The U.S. Department of Education will expand the limited data it currently collects on students’ experiences in schools during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving the door open to add new questions to its representative survey of schools as the public health crisis evolves.
The survey will build on the department’s existing instrument, which has largely focused on schools’ operating status, by asking more questions about how students learn and what precautions schools take.
Consistent, comparable data has been a concern for educators, public health officials, and researchers since schools first closed to slow transmission of the virus in March 2020.
Through its School Pulse Panel, the Education Department plans to collect data on “topics such as instructional mode offered; enrollment counts of subgroups of students using various instructional modes; learning loss mitigation strategies; safe and healthy school mitigation strategies; special education services; use of technology; use of federal relief funds; and information on staffing,” the agency said in a notice set to publish in the Federal Register Tuesday.
The representative national data will be collected through a monthly survey of district staff and principals at a sample of 1,200 elementary, middle, and high schools throughout the 2021-22 school year.
That data set will expand greatly on the store of official federal data on the pandemic’s impact on schools and students, providing a tool for decisionmakers and a way to help track the effects of the crisis for years into the future.
No federal agency collected data on COVID-19 and schools until a year into the pandemic, when the Education Department started a monthly survey of 3,500 schools that enroll 4th-graders and 3,500 schools that enroll 8th-graders, in part to track President Joe Biden’s school reopening goals during his first months in office. It asked a small list of questions, largely focusing on whether a school was open with full-time in-person instruction, with a hybrid of online and in-person instruction, or fully remote.
That survey, and the new questions the Education Department outlined in its notice this week, were designed to comply with a January 2021 executive order from Biden, which directed the agency to collect “data necessary to fully understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on students and educators, including data on the status of in-person learning.”
“Given the high demand for data collection during this time, the content of the survey may change on a quarterly basis,” the notice says.
The agency will accept public comment on the survey’s contents for 30 days after the notice is published in the Federal Register.