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Field Trip: K-12 Lens: Highlights from Frontline’s Annual Survey Report


This episode of Field Trip looks at highlights from the inaugural edition of “K-12 Lens,” an annual survey report from the Frontline Research & Learning Institute. 

Rebecca Strott, Vice President of Market Intelligence for research firm C+C, looks at the highlights from the survey, and explores the pressing challenges and emerging opportunities within K-12. From staffing challenges and strategies for retention to concerns around student mental health and cybersecurity to the integration of AI into education, listen as we consider the current state and future possibilities for K-12. 


00:00 – Introduction
00:25 – Exploring the “K-12 Lens” Survey with Rebecca Strott
01:46 – Deep Dive into Hiring and Staffing Challenges
04:39 – The Importance of Professional Development for Retention
06:00 – Addressing Student Mental Health in Schools
10:55 – Navigating Technology and Cybersecurity in Education
13:45 – The Future of Education: AI, Funding, and Data Analytics
18:40 – Interdepartmental Relationships and the Impact on School Operations
21:03 – Conclusion and Resources

Dig Deeper 

K-12 Lens: Access the full report for a more detailed look at the data.

Full Transcript  

REBECCA STROTT: It’s probably not a surprise that most districts are experiencing staffing challenges. 

Unfortunately, less than a third of HCM respondents are completely or fairly confident that they’re hiring the best candidate.  

Professional learning communities or team meetings were really identified as the most helpful professional development offerings. And that could partially be due to the budgetary restrictions that districts are facing. 

Today we are excited to look at some of the data from “K-12 Lens,” a new annual survey report from the Frontline Research & Learning Institute. This report shines a spotlight on both challenges and opportunities in the K-12 landscape in areas like human resources, the business office, student mental health, technology, cybersecurity, and more. 


Alright, ready to jump in? From Frontline Education, this is Field Trip. 


RYAN ESTES: Today I am glad to have Rebecca Strott, who is Vice President of Market Intelligence for C+C, an agency that recently worked with Frontline Education to research trends in education. Rebecca, glad to have you here! 

REBECCA: Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to talk through this with you. 

RYAN: You recently worked with Frontline to field a survey to explore some of what the K-12 world is facing right now from a district operations perspective. In, say, one sentence, how did this work? Who did you talk to for this? 

REBECCA: We talked to a total of 664 respondents across district size, community type, and region, suites identified and prioritized by Frontline, so HCM, which is human capital management, student and business. And we really wanted to focus on understanding the opinions, attitudes, and perceptions on a rage of K-12 topics. 

RYAN: Great. So let’s jump in. When we think about human capital management, I know that hiring is something that is on everyone’s mind. What came out in this research? 

REBECCA: Yeah, so it’s probably not a surprise that most districts are experiencing staffing challenges. Districts reported recruiting and hiring candidates have become really difficult over the past year with two thirds of HCM respondents reporting recruiting and hiring candidates being more difficult in the past year. Most districts are experiencing staff shortages, most notably among special education, substitute teachers, and paraprofessional roles. 

RYAN: Yeah, it’s interesting to mention that two thirds of districts say that it has become more difficult than in the past, and we’ve even seen in the past, I believe we ran a survey back in 2021, one that showed even at that point in time, two thirds of districts were facing a hiring shortage. And so now to say that two thirds say it’s even more difficult than it had been is really saying something. 

So districts are in general finding themselves behind the eight ball more than they were in the past in terms of being able to hire enough teachers and staff to fill open positions. One of the things that I have heard from districts is that as they face these kinds of teacher shortages, all of a sudden you have a smaller candidate pool for any given position, and the challenge then is not just, “Can I fill the position?” but “Am I filling the position with someone who is an outstanding educator?” What did respondents to this survey say about how confident they are that the teachers or staff that they are hiring are the best candidates? That they’re high quality educators? 

REBECCA: Districts are really evaluating across a variety of different pieces of information when they’re looking at open roles. Credentials are really their top priority, followed by years of experience or level of education. And because they’re prioritizing so many things across so many different roles, unfortunately less than a third of HCM respondents are completely or fairly confident that they’re hiring the best candidate. 

RYAN: So that would leave maybe 60% or so of districts saying we are either not at all confident or maybe just a little, like, we think we’re doing okay, but still don’t have great confidence in the idea that the people we’re bringing in are really the ones that we want to have in our school and are going to do the best job for our students and staff. 

