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Schools Took Immediate Steps at Beginning of COVID-19 Pandemic to Connect Students to Online Learning, NCES Report Shows

February 22, 2022

New analysis examines teacher and principal experiences and the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on education

WASHINGTON (February 22, 2022)—Public and private schools faced multiple challenges at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic on Public and Private Elementary and Secondary Education in the United States, a report released today by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) within the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES). In addition to access to technology, the new data measures changes in instruction and staff experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic in spring of 2020.

“Students need equitable access to technological devices and a stable, reliable internet connection in order to participate in online learning,” said NCES Commissioner Peggy G. Carr. “This report shows that many students at both public and private schools struggled with technology during the first phases of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020, fifty-eight percent of private school principals reported that all students in their school had internet access, compared to four percent of public school principals. During this time, public school principals in city and suburban schools (75 and 69 percent, respectively) also reported that their school sent home hotspots or other internet devices at higher rates than those in town and rural schools (both 49 percent). Public school principals in town and rural schools reported offering spaces where students could access free Wi-Fi at higher rates (47 and 46 percent, respectively) than those in city and suburban schools (30 and 27 percent, respectively).

“Principals around the country took extraordinary measures to get their students online during the pandemic,” Carr said. “Many principals sent hotspots and other devices to students’ homes, worked directly with internet providers, or offered spaces where students could safely access free Wi-Fi so that students had the opportunity to learn in this unprecedented time.”

Private school teachers reported higher rates of real-time interactions with their students during this time. Sixty-one percent of private school teachers reported that they had real-time interactions with over three-quarters of their students, about twice the rate of public school teachers (32 percent). Public school teachers reported having no real-time interactions with their students (13 percent) at a higher rate than private school teachers (9 percent).

During the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020, private school teachers somewhat or strongly agreed that they had the support and resources they needed to be effective (76 percent) at a higher percentage compared to public school teachers (61 percent). A higher percentage of private school principals also somewhat or strongly agreed with this statement compared to public school principals (78 percent vs. 74 percent).

Key Findings

Changes in Instruction:

  • Eighty-three percent of public school teachers reported that all or some of their classes normally taught in person were moved to online distance-learning formats during the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020. Public school teachers in cities and suburbs (86 and 87 percent) reported such shifts at higher rates than those in towns and rural areas (75 and 77 percent).
  • Sixty-three percent of private school teachers (compared to 47 percent of public school teachers) reported using scheduled real-time lessons that allowed students to ask questions through a video or audio call in spring 2020.

Staff Experiences:

  • Seventy-six percent of private school teachers somewhat or strongly agreed that they had the support and resources they needed to be effective as a teacher, compared to 61 percent of public school teachers. Private school teachers also strongly agreed (37 percent) at about twice the rate of public school teachers (17 percent). Among public school teachers, those in public charter schools strongly agreed at a higher rate than those in traditional public schools (25 percent vs. 17 percent).
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020, private school principals somewhat or strongly agreed that they had the support and resources they needed to be effective as a principal at a higher rate than public school principals (78 versus 74 percent). In addition, a higher percentage of private school principals strongly agreed (36 percent vs. 29 percent). Public school principals in the South strongly agreed at a higher rate (32 percent) than their counterparts in other regions of the country (27 to 28 percent).

Access to Technology and Internet

  • During the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020, a higher percentage of private school than public school principals reported that all students in their school had home internet access (58 percent vs. 4 percent).
  • About half of public school principals in city and suburban schools (52 and 49 percent, respectively) reported that their school worked with internet providers to help students access the internet at home during the spring of 2020. This was higher than public school principals in town and rural schools (42 and 36 percent, respectively).
  • Public school principals in town and rural schools reported offering spaces where students could access free Wi-Fi at higher rates (47 and 46 percent, respectively) than those in city and suburban schools (30 and 27 percent, respectively).
  • Before the COVID-19 pandemic, public school principals reported that the schools assigned a computer or digital device that each student could take home at a higher rate than private school principals (23 percent vs. 14 percent).
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020, public school principals also reported assigning computers or digital devices to all students to take home at a higher rate than private school principals (45 vs. 20 percent).

About this Report

These data are drawn from the 2020–21 National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS), a national survey of public and private K–12 schools, principals, and teachers. Data were collected in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. NTPS collects data on core topics, including teacher and principal training, classes taught, school characteristics, and backgrounds of teachers and principals. In addition to these core topics, the 2020–21 NTPS collected data on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education during the 2019–20 school year. COVID-19 questions were added to the 2020–21 in the summer of 2020, and data were collected from October 2020 through August 2021.

This report provides basic findings from the COVID-19 questions asked as part of the NTPS public and private school, principal, and teacher surveys. Findings are based on samples of approximately 9,920 traditional public and public charter school principals, 3,000 private school principals, 68,300 public school teachers, and 8,000 private school teachers.

Visit https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2022019 to view the full report.

To learn more about NTPS, visit https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/ntps/.

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The National Center for Education Statistics, a principal agency of the U.S. Federal Statistical System, is the statistical center of the U.S. Department of Education and the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations. NCES fulfills a congressional mandate to collect, collate, analyze, and report complete statistics on the condition of American education; conduct and publish reports; and review and report on education activities internationally.

The National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS) is a system of related questionnaires that provide descriptive data on the context of public and private elementary and secondary education in addition to giving local, state, and national policymakers a variety of statistics on the condition of education in the United States. As a nationwide sample survey collecting information directly from teachers and principals, the NTPS system allows for principal, teacher, and student characteristics to be analyzed at the state and national level. NTPS also supports the detailed analysis of a variety of subgroups (e.g., female principals, Black or African American teachers, rural schools), with a focus on flexibility, timeliness, and integration with other data sources.

Contact: Josue DeLaRosa, NCES, ARIS.NCES@ed.gov, (202) 705-6692 OR James Elias, Hager Sharp, jelias@hagersharp.com, 202-355-4417