School & District Management

Teachers in Schools, Capitol Insurrection Lessons, Biden’s Reopening Plans: Survey Results

By Holly Kurtz — February 02, 2021 7 min read
Lisa DiRenzo gives her students instructions as they sit in desks spaced for proper social distance at the Post Road Elementary School in White Plains, N.Y.
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As recent news reports have focused on pushback against school reopenings in places like Chicago, the majority of the nation’s teachers are already back in their buildings.

That is one of the latest findings from the EdWeek Research Center, which is polling educators monthly during the pandemic. Sixty percent of teachers say they work from their school buildings all the time and 21 percent report being there some of the time, according to the Jan. 27-28 survey of 555 teachers, 210 principals, and 295 district leaders .

In most cases, the students are in school with them, at least some of them are, for some of the time. Just 17 percent of teachers report that they are spending 100 percent of their time working from home and that all their students are learning remotely.

These new COVID-19 realities might explain why most teachers (65 percent) say they approve of President Joe Biden’s call to resume in-person learning in the next 100 days. Approval rates are even higher for principals (86 percent) and district leaders (84 percent).

Support for the 100-day reopening plan varies significantly, however, based on whether students are currently participating in remote or in-person learning. Less than half of teachers whose students are 100 percent remote (46 percent) support the Biden plan, compared with 79 percent of those whose students are all currently back at school. Teachers whose students are participating in both remote and in-person learning fall in between (69 percent).

Rates of in-person learning are on the rise

In-person learning rates hit an all-time high since the EdWeek Research Center started tracking this metric in July of 2020. Twenty percent of district leaders say all their district’s students are participating in learning at school buildings, up from 15 percent in December.

It’s important to note that the rates of remote, in-person, and hybrid learning will vary depending on who’s asked.

The majority of school districts in the nation (roughly 70 percent) are small ones, enrolling fewer than 2,500 students. Since this survey is nationally representative, most of the district leaders who responded (64 percent) work in those small districts.

Less than 15 percent of school districts enroll 5,000 or more students, but these larger districts serve more than 2 out of every 3 K-12 public school students.

In-person learning is significantly more common in smaller districts with fewer than 2,500 students (26 percent) than in larger districts with 10,000 or more students (2 percent). This means that while 20 percent of district leaders say they are offering 100 percent in-person learning, well under 20 percent of students are likely experiencing this model of instruction. Since the survey did not include students, it cannot determine what share of students are participating in in-person, remote, or hybrid learning models.

That said, the survey did track the share of teachers reporting their districts are 100-percent in-person. The distribution of teachers more closely tracks to the distribution of students. Compared with smaller districts, larger districts not only enroll a larger share of the nation’s students, they also employ a larger share of the nation’s teachers.

Thirteen percent of teachers say their districts are only offering in-person learning. However, that share varies considerably by location, and by district demographics and size. In-person learning is significantly more common in rural areas, in the Midwest, and in smaller school districts. It’s also more common in districts that serve smaller populations of students of color and low-income families.

Most teachers have not addressed the Capitol insurrection with students

It was arguably one of the most significant and dangerous political events in American history.

Yet 73 percent of teachers say they have not addressed the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol with their students.

The most common reasons?

Forty-six percent of those who have not addressed the attack believe it was not directly relevant to the subjects they teach.

And it is worth noting that most social studies/history/civics teachers have addressed the Capitol insurrection. Yet nearly 1 of every 4 have not.

The second most common reason teachers avoid the topic is that they say their students are too young to understand the event: 16 percent of elementary school teachers have addressed the insurrection, compared with 27 percent of middle school instructors and 40 percent at the high school level.

It is possible that political beliefs also play a role: A third of teachers who expressed favorable views of Democratic President Joe Biden have addressed the mob riot, which was caused by supporters of former President Donald Trump, a Republican. By contrast, the attacks have been addressed in class by 18 percent of teachers expressing unfavorable views of the current president.

Teachers who did address the violence framed it in a variety of ways, with approaches varying by student age, field of instruction, and personal perspectives.

“I encouraged the little ones to talk about or draw about what they heard or saw on TV,” an elementary teacher in New Hampshire wrote in response to an open-ended survey question that asked how educators who had addressed the insurrection had described or framed it for their students. “We then sang Give Peace A Chance... which inspired us to make our own instruments and lead into discussions about peace and Dr. King.”

Another elementary school teacher, this one in California, put the events in context for students by saying the violence had resulted because the former president and his supporters were sore losers, turning the events into an opportunity to “teach good sportsmanship when you lose a game.”

At the secondary level, teachers tended to get more specific, relating the historic events to academic content.

“We discussed the events in the context of mob mentality, tied directly to Act 3, scene 3, of Julius Caesar,” a high school English teacher in Washington said.

In California, a social studies teacher “created an…assignment that first explained the Electoral College, state certification, and what Congress was doing on January 6.” The teacher “framed it as a riot/rebellion/insurrection,” showed the Trump speech that sparked the violence, and then asked students if they felt the former president should be impeached.

Personal perspectives impacted some teachers’ approaches.

“A mostly peaceful protest that caused some damage but much less than the six months of Marxist insurrection leading up to the frustration of the Capitol protests (in code, of course ), a great reminder that you can’t trust the media or any leftist for that matter,” wrote a South Carolina high school science teacher when asked how the events had been framed in class.

Then, there were some who would prefer to put the event behind us.

“It happened. It sucked. Move on,” a Utah high school arts teacher wrote when asked how the subject was addressed in class.

Governors lose ground with educators; Biden more popular than Trump

Educators’ views of their states’ governors have grown more negative in the past three months.

The share of teachers, principals, and district leaders who hold favorable views of their states’ governors is now 56 percent, down from 64 percent the last time the EdWeek Research Center asked that question Oct. 29.

In addition, 45 percent of educators now say that their opinions of their states’ governors have grown more unfavorable as a result of how these officials have reacted to coronavirus issues related to K-12 schools.

In October, 36 percent said the same.

In the meantime, President Joe Biden received more positive favorability ratings than his predecessor. Sixty-three percent of teachers, principals, and district leaders hold favorable views of Biden. Thirty-six percent held favorable views of Trump, according to the EdWeek Research Center’s Oct. 29 survey. (Biden was not included on prior EdWeek Research Center surveys.)

Twenty-four percent of educators say their views of Biden have grown more negative as a result of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on schools. Fifty-six percent said the same in October of Trump.

COVID-19 testing rarely required of school employees

The Biden administration’s plan to reopen schools safely relies on large-scale coronavirus testing of students and staff members. Yet currently, less than 10 percent of district leaders and principals say teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, food service workers, bus drivers, and custodians are required to get COVID-19 tests. This means that implementing large-scale testing programs could be a major logistical challenge for districts this spring if reopenings roll out according to the President’s plan.

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