Exclusive Takeaways from the Biggest K-12 AI Survey Yet

A group of K-12 administrators sitting around a table against a backdrop of high-tech imagery.
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AI is taking the world by storm and growing exponentially more useful and powerful with every incremental breakthrough. In K-12, AI has changed everything from how students do their work to the very definition of college and career readiness. In November, we sent an AI survey to thousands of K-12 technology leaders for our EdTech Evolved blog series. Here’s what the results say about the state of AI readiness and prevailing sentiments in U.S. schools today.

The results of the survey were often eye-opening, sometimes alarming, and—in some cases—offered a glimpse into how AI is most likely to get phased into the learning environment (spoiler: it looks like teachers will be using it more frequently than students in the early going).

Who’s ready?

Pie chart showing the responses to the first survey prompt.

Survey prompt: My school system has a formal, documented policy governing the use of AI
Responses: Yes (4%); No, we haven’t started this yet (58%); We’re working on it now (39%)

In short, too many districts are behind the eight ball right now. If Gen AI truly has plateaued, as recently predicted by Bill Gates and others, district leaders should have a brief window to get caught up over the course of the next year. An Acceptable Use Policy is one of the foundational steps in that process, and it can help to guide the rest of the work once completed.


Read more: Breaking Down the K-12 Generative AI Readiness Checklist


Pie chart showing responses to the second question on the AI survey.

Survey prompt: I feel like our district is ahead of the curve in addressing the use of AI
Responses: Yes (30%); No (65%); I don’t know (5%)

This response was revealing on two fronts. For one, it shows just how uncomfortable many district leaders are with this topic. Most feel like they are playing catchup, and many have struggled to even identify what needs to happen, let alone act on it. The 30% “Yes” contingent was especially interesting in the context of the first question, where only 4% of respondents indicated that they have formal, documented AI policies in place. That means that a large chunk of the “we’re working on it right now” group believes they are still “ahead of the curve.” The data appears to back up that sentiment.

“I am still just trying to gain a better understanding of AI and how it can be effectively incorporated into our school district. As of now, the use of AI has not caused any challenges that we needed to overcome.”

Anonymous district technology leader, Louisiana

How are district technology leaders educating themselves?

Pie chart showing responses to the third question on the AI survey

Survey prompt: In the past six months, I have attended, viewed, or participated in a webinar or presentation on the topic of AI in schools
Responses: Yes (87%); No (13%)

These are encouraging numbers. The more our district technology leaders can be exposed to the stories, guidance, and best practices of those who are blazing the trail, the better equipped they will be.

Pie chart showing responses to the fourth prompt in the AI survey

Survey prompt: I have reviewed the most recent AI guidance and resources for educational leaders, including the AI Guidance for Schools Toolkit from TeachAI/code.org and/or the K-12 Generative AI Readiness Checklist from CoSN and the Council of Great City Schools
Responses: Yes (31%); No, but I am aware of these resources (39%); No, I did not know these resources existed (30%)

This is a good reminder that there is still a significant number of “lone wolf” technology leaders out there. This group is less connected to professional networks and industry organizations than their peers. As a result, they are often doing their own research and taking on challenges without the same level of support and guidance others are working with. Never assume that everybody has been exposed to even the most popular ideas or resources, even those we take for granted.

“[My most important learning on the topic of AI is] understanding how powerful AI can be in assisting educators in their planning, implementation, and accommodation options for student learning.”

Anonymous district technology leader, Illinois

Who’s using AI right now?

Pie chart showing responses to the fifth prompt in the AI survey

Survey prompt: Our leadership team is using generative AI tools to improve efficiency and effectiveness
Responses: Yes, systematically (9%); Yes, but mostly independently by our most tech-savvy leaders (39%); We are still gathering information about which tools might be helpful (26%); No (26%)

Nearly half of all surveyed administrators are digging deep enough into Gen AI to have found things that can help them be more productive. Only 9% have tackled it on a systematic level, but it’s great to see some of the more connected leaders moving so quickly to adopt this new technology into their day-to-day.

Pie chart showing responses to the sixth prompt in the survey

Survey prompt: Our teachers are using generative AI tools to improve efficiency and effectiveness
Responses: Yes, systematically (9%); Yes, but mostly independently by our most tech-savvy teachers (52%); We are still gathering information about which tools we want teachers to use (9%); No (17%); I don’t know (13%)

One of the most interesting takeaways from the survey was the indication that teachers are and will be paving the way for AI adoption in schools. It’s true that many of the early applications of Gen AI have addressed long-standing issues with the amount of time teachers spend on non-instructional duties. Lesson planning, grading, parent communications, quiz creation, and even full-blown presentations all have Gen AI support and solutions on the market right now.

When used correctly (and with plenty of human oversight), teachers have reported time savings of dozens and even hundreds of hours over the course of a school year. This is a major quality of life upgrade! The trick for technology leaders will be how to effectively raise awareness of these tools and results among their more tech-averse teacher populations.


