When you hear the words “AI” and “schools” together, you might think, ‘Wait a minute, isn’t that how kids cheat these days?’ Not quite, say some of the country’s most hardworking educators, who are now employing new AI “edtech” tools to assist restructure a long-struggling public education system.

“AI and adaptive software have transformed our classrooms, school climate, and culture. “The student engagement is absolutely magnificent,” Pease Elementary School Principal Micah Arrott remarked via video chat from her office in Odessa, Texas.

Since taking over in 2021, Arrott has been one of only a few thousand school administrators countrywide who fully embrace “blended learning.” Teachers are now using tablets in conjunction with apps such as Age of Learning’s My Math Academy and My Reading Academy to deliver tech-assisted one-on-one instruction to each student.

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“It has really changed everything, and it’s really magical when you experience our campus now compared to three years ago,” Arrott says.

“This (My Math Academy) allows us to reach every single one of our students where they are and how they learn best,” said Pease Kindergarten teacher Shadiana Saenz. “They don’t necessarily come from a background where they get what they need all the time.”

Can AI help kids recover from pandemic-related learning loss?
Three years ago, kids had just returned to class after the COVID-19 pandemic. Arrott was still in his first year as principal of the pre-K through second grade school, which served approximately 550 students. She also faced additional hurdles.

Odessa is located on the westernmost frontier of America’s heartland and is home to one of the world’s most productive oil fields. It is also home to the football team that inspired the novel, movie, and television series “Friday Night Lights.”

It is also a location that has experienced both the highs of oil booms and winning streaks, as well as the lows of busts and losses. The year 2021 was a low.

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Between a series of oil sector bankruptcies and the pandemic’s impact on the already economically troubled area, Arrott had to work to protect the majority of her student population, which was predominantly Hispanic and financially poor, from falling farther behind.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA), which supervises public schools in Texas, assigned Pease a “F” grade based on student achievement and test scores. Ironically, a low grade might make it difficult for schools to obtain much-needed money and help.

At a time when everyone was struggling, not just at Pease, but at similar public schools and towns across the country, educators needed a Hail Mary. New AI technology tools were supplied.

What are the advantages of AI in classrooms?
“There are no classrooms where all students learn in the same way and at the same level,” Diana Hughes, Vice President of Product Innovation and AI at Age of Learning, stated during a video call. “What we see in the more than 600,000 classrooms we’re in is that kids are all over the place, and few are where they’re supposed to be when we start.”

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Hughes says there are multiple reasons behind this, and she’s been working to address it since the company’s flagship ABCmouse platform debuted more than a decade ago.

“What we know from extensive research works is to assess every single child to determine what they know, don’t know, and are ready to learn,” she explains. “Then you go back and reteach everything they don’t grasp, and then go on. You do not move on until every single student in the class has mastered it. And then you repeat this every day for the duration of their education. And that’s insane to expect an individual teacher to do for all 30 students in their courses.”

According to Hughes, AI has the potential to influence their destinies.

“We introduce a new concept, give them some experience with it, and then we have games that are designed to assess what they understand,” Hughes says. “So, they’re playing a game, and we’re gathering a lot of information on whether or not they understand what they’ve been taught. And if we see that they don’t comprehend, for example, by giving incorrect replies, we can provide additional feedback.”

What distinguishes this approach from “standard” classroom learning is that it only advances to the next topic or idea when the student is ready. “The system is sort of going through this loop of teaching, assessing, assisting as needed, and then making a decision about what (the student) is ready for,” Hughes explains. “It’s very different from the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach of traditional models. This manner, no one else falls behind, and advanced pupils aren’t held back either.”

The outcomes speak for themselves. Age of Learning has demonstrated effectiveness in some of the nation’s most at-risk and underperforming schools, including Jefferson County in Tallahassee, Florida. After 15 years of “failure,” with children frequently five years behind grade level, assessment scores improved with as little as 12 hours of AI-assisted learning.

Will artificial intelligence (AI) replace teachers?
Austin’s $40,000-per-year elite Alpha High School is full of pupils who use app-based “AI Tutors” to achieve an average SAT score of 1545 (out of 1600). The nationwide average is 1030.

“AI is a great equalizer,” MacKenzie Price, co-founder of 2hr Learning and Alpha School, says on the phone. “AI is eternally patient; it doesn’t care how long it takes you to grasp an idea, which is impossible in a regular classroom. It doesn’t matter whether the pupil is Black, White, or Brown. It doesn’t matter whether the student is wealthy or poor. It also doesn’t matter whether a child is in the 10th or 99th percentile. It has the potential to push the boundaries of what is possible.

In “Alpha School,” students spend two hours in the morning focused on tailored education powered by AI, with teachers serving as a “supportive guide and counselor” rather than a “traditional teacher,” Price explains. Students spend the rest of the school day learning life skills, arts, athletics, and even entrepreneurship.

“It has made learning a lot more fun,” adds Alpha High senior Peyton Price (18), MacKenzie Price’s daughter. Peyton offered an example of utilizing AI to substitute lyrics to Taylor Swift’s song “Blank Slate” to help her study for her AP U.S. Government final.

“Nice to meet you; let us begin with introducing AP Gov; where do we start? The Declaration of Independence was a significant milestone in American democracy. Natural rights, sovereignty, and the social contract are, indeed, the concepts that guide our actions.

She also uses TeachTap, a new “TikTok for studying” app developed by her mother. The program allows kids to learn from AI-generated replicas of Albert Einstein, Harriet Tubman, Marie Curie, and hundreds of other historical individuals who speak to and engage with them. TeachTap is free to use, but prices range from $20 for “discounted course access” to $250 for “unlimited AP test prep.”

“A lot of adults and educators are like, ‘TikTok is bad, or social media is hurting you,'” Peyton says, “but what’s working for my generation is people who ask us, ‘What are the things you find interesting, what do you enjoy,’ and then figure out how to make a version of that to help with our education.”