IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

The Prevalence of Written Plans for a Pandemic Disease Scenario in Public Schools

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our daily lives in unprecedented ways and raised questions about how prepared our institutions, including our public schools, are for a national health crisis. The School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), which collects data from a nationally representative sample of 4,800 K–12 public schools, asks schools to report on whether or not they have a written plan that describes the procedures to be performed in select scenarios. Data from the 2017–18 SSOCS show a strong majority of the nation’s schools have a written plan for certain emergency scenarios, such as natural disasters, active shooters, and bomb threats, but fewer than half have a written plan for a pandemic disease.

Schools can play an important role in slowing the spread of diseases and protecting vulnerable students and staff, in part by implementing strategies to help ensure safe and healthy learning environments.[1] The close proximity of students and staff in classroom settings can increase the risk of community transmission of diseases, which is why schools should work in close collaboration and coordination with local health departments on decisions related to determining risks and implementing school-based strategies. One aspect of school efforts to maintain safety is to have a plan in place for procedures to prevent and mitigate the spread of diseases. These plans may include guidelines on prevention efforts; coordination with local health officials; cleaning and disinfecting school spaces; communicating with staff, parents, and students; making decisions on short- and long-term dismissal of students; and implementing strategies to continue education and other supports for students.

Forty-six percent of public schools reported they had a written plan for procedures to be performed in the event of pandemic disease during the 2017–18 school year (figure 1). This percentage was lower than the percentage of schools reporting that they had written plans for every other type of scenario asked about in the SSOCS questionnaire with the exception of hostage scenarios, for which the percentage of schools with such a plan was not measurably different.


Figure 1. Percentage of public schools that had a written plan describing procedures to be performed in various crisis scenarios: School year 2017–18

1Examples of natural disasters provided to respondents were earthquakes or tornadoes.
2"Active shooter" was defined for respondents as an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area; in most cases, active shooters use firearm(s) and there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims.
3Examples of chemical, biological, or radiological threats or incidents provided to respondents were the release of mustard gas, anthrax, smallpox, or radioactive materials.
NOTE: Responses were provided by the principal or the person most knowledgeable about school crime and policies to provide a safe environment.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017–18 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), 2018.


There were few measurable differences in the percentages of schools reporting plans for pandemic disease when looking across school characteristics. However, some differences were observed based on the enrollment size of the school. In 2017–18, the percentage of schools with enrollments of less than 300 students that reported having a written plan for pandemic disease (38 percent) was lower than the corresponding percentages of schools with enrollments of 300 to 499 students (48 percent), 500 to 999 students (48 percent), and 1,000 or more students (49 percent) (figure 2). However, in no enrollment size group did a majority of schools have a written plan.


Figure 2. Percentage of public schools that had a written plan describing procedures to be performed in a pandemic disease scenario, by enrollment size: School year 2017–18

NOTE: Responses were provided by the principal or the person most knowledgeable about school crime and policies to provide a safe environment.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017–18 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), 2018.


Prior to the 2017–18 school year, SSOCS asked schools about written plans for pandemic flu, rather than pandemic disease. While comparisons of these prior estimates to the 2017–18 estimates on pandemic disease plans should be made with caution, reviewing previous estimates for pandemic flu plans may provide some insight into how schools may have been prepared for similar outbreaks in the past.

Estimates of schools’ reports of written plans for pandemic flu followed no clear pattern between the 2007–08 and 2015–16 school years. Fifty-one percent of schools reported having a plan for pandemic flu in 2015–16, which was lower than the percentage that reported such a plan in 2009–10 (69 percent)[2] but higher than the percentage that reported such plan in 2007–08 (36 percent) (figure 3).


Figure 3. Percentage of public schools that had a written plan describing procedures to be performed in a pandemic flu or pandemic disease scenario, by school year: Selected years, 2007–08 to 2017–18

NOTE: SSOCS:2008, SSOCS:2010, and SSOCS:2016 asked schools to report on whether or not their school had a written plan to be performed in the scenario of pandemic flu, while the item was modified for SSOCS:2018 to ask schools about written plans for pandemic disease. Due to this change, comparisons of estimates between SSOCS:2018 and earlier years should be made with caution. Responses were provided by the principal or the person most knowledgeable about school crime and policies to provide a safe environment.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017–18 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), 2018.


You can find more information on these and other data from the School Survey on Crime and Safety in NCES publications, including Crime, Violence, Discipline, and Safety in U.S. Public Schools: Findings From the School Survey on Crime and Safety: 2017–18 and the Digest of Education Statistics, table 233.65.

 

By Jana Kemp, AIR

 


[1]Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Interim Guidance for Administrators of US K–12 Schools and Childcare Programs. Retrieved March 18, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/guidance-for-schools.html.

