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Is your district adequately preparing students for a future with AI?

April 12, 2024, By Margaret Sullivan, Associate Director, Research

The debate on integrating generative AI in education extends beyond colleges and universities, where a growing number of students now have access to the technology and participate in AI-focused opportunities. Whether districts have begun addressing AI in their own classrooms or not, generative AI is also impacting the daily lives of K-12 students.

Three immediate impacts stand out. First, there is an emerging divide: on one side are students who know about AI and have the means to access it, and on the other are those who have neither the exposure to AI nor the resources to engage with it. This divide tends to reflect and reinforce existing socioeconomic inequality.

Second, trust between students and teachers is declining as AI sheds doubts on student academic integrity, effort, and core skill development. Strong teacher-student relationships are more important than ever to keep kids engaged in learning and attending school daily, but teachers feel unprepared to directly engage with families about an uncertain future with AI.

Finally, generative AI tools like ChatGPT are flooding the internet and social media with images and content that may contain misinformation and bias. Furthermore, stories of inappropriate AI use influenced by social media are sowing anxieties amongst educators and parents alike.

Districts must respond, but how?

These impacts raise critical questions for K-12 educators. How can schools balance the potential opportunities of generative AI with existing risks? Will AI impact students’ future in the workforce? Are certain content areas and skills no longer critical to teach?

District leaders receive conflicting advice on how to respond to these questions. Some experts urge caution in addressing AI head-on, citing the need to focus on existing priorities (like student behavior and absenteeism) and the ethical implications of investing too early in student-facing AI tools. Others advocate for a proactive stance, encouraging educators to experiment with AI as soon as possible to avoid getting left behind.

The stark reality is that students already interact with AI in their daily lives, and two-thirds of educators agree students need knowledge of AI because of that. 97% percent of superintendents agree: districts have the responsibility of preparing their students to interact with AI effectively and responsibly, in addition to tackling their other critical priorities.

Three reasons districts are struggling to educate students on AI

Unfortunately, less than a third of districts are prepared to educate their students about AI. In calls with almost 100 district leaders, EAB surfaced three critical barriers districts face as they grapple with how to teach students about AI:

  1. Districts are hesitant to set guidelines on AI use

    The tech is too new and is evolving too quickly for district leaders to feel comfortable setting guidelines that may be outdated sooner than later.

  2. Teachers don't know how to teach about AI

    While some teachers still harbor anxieties about how AI will impact their role or their students’ development, others simply don’t have the time or tools to learn in the first place.

  3. The tech isn't yet safe for students anyway

    Few of today’s publicly available AI tools effectively protect student privacy and security, meaning leaders should still consider restricting student access on district devices—at least for now. But even when AI becomes safer for students in the future, districts don’t have a process for determining whether these tools are good for student learning and wellbeing.

EAB’s playbook for overcoming these barriers

Answers to these problems aren’t coming from state and federal legislation—in fact, only seven states have released early guidance as of March 2024. Even in these states, district leaders are still searching for concrete examples of how other districts are navigating these barriers.

Through our conversations with district leaders and experts, EAB surfaced a three-phase playbook for superintendents that directly addresses these three barriers.

  1. Base adaptable guidelines on AI tools currently used by teachers and students

    Teachers and students are already using AI, and districts need to give them a common language to talk and learn about it—but this doesn’t mean spending months developing air-tight AI policies.


    Districts should first identify the AI-powered tools already circulating in their schools (e.g.,, ChatGPT, Snapchat AI), then quickly provide specific language for teachers and students that creates discussion about using these tools safely and effectively. Guidelines can change, but districts can’t waste any more time getting this critical information to teachers and the broader community.

  2. Offer teachers AI tools that help save time while fostering AI literacy

    Most teachers want to use AI once they see what it can do to help save time—use productivity tools as a gateway to AI literacy and building teacher confidence in discussing AI with their students.

  3. Support controlled experiments to elevate AI's benefits and risks over time

    Even when AI tools become safe for students, only educators—not developers—will be able to determine whether they are good for students. Districts can support safe, controlled experiments that explore AI’s risks and benefits before investing in student-facing AI tools.

Margaret Sullivan

Margaret Sullivan

Associate Director, Research

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