REBECCA: Exactly, and while achieving or maintaining diversity is also a challenge they brought up as being really important to the district, it’s unfortunately falling behind some of those other pieces like credentials and level of experience when they’re going up against other candidates. 

RYAN: That makes total sense. You want to be able to match the diversity of your student body, but in order to hire, say, a ninth grade math teacher, you need someone with the credentials and experience and knowledge to teach ninth grade math. 

REBECCA: Precisely. 

RYAN: On the other side of hiring, of course, is retention. And the higher your retention rate, of course, the fewer positions that you need to fill. And one way, and not the only way of course, but one way that school districts are working to increase retention is really by investing in their people. Can you talk to me about what you found in the area of professional development? 

REBECCA: Educators place a lot of value in prioritizing professional development for their districts. And while professional development is seen as important, only half, 42%, of districts offer personalized opportunities, and funding for professional development is seen as a high priority by less than half of respondents. 

RYAN: So districts have said, “We think that high quality professional development is important,” and we know that professional development, there are lots of different ways in which teachers and educators are growing their own practice through different formats. What are the kinds of professional development that districts have said are most effective in their eyes at increasing retention? 

REBECCA: This really came out as internal community-based offerings such as coaching or mentoring. Professional learning communities or team meetings were really identified as the most helpful professional development offerings. And that could partially be due to the budgetary restrictions that districts are facing. 

RYAN: Let’s move over to the student side of things. One of the major issues that we have seen in schools, especially over the last five years, is mental health. This is something that we were talking about at the very beginning of the pandemic and even was really coming to the forefront before the pandemic. And so I know that you were looking at some of the ways that districts are trying to meet this need. What are some of the things that you have found when it comes to how districts are addressing mental health concerns? 

REBECCA: Mental health came up across the study in various different forms. It was named as one of the top barriers when you’re thinking about student success. So, whether it be lack of support for mental health or behavioral issues with children, some people felt like there are no mental health resources available beyond talk to a school counselor, and that person’s always overloaded is a big concern that came out through the study. 

When you’re looking at the districts, most provide at least one full-time employee dedicated to student mental health. But half offer proactive support and even less offer regular screenings or a software tool for documentation for mental health for their students. And when you ask them about nurse to student ratio, it’s astounding. It’s 1:689 students, on average, per every registered or licensed practical nurse in their district. 

RYAN: When we’re getting into the physical health side of things and helping students with meds and nurse office visits and things like that, that makes sense. The mental health side is very interesting to me. There was some research that came out a number of years ago that discussed how schools are becoming the de facto source, the de facto providers, of mental health care for students. Just because that’s where students are and these districts, even though they may not be, incredibly well equipped, they at least have some adults in the building who have a counseling background or who may be trained to some degree to help out with the mental health. 

But it’s been really interesting. Are districts really able to deal with the increase, the significant increase in anxiety, depression that they’re seeing in students? And so it’s really fascinating to see some of these findings. I think you found that you said just about half provide mental health support for students proactively. 

REBECCA: And, I mean, my mother was an educator for years and they just have to wear so many different hats. So adding mental health where they’re not necessarily trained is just another hat that they’re going to have to wear. And when we asked later in the study about changes that they’ve seen in the past three years and changes they anticipate, increased behavioral issues, social emotional needs, supporting those students is seen as both a huge change in the last three years and a change that they’re preparing for in the future. 

RYAN: I don’t think that’s probably a surprise to anybody who’s listening to this podcast, but your answer did make me think about early warning indicators, which I know we asked as well. The idea that schools can use data to identify students who may be at risk, whether that be behavioral data, academic performance data, attendance data and then use that data to identify, “Hey, who might need additional supports or interventions?” 

What did you discover about the districts using early warning indicators? How many districts, what percentage of districts are using it, and how effective they’re finding that at driving that need for targeted support? 

REBECCA: Yeah, so most, 72%, of districts are utilizing early warning indicators, and just over half are using them within grades one through five. 

RYAN: Just over half are using them in grades one through five, meaning that as you get older, as students get older, in grades six to eight, nine to 12, that number tends to decrease a little bit. 

REBECCA: Yes, and those numbers are in the 40 percents. And then an additional 34% are not using early warning indicators within their district. 

