A Year of ChatGPT: An AI Education Policy Overview

Robotic Conversation with Policy Makers

November 30th, 2023 will mark the one-year anniversary of the launch of ChatGPT, a product which has sent shockwaves through numerous areas of the professional landscape. Government agencies have rushed to further understand the vast potential of Generative Artificial Intelligence (GenAI) technology, and to attempt to control its use through hastily-developed policies and regulations. In educational settings, many states and districts have responded to this technological advancement with distinct wariness and obvious fear, and were quick to ban the use of GenAI tools in school buildings and on provided devices. New York City Public Schools, the largest school district in the country, was among the districts who made the cursory decision to attempt to bar ChatGPT completely, citing “concerns about negative impacts on student learning, and concerns regarding the safety and accuracy of content”. NYCPS has since backpedaled on their initial notice, and has gone as far as to embrace AI use in its schools. But now, one year after ChatGPT was released, the question remains: how are school districts and state departments of education handling the GenAI boom, and where are teachers going to receive much-needed guidance and policy regarding the technology for the 2023-2024 academic year?

In studying the public press releases, school policies, and AI rumors of the largest public school districts in the country, two distinct groups have emerged– those who have released official guidance on AI’s place in the classroom, and those who, at least on an official publication level, have remained largely quiet. Many school districts followed NYCPS in a perfunctory and complete ban of GenAI in early 2023, and some, such as Philadelphia’s Public School District, have continued to block students from OpenAI’s webpage and similar tools on school internet networks and student Chromebooks “until they learn more about it”. Others, such as Georgia’s Gwinnett County, have gone “all-in” on AI, bringing the technology into classrooms as early as kindergarten. The Los Angeles Unified School District released an AI-backed chatbot this summer called ‘Ed’ which provides “real-time updates on grades, test results and attendance—empowering [students and families] to monitor and support progress and immediately address the concerns”. One school– South Austin’s Alpha School (admittedly a private institution)– has gone as far as to introduce AI tutors into their classes in order to completely personalize learning in subjects such as reading, math, and writing. 

While some large school districts have prioritized learning and publishing articles about Gen AI technology, many have not been as quick to the punch. Nevada’s Clark County (the seventh largest district in the country in terms of population), is one of many urban districts with no mention of Artificial Intelligence on their official site, leaving educators without clear policy guidance as to if (or perhaps it would be better to say ‘how much’) AI technology should be permitted in the classroom. Meanwhile, the majority of school districts have taken a stance somewhere in between those who have fully embraced GenAI tools, and those who have so far seemingly ignored its existence. More than half of the nation’s 15 largest school districts have yet to publish official AI policies on their sites, but have either recently incorporated AI tools into their in-facility operations or are actively working to develop guidance for educators and parents. Some districts, such as Hawaii Public Schools and Florida’s Palm Beach County, have promised that specific AI policies and regulations are forthcoming, presenting themselves as cautious, yet optimistic, about the potential of GenAI in schools. These schools have integrated AI topics into computer science curricula and have, like the majority of professionals over the past year, focused their attention to learning more about the potential and limitations of this new technology. This is also the stance of Florida’s Palm Beach County, where superintendents “do think clear guidelines need to be set, they do not think AI is something to be feared. Instead, they hope teachers and students embrace the tool and use it to their advantage”. 

While many school districts have begun to post official AI policies on their sites, state departments have shown to be slower to respond to the GenAI boom. As of November 2023, only eight out of the 51 (with Washington DC’s State Board of Education included) official 

State educational departments and affiliates have taken a notable stance on GenAI. Between these, only California and Oregon have provided substantial guides for teachers answering frequently asked questions about the use of AI in the classroom, detailing its potential risks, and providing suggestions for how to incorporate AI into syllabi and course instruction. The remainder of these ‘AI-forward’ states (Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Colorado, Wisconsin and South Carolina) have a variety of shorter resources posted on their official websites, from Illinois’ Principals Association’s general assertion that “Students may not use AI, including AI image or voice generator technology, to violate school rules or school district policies” to South Carolina publishing six “Process Standards” for the usage of AI tools in the classroom. 

The 43 State Departments who have not released official guidance on GenAI are in various stages of public preparation for the technology. As in the case of school districts, many state departments, including Virginia and Massachusetts, have plans to release guidance as soon as it becomes available. Governors from numerous states, such as Oklahoma and New Jersey, have already announced the establishment of task forces dedicated to making informed predictions about the future of AI in their communities, and to “identify the ways in which AI can be used to… improve education”. Until such time that guidance is released, however, some states have left guidance regarding GenAI use to the discretion of the districts and local officials. For many other states (including Florida, North Carolina, and Tennessee), the only mention of AI on their official websites is in the context of the incorporation of AI topics into their computer science curricula, or an announcement of new AI grants and commercial partnerships. However, the vast majority of state departments (Kentucky, New Mexico, and New Hampshire) still have no notable mention of Artificial Intelligence on their public platforms, failing to fill the gap left by largely insufficient guidance by school districts.

So, if district and state guidance is inconsistent at best, where can educators look to find policy and suggestions for the incorporation of GenAI tools in the classroom? As it turns out, public universities have been the most proactive in providing guidance to their communities regarding ChatGPT, DALL-E, and other similar applications of GenAI, and this guidance has often been translatable for K-12 educators. Almost every public university surveyed has posted either a letter on AI written by a university official or has recently released a comprehensive database filled with resources available to their students and faculty detailing how and when GenAI should be used in the classroom. Many universities have also developed working groups of faculty to explore how schools “should use such technologies in our classes, how it can be used to enhance our research, how we might reconsider regulations on plagiarism and more”, and aim to release further information in the months ahead.

In addition, a number of state universities’ schools of education have provided guidance that has been missing from their states’ departments of education webpages. This guidance, directed towards K-12 educators, walks readers through definitions of pertinent AI vocabulary, provides model syllabi which deal with GenAI usage in classes, and links to further relevant resources that educators can use to become familiar with this dynamic technology. Many universities have already hosted or have plans to host open panels, seminars, and Q&A sessions for students, teachers, and families related to GenAI and its potential.

Finally, the US Department of Education has released some guidance for educators on GenAI, and has plans to unveil more as soon as it is available. The most substantial of these resources was a report issued by the Office of Educational Technology called, “Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Teaching and Learning: Insights and Recommendations” which is a 70-page resource discussing topics related to AI ethics, applications in assessment and research, and recommendations for educators related to the use of this technology in their classrooms. The OET has also released a series of videos and blog posts for the use of educators in US public schools to “engage in conversations that will help the Department shape a vision for AI policy that is inclusive of cutting-edge research and practices while also informed by the opportunities and risks”. As educators await more substantial localized AI education policy from states and districts, the USDOE’s report and page, along with state universities’ guidance, provides the basis for how teachers should approach Generative AI use in the classroom during the 2023-2024 school year and foreseeable future.

Dive further into the research here!

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