School district leaders are an eclectic bunch: superintendents, chief academic officers, chief technology officers, social-emotional learning directors, and more. But they all want one thing: stability.
“They want things to be calm so they can focus on getting stuff done,” said Education Week’s Stephen Sawchuk.
Sawchuk was the author of four of the 10 Education Week stories that resonated the most with district leaders this year. (The ranking is based on a combination of how many people read the story, how much time they spent reading it, and the engagement it generated on social media.)
In 2022, calm was elusive for the people leading school districts. They were dealing with a myriad of challenges: learning recovery, staffing shortages, equity issues, safety concerns, and a host of other issues.
But which issue was top of mind?
The #1 story among district leaders this year was Sawchuk’s deep dive into how the volatile debate over critical race theory was upending efforts to update social studies standards. When asked why the story resonated, Sawchuk said it was because it focused on what the debate, and related legislative changes, were really going to mean for “end users”: curriculum writers, teachers, and students.
“There are distinct implications for this discourse on what happens in schools every day—the kinds of things kids are exposed to; the kinds of discussions teachers have or don’t have; and, increasingly, the kinds of materials kids get,” said Sawchuk.
Efforts to understand those implications will likely continue well into 2023.
Revisit Sawchuk’s sweeping story and other favorites among school district leaders below.
1. Revising America’s Racist Past
In 2022, the debate over how to teach about America’s racist past wreaked havoc on states’ processes for deciding what students should learn.
An Education Week investigation found the confusing and often misleading debate was altering history education in U.S. schools through subtle—but material—changes to day-to-day teaching expectations.
2. What Do Top U.S. Companies Think Schools Could Do Better? We Asked
To understand what business leaders are looking for when today’s students become their workers, Education Week’s Elizabeth Heubeck talked with senior executives from a collection of U.S. companies.
She asked two questions: What problem-solving skills do you want to see that tend to be lacking? And what should K-12 schools do to help bridge those skill gaps? Their responses offer unique insights for districts looking to stay relevant.
3. How to Give Students the Confidence to Take on Rigorous Work
In 2022, teachers were tasked with preparing students for success in the next grade and beyond while accounting for the disruptions of the pandemic. But so much time without traditional school routines had shaken students’ confidence in their ability to wrestle with demanding assignments.
4. Why Can’t We Talk to Each Other Anymore?
“Binary thinking is dividing the K-12 world,” said Education Week’s Kevin Bushweller in an essay popular with district leaders in 2022. He explored why we default to either-or thinking and how we can move past it.
“It’s time to resist the worst impulses of our brains and dedicate ourselves to full-spectrum thinking,” wrote Bushweller. “If we want students to embrace a wide array of ideas and complex thinking, we owe it to them to lead the way.”
5. Why Aren’t There More Women Superintendents?
Women—the backbone and brain trust of America’s public schools—are vastly underrepresented in the superintendent’s chair.
That was the finding of an analysis that piqued the interest of school district leaders in 2022. But why? And what can districts do about it? Stephen Sawchuk asked women superintendents and researchers to shed some light.
6. Backlash, Hostility, and Safety Fears: What It’s Like to Be a Chief Equity Officer in the Anti-CRT Era
Dena Keeling was hired in 2019 as the first-ever chief equity officer for the Orange County school district in North Carolina. In the time since, she said her job grew increasingly untenable amid the national backlash to educational equity initiatives. She is not alone.
Keeling was one of three equity officers Education Week’s Eesha Pendharkar spoke to for a compelling story about how hard the job is right now.
7. Vision, Your House in Order, and an Extra $20K: What It Now Takes to Hire a Superintendent
Just like with bus drivers, paraprofessionals, and teachers, the pandemic had taken a toll on the top job in school districts. More districts were looking to hire—even as the applicant pool was thinning.
It meant districts had to get creative and strategic about hiring superintendents.
8. 25 Reasons to Get Excited About Teaching
There were lots of reasons teachers were feeling unenthused about the profession in 2022. Which may explain why district leaders were looking for something inspiring to point them to. Enter Louie F. Rodriguez’s “25 reasons to teach.”
“Rather than allowing the possible obstacles to teaching cloud our perspective on why the profession is so vital today, let’s focus on the opportunities that teaching brings every single day to the classroom,”
9. The Current State of the Superintendency: 4 Things to Know
Superintendents faced immense pressure in 2022. That prompted Education Week to take a closer look at the state of the superintendent, including factors such as turnover, job satisfaction, and diversity.
Among the takeaways: Superintendents are definitely considering leaving their jobs.
10. The Key to More Equitable Schools? Deep Commitment
In an incisive essay, Education Week’s Ileana Najarro took a critical eye to school districts’ initiatives around diversity, equity, and inclusion. Najarro acknowledged that schools are making progress on DEI goals, but said there’s “a catch.”
“You can do all the right training, buy all the right books, change all the right policies, and you’ll still be working within a system that wasn’t designed to be diverse, equitable, and inclusive,” she wrote.
Explore our top stories and catch up on key developments in K-12 education.
- The Teaching Profession, in Charts
- Masking, Miscarriages, and Mental Health: Stories That Stuck With Us
- 5 Things We Learned About Student Mental Health
- 5 Popular Teacher Stories You May Have Missed
- A Difficult Year for School Safety: 6 Big Themes
- The 8 Most Consequential Developments in Education Law