RYAN: And of course, data is only as useful as the decisions and actions you can take based on that data. Are schools actually able to say, “Hey, we have early warning indicators. We are looking at this, and now we are actually taking that, offering proactive support to the students who need it the most”? 

REBECCA: Not to get too percentage heavy, but 27% of respondents indicated that 20% or more of their students are receiving targeted interventions and support. However, almost half aren’t really sure if they’re receiving targeted interventions at all. 

RYAN: Okay, so schools, most districts are using early warning indicators, but of the people we spoke to, not everybody, a substantial portion, said, “We’re not sure whether or not that data was actually being used to inform action.” 

REBECCA: Absolutely. 

The survey also asked school business officials about trends in school funding and IT directors about some of the issues with technology in schools. 


REBECCA: So when we talked about technology challenges that those individuals are facing, really the most pressing challenge for technology respondents were cybersecurity concerns. Other concerns like technology maintenance due to lack of funding or some teacher and student technology fatigue also rose to the top. 

And while managing the cybersecurity risk in particular, they mentioned their biggest obstacles being the perception that it can’t happen here or there not being a defined plan to manage cyber risk, and a general lack of understanding or commitment from leadership or the board to help support them on these initiatives. 

RYAN: Yeah, that’s really interesting, because as we’ve seen in the news over the past several years, probably 10 years, I would think, the number of times when you’ve seen issues where schools are dealing with ransomware or student data privacy concerns has really, it seems to me, gone up significantly. So the idea that it can’t happen here, that is fascinating. And I would imagine if you’re a technology director, an IT director in a school district, trying to combat that issue and say, “No, it can happen here” would really be at the top of your list of trying to say, “I’ve got to work with my people to educate them that, yes, this is something that we are not immune from.” 

REBECCA: Absolutely. And that’s a third of people that they’re going to have to combat that. 

RYAN: Can you talk a little about funding when it comes to what schools are facing right now? 

REBECCA: And I’m sure this is not going to be a surprise for anyone listening, but when asked about the impact of school funding legislation on their school districts, available funding for the last year, about a third of business respondents reported a significant decrease in the available funding for their district. Another third reported either an increase or no impact in their funding, and another third noted that they’re just unsure or still evaluating the impact. 

RYAN: How are they dealing with that, with those changes in funding, especially the ones who are dealing with, who are seeing a decrease in funding, whether that be through the ESSER funds or other funding sources that came out of Covid, how are districts responding? 

REBECCA: 46% indicated that budget reallocation are the most common response to their funding-related changes. 

RYAN: Yeah. And I would imagine that along with that there would be budget cuts or trying to say, “Where can we squeeze more value? Or what do we have that’s extraneous that we don’t need, that we can stop paying for at this point in time?” 

REBECCA: Absolutely. Budget cuts were right up there as well. And then investing in additional admin resources or tools to help assist with compliance and reporting to help save funding for those options as well. 

RYAN: You also asked a few more general questions about some broader trends in education like AI. What did people tell you about their perceptions about what’s happening now in 2024 in K-12 and what’s coming down the line? 

REBECCA: Absolutely. AI is a hot topic and everyone seems to have an opinion on it, and it’s not surprising that there are really mixed feelings regarding the integration of AI into K-12 education. A lot of people indicated that they need more information or training on the topic to feel more comfortable. So when we dug into that, 41% supported the integration of AI, 38% of participants were really neutral on the topic, and 21% opposed the integration of AI into K-12 education. 

RYAN: I think in this conversation it’s important to note that the people that you were speaking with for this research, they were not classroom teachers, they were administrators, they were people who work in the finance office, in HR, in technology, in curriculum and instruction, not actually classroom teachers, correct? 

REBECCA: Correct. Yes. And while many of them cited positive outcomes for AI like saving time or assisting in learning, the top concern by far was student misuse. They see this as a potential concern for those classroom teachers, like you mentioned. 

RYAN: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I know that you also dug into other changes or ways in which the K-12 landscape is evolving. And I know that there were a lot of things that districts mentioned, but what were some of the ones that came to the top of the list? 

REBECCA: When we dug into past changes for things that they’re seeing within their schools over the past three years, and you can imagine that they’re really multifaceted. There is a lot that has happened in the past year between the COVID-19 pandemic, just eruptions in technology and AI as we just mentioned. So the increase of technology in the classroom is really the largest change educators have seen in the past three years. But also, it’s coupled with an increase in behavioral issues and social emotional needs. “Teachers have to deal with deescalating multiple behavior disruptions that they can’t address properly and all children suffer for it,” one respondent mentioned. 

