Teacher survey: Learning issues linger as pandemic drags on

December 16, 2020

Nine months into the COVID-19 pandemic, educators say schools still haven’t worked out learning issues

By USC Rossier

Image licensed under Flickr Creative Commons via user Alliance for Excellent Education.

Educators for Excellence-Los Angeles, a teacher-led organization, and USC Rossier School of Education, released results today from Voices from the (Virtual) Classroom: A Survey of Los Angeles Educators. The broadly representative survey of Los Angeles teachers, from district, magnet, pilot and charter public schools, explores the issues affecting students and the profession as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact education.

After nine months of distance learning, the survey finds that teachers believe low levels of student attendance and engagement are alarming and a lack of access is still creating barriers, with younger and more vulnerable populations most impacted.

“My colleagues and I have done our best to serve our students during this pandemic, but our students are experiencing the largest disruption to education in generations,” said Meghann Seril, National Board Certified 3rd grade teacher and member of E4E-Los Angeles. “Although we have continued to adjust and adapt to distance learning during the past 10 months, we still lack the resources and quality guidance to ensure our students, especially the most vulnerable, are not shortchanged of the education they deserve.”

When asked how serious the barriers to successful learning are, 56 percent of respondents said that access to high-speed internet was a very serious issue. Teachers also said the following were very serious issues: low student engagement (45 percent); lack of quiet learning space at home (43 percent); and lack of adult support at home (42 percent).

“It is disturbing that our educators and students are still facing some of the same fundamental challenges they did in the spring: low levels of engagement, lack of access to the internet, and lack of useful guidance to teach in this new learning environment,” said Patricia Burch, a professor at USC Rossier. “This cuts across the typical lines of difference—district versus charter, low-income versus high-income, race—but it is clear from educator voices that our vulnerable students are being the most impacted and need additional resources, time and support now.”

“We are witnessing the widening of the opportunity gap at such an extreme rate that the negative impact in our communities, economy and democracy will be felt long-term,” said Jeimee Estrada-Miller, Executive Director of E4E-Los Angeles. “For all our students the pandemic has caused havoc, but for children from low-income households the inequities are threatening their futures.”

“We need Los Angeles leaders to listen to teachers, parents and students, and take urgent action,” said Casey Jagusch, a 7th grade history teacher at Olive Vista Middle School and member of E4E-Los Angeles. “This survey shows that we want to return to the classroom when it is safe, but we can’t return to the status quo. Now is the perfect opportunity to reimagine education.”

“Los Angeles teachers are working incredibly hard amid terrible circumstances to provide the best quality education they can during the pandemic,” said Morgan Polikoff, an associate professor at USC Rossier. “This survey provides concrete evidence about what teachers need in the short- and long-term to reshape our educational systems to better serve all students.”

Main findings:

  • Schools are not regularly meeting the needs of the most vulnerable student populations.
  • In the wake of the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the related protests, just over one-third of teachers received guidance for their classrooms, and only half of the teachers discussed race relations with colleagues and/or students.
  • With the increased demand on teachers’ time during distance learning, teachers would like more time for all their responsibilities, especially supporting their students’ social and emotional health and professional development.
  • Teachers are divided on how grading should be handled, with just over one-third supporting a traditional grading system during the pandemic.
  • About half of teachers are stressed by the demands the pandemic is placing on them and their families.
  • Three-quarters of teachers called a mask mandate “critical” to the physical reopening of schools. Many teachers also expressed enthusiasm for additional health and safety measures, as well as flexibility to continue delivering instruction online depending on needs.
  • While distance learning continues, teachers are split on how to handle evaluations and the awarding of tenure and/or bonuses for student performance.
  • Should the pandemic cause budget cuts, teachers do not support layoffs determined solely by seniority and they want a funding formula that supports traditionally underserved populations.

The full report and detailed results include a closer look at the following teacher subgroups: school type, grades teaching, years teaching and percentage of students from low-income households served.

Methodology

The instrument was written and administered by Gotham Research Group, an independent research firm. It was conducted online and over the phone from November 5 through December 3, 2020, among a representative sample of 502 full-time public school teachers within the LAUSD geography. The margin of error is ±4.4 percentage points for the full survey sample and higher among subgroups or questions not asked of the full sample.

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