Cover: Will This School Year Be Another Casualty of the Pandemic?

Will This School Year Be Another Casualty of the Pandemic?

Key Findings from the American Educator Panels Fall 2020 COVID-19 Surveys

Published Nov 16, 2020

by Melissa Kay Diliberti, Julia H. Kaufman

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Research Questions

  1. What does teaching and learning look like as schools are reopening this fall in the face of the pandemic?
  2. How are teachers coping with the rapidly changing educational environment?
  3. What are some of the main challenges that principals and teachers are facing this school year? What are the supports that they need to address these challenges?

School districts across the United States have had to make many difficult decisions to prepare for the 2020–2021 school year amid the ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. However, until now, little information has been gathered directly from teachers and principals about what is happening on the ground, their perceptions of how students are faring, and which students they feel are most at risk of falling behind.

In this Data Note, researchers summarize selected findings on teaching and learning in the face of a pandemic by drawing on surveys administered via the RAND American Educator Panels (AEP) to nationally representative samples of teachers and principals in early October 2020. The findings paint an alarming picture of how the 2020–2021 school year is unfolding. Even though teachers are working more hours than they were before the pandemic, students are likely not getting all the curriculum content and instruction that they would have received during a normal school year. Students from vulnerable populations might be particularly likely to slip through the cracks. High proportions of teachers report that they are not receiving adequate guidance to serve many of these populations — especially if they are teaching them remotely — and low percentages of principals indicate that their schools are offering the tutoring needed to help students catch up. There are no signs that the pandemic is slowing, and policymakers must act fast to ensure that the entire school year is not another one of its casualties.

Key Findings

Most schools are still providing either wholly or partially remote instruction

  • Twenty percent of principals reported that most students were receiving fully in-person instruction; 33 percent reported fully remote instruction, and 47 percent reported using a hybrid model.
  • The highest-poverty schools and schools serving high percentages of minority students were less likely to offer in-person instruction.

According to teachers, students are less prepared to participate in grade-level work

  • However, only 10 percent of principals indicated that their school was providing more students with tutoring or supplemental courses.

Teachers are having difficulties contacting all students and holding them accountable

  • On average, teachers reported being able to contact only four out of every five students.
  • Only 59 percent of teachers reported assigning letter grades during fall 2020.

The pandemic has lowered teacher morale and contributed to increased burnout

  • Only a third of teachers reported being satisfied with the decisions that their schools or districts had made regarding instruction.
  • Some 80 percent reported feelings of burnout.

Access to digital devices and the internet continues to be a problem

  • Principals in the highest-poverty schools reported that, on average, only 80 percent of their students had adequate internet access at home.

Teachers providing remote instruction have particular need for more supports

  • Most teachers providing remote instruction reported that they had not received adequate guidance to support students from vulnerable populations.
  • Four in ten remote teachers say that they have a major or very major need for strategies to help students catch up to grade level.


  • States and the federal government should be directing much more funding and resources to support schools delivering remote instruction — particularly if those schools are serving high-poverty and high-minority populations.
  • Making schools safer to attend in person should be a major priority for state and federal governments as well as for school districts.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was conducted by RAND Education and Labor and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, and the Overdeck Family Foundation.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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