School Climate & Safety From Our Research Center

Rising Numbers of Educators Say Pandemic Is Now Blown Out of Proportion, Survey Shows

By Holly Kurtz — April 21, 2021 4 min read
A sign that reads "SOCIAL DISTANCE MAINTAIN 6 FT" was posted on a student locker at a school in Baldwin, N.Y., at the beginning of the school year. But a new survey shows educators' concerns about the pandemic are declining.
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Chalk it up to pandemic fatigue, vaccine-driven optimism, or the relaxing of mask-wearing and social distancing mandates in states. Whatever the reason, a growing number of educators feel like the pandemic is being blown out of proportion and is not a real threat to schools—nearly 1 of every 3 educators surveyed last month expressed that view.

That’s a big change from a year ago, when only 1 of every 10 educators held that opinion, while the remaining 90 percent saw the virus as a real threat.

That was one of several recent findings from the EdWeek Research Center’s monthly survey on issues related to the pandemic and other timely topics. A total of 935 educators (321 district leaders, 204 principals, and 410 teachers) responded to the nationally-representative, online survey, which was administered March 31 through April 7.

The survey also examined issues around social distancing, what in-person learning looks like, technology troubleshooting, and student absence rates.

Declining concerns about the pandemic despite global spike in cases

In the most recent survey, the share of teachers and district leaders who view COVID-19 as a real threat has declined to the point where three times as many teachers and district leaders (32 percent) now say it’s blown out of proportion, compared with a year ago.

One reason may be that more than three-quarters of those teachers and district leaders say they have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. However, most Americans—including most students—have yet to be fully vaccinated.

Educators in districts that offer hybrid learning options (remote and in-person instruction) are significantly more likely to view COVID-19 as a real threat (73 percent), compared with those in districts where all learning is remote (57 percent) or fully in-person (57 percent).

But the growing belief that the threat of the virus is being blown out of proportion is happening while the virus is still a big threat around the world. India, for instance, suffered its highest increase in cases and deaths due to the virus on one day recently since the pandemic started, according to CNN. In the U.S., states such as Michigan are battling spikes in cases too.

Six feet or 3 feet? Educators weigh in on what levels of social distancing they prefer.

Six feet of social distancing appears to be most common in schools in the United States, but educators say they’d prefer to maintain distances of 3 feet.

Forty-eight percent of teachers, principals, and district leaders say that their guidelines call for maintaining social distances of at least 6 feet.

Additionally, 70 percent of educators in districts where all instruction is remote say they’re maintaining 6-foot distances (in district offices or school buildings where in-person instruction does occur). By contrast, just under half of their peers in 100 percent in-person and hybrid districts have implemented 6-foot guidelines.

Although 6-foot distancing is more common, teachers, principals, and district leaders are more likely to say they prefer 3 feet to 6 feet (38 percent versus 31 percent). And 15 percent want no social distancing at all.

The share of educators who say schools should not have social distance guidelines is much higher in the Midwest (19 percent), the West (17 percent), and the South (15 percent), compared with the Northeast (4 percent). Rural educators are also more likely to oppose guidelines (19 percent), compared with those from suburban (9 percent) and urban areas (5 percent).

Are teachers in class during in-person instruction? Sometimes they are not.

Levels of in-person learning are on the rise, but it’s unclear that business as usual has returned.

Nearly 1 in 4 teachers in the United States say all instruction is offered in person in their districts while 79 percent report hybrid models and 3 percent say the district is fully remote.

Yet more than half of the teachers working in those fully in-person districts (58 percent) say that, at least some of the time, for at least some of their students, in-person instruction means children are on campus while their teachers work from home.

This may mean that para-educators are supervising students at school while teachers are at home, interacting online.

Overall, 50 percent of teachers say they sometimes teach at least some students from home while the children learn from school.

Troubleshooting technology taking less teacher time

With virtually all schools in the nation shut down at the end of April 2020, teachers surveyed by the EdWeek Research Center reported spending more than a quarter of their time (27 percent) helping students and families with questions and problems related to using instructional technology.

That share of time has since declined to an average of 14 percent, according to the most recent EdWeek Research Center survey conducted this month.

Technology troubleshooting takes the most teacher time in districts offering hybrid instruction (15 percent). It’s 12 percent in fully remote districts and 11 percent in areas where all the learning is in person.

Student absence rates remain a problem in high schools and middle schools

High school teachers report that, on average, 21 percent of their students have been absent from in-person or remote school three or more days in the past month.

That’s up from an average of 14 percent of students during the fall of 2019, the teachers estimate.

The problem is almost as bad at the middle school level, where teachers say that the share of students with three or more absences in the past month has nearly doubled from 11 percent in fall of 2019 to 19 percent now. Elementary teachers have also seen increases—from 12 percent pre-pandemic to 16 percent this spring.

The share of students missing three or more days in the past month is especially high for teachers who work in districts where more than three quarters of the students come from low-income families (23 percent) and/or in urban areas (26 percent).

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