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Opinion: Teacher Survey Shows Pandemic Successes, Challenges

A recent educator survey conducted by the nonprofit Christensen Institute finds that students and teachers are struggling, and some ed-tech practices that flourished during remote learning have waned as schools reopened.

Masked Teacher and Students
As students have fallen behind academically during remote learning, teachers are at risk of burnout, facing staffing shortages, technological hurdles and other pressures.
Wavebreakmedia/Getty Images/iStockphoto
Question: Did we really think that reopening schools after two years of pandemic-induced remote learning would be easy, and that a return to “normal” would somehow fall into place once students and teachers were reunited in classrooms?

A recent report, Reaching Toward Recovery, was released by the Christensen Institute and based on educator surveys conducted in partnership with Bay View Analytics. They surveyed educators during the fall of 2020 and again in October 2021, and their new report provides an insightful view of the state of U.S. schools during this fraught time. And now with 93 percent of schools reopened, it’s safe to say that little is normal in most schools.

The report has some interesting data on topics educators will be addressing for years to come. And for those who’ve been paying particular attention to ed tech’s rise during the pandemic, there are some survey results worth noting.

But before delving into the ed-tech aspects of the report, it’s important to note a few of its other findings that should inform any discussion on schools today.

  • Kids are struggling both academically and emotionally. The survey confirms what’s been widely reported since schools reopened: Students fell behind academically during remote learning and are having challenges catching up and readjusting to the rigors and expectations of being back in school.
  • Teachers’ workloads are at an all-time high. Teachers are working longer and harder to meet the needs of their students, and teacher burnout is a growing issue. Schools have significant staffing shortages, requiring teachers to cover additional classes. And students are moving in and out of quarantine, meaning teachers must attend to both the kids in their classrooms and those working remotely from home.
  • There are serious issues with student absenteeism and accountability. Student disengagement has grown, particularly in middle and high schools. Having had two years with relatively low expectations and few consequences, many students have become detached, and teachers are struggling to bring them back into the fold.

With schools responding to students’ academic challenges, the report also highlights how 65 percent of schools surveyed are using a range of tutoring services in an effort to help their students catch up. This is an important trend worth watching over the coming years, since making up for students’ pandemic learning losses has no quick-fix solutions.

In the report’s findings on ed tech and online learning, there are areas of both promise and concern. On the positive side:

  • Schools have invested a significant portion of their federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds in infrastructure and tools for remote learning. Though some of these purchases may have been made out of necessity when schools were doing full remote learning and needed student laptops and upgraded online systems, this nonetheless bodes well for schools’ current and future needs.
  • 43 percent of districts now offer a full-time virtual school option. And 40 percent also offer supplemental online courses. Whether these are temporary solutions or continue well past the pandemic, it’s an encouraging trend that more schools and families are viewing online learning as a viable option.
  • Teachers’ overall instructional tech skills improved, and some have adopted ed-tech tools in new ways. Information about teachers advancing their ed-tech skills wasn’t specifically captured in the survey data, but some teachers reported it in their additional comments. And their progress is echoed in recent teacher survey data gathered elsewhere.

But as some feared, once teachers and students returned to in-person learning, teachers’ use of blended learning instructional models — a topic of longstanding interest to the Christensen Institute — are now waning. And this is unfortunate given that online learning can offer students opportunities to progress at their own pace, according to their individual needs. That could be especially helpful at this time.

Additionally, the survey shows that the ed-tech learning resources teachers are now using most are those that support more conventional methods of instruction — like using a learning management system to manage assignments, administer quizzes and monitor students’ progress. Tools that focus on individualized and mastery-based learning, or create online lessons that can be accessed anywhere at anytime, are being employed to a lesser degree.

These Christensen Institute reports offer important longitudinal information on schools’ ongoing changes in their instructional practices in response to the pandemic. One hopes the institute will continue this work in the coming years, tracking how schools are responding to the extraordinary challenges they continue to face, and how they’re leveraging online learning and ed-tech tools to better serve their students.