[2]From April 2009 to April 2010, a novel influenza A (H1N1) virus pandemic occurred in the United States and across the world; schools’ reports of plans for pandemic flu during the 2009–10 school year may reflect heightened awareness and responses to the H1N1 pandemic. See https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/2009-h1n1-pandemic.html for more information.

Education Technology Platforms to Enable Efficient Education Research

Education research is often a slow and costly process. An even more difficult challenge is replicating research findings in a timely and cost-effective way to ensure that they are meaningful for the wide range of contexts and populations that make up our nation’s school system.

In a recent op-ed, IES Director Mark Schneider and Schmidt Futures Senior Director for Technology and Society Kumar Garg pitched the idea that digital learning platforms may be a way to accelerate the research enterprise. These platforms will enable researchers to try new ideas and replicate interventions quickly across many sites and with a wide range of student populations. They could also open the door for educators to get more involved in the research process. For example, Learn Platform supports districts as they make decisions about purchasing and implementing products in their schools, and ASSISTments provides infrastructure for researchers to conduct cheaper and faster studies than they would be able to do on their own.

IES Director Mark Schneider and NCER Commissioner Liz Albro recently attended a meeting sponsored by Schmidt Futures focused on these issues. Two major takeaways from the meeting: first, there is already progress on building and using platforms for testing interventions, and, second, platform developers are enthusiastic about integrating research capabilities into their work.

As we consider how we can support platform developers, researchers, and education personnel to co-design tools to enable more efficient, large scale research on digital learning platforms, several questions have arisen:  

  1. What digital learning platforms already have a large enough user base to support large scale research studies?
  2. Are there content areas or grade levels that are not well supported through digital learning platforms?
  3. What are the key features that a platform needs to have to support rigorous tests and rapid replication of research findings? 
  4. What are the barriers and challenges for companies interested in participating in this effort?
  5. What kinds of research questions can best be answered in this research environment?
  6. What kind of infrastructure needs to be developed around the platform to enable seamless collaborations between education stakeholders, researchers, and product developers?

We know there are some of you have already given these questions some thought. In addition, there are other questions and issues that we haven’t considered. We welcome your thoughts. Feel free to email us at Erin.Higgins@ed.gov and Elizabeth.Albro@ed.gov. And join NCER’s Virtual Learning Lab in their virtual workshop “Designing Online Learning Platforms to Enable Research” on April 17th, 3:00pm-5:00pm Eastern Time. Learn more about the workshop here.

New International Data Highlight Experiences of Teachers and Principals

The Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) 2018 surveyed lower secondary teachers and principals in the United States and 48 other education systems (in the United States, lower secondary is equivalent to grades 7–9). Following the release of volume 1 of the TALIS 2018 U.S. highlights web report in 2019, volume 2 provides new data comparing teachers’ and principals’ opinions about job satisfaction, stress, salary, and autonomy.

According to the survey results, nearly a quarter of U.S. lower secondary teachers (26 percent) reported they had “a lot” of stress in their work. This was higher than the average across countries participating in TALIS (16 percent) (figure 1). The U.S. percentage was higher than the percentage in 35 education systems, lower than the percentage in 3 education systems, and not measurably different from the percentage in 10 education systems. Across educations systems, the percentage of teachers who reported experiencing “a lot” of stress in their work ranged from 1 percent in the country of Georgia to 38 percent in England (see figure 8T in the TALIS 2018 U.S. highlights web report, volume 2).


Figure 1. Percentage of lower secondary teachers in the United States and across TALIS education systems reporting that they experience “a lot” of stress in their work: 2018


Less than half of U.S. lower secondary teachers (41 percent) “agree” or “strongly agree” that they are satisfied with their salary, which was not measurably different from the TALIS average (39 percent) (figure 2). The U.S. percentage was higher than the percentage in 22 education systems, lower than the percentage in 17 education systems, and not measurably different from the percentage in 9 education systems. The percentage of teachers who “agree” or “strongly agree” that they are satisfied with their salary ranged widely across education systems, from 6 percent in Iceland to 76 percent in Alberta–Canada (see figure 10T in the TALIS 2018 U.S. highlights web report, volume 2).

About half of U.S. lower secondary principals (56 percent) “agree” or “strongly agree” that they are satisfied with their salary, which was not measurably different from the TALIS average (47 percent) (figure 2). The U.S. percentage was higher than the percentage in 15 education systems, lower than the percentage in 3 education systems, and not measurably different from the percentage in 29 education systems. As with teachers, the percentage of principals who “agree” or “strongly agree” that they are satisfied with their salary ranged widely across education systems, from 17 percent in Italy to 86 percent in Singapore (see figure 10P in the TALIS U.S. highlights web report, volume 2).


Figure 2. Percentage of lower secondary teachers and principals in the United States and across TALIS education systems who “agree” or “strongly agree” that they are satisfied with the salary they receive for their work: 2018


TALIS is conducted in the United States by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and is sponsored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental organization of industrialized countries. Further information about TALIS can be found in the technical notes, questionnaires, list of participating OECD and non-OECD countries, and FAQs for the study. In addition, the two volumes of the OECD international reports are available on the OECD TALIS website.

