The Biden administration will soon begin collecting data from thousands of U.S. schools to find out how they have been affected by the pandemic, including how many have returned to in-person instruction, officials said Friday.
Led by the Education Department, the effort will collect monthly data from 7,000 schools on a range of topics related to COVID-19. It’s the first federal effort to gather data on the pandemic’s impact on education.
President Joe Biden called for the data in a Jan. 21 executive order on school reopening. The Trump administration declined to collect data on the subject, saying it wasn’t the role of the federal government to do so.
Chief among its purposes, the data will provide a national look at schools’ operating status, including how many are offering remote learning. It will help answer a simple but previously elusive question: How many schools have reopened?
Answering that question is important for state and local officials working to reopen, and it will help measure Biden’s progress on his goal to have most of the nation’s K-8 schools opened within his first 100 days in office.
The survey results will also help officials understand and address education disparities that have worsened amid the pandemic, said Ian Rosenblum, an acting assistant secretary of the Education Department.
“To do that, we need more information about how students are learning during this pandemic — and we simply don’t have it right now,” he said in a statement.
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Along with information about schools, the survey will ask how many individual students are being taught online and how many are learning online, along with their attendance rates.
It also asks for breakdowns by demographic characteristics including race, socioeconomic status and whether they have disabilities.
That could shed further light on disparities that have emerged during the pandemic, including findings that school districts in which the vast majority of students are white have been far more likely to have some level of in-person instruction.
Researchers and school officials have been calling on the federal government to gather information on the pandemic’s effect, saying it would provide evidence to guide schools as they navigate outbreaks. Many states collect their own data, and some researchers have attempted national databases, but there has been no federal collection effort.
In a letter to Congress this month, a coalition of education groups emphasized the need for new data and urged lawmakers to boost federal funding to the Education Department unit that collects data.
“If our nation is to effectively address the unprecedented educational challenges brought about by the pandemic, we will need objective, accurate and timely data to inform policy and decision-making at the local, state, and national levels,” the coalition wrote.
The new survey will collect data from 3,500 schools that enroll fourth graders, and 3,500 schools that enroll eight graders. It will be made available to the public on a monthly basis through June, with collections starting later this month.
The Education Department says it will be a nationally representative survey, using the existing data collection system used for the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as The Nation’s Report Card.
The survey is one part of Biden's wider school reopening plan, which also calls for $130 billion in relief funding for K-12 schools, and expanded virus testing for teachers and students.