The Changing Landscape of the U.S. Education System

This brief summarizes the effects of factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the growth of technology on K-12 education, and the implications of these changes on the future of the U.S. education system. This brief also delves into the policies that have been enacted to recover from the pandemic, and what further changes should be made.

Published by


March 2, 2024

At YIP, nuanced policy briefs emerge from the collaboration of six diverse, nonpartisan students.

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Executive summary

This brief summarizes the effects of factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the growth of technology on K-12 education, and the implications of these changes on the future of the U.S. education system. This brief also delves into the policies that have been enacted to recover from the pandemic, and what further changes should be made.

Covid-19 and Education

COVID-19 changing education was inevitable and expected. What was not anticipated was its long-term effects on everyone getting an education and their family members. The integrity of education, which was once held to the highest standards, was analyzed with less intensity by teachers and their students. 

The pandemic changed everyone's attitudes towards education. While the value of getting a proper education was still prominent, people collectively had a more outward outlook on life beyond school. People were no longer spending hours of their day at school, and there was more time to spend on hobbies and other activities they would not otherwise have the time for. Parents who once encouraged their children to focus only on school saw an emphasis needed on family time and realized life was too short to focus only on education.

The social isolation also made students resent the way school made them feel. As growing kids, they needed structure and a set schedule. With a loss of teacher-driven work, kids were left with hours of their day to themselves. Sleep schedules were ruined, and isolation from everything outside of the perimeter of humes made it hard for students to dedicate themselves when the time came for them to fully. 

Using data results from the end of 2019, school administrators were able to see an apparent decline in benchmark test scores. Online schooling was less effective than in-person, explicitly targeting low and high-poverty students whose parents needed help to afford childcare or the necessary materials to complete online school. 

Furthermore, participation in the classroom decreased as a result of the pandemic. Teachers who were once able to ask a question with a pour of responses are now greeted with silence. Sitting behind a screen has made students comfortable with only certain people volunteering the entire period, feeling awkward about class discussions.

Technology and Education

Throughout the last couple of years, student engagement in the classroom has been significantly redefined with the evolution of technology with both positive and negative effects. On the positive side, technology has helped diversify the teaching approaches to students. Oftentimes, education can become increasingly unappealing to students when they follow the same pattern of learning for an extended period of time, which in turn would be detrimental to their education. Rather than sticking to a certain teaching style, technology brings a breadth of options for the teachers to continue to keep the students interested in the content being taught. The variety of technology provides a few key benefits. First, students are able to get a catered curriculum that is best suited to their personal learning style. Each student has a different method of learning, and it is difficult for one teacher to incorporate all the styles into how they teach their students. Technology eases this burden, allowing students to learn the content in their own way. Whether it be interactive videos or instructional games, technology has many benefits for the students involved. Secondly, technology provides a way to connect with the content of the class in a more interactive manner. Having a hands-on approach to learning with technology provides an avenue for students to engage more in the applications of the content they are learning about and allows them to delve deeper.

Technology also provides the benefit of preparing students for future careers for a few reasons. One of the big things that technology helps out with is the collaborative aspect of education. Technology plays a large role in fostering an environment with good communication and allows students to express their own viewpoints. Students are encouraged to help others out with issues with technology or virtual projects, which brings students together. The environment formed is somewhat reminiscent of what students will see in the future when they are tasked with working with others in a working capacity. Working with technology also directly helps them improve for the future because they will be tasked with working with the latest iterations of technology and even being the leaders of the next generation of technology. Getting early exposure in the classroom provides the added benefit of preparing students for the future of technology, which is something they may not have been prepared for if they didn’t use it in the classroom. 

