Cybersecurity is still a top concern for edtech leaders, survey finds

The Consortium for School Networking’s (CoSN) recent report, 2024 State of Edtech District Leadership, covers survey results from industry professionals on topics including education technology (edtech) priorities and challenges, artificial intelligence (AI), cybersecurity, student well-being, digital equity, staffing and more.

In its 11th year, the survey confirms the continuation of a trend in which edtech leaders must manage a growing list of responsibilities as local educational agencies modernize infrastructure. It also highlights ongoing issues related to funding, hiring qualified information technology (IT) staff, internet and device access for students at home and, more recently, cyberattacks.

For the third year in a row, cybersecurity has ranked as the top technology priority for survey participants.

“Cybersecurity remains the top concern for edtech leaders, with 99 percent of districts taking measures to improve protections,” the report states. “While this is a bleak situation given the challenge, increasingly districts are on a path to implementing many cybersecurity best practices. The use of two-factor authentication has seen the most dramatic increase, with 72 percent of districts requiring it in 2024 compared to 40 percent in 2022.”

Additionally, 53 percent of districts have implemented incident response plans, “yet edtech leaders’ perceptions of risk from cyberthreats continue to be relatively (and surprisingly) low,” according to the report. Phishing scams were the top perceived threat, but just 26 percent of respondents rated them high risk in spite of K-12 being the sector most targeted by these attacks.

Due to cyberattacks, districts are paying more for cybersecurity insurance that includes higher deductibles, the survey found.

Other key findings

Ninety-seven percent of those surveyed believe AI can have positive effects on education with generative AI’s potential to support productivity and personalized education among top reasons. Emerging forms of cyberattacks and cyberbullying enabled by AI were identified as risk factors as was lack of training for educators on integrating AI into the classroom.

“Most districts (54 percent) do not have a separate AI use policy but a growing number address AI use within current policies (31 percent) and only 3 percent have bans,” according to the survey. “One-fifth (20 percent) of respondents work in districts that use tools designed to detect AI-generated answers in student work.”

Tools to promote student well-being, such as monitoring and reporting software, are largely used by LEAs. “While a curriculum to address cyberbullying/digital citizenship could reduce the behavior that adversely impacts student well-being, only 37 percent of districts report doing so,” the report asserts.

A decline in district-level support for off-campus student connectivity is also being observed. For example, only 49 percent of districts provided hotspots for students who don’t have broadband access at home this year compared to 69 percent in 2022. Further, just 24 percent of districts say all students have access to devices at home. “Access to broadband at home is of equal importance as access to devices; students who have one without the other are at a significant disadvantage in achieving academic outcomes,” the report states.

Initiatives around interoperability are on the rise in LEAs. Use of single sign-on is the furthest along in implementation at 43 percent.

Edtech staff

In an ever-evolving landscape, edtech leaders are interested in professional learning opportunities on cybersecurity, crisis preparedness and driving and sustaining innovation in K-12 systems.

Budget constraints and an inability to hire qualified staff were a few of the most common challenges survey respondents reported.

Districts are also recognizing the need to create more diverse edtech teams and are taking measures to do so, though “only a third (34 percent) of districts report adding underrepresented populations to their technology department team in the last two years.”

Learn about the tools and resources CoSN has available for LEAs on the organization’s website.