How COVID-19 Affected the Nation's Schools: New Data Gives Insights for Planning


May 26, 2020

Middle school reading teacher Shayna Boyd prepares for the start of remote teaching in her home office in Chicago, Illinois, April 8, 2020, photo by Brendan O'Brien/Reuters

Middle school reading teacher Shayna Boyd prepares for the start of remote teaching in her home office in Chicago, Illinois, April 8, 2020

Photo by Brendan O'Brien/Reuters

This commentary originally appeared on The RAND Blog on May 26, 2020.

As the school year winds down and summer approaches, educators and those who support them are working to evaluate the success of the new programs and practices they put in place this spring so they can be prepared for whatever the new school year brings. To what extent did distance-learning supports reach all students? Did staff feel supported and prepared to teach online? What do teachers think their students will need the most help with when they go back to school in the fall?

New data, collected via the RAND Corporation's American Educator Panels (AEP), can help answer these questions and more. The AEP provides high-quality, nationally representative samples of teachers and principals who participate in surveys on an ongoing basis.

In April and May, we surveyed roughly 1,000 teachers and 1,000 principals in the AEP to gauge how the pandemic has affected schooling, what supports they need, and how they are thinking about the next school year. A full set of results, weighted to be nationally representative, is provided in the report and gives users an immediate view of the K–12 landscape during the time when most school districts were reeling from the still-new crisis.

Here are a few highlights from the new data.

Delivering Distance Learning

Almost all teachers engaged in distance learning with their students, but only 12 percent reported covering the full curriculum they would have covered if schools hadn't closed. Teachers indicated a need for lesson plans as well as support to keep students engaged and motivated to learn remotely. This information could be important should schools need to shut down in response to a second wave.

Inequity Across Schools

The pandemic likely exacerbated existing disparities in educational opportunities and outcomes, and the survey results point to some areas of concern. For example, only nine percent of teachers in schools serving high percentages of low-income students or students of color reported that all or nearly all of their students were completing assignments, compared to roughly a quarter of teachers in other schools. Understanding these disparities will be crucial for addressing them in the coming months and years.

Anticipating What's Next

Looking ahead to next fall, teachers plan to prioritize student well-being (e.g., their safety, sense of community, and social and emotional well-being) more than they did last fall, and principals anticipate more emphasis on family engagement and addressing performance gaps. Principals also recognize the need for supports for their teachers, with 50 percent indicating that professional learning for teachers will be a higher priority this coming fall than last.

An Invitation: Analyses and Data Coordination

Presented above is just a sample of what we've found. Later this summer, we will publish short reports that examine some topics in more detail—including instructional practices and educators' need for supports. This forthcoming work will include a deeper investigation of inequities. We will also make the full data files accessible for free download from our AEP data portal.

These results contribute to a growing collection of quick-turnaround evidence about schooling during the time of COVID-19. The Center on Reinventing Public Education is compiling this evidence, including from these RAND surveys via its recently launched Evidence Project.

We invite others to use our results to inform their own work and the guidance they are providing. Moreover, we hope that others will contribute to the broader effort to coordinate the work of researchers. This coordination could help address one additional finding from our surveys: A third of teachers indicate “information overload” and are receiving too much guidance in at least some areas. A few strong evidence-based strategies could help schools navigate reopening in fall as well as planning to meet the new challenges that will likely arise.

Laura S. Hamilton is a senior behavioral scientist and distinguished chair in learning and assessment at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation. She directs the RAND Center for Social and Emotional Learning Research and codirects the American Educator Panels, RAND's nationally representative survey panels of teachers and principals. She also serves as a faculty member at the Pardee RAND Graduate School.

More About This Commentary

Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.