In the past week, the fruits of several efforts to track COVID-19 cases in elementary and secondary schools emerged. More tools to support school administrators in their efforts during these challenging times—through the use of policy-relevant research and evidence—are also circulating.
Tracking Schools’ COVID-19 Cases
Data on a new COVID-19 School Response Dashboard, spearheaded by economist Emily Oster of Brown University in collaboration with the American Association of School Administrators, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and groups representing charter and independent schools, was released this week. The dashboard, which is continually updated with data from more participating schools, aggregates information volunteered from public, private, and charter schools across 47 U.S. states. While the data is expanding rapidly, responses in the dashboard as of September 27, 2020 account for more than 400,000 K-12 students and 700 schools. Nearly half of schools represented in the database are employing a learning model with in-person instruction at reduced capacity or a hybrid approach. In addition to confirmed and suspected student and staff case information, this resource also summarizes which safety strategies schools are using. Reporting on the dashboard, NPR notes that private and charter schools are adopting mitigation strategies at a consistently higher rate than traditional public schools.
New State Dashboards
Before Indiana shared a statewide snapshot of school data about COVID-19 cases on September 23, 2020, the Indianapolis Star kept their own record of student and staff cases assembled from school communications, individual district dashboards, and other media outlets. School reporting on COVID-19 cases is not yet required by Indiana, but the state’s estimate of 2,000 total cases was nearly twice that of the IndyStar records. State officials expect a publicly available and searchable school database to be available this week. Nearby states including Tennessee and Ohio have also recently released COVID-19 case numbers in schools on dashboards that update weekly. Tennessee’s dashboard does not display historical case numbers, but includes information about district operating models (e.g., in-person, hybrid, remote). Ohio’s dashboard includes cumulative case numbers in addition to weekly counts, but only includes schools with on-site instruction, activities, or support services.
Using Evidence to Address COVID-19 Challenges
In an effort to support students, educators, and families facing the disruption caused by COVID-19, the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) at MIT has created a COVID-19 Recovery and Resilience Initiative. Within the Initiative’s education focus, the main purpose is to connect educators and researchers as they evaluate strategies for addressing learning losses and improving educational outcomes during school closings and remote learning. The Initiative currently recommends the following priorities for schools:
- Ensuring that all students have access to the technology they need,
- Considering adopting evidence-based approaches like computer assisted learning and tutoring,
- Increasing investments in their communication tools with families, and
- Providing parents with short, actionable directions for learning at home.
For researchers, on the other hand, the Initiative recommends studying programs that could compensate for lost learning and schooling disruptions, like extended school days, summer school, vacation academies, credit recovery programs, and remote college guidance interventions. Finally, the Initiative highlights the importance of partnerships between researchers and policymakers, administrators, and educators for coordinating effective responses and collecting data to measure program effectiveness, and points to the importance of addressing mental health challenges as a critical component to any efforts.