Developing AI Policy in K–12 Schools, Step 1: Setting the Stage

Discover how to get started with writing school and district policies for artificial intelligence.

Grades K-12 16 min Resource by:
Listen to this article

The age of artificial intelligence is no longer the hypothetical topic of movies and science fiction. It’s here, and it’s already disrupting the way we do things both on a personal and professional level, and by almost every account, this is just the beginning. Despite how individuals may feel about its impact, we can’t ignore it because it’s not going away.

So what does this mean for education? Among other things, it means that we need to engage in the conversation, learn as much as we can, and do our best to make plans for moving forward effectively with AI. Part of that plan includes developing AI policy for our schools.

While there are many ways to approach this task, this series of articles will provide both resources and a road map to help guide you in this process. The articles will provide you with options and materials that you can use in any way that will best meet the unique needs of your school or district. By compiling these resources and ideas, we hope that we can save you a little bit of time and help jump-start the process as you embark on the journey of integrating AI policy into your schools.

Understanding the Situation

As you begin the process of writing an AI policy for your school, it’s helpful to establish some context and understand how AI is already impacting the world at large.

Even though generative AI famously hit the mainstream in November 2022 with the introduction of ChatGPT, it has already been around for quite some time. Artificial intelligence is present in the facial recognition software you use to unlock your phones. It’s used to recommend books or movies to you based on your past purchases and viewing histories. It sorts your email inbox, sending potentially harmful messages to a spam folder. It even autocorrects your spelling and suggests the next words that you may want to type into your message. You engage with AI every time that you use a GPS system or a navigation app. It’s all around us, even if we don’t always realize it.

The newest form of AI, generative AI, is quickly becoming ubiquitous in the form of tools like ChatGPT, Gemini, Copilot, and Claude. While these applications were primarily developed for business use, they have rapidly entered our schools.

In a report from BestColleges, 53% of students admitted to using AI on an assignment or exam, 58% said that their school had a policy about using AI, and 80% shared that at least one instructor had spoken to them about the ethics of using it. A recent study conducted by Sabrina Habib, Thomas Vogel, Xiao Anli, and Evelyn Thorne reported that 75% of students felt the use of AI improved their creativity and learning. Additionally, a 2024 report from Hanover Research shared that 65% of K–12 educators and 61% of students use AI technology, while 9% of district leadership teams use AI technology “systematically.” In February 2024, the University of Pennsylvania launched the first AI degree program at an Ivy League school.

With the use of AI expanding at such a rapid rate in a short amount of time, educators and school leaders are seeking guidance. However, as of April 2024, only 7 states had issued formal AI guidance for their schools: California, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia. This void has left districts in most states to undertake AI policy development on their own.

Framing the Conversation

How should schools and districts begin if they wish to create a policy to help guide AI use and implementation?

If you live in one of the seven states that has issued formal guidance, that guidance is a great place to begin. Those resources will likely align with current state expectations and law. If you live in one of the other 43 states, you might still want to reference the states that do have guidance in place in order to learn from their ideas. You can also look to the wealth of research and documentation released by other agencies and organizations, such as ISTE, CoSN, and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology.

The following list is a summary of guiding insights offered by some of the most significant publications currently available on this topic. While you will want to dive deeper into the original documents, have your own conversations, and come to your own consensus about how AI will be integrated into your schools, this summary can be helpful in developing a mindset and in framing the conversation’s key subtopics as you begin this work:

As mentioned earlier, AI is already being used extensively in our K–12 schools. It has similarly taken off in the workplace. Microsoft reports that as of May 2024, generative AI use has nearly doubled in the last 6 months, with 75% of knowledge workers around the world using it. In addition to changing how professional work is currently being completed, a study done by McKinsey Global Institute predicts that AI will also create new occupations, estimating that there will be between 20 and 50 million new jobs created by 2030. Other studies show similar trends. If this is the future status of the workforce, then K–12 school systems need to prepare their students for that reality. This also means that teachers and school leaders must learn to be productive in this AI ecosystem.

Because AI is impacting so many facets of society, banning it is not a viable option for schools, especially in the long term. While concerns about student cheating and the impact of AI on traditional teaching and assessment practices are real, the need to prepare students for an AI world generally outweighs those concerns. New York City Public Schools famously tried the banning approach in January 2023, only to reverse their decision not long thereafter. They have now made AI tools available in schools, acknowledging that the school system needs to “prepare our young people for the new world that’s coming.” UNESCO echoes this sentiment, saying, “AI-related studies should be made a core skill at all educational levels to help close the skill gap.” They add, “. . . AI ethics, communication  and teamwork skills are recognised as priorities alongside other widely recognised skills such as basic literacy, numeracy, coding and digital skills.”

Understandably, people worry about what AI will mean for their own job security. While the workforce will almost certainly be disrupted by AI, with many jobs changing and evolving, most experts agree that AI will not replace humans. A report from the U.S. Office of Educational Technology, Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Teaching and Learning, states, “At no point do we intend to imply that AI can replace a teacher, a guardian, or an educational leader as the custodian of their students’ learning.” In fact, their first recommendation is that “we pursue a vision of AI where humans are in the loop.” They summarize this approach with the acronym ACE (Always Center Educators), writing, “. . . Practicing ‘ACE in AI’ means keeping a humanistic view of teaching front and center.” CoSN’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) in K–12 report also echoes this human-first mindset, stating that AI is not going to improve learning by replacing teachers. Rather, they say, “The real potential for education lies in how AI augments what teachers and leaders do in schools, allowing them to be more adaptive to the needs of their students and less consumed by routine, repetitive tasks.”

AI fits under the larger umbrella of educational technology. In this context, the U.S. Office of Educational Technology states, “The Department’s long-standing edtech vision sees students as active learners; students participate in discussions that advance their understanding, use visualizations and simulations to explain concepts as they relate to the real world, and leverage helpful scaffolding and timely feedback as they learn. Constituents want technology to align to and build on these and other research-based understandings of how people learn.” This reminder can help guide conversations about AI and lead decision-makers to ask, “How can AI be used well and responsibly in the context of what we know about effective teaching and learning?”

CoSN points out that AI has great potential to improve personalization, efficiency, and effectiveness in our classrooms. However, the organization also reminds us that the most important question we can ask about our AI use is, “WHY?” They remind us of guiding questions such as “What learning opportunity might AI create or facilitate? What is the educational goal, and how might AI help to achieve it? Put directly, if AI is the solution, what is the problem that it is trying to solve?” These questions can help us keep a problem-solution mindset that can offset the temptation to be blinded by the flashiness of these amazing digital tools.

It is important that schools learn “about” AI as well as “with” it. While these two targets go hand in hand, they are also distinct from one another. It is important to learn about AI so that we have context for guiding policy conversations, and it is equally, if not more important, to understand how AI impacts teaching and learning in our schools. This focus on the mission of teaching and learning takes us back to the why. Why are we bringing AI into the learning equation, and how can we leverage it to amplify what we already know about quality education?

Because of AI’s potential to significantly impact and disrupt current educational practices, the U.S. Office of Educational Technology highlights the need for guiding policy around AI adoption and implementation. They frame the conversation by suggesting that policies are “urgently needed” to help schools with the following tasks and outcomes: “1. leverage automation to advance learning outcomes while protecting human decision making and judgment; 2. interrogate the underlying data quality in AI models to ensure fair and unbiased pattern recognition and decision making in educational applications, based on accurate information appropriate to the pedagogical situation; 3. enable examination of how particular AI technologies, as part of larger EdTech or educational systems, may increase or undermine equity for students; and 4. take steps to safeguard and advance equity, including providing for human checks and balances and limiting any AI systems and tools that undermine equity.”

Where Should Schools Begin?

In preparation for policy development, here are three helpful steps in getting started:

  • Gain a General Understanding of AI: The better you understand what artificial intelligence is, what it can do, and how it is impacting education and society, the better prepared you’ll be to create meaningful and effective policy guidance. You have already begun this journey by reviewing this article, but don’t stop there. Learn as much as you can and share what you learn with others. It’s a collaborative and ongoing journey. The next article in this series will provide you with additional resources and pathways to help you learn more about generative AI.
  • Create an Inclusive Leadership Committee: This committee will work together to research, explore, and draft new policy. When the U.S. Office of Educational Technology generated its own list of insights and recommendations, they included a wide range of educational constituents, including “educational leaders—teachers, faculty, support staff, and other educators—researchers; policymakers; advocates and funders; technology developers; community members and organizations; and, above all, learners and their families/caregivers.” Similarly, a school should solicit input from its own key stakeholders, including leadership, teachers, students, and community members. If your core committee does not include a wide range of membership, it’s important to seek out broad input and varying perspectives and then bring that feedback to the committee for review. In some fashion, it’s critical that diverse voices are heard. The more inclusive the process, the better the final product will be and the more likely that constituents will buy into and comply with the resulting guidance and policy.
  • Beginning the Work: Once your committee has been established, that group will need to gain a solid foundation of knowledge about AI and education. Based on its goals, the committee will also need to develop a plan of action to guide their work. This might include generating protocols, writing belief and value statements, reviewing the district mission statement, setting goals and expectations, outlining a timeline and process, and formulating a communication plan. Transparent, consistent communication is key in developing the trust needed to successfully create and deploy an effective AI policy.

The next article in this series will focus on Step 2: Learning, where you will find a wealth of resources that you and your committee can use to learn more about AI policy and issues regarding its successful implementation in K–12 schools. This solid foundation of understanding will lead you to success in writing your own AI policy.

AVID Connections

This resource connects with the following components of the AVID College and Career Readiness Framework:

  • Systems
  • Leadership
  • Culture
  • Break Down Barriers
  • Align the Work
  • Advocate for Students
  • Collective Educator Agency

Extend Your Learning