Getting into the Minds of Education Leaders: Our 2016 Education Leadership Survey Results

Getting into the Minds of Education Leaders: Our 2016 Education Leadership Survey Results

survey1Just as President Obama was signing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law at the end of 2015, 266 education leaders from 39 states completed Catapult Learning’s inaugural leadership survey. We created this survey to get insight into the minds of the busiest people in the education industry and learn about what matters to them right now. We asked questions about tech-supported learning, increasing graduation rates, serving students with special needs, and the new ESSA legislation. Respondents included more than a hundred superintendents from public and parochial school systems along with many associate superintendents, directors, and department heads.

Through this survey, we learned a great deal about the challenges our educational leaders face. Read on for insight into training and technology challenges, as well as leader expectations under the new ESSA legislation (and my own predictions).

New Trends in Leadership Priorities
To me—who happens to be responsible for technology development and institutional research at Catapult Learning—the most intriguing finding was a pattern that emerged across several of our questions. Leaders rated the task of training staff as their biggest obstacle to effectively implementing technology-supported learning.  In fact, building logistics, software selection, and widespread internet access – all big worries ten years ago – were each rated less challenging than staff training.

We saw similar results when we asked about serving students with special needs. Informational responsibilities (e.g. identifying effective program models and implementing e-learning) rated below the challenge of hiring and training staff.  And transportation logistics were the least of these leaders’ worries.

We know that teachers need tools and training, but leaders are telling us that providing good tools is easier than providing good training. Soon, all schools will be connected to the internet. With the infrastructure available—whether its connectivity to the internet or effective program models—districts  will have the opportunity to more confidently invest in training teachers to use this resource effectively.

ESSA Effects: Now or Later?
We couldn’t resist asking leaders about ESSA. Knowing most wouldn’t have had time to dive into the details of the latest ESEA renewal prior to taking the survey, we simply asked how soon they expected the law to substantially affect them.  Here’s what we found:

  • A few (9%) expected to notice effects of ESSA legislation during this current school year
  • The majority (54%) indicated that they were planning for ESSA changes next year (2016−2017)
  • 20% of respondents believed that ESSA wouldn’t affect their district for at least another two years

In retrospect, I wish we had split this into two questions: When does ESSA start to affect your system’s planning? And when do you think ESSA is reflected in your system’s actual policy and process? I suspect we would have seen stronger consensus, because leaders should take ESSA into account immediately as they plan for the next five years; but most know that it takes a while to implement actual system changes that reflect the new law. The US Department of Education is still working through the new law to provide guidance and given the flexibility afforded to states, it is quite likely to be 2017−18 and beyond before the states even have their ESSA-compliant plans approved. ESSA will probably not affect your process for a while yet, but it should affect your planning now.

To learn more about how leaders felt about other topics, including increasing graduation rates and what makes their school system successful, I encourage you to take a look at surveys full results here.

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