Nationally representative survey finds low teacher morale, concerns about student progress and increasing support for in-person instruction

As the 2020–21 school year begins, a new survey from EdWeek Research Center found that both teacher morale and school enrollment are hitting new lows, while concerns about student academic progress is high.

The nationally representative survey, conducted online from Aug. 26–28, was taken by 826 K-12 educators, which included 415 teachers, 149 principals and 262 district-level administrators. Here are the key findings:

  1. Teacher morale is lower than at any other time of the pandemic since the EdWeek Research Center began asking about it in March. Thirty-one percent of teachers and district leaders say that teacher morale is “much lower” than it was prior to the pandemic. Thirty-two percent of teachers say they are likely to leave their jobs this year, but had not planned to prior to the pandemic — this group is also more likely to have a pre-existing condition that would make them more vulnerable to COVID-19 or live with someone who does.
  2. More than half of school and district leaders say that the pandemic has led to declines in enrollment in preschool through grade 5. Close to half say the same for grades 6-12. The largest declines are being seen in preschool (20 percent less) and kindergarten (14 percent less). In addition, enrollment declines are affecting lower-income districts more substantially.
  3. “Pandemic pods,” where groups of parents hire a teacher or tutor to instruct their children at home, seem to be rare. Only 8 percent of those surveyed say they have personally interacted with even one parent in their district who plans to take this approach. Five percent say they are at least somewhat concerned about losing enrollment to pods. And just 1 percent have applied for a pandemic pod educator job or have been recruited to work in one.
  4. Interestingly, parents and educators do not see eye-to-eye on their students’ academic progress. Twice the number of teachers, principals and district leaders are concerned about the academic progress made by students compared to students’ parents. About one-quarter of parents say their children are making more progress in the core academic subjects of reading/English language arts and math than prior to the pandemic. Less than 5 percent of educators agree.
  5. More than 60 percent of survey respondents support reopening schools full time for in-person instruction. Teachers, however, express the most hesitancy with 54 percent supporting reopening school full time. Support for reopening schools is strongest in rural areas and towns, where more than two out of three teachers, principals and district leaders want to reopen for in-person instruction compared to 50 percent of those in cities and suburbs.
  6. Eighty-five percent of district leaders report that students will be required to wear masks when in-person learning This is up from 67 percent when the question was last asked in July.
  7. Both educators and parents agree that social distancing, mask-wearing and cleaning protocols impact parents’ level of trust in schools to keep their children safe. In regard to testing students and staff for COVID-19, 43 percent of parents (asked in a parallel EdWeek Research Center survey) said testing would impact their level of trust, but just 25 percent of educators thought so. Another area of disagreement is how much thorough communication from schools affects parents’ trust levels: 60 percent of educators said it would, while just 40 percent of parents said the same.
  8. More than 20 percent of district leaders and principals said they won’t tell parents about COVID-19 cases in their schools unless they believe a parent needs to know because their son or daughter was directly exposed. Twenty-nine percent said they will tell all parents in a school where a child has been diagnosed, but won’t share with the whole district; 20 percent said they’ll inform parents throughout the district.
  9. Ninety-eight percent of principals and district leaders said they stay up to date with COVID-19 guidance and developments; more than 75 percent get their information through state and local health departments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Other sources include professional organizations for educators, local and national news sources, and education-focused news outlets.