One of the most challenging aspects of working for schools in the current environment is that just when you think you have things figured out, you are forced to pivot in a new direction. Many districts started with plans recently to completely reopen school buildings, but most now appear to be shifting to a hybrid model, according our latest EdWeek Research Center survey. And news reports show a growing number are choosing to start the school year with full-time remote learning. That decision-making curve happened all within the past month or so, amid a lot of politicking around these issues.
This environment has created a pace of change that can be confusing and exhausting for educators, parents, and students. And it is prompting a shift in opinion among educators about federal, state, and local leaders; models of instruction; and mask requirements for students and educators.
Our survey-administered to 1,366 educators (242 district leaders, 251 principals, and 873 teachers) July 22 and 23-tracks opinions on those issues as well as featuring additional survey data about teacher layoffs and the availability of instructional tools for remote learning.
Here are 7 key takeaways from the survey:
Back in April, when the EdWeek Research Center last surveyed educators on the topic, 57 percent of teachers and district leaders said their opinions of their states' governors had grown more favorable as a result of how they had reacted to coronavirus issues related to K-12 schools.
On this most recent survey, administered on July 22 and 23, that percentage had plunged to 39 percent, although it did vary considerably among the 16 states that attracted enough survey respondents to break out the results state by state. (Respondents hailed from the District of Columbia and from all but one of the 50 states (South Dakota)).
In Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, and Pennsylvania, most teachers, principals, and district leaders said their opinion of their governors grew more favorable based on the way they handled issues related to the coronavirus and K-12 schools. By contrast, most educators in Iowa, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas reported that their opinions of their governors had grown less favorable. Overall, half of Texas teachers, principals, and district leaders, and less than half of their peers in Iowa, Missouri, and Oklahoma said in July that they had a favorable view of their governors, the EdWeek Research Center survey found.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has also lost support since April, when 45 percent of teachers and district leaders said their opinions of her had grown less favorable as a result of her coronavirus response. In July, 66 percent said their opinion had grown more negative due to her coronavirus response.
Even among teachers, principals, and district leaders who support President Donald Trump, just 10 percent said the secretary's handling of the coronavirus had improved their opinion of her. More than half of Trump supporters (53 percent) said their opinions of DeVos had remained unchanged while 37 percent said their views of the Secretary had grown more negative.
As for the president, 66 percent of teachers, principals, and district leaders surveyed in July said that their opinion of Trump had grown less favorable as a result of his K-12 coronavirus response. (The Research Center did not survey educators in April about the impact of Trump's coronavirus response on their opinions.)
Closer to home, the share of teachers who said the coronavirus response had improved their opinions of their local school boards was especially low, with just 24 percent of teachers saying in the July survey that their opinions had improved as a result of their school board's coronavirus responses, compared with 40 percent for district leaders.
With the majority of school districts scheduled to start school within the next month or so, the predominant reopening model appears to be a mixture of remote and in-person learning.
Seventy-nine percent of district leaders say they will adopt some type of hybrid approach, the most common of which is to offer families a choice between 100 percent remote versus 100 percent in-person learning.
Thirteen percent of leaders said their districts will provide full-time remote instruction while 9 percent said 100 percent of schooling will be in person, with no remote options.
Larger districts are significantly more likely to go 100 percent remote while smaller districts are significantly more likely to provide all their schooling in person. The average enrollment of an all-remote district is 14,387, compared with 525 for districts planning all in-person instruction.
Full-time remote instruction is reported significantly more often by district leaders in the Western United States, where 39 percent say they'll take this approach, compared with 11 percent in the South, 5 percent in the Midwest, and less than 1 percent in the Northeast.
A hybrid of remote and in-person learning is the most popular school reopening model at this point in time-47 percent "somewhat support" it and 25 percent "completely support" it. However, when it comes to more-uniform models (full-time in-person vs. full-time remote instruction), educators are split by demographic, professional, regional, political, and health-related characteristics.
Supporters of full-time remote instruction are significantly more likely to be Black or Hispanic educators in urban areas and to live in the Southern United States. Black and Hispanic people are more likely to suffer severe effects or die from the coronavirus, according to health experts.
