Pandemic Data Tracking

After more than two years of disrupted schooling, our school systems must seek new ways of educating and supporting students, form new partnerships with their communities, and explore new ways to develop and deploy talent. To illuminate the work ahead, we must make sense of where we’ve been. This page catalogs the Center on Reinventing Public Education’s efforts to monitor how large school districts responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some key themes emerge from our analysis:

  • At every turn, school systems were caught flat-footed and responses were hampered by the faulty assumption that a return to normal operations was just a few weeks or months around the corner. 
  • The pandemic took everyone by surprise in spring 2020. That summer was a chance to prepare, but districts largely assumed students would return to classrooms in the fall—until spiking cases foiled their plans.
  • This pattern repeated during the winter wave in late 2020 and subsequent surges of the Delta and Omicron variants in the following months, which complicated efforts to reopen schools and prompted new closures and lengthy quarantine periods in large urban districts.
  • Districts that tried to require masks or vaccines found themselves in battles with states that sought to forbid these measures—fueling uncertainty around health precautions. For example, San Antonio fought the state over a vaccine requirement, while multiple Florida districts fought the state on masks.
  • Other states, especially in the West and Northeast, sought to require vaccinations of teachers and students—though in some cases they were forced to delay enforcement of these requirements.
  • Districts found that staffing shortages – often across multiple departments and roles – impacted their ability to staff classrooms and even get students to school. Teachers and students in some cities staged student sickouts and protests. Chronic absenteeism and enrollment declines are now forcing some districts to consider closing schools while also feeling pressure to incentivize staff to stay.
  • Operational stress and political turmoil drove high-profile leadership turnovers and superintendent departures in nine of the country’s largest 10 school districts since school closures began in February 2020.

View the data

CRPE’s databases provide details about pandemic-related decisions and plans for 100 large and urban districts serving nearly 10 million students. Analysts collected publicly available data from district websites, board meeting records, and media reports on a weekly to biweekly basis, from March 2020 to September 2022. The sample varied over time but focused on large and urban school systems. It is not a representative sample; the school systems represented here skew larger and more urban than the nation’s as a whole.

CRPE evolved the topics and locations studied as the pandemic progressed in order to capture new and timely learnings. Data tracking evolved over time from immediate considerations (such as continuity of learning and technology access) to systemic conditions impacting students and families (such as school reopening, remote learning, health and safety policies, learning and socio emotional recovery, and ESSER spending strategies).

Our data are available for download, by year, below.

2019-20

School year 2019-20 database

2020-21

School year 2020-21 database

2021-22

School year 2021-22 database

2022-23

School year 2022-23 database

Learn from our analyses

Review CRPE’s in-depth analysis of district and state responses to the pandemic.

Restoring public education post-COVID
This September won’t be the last time districts aren’t sure how to provide instruction. Next January, or March, or even next September could be at…

Related projects

CRPE’s responsive data tracking work built upon and informed other CRPE projects. Explore related work:

The State of the American Student collects and synthesizes data over the course of the pandemic, cataloging the impact of systemic failures in public education’s response to Covid-19. It begins to chart a path to recovery and restitution for all students including a call to action for states and localities to define what recovery looks like and ensure an educational crisis of this magnitude cannot happen again.

The Evidence Project brings together researchers from around the country in order to narrow the gap between research and policy, offering a one-stop shop for evidence on teaching and learning, school, finance, and more.

The Canopy Project is designed to share knowledge sourced from hundreds of organizations about schools innovating during the pandemic. The project is a collaborative effort to surface a diverse set of innovative learning environments and document the designs they are implementing.

Think Forward: New England offers an in-depth look at post-pandemic recovery in New England high schools. CRPE’s research is designed to reveal whether and how federal dollars are being directed toward supporting a better adolescent experience, how high schools are innovating and adapting to advance equity, and the choices students are making about their futures after high school.

For promising ways districts and states are spending their federal dollars to support recovery and reimagining, visit the EduRecoveryHub, co-sponsored by CRPE, the Collaborative for Student Success, and the Edunomics Lab.

For big ideas about how to move to a more joyful, equitable, and resilient education system, see CRPE.org and in particular, our 25th anniversary series, Thinking Forward.