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U.S. Department of Education to Survey Impact of COVID-19

The U.S. Department of Education will gather additional federal data to examine the full scope of problems faced by schools throughout the pandemic. The study hopes to guide policymakers tasked with reopening schools.

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The U.S. Department of Education is conducting a nationwide survey of 1,200 schools to further gauge the impact of COVID-19 on students and teachers, according to a notice released this month.

The department said the survey aims to collect “extensive data” on the pandemic’s effects on U.S. public primary, middle, high and combined-grade schools.

The effort is being led by the department’s Institute of Education Sciences National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), and will serve as “one of the nation’s few sources of reliable data on a wealth of information focused on school reopening efforts, virus spread mitigation strategies, services offered for students and staff, and technology use, as reported by school district staff and principals in U.S. public schools.”

According to the notice, the survey asks teachers and administrators to share perspectives on topics such as instructional modes offered in schools, demographics engaged in virtual and in-person learning, school safety policies, special education offerings and learning loss that’s occurred as a result of the shifts to and from virtual learning.

The study will also examine how schools have used federal relief funds, geared largely toward technology for remote learning and COVID-19 testing.

Department Spokesperson Alberto Betancourt said the study acts in compliance with Executive Order 14000, announced earlier this year by the Biden administration. The order requires the collection of federal-level data to “fully understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on students and educators, including data on the status of in-person learning.”

“With the participation of educators and school leaders across the country, the study will provide a wealth of information that meets the needs of the executive order, as well as the needs of key stakeholders, in an online dashboard. The collection will occur on a monthly basis, with national-level estimates being released within four to six weeks after each data collection pending evaluation of the representativeness of the data,” Betancourt said in an email to Government Technology.

The order states that data will be disaggregated by student demographics such as race, ethnicity, disability status, and free or reduced lunch status, among other subgroups disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

The need for comprehensive data from the federal level on issues faced in schools during the pandemic remains a major concern for local, state and federal policymakers charged with deciding when and how to reopen schools, COVID-19 testing protocol and best uses of federal relief funding.

According to Education Week, there had been no federal-level data on the effects of the pandemic in public schools until about a year into the crisis shortly after President Joe Biden took office. The department issued monthly surveys of 3,500 schools enrolling fourth graders and 3,500 schools with eighth graders, asking if schools were open for in-person, remote or hybrid learning, among other areas of interest.

Before then, officials had largely turned to information gathered by education policy advocacy groups, such as the Consortium for School Networking and other education organizations, that have explored a plethora of problems faced by schools, including K-12 cybersecurity and other digital learning needs.

“It’s critically important to get a sense of how students are learning,” NCES Commissioner James Woodworth said of federal data collection efforts in a public statement.

According to the department, data and information collection will follow a clearance process allowing public comments to be submitted on or before Oct. 7 online or mail. Monthly findings will be released online as they become available.
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.