 

By Tom Snyder, AIR; Ebru Erberber, AIR; and Mary Coleman, NCES

Activities for Students and Families Stuck at Home due to COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

As I write this blog post, my 4-year-old is spraying me with a water sprayer while I am desperately protecting my computer from a direct hit. Earlier, while I was listening in on a meeting, she yelled out “hi!” anytime I took myself off mute. Balancing work and raising kids in this bizarre situation we find ourselves in is an overwhelming experience. When schools started closing, some parents resorted to posting suggested schedules for kids to keep up a routine and deliver academic content during the day. These were wonderful suggestions. As someone whose dissertation focused on how people learn, I should be applauding such posts, but instead, they filled me with a sense of anxiety and guilt. How am I supposed to balance getting my work done while also designing a rigorous curriculum of reading, writing, and math instruction for a kid whose attention span lasts about 10-20 minutes and who needs guidance and adult interaction to learn effectively? Let’s take a step back and recognize that this situation is not normal. We adults are filled with anxiety for the future. We are trying to manage an ever-growing list of things—do we have enough food? Do we need to restock medications? What deadlines do we need to hit at work?

So here is my message to you, parents, who are managing so much and trying desperately to keep your kids happy, healthy, and engaged: recognize that learning experiences exist in even the simplest of interactions between you and your kids. For example—

  • When doing laundry, have your child help! Have them sort the laundry into categories, find the matching socks, name colors. Create patterns with colors or clothing types (for example, red sock, then blue, then red, which comes next?).
  • Find patterns in your environment, in language (for example, nursery rhymes), and when playing with blocks or Legos. Researchers have shown that patterning is strongly related to early math skills.
  • Talk about numbers when baking. I did this with my daughter yesterday morning. We made muffins and had a blast talking about measuring cups, the number of eggs in the recipe, and even turning the dial on the oven to the correct numbers. Older kids might be interested in learning the science behind baking.
  • Take a walk down your street (practicing good social distancing of course!) and look for different things in your environment to count or talk about.
  • Bring out the scissors and paper and learn to make origami along with your kids, both for its benefits for spatial thinking and as a fun, relaxing activity! In this project, researchers developed and pilot tested Think 3d!, an origami and pop-up paper engineering curriculum designed to teach spatial skills to students. The program showed promise in improving spatial thinking skills.
  • If you choose to use screen time, choose apps that promote active, engaged, meaningful, socially interactive learning.
  • If you choose to use television programs, there is evidence showing that high quality educational programs can improve students’ vocabulary knowledge.

Hopefully these examples show that you can turn even the most mundane tasks into fun learning experiences and interactions with your kids. They may not become experts in calculus at the end of all of this, but maybe they will look back fondly on this period of their life as a time when they were able to spend more time with their parents. At the end of the day, having positive experiences with our kids is going to be valuable for us and for them. If you have time to infuse some formal learning into this time, great, but if that feels like an overwhelmingly hard thing to do, be kind to yourself and recognize the value of even the most simple, positive interaction with your kids.

Written by Erin Higgins, PhD, who oversees the National Center for Education Research (NCER)'s Cognition and Student Learning portfolio.

NCES Releases Two Short Reports on Shortened School Weeks and High School Start Times

Recently, NCES released two short analyses using data from the 2017–18 National Teacher and Principal Survey.

The first report focuses on the practice of shortened school weeks in U.S. public schools. About 1.9 percent of public schools in the United States operate on a shortened-week schedule (less than 5 days per week). Some of the reasons school districts operate schools on such schedules include attracting high-quality teachers and reducing costs. The report finds that shortened school weeks are more prevalent at rural, western, and smaller schools, and this practice varies by state.



The second report focuses on high school start times. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that middle and high schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later to give students the opportunity to get a sufficient amount of sleep. The report looks at average public high school start times by various school characteristics and state. Findings include the following:

  • A higher percentage of public high schools in cities (26 percent) than of those in suburban (18 percent), town (13 percent), and rural (11 percent) areas reported a school starting time of 8:30 a.m. or later.
     
  • A higher percentage of charter schools (24 percent) than of traditional public schools (17 percent) reported a school starting time of 8:30 a.m. or later.

Both reports are based on data collected by NCES as part of the National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS). NTPS is a nationally representative survey of teachers and principals from public and private schools, and for the public sector, NTPS is state representative. NTPS uses scientifically proven methods to select a small sample of school faculty to provide information about major education issues related to school and staffing characteristics while minimizing the burden on teacher and principal communities. Without the cooperation and participation of districts and their teachers and principals, reports such as these could not be produced.

 

By Cris de Brey, NCES