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National Survey Tracks Impact of Coronavirus on Schools: 10 Key Findings

The disruption in K-12 education due to the coronavirus is way more than anyone could have imagined just a couple of months ago. A system that has relied primarily on face-to-face interactions in school buildings for generations is now operating almost entirely virtual. That big, rapid shift has dampened morale among both teachers and students, and it has exposed huge equity problems in K-12 schools.
At the same time, it has forced educators to learn how to use new technologies, such as video conferencing, very quickly. That rush to use new technologies, though, opened the doors for a wave of data privacy and security problems, especially with the wildly popular Zoom videoconferencing platform.
The EdWeek Research Center, the research arm of Education Week, is also pivoting quickly in this environment, conducting twice-monthly national surveys of teachers and district leaders to help the K-12 system navigate these unprecedented times. The surveys provide an evolving view of how schools are addressing challenges around communication, equity, attendance, and academic performance as well as the eventual reopening of school buildings.
Following are 10 key insights from our most recent survey, a nationally representative, online poll of 1,720 educators administered April 7 and 8. Stay tuned for future survey results: Our next poll is scheduled to launch April 22nd.

Maybe it’s the loneliness or disconnection from colleagues and friends caused by stay-home orders and school closures. Or the frustration with the limitations and technical glitches of online learning. Or maybe the constant drumbeat of news about the rising coronavirus death toll, skyrocketing unemployment rates, and the uncertainty of what’s ahead is just too much to handle.
Whatever it is, the reality is that student and teacher morale is suffering (as reported by teachers and district leaders), declining considerably between March 25 and April 8. In March, the teachers and district leaders we surveyed reported that morale was lower than prior to the pandemic for 61 percent of students and 56 percent of teachers. This week, educators told us that 76 percent of students and 66 percent of teachers are in lower spirits than they were before the crisis. Teacher and student morale are especially low in the western United States. Compared to district leaders, teachers report lower morale rates both for themselves and for their students.

There are multiple possible reasons for the declines. Teachers and students miss seeing each other every day. (Morale among teachers is especially low in elementary schools, which are more likely to cultivate a family-like environment.)The rituals of school—from mundane daily routines to milestone celebrations like prom and graduation—have suddenly been struck from the calendar. Teachers worry about the challenges and inequities that their students will face when the supports that schools provide are that much harder to access.
"This is a serious loss for both students and teachers," Kathleen Minke, the executive director of the National Association of School Psychologists, told Education Week in a recent story. “When you experience those kinds of loss, it is perfectly reasonable, acceptable, and human to feel grief around that."
Interestingly, administrator and hourly employee morale remained relatively stable, according to the survey.

Teachers say they’re spending more time on instruction and communication. But equity problems persist.

More teachers are engaging in instruction now than in March. In fact, nearly all teachers (90 percent) say they are engaging in instruction now, compared with 74 percent in late March. Teachers are also engaging in more communication with students. The percentage of teachers who had had no contact with most students declined while those engaging in weekly contact nearly doubled during that time period.
That said, some students are having more contact than others.
More than half of teachers (56 percent) in lower poverty districts (with poverty rates under 25 percent) are interacting with their students at least once a day, compared with about 1 in 3 in districts in which three quarters or more students come from low-income families.
Science teachers and elementary educators who teach all subjects report the highest levels of daily contact. Special education and arts teachers report the lowest.
Pren Woods, a 7th grade teacher at Alston Middle School in Summerville, S.C., sings to his students in class for their birthdays when school is in session. Now that schools are closed, he has called several students to sing “Happy Birthday” over the phone, continuing the tradition.
Woods said he tries to pay particular attention to those kids who might be facing very difficult circumstances.
"When a kid says, 'My mom doesn't have a job and there are four of us, and she's alone and I'm worried.' That's somebody I want to pick up the phone and call, and somebody's mom I want to email," he said.
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