Proponents of full-time remote instruction are more likely to have physical conditions (such as diabetes or heart disease) believed to exacerbate the effects of the coronavirus or to live with someone who has such a condition.
At this point in time, there appear to be differing views among district leaders and principals, compared with teachers, over full-time in-person instruction. Nearly 2 out of 3 district leaders and 63 percent of principals support this approach, compared with 41 percent of teachers.
Full-time in-person instruction is more popular at the elementary level than among secondary teachers and principals.
Full-time, in-person instruction supporters are also more likely to work in rural areas and to live outside the Northeastern United States. They are less likely to have physical conditions believed to exacerbate the effects of the virus or to live with someone who does. More than 3 out of 4 hold favorable views of Trump, who was strongly advocating for reopening schools with in-person instruction.
Back in June, when the EdWeek Research Center surveyed educators about issues related to the coronavirus, just 34 percent of district leaders said student face masks would be required when schools reopened. On this most recent survey in July, that share nearly doubled to 67 percent, meaning student face masks could be the rule rather than the exception in schools that offer-in-person instruction in the fall.
Support for student face mask requirements is higher among district leaders who work in suburban school systems (81 percent), towns (78 percent), and cities (70 percent), compared with those in rural locales (59 percent). Southern administrators were least likely to report support for this requirement (52 percent). Northeastern district leaders were most likely (83 percent).
Employee face mask requirements also grew more common, with the percentage of district administrators saying they'd be required jumping from 54 percent in June to 79 percent in July.
Overall, support for staff and student mask requirements is strong among teachers, principals, and district leaders. Eighty-seven percent say staff should wear masks at school and nearly as many (86 percent) say students should too.
For schools that do reopen their buildings this fall, student and staff safety will be a major undertaking. In fact, 25 percent of district leaders surveyed said they had postponed the first day of school in order to better prepare for the coronavirus, with delays more frequently reported by leaders working in larger school districts, in towns, and in the Southern and Northeastern United States.
Both in July and in June (when the Research Center last surveyed educators about the coronavirus), promoting handwashing and making hand sanitizers widely available were the most common safety measures planned, with close to 100 percent of administrators saying they will adopt these approaches. Ninety percent or more of administrators also say their districts will clean more intensively and require sick students and employees to stay home.
Since June, school district leaders have grown considerably more likely to say they plan to implement several safety measures, including prohibiting large group gatherings, requiring student and staff face masks, designating one-way hallway pathways to limit congestion, and improving ventilation.
Plans for social distancing on school buses remain relatively rare, as are programs for COVID-19 testing for employees or students.
On previous surveys throughout the spring of 2020, the EdWeek Research Center asked teachers and administrators which tools were very effective for teaching math, English/language arts, social studies/history/civics, and science in a remote environment.
Across the board, for each of these four subject areas, educators were most likely to tell us that live/synchronous videoconferencing tools like Zoom were very effective for remote learning.
The good news is that most district leaders and principals surveyed in July (88 percent) said teachers will have access to videoconferencing tools if remote learning occurs during the 2020-21 school year.
However, when it comes to two approaches that educators deemed very effective for science and one for social studies, access could be more uneven.
Most educators say that science experiments that students can do with materials they have at home and virtual labs/experiments/dissections are very effective for remote science instruction. Yet just 44 percent of principals and district leaders say their teachers will have access to at-home experiments and even fewer (38 percent) say they will be able to use virtual labs. Virtual labs are less available at the elementary level, where less than a quarter of principals report having them, than in secondary schools, where more than half of school leaders say they're available.
More than half of educators surveyed this spring also said that movies and documentaries were very effective for teaching social studies remotely. Yet just 34 percent of principals and district leaders say they will be available for remote learning this school year.
The news media has been full of reports of districts planning to lay off teachers as state and local revenues have plummeted during the pandemic. Thousands of teachers have already been let go. That's the bad news.
The better news is that 92 percent of district leaders who responded to the EdWeek Research Center's July survey say they have not laid off any teachers. And just 1 percent say that, while they have not yet laid off any teachers, they plan to do so. The remainder say layoffs have already occurred.
These results should, however, be interpreted with caution since many district leaders may not yet have a clear view of how the economic downturn will impact their budgets.