The Six Top Challenges that School Leaders Face
There is a cyclicality in education that is familiar and comforting. The Fall brings the optimism of new classes, the Winter brings the comfort of recurring subjects and principles, and every Summer, students graduate with the promise of a hopeful future. Unfortunately, some continually recurring aspects of the educational system are issues that seem to avoid solution, despite our best efforts. The following six hurdles are common issues that school leaders report as recurring challenges within their districts. By continuing to acknowledge these challenges, and collaborate toward resolutions, school leaders will be best positioned to identify solutions from which schools across the nation can benefit.
#1 – Budget Constraints
Successful school districts rely upon funding to compensate high-quality educators, purchase modern technology and equipment, and provide support for children of low-income families. With budgets and government funding shrinking, school districts are being asked to do more with less, often to the detriment of their students. According to the Gallup 2017 Survey of K-12 School District Superintendents, most states have cut school funding since 2008 and cuts in at least 15 states had surpassed 10 percent by the 2014 school year. Further straining school resources, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that local government funding fell in at least 18 states. With small financial resources, schools are hamstrung to invest in new technology, make facility improvements, and compensate quality faculty and staff—three of other challenges included in this list.
#2 – Elevating the Performance of Students Impacted by Their Socioeconomic Conditions
Regardless of whether your school district is situated in a predominantly rural, suburban, or urban environment, school leaders and teachers across the nation cite continual struggles in supporting students impacted by their socioeconomic conditions as a recurring systemic issue. According to research conducted by the American Psychological Association, children from low-socioeconomic status households and communities develop academic skills slower than children from higher socioeconomic status groups. School districts are battling this challenge by investing in faculty and staff education and training, additional support resources, and innovative academic methodologies aimed at enabling optimal outcomes from students affected by their circumstances, yet more work needs to be done to align student outcomes regardless of their status.
#3 – The Silver Tsunami and a Shrinking Applicant Pool
There are several reasons why the teacher applicant pool is shrinking, from reduced funding impacting salary and advancement opportunities, to concerns about school safety, to the competition for top talent from the private sector. Not only are applicant pools shrinking, but school districts are facing a silver tsunami, a mass retirement of baby boomer teachers that will suddenly result in an abnormally high number of faculty vacancies. Compounding the issue of faculty limitations are a push for smaller class sizes and a growing number of students entering the public school system. A U.S. Department of Education Report identified that the subjects facing the most critical reduction in faculty applications include math, science, computers, special education, and foreign languages. Many districts also suffer from a lack of teacher diversity, with teachers who are members of minority groups being underrepresented. To mitigate the impact of teacher shortages, some school districts are incentivizing tenured faculty to delay their retirement, and others are looking to restructure salary and benefits to recruit and retain prospective hires who may be tempted to consider a profession in the private sector instead.
#4 – Aging Facilities
Many schools across our nation have been staples in their communities for generations. While there is value in the tradition and heritage of thousands of students sharing the same hallowed halls, the reality is that the average school building is more than forty years old according to American School & University. A U.S. Department of Education report found that three-quarters of schools need to spend money on repairs, renovations, and modernizations. Over time, school facilities—both indoor and outdoor—will require frequent maintenance, construction, and possible redevelopment, all of which comes with a price tag at a time when, as previously mentioned, school districts are already faced with financially overburdened budgets.
#5 – Technology Advancements
Not only do school districts need to contend with repairing existing structures and amenities, but technology advancements are also requiring many schools to invest in or replace costly modern technology solutions that range from security systems to computer labs, and makerspaces. According to the U.S. Department of Education:
Technology ushers in fundamental structural changes that can be integral to achieving significant improvements in productivity. Used to support both teaching and learning, technology infuses classrooms with digital learning tools, such as computers and handheld devices; expands course offerings, experiences, and learning materials; supports learning 24 hours a day, seven days a week; builds 21st-century skills; increases student engagement and motivation; and accelerates learning.
As with several of the challenges on this list, adopting successful technology initiatives in our schools requires funding which must be budgeted for, or obtained through an influx of capital, something that already financially-lean schools are struggling to achieve.
#6 – School Safety
As of early May, eight school shootings have taken place in 2019. With the number of school shootings growing year over year, school districts are faced with the multifaceted challenge of protecting their students, faculty, and staff from this omnipresent threat. Some school districts are investing in more advanced security systems, while others are looking at processes and protocols if a school shooting occurs. Still, others are looking to proactively minimize threats by educating and training staff and faculty on how to identify and intervene on behalf of students who are demonstrating signs that they may be a potential threat to themselves or their fellow students.
While seeing a list of these common recurring challenges may feel defeating, know that every year, through your leadership, your district can target the most significant challenge or challenges that it faces and with strategic planning and concerted attention, take steps to mitigate the impact of these challenges on your students. With determination, innovation, and community support, districts across the country can eliminate barriers to academic success and achieve their goals of student academic excellence.