As the 2020–21 school year gets underway, many are considering the tremendous impact the coronavirus will have on classrooms—whether in person or virtual—across the United States. What can be done to support policymakers and education sector leaders as they strive to address, amongst other concerns, potentially unequitable learning opportunities and mental health challenges?
The National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS) will gather critical information from teachers and principals about the changes implemented and lessons learned by schools and their staff during the 2020–21 school year. The NTPS is a nationwide system of related surveys that collect data on elementary and secondary education in the United States, including teaching and working conditions in schools and characteristics of public and private school teachers and principals at the state level.
Conducted every 2 to 3 years, NTPS provides critical representative data to policymakers and researchers on school organization, staff evaluations, teacher and principal preparation and professional development, classes taught, school characteristics, demographics of the teacher and principal labor force, and other important education topics. These data serve to inform those who set funding and other priorities, including Congress, the U.S. Department of Education, state education agencies, and public school districts. The data also allow important comparative analyses of key education personnel in public and private educational settings.
Unlike many other studies capturing information about the coronavirus and related education issues, NTPS allows for comparisons at the national level, between states for public schools and by affiliation for private schools, and over time. It is important that NTPS questionnaires reach selected teachers, principals, and other staff during these changing times. The information they provide will help decision makers evaluate the effects of school workplace conditions, salaries, and training opportunities on the educational workforce and aid in the U.S Department of Education’s program planning in the areas of teacher recruitment and retention, teaching policies, and teacher education.
But participation is key! If school staff do not participate in NTPS when selected, the data will provide an incomplete and possibly misleading description of the impact of the coronavirus on school communities, potentially affecting funding and other policy decisions.
What do we know about the coronavirus and the 2020–21 school year?
By May 2020, in just the United States alone, at least 50.8 million public school students were affected by ordered or recommended K–12 school closures. According to Education Week reports, school districts unveiled a variety of reopening plans for the 2020–21 school year that include remote, hybrid or partial in-person, or full in-person learning approaches. As of September 2, 73 percent of the 100 largest school districts had announced they wiould resume with remote learning only. Information from the Census Bureau’s experimental weekly Household Pulse Survey suggests that students in one of every six households do not usually have access to the internet for education purposes.
Regardless of each school district’s decision for the beginning of the school year, local and state education leaders are responsible for numerous decisions on behalf of their schools, students, teachers, and school staff that rely heavily on the availability of reliable data. But most of the existing information on the education sector’s response to the coronavirus is at the district or state level and does not typically include information about experiences of teachers and principals directly from these critical education providers. Also, because of varying reporting resources and practices across the nation’s 130,000 public and private K–12 schools, a consistent national-level understanding of coronavirus-related education problems is not readily available. As a result, key policymakers and other decision makers currently have little information from individual teachers or principals about coronavirus-related problems specifically and education issues more generally. NTPS provides an opportunity for the voices of teachers, principals, and other school staff to be included in the conversation.
How can NTPS show what is happening in K–12 schools across the United States?
Last administered in 2017–18, the NTPS is set to resume in the 2020–21 school year and new questions have been added to reflect changes that may have occurred due to the coronavirus. This offers an opportunity for sampled teachers, principals, and schools to provide valuable data that explain their experience as educators during the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to new items, data gleaned from recurring questions will capture changes over time and yield important insights into areas of success and areas in need of further support. Data from prior school years has already been used during the pandemic to highlight differences in the number of health staff, such as school nurses, and mental health staff, such as counselors, psychologists, and social workers. Gathering more responses to these and other questions will allow for trend analyses, giving policymakers and other decision makers a better understanding of changes occurring at the teacher, principal, and school levels.
How will the survey be conducted?
The NTPS data collection process is both voluntary and self-administered, meaning all questionnaires can be completed without any in-person contact and without interruption for staff who may be fully working remotely. Teachers, principals, and schools who have been sampled to participate in the survey will be contacted by mail and e-mail and invited to complete the questionnaires online. Sampled participants will also receive paper surveys at their school mailing addresses.
Why is this survey important?
Responses from sampled schools ensure that NTPS estimates are reliable and accurately reflect the activities of all U.S. public and private schools. These data are vital as policymakers, researchers, families, and school staff strive to understand and respond to the effects of the current pandemic and build a better, stronger education sector for the future—including improved response options for potential future pandemics. NTPS responses during the 2020–21 school year can be compared to data from future NTPS cycles to understand possible longer-term impacts of the current significant changes to education delivery in the country and across the states. These data provide national and state policymakers with a distinct understanding of the condition of K–12 education in their communities and will remain important as leaders monitor changes in the education sector in future years.
For more information about the National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS), please visit https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/ntps/.
By Julia Merlin, NCES