through innovation on human capital models. —Elaine Perez, Director of People and Operations
Fears of resignation and turnover, which fluctuated between 20 to 30 percent in 2022, will decrease as the launch of new roles declines and employees have a greater fear of shifting jobs in a volatile employer’s market. Creative ways of differentiating staffing will amplify existing talent while covering for staffing gaps, which may be particularly powerful in the school setting, long reliant on the “one teacher, one classroom” model. Additionally, efforts to innovate and professionalize the educator role will lead to more educators choosing to stay, which will have positive impacts on student outcomes.
9. Tech talent will come to the nonprofit sector, spurring innovation. —Jon Sotsky, Strategic Impact & Learning Director
As the tech sector experiences layoffs and employees seek greater social meaning through work, the nonprofit sector will experience a surge of tech talent. Fresh tech talent will enable nonprofits to continue to evolve as they determine the right balance of in-person versus hybrid and online models, optimizing for effectiveness and operational and cost efficiency. New talent will also support the growing role that technology is playing in education, with specialized expertise that will accelerate innovation in machine learning and AI (supporting prediction #3 above).
10. Education will start to fall from the front page as people move “on” from COVID. —Lina Eroh, Communications Director
Despite learning loss being a continuing and unsolved issue, it will no longer dominate national headlines the way we’ve seen over the past three years. In addition, local newsrooms will continue to struggle to cover local education stories and issues given funding cuts and resource constraints. This will continue to stymie parental awareness of how their school and district are performing compared to national benchmarks, and make effective family engagement and advocacy more challenging.
Our 2023 grantmaking is already in motion, guided by the thinking and insights above. As a team, we plan to monitor the accuracy of our predictions to understand the short- and long-term implications for our work and the field at large.
We will use our Overdeck Family Foundation blog and newsletter to share what we learn in an effort to uphold our dedication to transparent knowledge-sharing practices. In addition to launching our 2022 Grantmaking & Impact Report, we will also host a webinar in a few weeks where each portfolio lead will share more about their strategy for 2023 and predictions for the future. Stay tuned for more updates. We hope you can join us!
Header image courtesy of Teach.org