RYAN: I think those things seem like they may be totally disconnected, but they really did seem to rise at the same time as students were sent home, as everyone was given a device and told to log in from Zoom from their bedroom. And put all of that together with all of the upheaval — I always felt like my life was put into a Boggle cube and shaken up since since 2020. The increased behavioral issues and then the student social emotional needs, all of that does seem to be of a piece, even if they tend to seem on the surface as being disconnected. 

REBECCA: Yeah, I think that’s a great theory. When we dug into what are they seeing or what are they thinking is coming, AI is really the biggest change that they see coming. As one respondent mentioned, teachers will need to learn how to use AI to train their students on how to use it as a resource. 

And this is something we’re seeing in the business world as well. How can you use resource? How does it integrate with your daily work? And not only do you need to prepare students, you also need to make sure that you’re using it correctly. And then a general increase in technology is something that teachers are expecting to come in the next few years, and unfortunately more related funding constraints. 

RYAN: One of the incredibly hot topics in K-12 right now, of course, is data and data analytics. How do we take all of this data that is always being collected and actually use it in a way that is valuable and productive in our schools? That is something that many forward-thinking school leaders and administrators are trying to do. As you asked people what they’re seeing, what they’re doing when it comes to analyzing data, was there anything surprising that stuck out to you? 

REBECCA: As a researcher, I probably found this to be one of the most interesting but probably not most surprising topics that we covered. Most business and technology respondents are unsure how their organization is really utilizing data across all purposes. And what was most surprising to us was the amount, 62% of data-driven decisions relied on manual data analysis. And only 57% of these respondents reported using a specific analytics software tool for data analysis. 

RYAN: When you say manual data analysis, you mean what spreadsheets you mean? An abacus? 

REBECCA: Excel. I hope we’ve been past the abacus stage, but yes, Excel and really doing things manually with formulas and tracking that in a really time intensive way, which can have a lot of human error as well. 

RYAN: We know how important it is, whether it’s a school or a company for different departments to work together, right? You need the Human Resources department to work with other departments to understand needs. You need Business and Finance to work with other departments to be able to, drive the business of the school forward. You asked both the HR department and the business department what their relationships were like with one another. What did you find there? 

REBECCA: So I’ll say overall, most HCM and business respondents believe that the HR department and business and finance office have a strong working relationship. However, the business segment rated it higher. So for when you dig into HCM — 

— And by HCM, Rebecca is talking about HR directors — 


REBECCA: — 56% agreed or strongly degreed with that statement, but for business almost 65% agreed or strongly agreed that the Business/Finance department has a strong working relationship with the HR department. 

And when we dug into why for both, they either have a strong or a negative relationship with those offices, many cited a good working relationship as a result of strong and frequent communication, having a small department, or being in the same department, and collaboration as the key reasons for a strong relationship. 

However, when you look at the problems, many mentioned a lack of communication among their groups or, for HR specifically, that the business group acts unilaterally without consulting them. 

RYAN: I want to dig into the why a little bit or maybe even the who. Did you see anything that made you say, “Oh, this kind of school district tends to have, maybe, tighter integration and better relationships between HR and business, whereas this kind of school district might see less of a positive response there”? 

REBECCA: So yes, we found that smaller district sizes tended to have better relationships and had less of those problems with unilaterally acting or lack of collaboration. And for the most part, we saw that it’s because they may be the same person, they may be sitting next to each other in an office and have more frequent communication. 

RYAN: Well, you can access this report and dig into all of the nitty gritty on the Frontline Education website. There’s a lot of fascinating stuff there, and we will put the link in the show notes as well for you. Rebecca Strott from C+C, thank you again. I really appreciate your work in this and sharing your findings. 

REBECCA: Thank you so much, Ryan. 

You can download the “K-12 Lens” report at Frontline website or, as we mentioned, the link is also in the show notes on your podcast app. Field Trip is a podcast from Frontline Education. Over 10,000 clients across the U.S. rely on Frontline software to make administrative tasks easier across the district. 


To learn more, visit For Frontline Education, I’m Ryan Estes. Thanks for listening, and have a great day.