National COVID-19 Dashboard Broadens Picture of School Response

By Sarah D. Sparks — September 25, 2020 2 min read
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As superintendents and principals continue to seek timely school data on COVID-19 from widely disparate state and local health systems, a coalition of education groups hopes to pool nationwide data to build a clearer picture of pandemic trends in schools.

The COVID-19 School Response Dashboard launched this week with data from its first cohort of nearly 600 district, charter, and private schools serving about 200,000 students in-person and online in 47 states.

The dashboard does not yet include a nationally representative sample of schools, but AASA, the School Superintendents Association, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and the National Association of Elementary School Principals, who have partnered on the project, said they are working to enroll their members over the next few weeks.

Based on data from participating schools in the first two weeks of September, Emily Oster, an economist at Brown University and the data company Qualtrics, found an average of 230 confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases per 100,000 students, and 490 cases per 100,000 staff, both of which meet the threshold for a high-level risk for infection. The analysis, as well as other recent studies, also suggested part-time remote schools had lower infection rates.

At a press conference this week, President Trump cited the study as a hopeful sign for schools reopening during the pandemic. However, school leaders should be cautious about relying on the data at this point for day-to-day reopening decisions, as it is based on school-level reporting every two weeks rather than direct health agency data. Some districts have found that reports of positive coronavirus cases among students are reported to health agencies but that information doesn’t always make it to schools.

For example, the new dashboard found an infection rate of less than a quarter of 1 percent per 100,000 students—but the American Academy of Pediatrics has found a cumulative infection rate for children of 780 per 100,000 students, and it reported more than 75,500 new cases of coronavirus among children alone from Sept. 3-17, a 15 percent increase from the prior period.

While it does not yet provide representative data, the dashboard does tease out more details about how the pandemic might hit different kinds of schools. For example, the infection rate among rural schools was .45 percent per 100,000 students, compared to .15 percent per 100,000 in urban schools during the same period. It’s not entirely clear from the data why this is, though some rural states have had recent spikes in coronavirus cases.

Noelle Ellerson Ng of AASA said the group also is in talks with a handful of states and county associations to bring in additional data. The group plans to provide deep-dive reports on particular aspect of schools, such as types of mitigation efforts, as the dashboard expands.

Superintendents can enroll their districts here, while principals can enroll their schools directly here.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.

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