Teaching From Our Research Center

Teachers Work Two Hours Less Per Day During COVID-19: 8 Key EdWeek Survey Findings

By Benjamin Herold & Holly Kurtz — May 11, 2020 6 min read
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Less time teaching, dramatically reduced exposure to new learning material for students living in poverty, and lots of Zoom lessons.

That’s the emerging picture of public K-12 education in America under the coronavirus, according to a new nationally representative survey of the nation’s educators from the Education Week Research Center.

Since President Donald Trump declared a national emergency to combat the pandemic on March 13, 48 states, four U.S. territories, the District of Columbia, and the Department of Defense have ordered or recommended school building closures for the remainder of the academic year, affecting nearly 51 million public school students. The sudden shift to online and remote learning that resulted was marked by sharp disparities between wealthy and poor schools, previous iterations of the EdWeek survey have found.

Nearly two months into the new normal, fatigue appears to be setting in. Student engagement dropped considerably when the pandemic first hit. And over the last two weeks, 60 percent of teachers said it’s declined even more.

Following are eight key findings from the EdWeek Research Center’s latest survey, completed online by 908 teachers and district leaders on May 6 and 7.

1. Teachers are working less than before the pandemic hit.

Overall, the nation’s teachers reported working an average of seven hours a day, compared with nine hours a day before schools closed due to the coronavirus.

As with just about every other facet of schools’ response to the crisis, though, there were sharp disparities among districts. Teachers who live in rural areas, towns, and cities, for example, reported working seven hours per day, compared with eight hours per day for their suburban counterparts.

Likewise, teachers in the highest-poverty districts reported working seven hours per day, one less than their counterparts in the lowest-poverty districts. That’s a switch from the pre-COVID era, when teachers in districts where 75 percent or more of students came from families living in poverty reported working nine hours per day, compared with eight hours per day among teachers in districts where less than a quarter of students come from families living in poverty.

2. Teachers are spending less time teaching new material, especially in high-poverty schools.

A significant number of students—especially those in the country’s highest-poverty school districts—appear to be missing out on core content they would have been taught had schools not closed their doors due to the coronavirus.

All told, 69 percent of teachers reported spending less time presenting new, standards-aligned material to their students than they did prior to school closings. In districts where at least three-fourths of students come from families living in poverty, however, that figure shoots up to 76 percent, compared with 55 percent in districts where less than one-fourth of students come from families living in poverty.

By contrast, most teachers reported spending more time on review and tech troubleshooting.

And what about the total learning time? Teachers reported that students now spend three hours per day learning, down from six hours per day prior to the coronavirus closures. For students in the highest-poverty schools, that figure drops to two hours per day.

3. Student engagement is plummeting.

Forty-two percent of teachers said student engagement is much lower than it was before the coronavirus. That’s worse than a month ago, when 34 percent of teachers reported lower student engagement.

The EdWeek Research Center also asked teachers in early May how student engagement had changed just over the preceding two weeks. Sixty percent described a drop-off, including 22 percent who said engagement had declined “a lot.”

4. Teachers are most likely to say videoconferencing tools are “very effective” for teaching math and English.

Despite concerns over privacy, security, and equity, Zoom and other technology tools that allow for live videoconferencing have taken off in K-12 schools since the coronavirus. Teachers seem to think that’s a good thing: 63 percent described such tools as “very effective” for teaching English/language arts, and 57 percent said the same for teaching math.

More than half of educators also said that tools for sharing and collaborating on documents, such as Google Docs and Word Online, are very effective.

Less highly regarded: Digital games, print novels, and on-demand video lessons from external providers, all of which were deemed “very effective” tools for teaching ELA during the coronavirus shutdown by about one-fourth of teachers.

5. Truancy remains high.

Teachers reported that 23 percent of their students are “essentially truant,” down slightly from 25 percent at the end of April.

Those figures remain significantly higher in the nation’s highest-poverty districts, where teachers reported that 28 percent of students are truant, than in the lowest-poverty districts, where teachers reported that 11 percent of students are truant.

High school teachers also reported higher truancy rates (27 percent) than elementary teachers (19 percent.)

6. Access and connectivity gaps are still a big problem.

As the reality of extended school-building closures sunk in, districts across the country scrambled to provide devices to students for use at home. But such efforts barely seem to have dented the access-to-technology gap nationwide: 59 percent of teachers said their schools had at least one device for every student in May, just two points higher than the 57 percent who said the same in February, before schools began to close.

Device access varies significantly by district income levels: 72 percent of teachers in the country’s lowest-poverty districts reported that their schools offer 1-to-1 computing, compared with 44 percent of teachers in the highest-poverty districts.

The EdWeek Research Center also found significant variation by grade level, with high school teachers somewhat more likely than their middle school counterparts, and dramatically more likely than elementary teachers, to say their schools offer 1-to-1 computing.

7. Teachers give themselves positive reviews.

In a survey administered in April by the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, 54 percent of parents strongly approved of the job their children’s teachers were doing handling the coronavirus crisis, and 48 percent said the same of principals and school support staff.

In the latest EdWeek Research Center survey, the nation’s educators gave themselves even more positive reviews. Sixty-two percent strongly approved of how the teachers in their district were handling the crisis, 60 percent strongly approved of their district’s principals, and 64 percent strongly approved of their school support staff.

8. Uncertainty reigns when it comes to planning for 2020-21.

Seven in 10 district leaders said their current planning for the 2020-21 school year includes preparations for multiple scenarios, including continued building closures, a return to full-time in-person schooling, and reopening schools under new conditions to accommodate social-distancing and other public-health guidelines. Just 9 percent of district leaders said their planning was focused exclusively on starting next year with full-time remote learning. Alarmingly, more than a quarter of the nation’s school district leaders said they haven’t yet done any planning at all for next school year.

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