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Thanksgiving for America's Schools: 3 Reasons to Celebrate

It’s Thanksgiving and we have many reasons to give thanks.

We’re incredibly thankful for—and humbled by—the growing, loyal, and engaged audience who, over the past year, have helped us build TrustED into a destination for those who are passionate about the advancement of K-12 education in this country.

No doubt, K-12 education faces serious challenges. Closing the achievement gap. Competing for students amid increased school choice. Effectively implementing technology in the classroom. The list goes on.

In the face of these and other obstacles, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. And when we see headlines about “failing schools” or hear debates over the efficacy of public schools, it’s easy to get frustrated.

The truth is, America’s schools do great work every day—despite shrinking budgets and limited resources.

So, this Thanksgiving, here are three reasons why we’re thankful for our K-12 schools, and why we’re optimistic about the future of public education.

1. Strong school leaders are transforming schools with the help of talented educators

Over the past decade and more, the rapid evolution of technology has changed the very nature of education. With answers to almost every question now available at the click of a button, the mission of schools is no longer merely to pass on knowledge, but to prepare students for a lifetime of learning.

It’s a massive shift in thinking—and one that many districts are only starting to confront.

Thankfully, many of these school systems are led by superintendents, principals, and administrators who are excited by the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

With the help of talented teachers and support staff, these innovative leaders are implementing new approaches to teaching and communicating that promise transform how students learn and interact with each other and the world around them.

2. School districts are looking beyond academics to ensure student success

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has re-prioritized how schools are assessed and supported.

As states and school districts move away from standardized tests as the sole measure of school performance, many school leaders are taking the opportunity to emphasize measures other than academics—think school quality or parent and student engagement.

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Schools are also facing more competition and are looking for ways to excite and entice current and future students and their families.

All of this is prompting school leaders to focus on customer experience—a concept that, until recently, wasn’t a priority in a lot of schools.

Across the country, more schools are looking for ways to listen to and engage students, parents and other stakeholders.

While student achievement is and will always be priority No. 1, these districts are quickly realizing that one of the best moves they can make to support student success is to openly listen to and learn from their communities.

3. High school graduation rates continue to increase

For the fifth year in a row, the U.S. Department of Education reported the highest national graduation rate of all time.

During the 2014-2015 school year (the most recent survey year), the national graduation rate rose to 83 percent.

Despite lingering questions about how the graduation rate is calculated, there’s little question that continuing efforts to transform our classrooms and schools is paying off.

No doubt, we have much to be thankful for this school year. But big challenges persist—equity being one of the most prominent. As a new year approaches, we’re excited to see how schools innovate to tackle these challenges, and we hope you’ll visit us here as we chronicle the changes ahead.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. TrustED will return with fresh content on Monday, Nov. 27.