Prioritizing The Most Urgent Education Challenges

Over the past two years, Digital Promise has engaged in a rigorous research process to surface common challenges being tackled in public schools around the country. The resulting Challenge Map presents 38 shared education challenges within nine broad themes related to:

  • Students and classrooms (student learning and instructional approaches)
  • Schools (professional learning & support, school culture, climate and safety, and family engagement)
  • Full districts (assessment, technology & network infrastructure, systems change, and equity)

For each challenge, the site highlights practitioner quotes about the impact of the challenge in context, shares information about interventions currently being tested, and links to research-based resources.

In spring 2019, Digital Promise collected nearly 350 survey responses from stakeholders working in all levels across public schools. These practitioners provided feedback on all 38 challenges, including their perspectives on which challenges are the most urgent, affect the most students and teachers, and are experienced most often. The survey also asked respondents how much progress their school or district has made toward addressing each challenge.

Overall, three challenges were ranked as highest-priority by all respondents:

  • Mental health and trauma (#1)
  • Social-emotional learning (#2)
  • Student engagement (#3)

These top challenges all fall under the school culture, climate and safety theme. This finding aligns with a growing trend toward a “whole child” approach. More and more schools across the country are thinking beyond academic initiatives, working to broaden the definition of success to ensure all students are healthy, safe, and engaged in their learning.

We also found that all three challenges related to instructional approaches ranked in the top 10 of all respondents’ high-priority challenges.

  • Personalized learning (#4)
  • Teaching with technology (#7)
  • Real world learning (#8)

These results demonstrate that classroom-level challenges, including how educators are teaching, are top-of-mind for practitioners at all levels. Teachers must make pedagogical decisions, including planning and implementing novel approaches that meet the needs of each student, every day, so it’s no surprise that these challenges are priorities.

Finally, researchers found that the only student learning challenge to rank in the top 10 is literacy (#6).

For the Challenge Map, see:

For more commentary, see:  

For an interactive visualization of the survey results, see: