In an age seemingly plucked from the realms of science fiction, where artificial intelligence (AI) systems reminiscent of Hal from “2001: A Space Odyssey” and Data from “Star Trek” once existed solely in the realm of imagination, we find ourselves grappling with pressing educational concerns. Chief among these are the intersection of AI and literacy, two pillars reshaping the landscape of learning.

The history of education is deeply intertwined with technological advancements, each innovation leaving an indelible mark on the way knowledge is imparted and absorbed. From the invention of the printing press, which democratized access to information, to the proliferation of smartphones that connect us instantaneously to vast repositories of knowledge, technology has continually transformed the educational experience at an accelerating rate.

The printing press, invented in 1440, revolutionized the dissemination of knowledge, allowing the written word to proliferate across cultures and societies at an unprecedented pace. This monumental invention paved the way for the Enlightenment and the spread of ideas that shaped the modern world. Similarly, the invention of the typewriter in 1868 accelerated the pace of communication, making personal correspondence accessible to a wider audience. The subsequent development of home printers and computers further accelerated this trend, culminating in the ubiquitous presence of smartphones and the internet in today’s classrooms.

AI represents the latest chapter in this ongoing saga of innovation. With the advent of generative AI programs, such as ChatGPT and Google’s Gemini, accessible to the public, educators face both unprecedented opportunities and challenges. While AI is touted to have the potential to personalize learning experiences and streamline administrative tasks, it also raises concerns about privacy, equity, and the future of work.

One of the primary challenges posed by AI in education is ensuring equitable access for all students. While technology may appear to have the potential to level the playing field, there exists a digital divide that threatens to exacerbate existing disparities. Not all students have equal access to technology or the internet, creating a stark divide between those who can leverage AI tools to enhance their learning and those who cannot.

Furthermore, the integration of AI into the classroom necessitates a reevaluation of pedagogical practices. Educators must grapple with questions about the appropriate use of AI in teaching and learning, the implications for student privacy, and the role of human interaction in education. How do we teach writing skills when AI can generate coherent text with a few keystrokes? How do we ensure that AI is used responsibly and ethically, without compromising student privacy or perpetuating biases?  How do we ensure that false narratives or misinformation is not perpetuated by AI hallucinations or deep fakes?

In the realm of language arts, AI-powered tools can assist students in developing critical reading and writing skills. For instance, AI-driven language analysis tools can provide instant feedback on grammar, syntax, and style, helping students refine their writing abilities. Similarly, AI-powered virtual tutors can engage students in interactive reading activities, adapting to their individual learning styles and preferences.

In mathematics, AI algorithms can offer personalized support to students struggling with complex concepts. From adaptive learning platforms that tailor instruction to each student’s level of proficiency to AI-driven math games that make learning fun and engaging. Moreover, AI-powered tutoring systems can provide real-time assistance to students as they work through math problems, offering hints and explanations tailored to their specific needs.

In science education, AI can serve as a powerful tool for data analysis and visualization. Students can use AI-driven simulation software to explore complex scientific phenomena, conduct virtual experiments, and analyze large datasets. AI-powered virtual laboratories can provide hands-on learning experiences, allowing students to engage with scientific concepts in a dynamic and interactive manner.

Beyond the core academic subjects, AI can also play a role in teaching critical thinking and problem-solving skills. AI-driven chatbots and virtual assistants can engage students in dialogue-based learning experiences, challenging them to think critically and solve problems collaboratively. Moreover, AI-powered educational games and simulations can provide immersive learning environments where students can apply their knowledge to real-world scenarios.

(As a note of caution and transparency, these last four paragraphs were written by ChatGPT 3.5, an online AI program, with some edits by me by asking the following question: “explore uses of AI within education and add what can be taught in our K-12 school systems”).

At the CFT, we are no strangers to change in education.  We cautiously recognize the potential of AI to transform education for the better. That is why we are committed to supporting educators in navigating and harnessing this new technology to enhance teaching and learning outcomes for all students. Through professional development programs, resources, and advocacy efforts, we aim to ensure that educators have the knowledge and tools they need to effectively integrate AI into their classrooms. 

By embracing and channeling AI as a tool for innovation and empowerment, we can create a more dynamic, engaging, and equitable learning experience for students across California and beyond. 

Sticking with this theme of “science fiction”, let’s delve into another hot topic this year: the Science of Reading. And when I say “science fiction”, I mean science as in the idea of research, correlation, and data and fiction as in the form of the literary genre.  Simply put, it is about employing evidence-based practices and principles to enhance literacy instruction.

You may have read an article in our weekly newsletter where we facilitated a visit for Superintendent Thurmond and education chairs Senator Newman and Assemblymember Murasutchi to witness the Science of Reading in practice. Ms. Gonzales’ 4th-grade Dual Language class at the South Ranchito Dual Language Academy and Ms. Valera-Barajas’ 1st-grade class at Valencia Academy, both at El Rancho USD, showcased exemplary practices in literacy instruction. Ms. Gonzales provided personalized one-on-one lessons in phonics, coupled with independent reading comprehension activities, while Ms. Valera-Barajas’ class seamlessly transitioned between various literacy activities.

The Science of Reading is not a new concept—it’s rooted in decades of academic research. It’s about leveraging evidence-based practices to ensure that every student has access to high-quality literacy instruction. However, despite its long history, the debate surrounding the Science of Reading has only recently gained traction.

The Science of Reading requires us to critically examine research and data to improve our education system. But little has been done to educate our professionals on the topic.  Most of the training, like Ms Gonzales and Ms. Valera-Barajas were on their own. Also  little curriculum or classroom materials have been created with the Science of Reading philosophy. 

We know that it is incumbent on the state to provide educators with the necessary professional development and resources to implement evidence-based literacy practices effectively. However, we must also be cautious not to mandate rigid instructional approaches from the state level. Instead, we should offer guidance and support, allowing educators the flexibility to adapt practices to meet the diverse needs of their students.

In California, the debate over the Science of Reading is exemplified by AB 2222, a hotly debated bill that addresses this very subject (and its short life as a bill has already ended by the time this article went to print). Like AI, the Science of Reading has the potential to transform our classrooms and enhance student outcomes. However, we must approach these ideas with open minds and a commitment to collaboration.

Together, we can strike the perfect balance between the advancements of science and the irreplaceable human touch in education. By embracing forward-thinking concepts like AI and the Science of Reading and guiding their thoughtful implementation, we pave the way for a brighter future in education.

Our goal is not only to empower every student to realize their full potential but also to ensure a fair and just working environment for all education professionals.