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Will This School Year Be Another Casualty of the Pandemic?


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.

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. 

Research Questions

  • What does teaching and learning look like as schools are reopening this fall in the face of the pandemic?
  • How are teachers coping with the rapidly changing educational environment?
  • 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?

Diliberti, Melissa and Julia H. Kaufman, Will This School Year Be Another Casualty of the Pandemic? Key Findings from the American Educator Panels Fall 2020 COVID-19 Surveys, Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License, RR-A168-4, 2020. As of November 20, 2020:

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.

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.

This content first appeared at and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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