Read more: AI in Education – Keeping Humans in the Loop


Pie chart showing responses to the seventh prompt

Survey prompt: Our students are using generative AI tools for personalized learning, automated feedback/tutoring, or other academic purposes
Responses: Yes, we are supporting these tools at the school and/or district level (9%); Yes, but the students are doing this on their own (17%); We are still gathering information about which tools we want students to use (26%); No (35%); I don’t know (13%)

It is notable that educators continue to serve as a buffer or proving ground for AI. At only 9%, the portion of districts that are supporting AI learning tools still feels relatively small at this point, as does the 17% of students who are using AI on their own. It’s likely that these numbers may be slightly lower than reality, as district tech leaders might not be fully aware of the extent of AI use among students. That hypothesis is validated by the 13% who admitted they didn’t know.

“Jump into the AI world and test things out. You will find tools that work for your building and tools that do not. Explore!”

Kelley Seitz, Technology Integration Specialist, Chesapeake Public Schools

Early Impact and Results

Pie chart showing responses to the eighth prompt

Survey prompt: I have already positive results from my teachers’ use of AI for the purpose of planning, communicating, and/or creating more engaging classrooms
Responses: Yes (48%); No (4%); I don’t know (22%); N/A (26%)

Not much to say other than this is great. Just one year since the public release of ChatGPT, nearly half of all respondents can point to wins for their teachers. If Gen AI brought nothing else to the table, its ability to take the most tedious tasks off of teachers’ plates would still make it a huge success.

Pie chart showing responses to the ninth prompt

Survey prompt: I have already seen positive results from my students’ use of AI, as measured by student outcomes, student engagement, and/or the quality of students’ work
Responses: Yes (13%); No (9%); I don’t know (26%); N/A (52%)

The 52% N/A and 26% “I don’t know” speak volumes. It’s still far too early to gauge whether AI has had any meaningful impact on student learning. This is very much a theoretical exercise until AI becomes more pervasive in the student-facing learning environment and can be measured at a systematic level by educators and researchers alike.

“If used properly and ethically, AI can be a valuable learning tool and educational resource.”

Anonymous district technology leader, Arkansas

The Promise and the Pitfalls of AI

Pie chart showing responses to the tenth prompt

Survey prompt: What has been your biggest AI-related challenge so far this school year?
Responses: Managing risk, including bias, data privacy, and plagiarism (39%); Raising awareness and getting buy-in from teachers to use the technology (26%); Training staff on the responsible use of AI (22%); Writing and enforcing guidelines and policies (13%)

These results are in keeping with everything we’ve heard from district leaders in the first half of the school year. Plagiarism was a huge concern early on, but one of the biggest hurdles now is just getting teachers to understand what’s out there and what the technology can do for them. There are still strong split opinions on whether it makes the most sense to cover all the bases of risk mitigation or to push forward and deal with whatever comes.


Read more: Innovative District Leaders Hold Court on AI in Schools


Pie chart showing responses to the eleventh prompt

Survey prompt: The one aspect of AI I’m most excited about is:
Responses: The ability to personalize learning based on student levels, needs, and interests (44%); The ability to save teachers and staff time by automating labor-intensive tasks (35%); The ability to provide immediate and responsive feedback to students (17%); The ability to provide instructional recommendations (4%)

In the future, this likely won’t be an either/or proposition. AI should be able to support all of these needs in every school system. That said, it was interesting to contrast the future vision of district technology leaders for Gen AI (more student-centric) with the reality of how it’s being implemented today (more teacher-centric).

Survey prompt: The aspect of AI I’m most concerned about is:
Responses: Data privacy and security (35%); Making students lazy, less creative, and/or worse critical thinkers (26%); The ability to provide immediate and responsive feedback to students (17%); The ability to provide instructional recommendations (4%)

No real surprises here. Everybody has their own concerns, but the two that repeatedly rise to the top in most conversations are data privacy/security and the larger impact AI will have on the way students think, learn, and work. There is solace to be had in the knowledge that these same concerns accompanied the rise of the calculator, the Internet, and every other major technological revolution. People find a way to change and adapt.


Read more: AI in Education – Privacy and Security


“Participate in opportunities to learn from other educators who are further ahead in their AI journeys. They have a lot of valuable information to share.”

Anonymous district technology leader, Illinois

Conclusion

It was fascinating to see the wide range of replies for such an important topic. Some of the tech leaders we surveyed have clearly had bad experiences, leaving comments like “Be careful. Students will abuse AI every chance they get.” Others were more optimistic, including one of our favorites, “Play with it, test it out, it won’t bite.”

We all still have a lot of ground to cover together. It will be interesting to see how these responses change in the years to come. The seed of the next edtech revolution has been planted, now it’s time to nurture it and watch it grow.

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