What We’re Learning: COVID 19 and Education: Notable Findings and Data Sources

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Maeve Ward

None of us has lived through anything like this before. Understanding how people are affected by COVID-19 is a critical aspect of charting a path forward in these uncertain times. We have much to learn from districts, school leaders, teachers, families, and students themselves. Their perspectives offer critical information to guide decision-making and identify key questions for the research community.

At the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we are committed to learning from and listening to those on the front lines of education. One of the ways we do that is through public opinion research and other types of data collection that capture and reflect their experiences.

In this blog post, we will share some of the notable findings that have caught our attention over the past two months, as well as several data collection efforts we are closely following.


  1. Access to digital learning is not equitable. Poorer households are less likely to have internet access to support their children’s distance learning (84% of households with <$25,000 vs. >96% for households >$25,000), according to data from the Understanding America Study and the Civis COVID Tracker. Likewise, Black households (79%) and Latinx households (76%) are less likely to have dedicated household internet than white households (89%). Black and Latinx households are also more likely to use mobile hotspots for access (14% – 20%) than whites.     
  2. COVID-19 is forcing changes in students’ post-high school plans. More than 1 in 4 students and 36% of parents said coronavirus has impacted their/their student’s college search process, according to a Maguire Associates report based on data collected from over 6,000 students and parents. Likewise, the Civis COVID Tracker found 42% of parents saying their high school children’s plans have changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, with 46% reporting their children postponed their plans. It is even more stark for families of color. Parents of Black (59%) and Latinx (61%) students are particularly likely to say their plans for after high school have changed as a result of COVID-19.       
  3. Districts serving students of color and students experiencing poverty were slower and less likely to provide concrete distance learning plans. In April 2020, we conducted an analysis of district distance learning plans using data compiled by the Center on Reinventing Public Education and EdSolutions, to better understand their variability. We compared the plans of the 100 largest districts in the country with lower levels of students of color and those experiencing poverty to those with higher levels. We found that districts serving higher numbers of students of color and those experiencing poverty[1] were less likely to have provided a specific distance learning plan by April 2020 (19% vs. 32%) and were more likely to have provided only links to resources on their COVID-19 response website (42% vs. 53%).                                           
  4. White parents are more likely to rely on schools and teachers to support distance learning than Black or Latinx parents. While 78% of white parents relied on their child’s school for information to support learning at home, only 67% of Black or Latinx parents reported relying on schools, according to data from the Civis COVID Tracker. Conversely, slightly more Black and Latinx parents (30%) rely on state education officials for information than do white parents (22%).
  5. Many teachers and school leaders have been unable to contact at least some of their students since school closure. According to a report just released by RAND on nationally representative surveys of teachers and principals, 45% of teachers and 21% of school leaders reported not being able to contact at least some of their students since school closure.


As we have tried to learn more about COVID-19’s impact on the K-12 education system and Black, Latinx, and low-income students, we have been tracking many national data collection efforts. The list below is not exhaustive, but it highlights a variety we are supporting, tracking, and/or have found useful.

District Perspectives

  • Center on Reinventing Public Education’s school closure district database: The Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) has compiled a database that makes district COVID-19 response plans easily searchable. As of May 19, they have over 100 districts in the database and plans to expand the database to be nationally representative. The database is open for public use.
  • Council of the Great City School’s Coronavirus Information website: The Council of the Great City School’s (CGCS) Coronavirus Information page offers rich qualitative evidence on CGCS member districts, including links to districts’ COVID-19 webpages, survey results from members, summaries of member experiences, and policy recommendations. All of the information on the page is free and open for public use.
  • American School District Panel Qualitative & Survey research: The American School District Panel (ASDP) will focus on providing national qualitative and quantitative data on district policy and practice. In early summer, the ASDP team will be providing case studies of districts’ responses to closures and plans for reopening in the fall. The team will also conduct one of the earliest nationally representative surveys of how school districts have relaunched learning in the 2020-21 school year[2].

School Leader and Teacher Perspectives

  • Collaborative for Student Success Return-to-School Survey: This effort surveyed a convenience sample (5500+) of education professionals nationally to assess opinions on what policies should be enacted to ameliorate learning loss due to COVID-19 related closures[3].
  • RAND Corporation’s COVID-19 educator surveys: During April, RAND fielded surveys to nationally representative samples of teachers and principals. The focus of these surveys is on distance learning practices, policies, and experience. The public report on these data is available now. These data will be available for public download in mid-June via data use agreement and publicly available reporting will come following the release of the public report. Surveys will be administered again in fall 2020 and spring 2021[4].

Household Perspectives

  • USC Understanding America Study COVID-19 Pulse Surveys: This effort is tracking a population-representative sample of households and their experience with COVID-19. An education-focused set of questions was fielded related to K-12 student home learning experience, postsecondary transition, and postsecondary learning experience. A press release on the most recent education data outlines some key findings. These data are available for public use via data use agreement[5].
  • Civis Analytics Coronavirus Pulse Survey Research: Civis Analytics is tracking public opinions and behaviors related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including questions specific to households with students in K-12 and postsecondary. The education questions cover topics related to student home learning experience, technology access, opinions about the quality of student experiences with distance learning and academic readiness[6].
  • Learning Heroes Parent/Guardian Poll: Learning Heroes has conducted a nationally representative survey of parents and guardians that included oversamples of African American and Latinx parents, parents with children in transition grades – 5/6, 8/9, 11/12, and parents/guardians who live in COVID-19 “hot spots” – California, Washington, and New York. This survey aims to understand how parents are experiencing their child’s education amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The report with their full findings includes breakouts across the “hot spot” states.[7]

Student Perspectives

  • PDK International COVID-19 student surveys: PDK International surveyed its 200,000 members, including educators, administrators, and high school students, to understand their experiences, especially related to social-emotional needs. Survey results in the form of reports are available upon request.

As the country starts to plan for reopening schools and the future of education, we urge researchers, funders, and policy-makers to continue tracking and learning from existing data collection efforts; to continue collecting and capturing the experiences and voices of those on the front lines of education; and to put these perspectives at the center of planning and decision-making.



Mariana Preciado, Senior Program Officer, K12 Programs, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Isabella Velasquez, Data Analyst, K12 Programs, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Maeve Ward, Deputy Director, Public Engagement & Insights, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

[1] We used membership in the Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS) as a proxy for these metrics. Differences between the two groups: Latino students (29% non-CGCS vs. 45% CGCS), Black students (20% non-CGCS vs. 25% CGCS), and Free and Reduced Priced Lunch students (45% non-CGCS vs. 64% CGCS).

[2] Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

[3]  Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

[4]  Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

[5]  Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

[6]  Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

[7]  Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation