The AI debate in education is shifting to equity, as schools are dropping their bans on ChatGPT and artificial intelligence has been added to numerous learning platforms.

Used as a tutor or as an assistant for teachers to create more personalized lesson plans, AI has brought great hope for the future of technology. But that hope is also crowded by studies showing racial bias and concerns AI will lead to an even bigger tech divide for rural and poor students.

“As with any technology, it is important that it incorporates the learning styles and contexts in which they are deployed, and to have AI be an effective tool and resource for educators as well as students,” said Nicol Turner Lee, director for The Center of Technology at the Brookings Institute. “There needs to be an inclusive framework for how these resources get integrated into our classrooms.”

The conversation around AI in schools shot to the forefront last November. ChatGPT took the country by storm, sparking cheating concerns and causing multiple large school districts to ban the technology from their buildings. Schools have since reversed the ban, after learning more about AI and seeing many education platforms adopt the technology to their products. 

In Connecticut, the state’s education department is partnering with a technology company this school year to get AI into more classrooms with the goal of combatting learning loss. 

Some have argued AI, used correctly, can help close equity gaps between students, especially neurodiverse students who may need more specialized plans.

“I think AI tools can actually help make that happen by helping teachers create lessons and pedagogical practices that are unique to kids, which gets into the other piece of this, which is around neurodiversity, kids who have special needs,” said Jean-Claude Brizard, president and CEO of Digital Promise, a nonprofit with the goal of equitable education in technology. 

“I think AI has the potential to leverage what we know in learning science that can really help with neurodiverse kids. […] There is a massive opportunity here to really begin to close gaps around inequity,” added Brizard.

Along with helping with the learning gap, AI has the potential to alleviate another concern in the education field: the teacher shortage.

Since COVID-19, schools have been struggling with a loss of educators, with states taking actions such as loosening requirements on out-of-state teaching licenses and letting veterans teach in order to fill the gaps.

“To a certain extent, the technology, again, is going to help offload some of the other burdens that teachers have when it comes to assisting in attendance and things like that. You know, in light of the fact that there is a teacher shortage” said Lee. 

While AI can be a helpful assistant for educators and students, some have raised concerns that it can cause inequities in schools, particularly in lesson plans made for minority students.

An EdWeek Research Center survey in 2022 — but before ChatGPT came to the scene — found 34 percent of educators were somewhat concerned and 10 percent were very concerned about the potential for racial bias in AI.

Multiple studies have shown that in areas like health care and facial recognition AI has racial bias.

“I think there’s a really good chance and probably already happening that in schools that are high poverty schools that serve more disadvantaged students, and, of course, that’s tied to race and economics and language and everything else, the technology may be used more for direct tutoring and test preparation so in that kind of situation, it’s really the AI is in control and driving the interactions with the students,” said Glenn Kleiman, a senior adviser at the Stanford Graduate School of Education. “Whereas in other places or other uses it can be used more for fostering creativity and critical problem-solving, and even collaboration and communication.”

Another concern is rural and poor students getting left behind, as those school districts typically have more struggles getting the latest technology and, as well as educators who are able to teach it.

“But we also talk about this idea of digital learning, which is how do you train teachers effectively, not just in affluent communities, but in our poorest communities, to understand how to leverage the technology,” said Brizard.

In California, they recently revamped their math education which puts an emphasis on computer science as an important subject for students. Other school districts have partnered with groups such as the AI Education Project to ensure teachers and students become efficient in the new technology.

As AI continues to develop rapidly, experts say this is the perfect time to bring different interest groups together to ensure the smooth transition of AI in schools and continue discussions on how to keep up with it.

“So many people have a dystopian view of AI. I’m hopeful, and I’m happy about this development. I just think as an education system, we not only have to catch up, we’ve got to get ahead of this. Our leaders in education have to become leaders and activists versus passengers in this kind of effort,” said Brizard.

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