New data from the National Assessment of Education Progress paints a bleak picture of student achievement since students moved from the classroom to their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. The most recent test results reveal steep declines in reading and math scores across nearly all races and income levels.
Educators have been exploring options to help struggling students amidst COVID-19-related disruptions, but education gaps predate the pandemic.
One important opportunity to improve the quality of education for many students and close critical learning gaps is artificial intelligence (AI). But schools need guidance on this emerging technology, and so far, the Department of Education has no AI strategy to ensure its constituents are prepared to deploy the technologies effectively and equitably.
Students learn at different rates and differ in their respective needs, skills, and learning styles. AI-powered educational software offers instruction tailored to students’ strengths and weaknesses, allowing schools to provide individualized instruction at scale and providing more opportunities for students to learn both inside and outside the classroom.
AI can also reduce the hours educators spend on tasks like lesson planning, grading, and responding to parent questions, so they can spend more time on the most fulfilling aspects of their profession: providing quality instruction to students.
Most public sectors acknowledge the importance of AI to future success. Nine federal agencies have created strategy documents detailing how to use AI to solve aspects of their respective missions. The Department of Transportation has a strategy for using AI to improve safety in vehicles, the Department of Veterans Affairs has a strategy for using AI to better deliver services to those who have served in the military, and the Department of Health and Human Services has a strategy for pursuing AI-driven innovation in the health ecosystem. AI has the potential to transform education with personalized learning, but students, teachers, and administrators need a roadmap for AI.
The Department of Education has published six National Education Technology Plans (NETPs) since 1996 to articulate equitable educational technology policy but has yet to mention AI in a report. AI was also neglected from the department’s STEM 2026 Vision report. The Office of Educational Technology has begun publishing a blog series titled “AI and the Future of Teaching and Learning,” discussing topics like data privacy risks and teacher support, but the occasional commentary is no substitute for a comprehensive strategy.
An effective AI strategy for the Department of Education should address three core points: building digital capacity, addressing data quality issues, and addressing the legitimate concerns of educational stakeholders.
Any productive discussion of AI in schools should work to ameliorate existing technology deficiencies, particularly those arising from disparities in funding for schools based on local income levels. Not all learners have the same quality of Internet access or devices. Likewise, not all teachers have adequate training in classroom technology. The Department of Education’s AI strategy should prepare a digital literacy curriculum that teaches students and educators how to use and engage with AI tools effectively and responsibly. Prioritizing preparation will position educators for success.
Similarly, an AI in education strategy should also address critical data quality issues, such as ensuring datasets used to train machine learning systems are timely, accurate, and representative. Prioritizing representativeness in datasets leads to more effective AI and helps mitigate fairness concerns.
Lastly, a Department of Education AI strategy should demonstrate how schools can deploy AI in the classroom while respecting student privacy laws, such as by using emerging privacy-enhancing technologies and providing expert evaluations about educational technology products and services on the market. The goal of using AI in the classroom is to improve student welfare and learning and federal guidance should ensure that remains the overriding priority.
Crafting an AI strategy should be a top priority for the Department of Education and is a critical step in raising the quality of education in all schools around the country. Introducing new technology in the classroom is never simple, but given the potential impact of AI, schools cannot afford to wait.
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