Data deficiency: Why we are still struggling to grasp COVID’s full K-12 impacts

'School leaders, public health authorities and families all need a clear picture of what’s happened,' says COVID researcher
By: | September 16, 2021
Blue is in-person, orange is hybrid and red is virtualBlue is in-person, orange is hybrid and red is virtual

Schools’ recovery from COVID is being made more challenging because the pandemic’s wide-ranging impacts on learning, well-being and mental health in classrooms have yet to be fully grasped, says one expert.

But the newly launched COVID-19 School Data Hub will provide the information needed to answer big-picture questions such as how in-person vs. remote learning affected academic performance, says creator Emily Oster, a Brown University economics professor who has been tracking COVID’s impact on schools throughout the pandemic.

“It’s crazy that 18 months into the pandemic we are relying on such an incomplete understanding of what happened in schools during the last school year and how those decisions have affected students, teachers and parents,” Oster says. “The pandemic is one of the most pivotal events in education in generations, and school leaders, public health authorities and families all need a clear picture of what’s happened.”

The database displays interactive state-, district- and school-level information on:

  • Learning models used—i.e., virtual, hybrid or in-person—at various stages throughout the pandemic
  • Enrollment by learning model
  • COVID-19 case counts among students and staff.

Users can click on the database’s map to track individual districts.

However, not all states are sharing or even collecting this data, posing “a significant barrier” to assessing how schools and students in certain communities are faring, Oster says. Still, the hub should allow researchers to analyze the ongoing issues such as students’ physical and mental health, and parents’ employment status is impacting school performance.

Oster also launched the National COVID-19 School Response Dashboard in September 2020 to track the spread of the virus as schools were reopening.

In sharp contrast to the current school year, transmission within schools was extremely low in 2020-21 as almost all districts offering in-person instruction had mandated masks.