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New Survey Says Most Schools Weren’t Prepared For COVID-19 Disruption

October 5, 2020 by Sara Wilkerson
Parents, students and education acitivsts hold a news conference to announce a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Unified School District on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020. The suit was filed by black and Latino families concerned that the district's distance learning plan violates students' California constitutional rights to a basic public education. (Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

A new survey conducted by the Rand Corporation researchers indicates that most schools were not fully prepared for remote instruction and prolonged school closures at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Rand researchers compiled responses from 957 elementary and secondary school principals across the country from the American Educator Panels, a coalition of nationally representative educators who provide feedback on important issues of educational policy and practices. 

Researchers asked principals if their schools had these five educational practices in place pre-pandemic:

1. providing devices (e.g., laptops, tablets) to at least those students who need them

2. training teachers on delivering online instruction

3. using an LMS

4. providing fully online or blended learning courses

5. establishing plans to deliver instruction during a prolonged school closure.

Principals were also asked about specific aspects of their remote instruction at the onset of COVID-19, such as whether or not they gave letter grades for students and if principals had concerns about their school’s equity in instruction. 

Additionally, principals were asked to predict how student achievement in various subgroups would fare compared to those last year. 

Of their nearly 1,000 responses, researchers concluded that most schools (64%) were likely to provide electronic access for those students that needed it. 

However, at the same time, not many schools had plans in place for prolonged school closures. Only 20% of schools said they had a pre-pandemic closure plan. 

Of those surveyed, most principals (84%) said they had at least one preparedness indicator in place for their schools ahead of the coronavirus shutdowns, however researchers note that, “very few principals (7%) reported their schools had all five.” 

When looking at elementary versus secondary school preparedness, researchers found that secondary schools generally had more preparedness indicators than their elementary counterparts. 

“Only 6% of secondary school principals said their schools had none of the five indicators in place before COVID-19 struck, compared with 24% of elementary school principals,” said the study. 

For those principals who were in more prepared schools – which was measured based on the number of indicators they had – these principals were more likely to assign letter grades to students. 

Controlling for varying school characteristics, 48% of school leaders in the survey were likely to assign letter grades during the pandemic. This percentage is based on those who had three or more indicators of preparedness at their respective institution. 

Additionally, these same principals were less concerned about failing to provide equitable online education for their students and were less likely to predict lower future achievement in students from low-income families and students who were homeless. 

While the researchers of the study admit that their findings do not establish causal evidence, nor does the study factor in school resources, the study does show that principals who had pre-pandemic educational practices set in place at their schools tended to be, “more optimistic about online instruction and student learning than other principals.” 

Moving forward, the surveyors conclude that more documentation on institutional practices is needed to fully understand how school leaders and administrators can provide equitable access to high quality online education. 

“Only then will we understand what is necessary to support student learning during prolonged school closures,” concluded the study. 

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