This is not to say that technology has had a full positive benefit on the classroom. Instead, the opposite is true. Technology has provided a medium for distraction and misdirection in the classroom. In particular, technology has served as a large distraction in class, diverting students' attention from what they are supposed to learn. Apps like Instagram and TikTok have done a good job at grabbing students' attention with their real functionality, to the disdain of classroom teachers. Social media has also provided a social precedent for students to make unwise decisions in the classroom, like pulling pranks or disrespecting teachers in the classroom for views online. With the access that technology provides, students are also encouraged to use their resources to publicize their bad decisions in the classroom, which has led to crackdowns on an institutional level. For example, recently, in Houston, Texas, students at James Madison High School went to protest the school banning their use of phones. The school cited that there was an increasing number of fights being filmed in school, which they believed to be an unhealthy culture, so they instituted a ban on phones in school to address the issue. Whether the decision was correct or ethical is a separate discussion, but the decision shows that there has been a large effect of technology in education. New advancements in generative AI have also shrouded academic integrity with doubt. Generative AI allows people to input a prompt that addresses a topic of interest or a pressing question they have, and AI synthesizes its knowledge base on the topic into a response that is almost human-like. AI, like ChatGPT, has led teachers and academic staff to question the integrity of the work of students because their work could easily have been AI-generated. With not many good ways to detect the usage of AI, it is difficult for teachers to determine who wrote what, and this has caused an inherent need for teachers to innovate new ways to get content that is authentic. Otherwise, the creativity and innovation that education is supposed to help foster will be stunted. 

In general, technology has provided many positive and negative attributes to the table. The advantages of the usage of technology are compelling, but there are many drawbacks that need to be addressed to bring out the full potential of technology-integrated education. Perhaps a deeper evaluation of how to effectively utilize technology needs to be done, but the advantages provide hope. 

Education Post-Pandemic

Post-pandemic, school systems have implemented numerous changes to classrooms across the U.S., including but not limited to mental health and trauma support, summer enrichment programs, and professional development on learning recovery, attempting to bridge the gap of academic achievement in the U.S. To achieve this goal, Congress has delegated $190 billion to U.S. public schools  through legislation including President Biden’s American Rescue Act. With this investment, school districts have allocated their money towards personal protective equipment, more faculty, and even infrastructure such as HVAC systems. 

However, the money and effort put towards public schools recovering after the pandemic might not be enough. Although there has been substantial recovery in catching students up to the standards they reached pre-pandemic, the Educational Opportunity Project reports that effects of COVID-19 has only exacerbated inequalities in education, especially between socio-economic levels. 

Additionally, the effects of COVID-19 brought a decrease in K-12 public school enrollment nationally. Between fall 2019 and fall 2020, the U.S. Department of Education reported a decline of 1.6 million students in traditional and charter public schools across the U.S., dropping public school enrollment 3%. If K-12 enrollment continues to decline at this rate, it will pose a threat to district budgets, as the state and federal support public schools receive is proportional to the number of students enrolled. Possible causes for this enrollment include changes to student learning methods including virtual learning and a focus away from early education in the U.S. 

Growth in the education sector in the U.S. will require acknowledging the new landscape of K-12 schools post-pandemic. Factoring in learning losses, technology and enrollment declines will be essential to an improved K-12 education system in the U.S., even after recovery efforts dwindle.


The Institute for Youth in Policy wishes to acknowledge Michelle Liou, Nolan Ezzet, and other contributors for developing and maintaining the Policy Department within the Institute.


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Gracie Adams

Lead Analyst, Social Policy

Gracie Adams is a junior at Park Hill High School. She is involved in the speech and debate team at her school, is a policy fellow for Encode Justice, and plans to study environmental science in college. In her free time, she enjoys writing and reading.

Aneesh Mazumder

Social Policy Lead

Aneesh is a Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science senior and a social policy analyst at the Institute of Youth In Policy (YIP). As the former Policy Debate Lead for Grapevine High School, he is an avid, multi-format (TFA and UIL) state-qualified debater who seeks to leverage neuroscience and public policy for holistically addressing patients' needs.

Mahati Dharanipathhi

Policy Analyst

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