Why are US K-12 schools banning ChatGPT?

us k-12 schools
Some teachers in K-12 institutions are starting to incorporate ChatGPT into their teaching process. Source: Mario Tama/Getty Images North America/Getty Images/AFP

ChatGPT, OpenAI’s artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot, has caught the attention of US K-12 schools — for the wrong reasons.

One representative from Seattle Public Schools shared that the district banned ChatGPT from all school devices. 

“Like all school districts, Seattle Public Schools do not allow cheating and requires original thought and work from students,” the representative told Geekwire

Los Angeles Unified School District was one of the first districts to block the site on Dec. 12, 2023 — a move to “protect academic honesty,” says a spokesperson to the Washington Post

It’s not surprising, considering ChatGPT can write college essays, translate and produce working computer code.

For example, a Midwestern high school senior told the Washington Post that he used the chatbot for two homework assignments: a computer science quiz and a coding assignment.

A Twitter user even used the chatbot to take an SAT exam

If you have no idea of what you just read, let us break down how this AI chatbot works:

How does ChatGPT works?

What makes this chatbot unique is its ability to learn quickly.

It is “fed” hundreds of billions of words in the form of books, conversations and web articles based on a model known as a large language model.

ChatGPT’s ability to produce entire sentences comes from its “learnings” of the model.

To use this chatbot, follow these four simple steps: 

  • Click here to go to their website 
  • Create a free account
  • Type in a question 
  • Wait for a response 

Do note that the servers might be down when there is a huge amount of users on the website. 

us k-12 schools

Statistics from a survey by Common Sense Media, which has been tracking media use among children ages eight to 18, found that more than half of children in the US now own a smartphone by the age of 11. Source: Mahmoud Hefnawy/AFP

Why banning ChatGPT in US K-12 schools isn’t the way to go

While a school can block the AI chatbot tool on its network and school-owned devices, students still have phones, laptops, and other ways to access ChatGPT outside of class.

One author from the New York Times tried to ask ChatGPT how students — who intend to use the tool — might evade a schoolwide ban.

The chatbot gave five different answers, including using a virtual private network to disguise the student’s web traffic.

Now you might wonder: “What about GPTZero?”

This tool, built by a Princeton student, claims to be able to detect AI-generated writing.

Still, these tools aren’t reliable. Students can get away by changing a few words or using another AI programme to paraphrase specific sentences.

us k-12 schools

When teachers in US K-12 schools learn how to harness the benefits of this AI chatbot, they can transform the way they engage with students. Source: Jordan Vonderhaar/Getty Images North America/Getty Images/AFP

How ChatGPT can help teachers at US K-12 schools

While ChatGPT isn’t perfect, one high school English teacher in Oregon has found a way to use this AI chatbot in her classes. 

She “assigned students in one of her classes to use ChatGPT to create outlines for their essays comparing and contrasting two 19th-century short stories (“The Story of an Hour,” by Kate Chopin and “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman”) that touch on themes of gender and mental health,” says Kevin Roose, a technology columnist at New York Times

Once the outline is generated, her students will put their laptops aside and write their essays. 

“They have to understand, ‘I need this to produce an outline about X, Y and Z,’ and they have to think very carefully about it,” Ms. Shields tells the New York Times.

“And if they don’t get the result that they want, they can always revise it.”

Jon Gold, an eighth-grade history teacher at Moses Brown School, a K-12 Quaker school in Providence, Rhode Island, shares with Roose that he has experimented with using ChatGPT to generate quizzes.

Roose also suggests some useful prompts teachers can use: 

  • “Explain Newton’s laws of motion to a visual-spatial learner”: This helps teachers write personalised lesson plans for each student according to their learning needs.
  • “Write a script for a ‘Friends’ episode that takes place at the Constitutional Convention”: This is a fun way for teachers to generate ideas for classroom activities. 
  • “Convince me that animal testing should be allowed”: If teachers need a debate sparring partner, they have ChatGPT to fill that role.