The Education Landscape in 2023


Following along with trends in online education may feel like a whirlwind at times. New ideas and terminology emerge as educational technology (or EdTech) develops, all while adhering to the solid tenets of best practices and current educational trends.

How did we get where we are today, in this moment, in K–12 online education? As is true in any field, understanding the history and development of practice helps lead to an understanding of current practice, and provides a lens with which to view what might change—or stay the same—as time marches forward.

What did the earliest schools look like? What do the schools of the future look like? While foretelling the next global event that’ll turn education on its head or the next technological innovations that’ll open our doors to an entirely unimagined future is not possible, we are excited to see what the education landscape of 2023 and years beyond will hold.

A brief history of education: American school origins

Schools were one of the first institutions colonial Americans developed, second only to religious institutions. According to State University, these early schools were deeply religious—namely Puritan, Anabaptist, Quaker, and Huguenot—and primarily focused on passing along faith-based knowledge and beliefs. For a long time, teachers were often clergymen with no formal education training, and students were corporally punished for disobedience to the clergyman teacher.

These schools in the 17th and 18th centuries were also very class-based, and certain socioeconomic demographics were largely left to their own devices for educating children. Children were homeschooled when parents couldn’t access organized education and often were pulled out by the middle school level to work instead. What was taught varied widely across different social classes, races, and religions, explains the State University of New York.

Public schools were not a ubiquitous concept until the mid-1800s, when most of America agreed on three governances of public education: it should be tax-funded, teachers should be qualified, and students should be required to attend.

A brief history of education: public school evolution and parent choice

At the same time, the concept of privatized education had not been abandoned—parents still wanted to seek schooling founded in religions, ideologies, or even just educational standards that they aligned with. The first private school in America opened in New York City’s Upper West Side in 1709—Trinity School in Manhattan—and remains in operation to this day.

The earliest private schools were only accessible to an incredibly slim portion of the nation’s elite—they acted as another limb of class-based segregation rather than a way to bring top-tier education to as many bright students as possible.

However, by the end of the 1900s industrial boom, a K-12 education was more acknowledged as a human right—especially in providing the liberty to choose a career in adulthood. Teaching had been established as a specialized profession.

The mid-1900s rolled around, and the concept of traditional school as we know it had been fine-tuned: the 13 years of grade school, open-concept classrooms, multigrade teachers with education degrees, and a set of national standards against which student progress was measured. The ‘60s and ‘70s also saw learning approaches like project-based learning and experiential learning in their infancies.

A brief history of education: modern problems and improvement efforts

A number of modern landmark presidential policies shifted the sails on public education in significant ways: America 2000/Goals 2000 from the late 1980s through mid-1990s, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind 2001, and Every Student Succeeds Act, during which the ever-controversial Common Core arguments were a focal point.

Certain districts across the nation have struggled for years with inequities, teacher retention, unsustainable classroom sizes, graduation and proficiency rates, and tax dollar sourcing for facilities, overhead, salaries, and all other expenses. Parent concerns surrounding student success in public school were simmering.

Key phrases of recent education headlines—like critical race theory and social-emotional learning—seem to have further agitated these uncertainties, and the amount of parents seeking public school alternatives was increasing.

By the mid-2010s, those concerns ballooned to include not only academic success but mental and physical safety. Students lost their lives to cyberbullying and gun violence. And when 2019 came, fears regarding student safety were taken to an entirely new level.

How the pandemic shifted education

By the spring semester of 2020, millions of students, teachers, parents, administrators, and policymakers were suddenly tasked with completely reformulating a system that arguably wasn’t working that well in the first place.

The concept of virtual, hybrid, or online education was mostly a can being kicked down the road. Some online schools existed, and many brick-and-mortar schools had some online K-12 offerings, but the systems were certainly not meant to be executed en masse. The mountains the education system faced were enormous: households with little to no broadband access, difficulties accommodating for disabilities in the virtual classroom, lack of parent or guardian involvement, and the overall translation of an in-person curriculum to a virtual program. Tracking attendance, taking tests, and giving lectures become priority issues.

Technology and connectivity was suddenly at the forefront of education, and the only choice was to evolve.

How technology continues to change education: are brick-and-mortar schools keeping up?

The pandemic may not hold as much relevance in education now as it did in 2019 and 2020, but technology does—if not more. Remote learning is looked at as a permanent alternative to traditional schooling where students are afforded more safety and more freedom. If anything, it seems the pandemic has shed light on an already-forming trend in education: fully-online, asynchronous, borderless learning.

And yet, handing a student a laptop and expecting them to bloom in a fully virtual environment is not enough. There are many, many more systematic fine-tuning requirements needed to build a successful virtual learning environment from the ground up—which plenty of online institutions have done. Brick-and-mortar schools, on the other hand, tend to try adding technology as an overlay to the same basic principles that were created for education centuries ago—like putting round pegs in square holes.

Some say that, despite the opportunity to implement 21st-century technology in physical classrooms, traditional schooling is still missing the mark. As Brookings points out, educational technology investments were heavily focused on devices specifically meant for connectivity, with little regard to “what matters most to improve learning, [which is] the interactions between educators and learners around educational materials.”

Brookings continues that this framework actually needs to complement, not substitute, the work of an educator, while employing the parent as a mediator. This foundation leans on four concepts, Brookings says:

  • Scaling up quality instruction
  • Facilitating personalized instruction
  • Expanding opportunities for practice
  • Increasing learner engagement

What does the future of education look like?

Looking back 20 years, it’s incredible to reflect on how far technology has come, and impossible to speculate on how far it will go in the next 20 years. Predictions for trends in K12 education 20 years from now certainly exist, but parents of children that are school aged right now may have more interest in what more current educational trends look like.

We may see new teaching trends emerge like nano learning and lifelong learning. One thing is for certain, and that is the lasting prevalence of technology in the classroom, and—as Brookings explains—that means far more than doling out Chromebooks and school Gmail accounts.

Technology will continue to impact the way students imagine and build with design and rendering programs, the way students experience historical events and foreign places with virtual and augmented reality devices, and the way lessons are personalized to a student’s unique experience through artificial intelligence.

In the past, policies created a collective educational identity to try to fit every single student in America. The future of education will instead use technology to create an individual educational identity uniquely tailored to each student.

How online learning leads the way

When Laurel Springs School’s founder, Marilyn Mosley Gordanier, retired her ballet slippers during the prime of her dance career to focus on her education, a new dream was born. One in which she vowed to one day create an educational option allowing students to receive a high-quality education while providing the opportunity to pursue outside passions, goals, and careers.

In 1991, her dream became a reality. Laurel Springs School shifted the paradigm of education from educating en masse, to prioritizing the needs of individual students. Students no longer needed to limit their learning environment to 8 am to 3 pm inside four walls. Our self-paced model allows students to learn—and thrive—from anywhere in the world.

Adaptation is a necessity in modern education. Online institutions like Laurel Springs have been honing their adaptation skills for many years, pivoting in the direction of the best future trends in education more quickly than traditional schools can. In doing so, our students hold the power of determining their schedule, time in the (virtual) classroom, and personalized educational trajectory.

As the pioneer in online K–12 education, for more than 30 years, Laurel Springs has educated tens of thousands of students. Laurel Springs is the school of choice for the college-prep student who wishes to grow and excel academically and personally while maintaining a flexible schedule.