An Open Letter on Establishing a School Pulse Survey for Assessing the Impacts of COVID-19 on the Nation’s Education Infrastructure

November 19, 2020 9:00 AM | Data Coalition Team (Administrator)

On November 18th, the Data Coalition sent the following letter to Congress urging them to establish a school pulse survey for assessing the impacts of COVID-19 on the Nation’s education infrastructure.

The .pdf version is available here.

November 18, 2020

RE: An Open Letter on Establishing a School Pulse Survey for COVID-19 Mitigation Behaviors

Delivered by Electronic Mail


Members of Congress – 

As COVID-19 caseloads surge around the United States to alarming levels, the effects on schools, parents, students, and educators will certainly be profound. Unfortunately, today there is little systematically-collected data available for research and analysis that can help policymakers and administrators understand real-time mitigation activities in schools across the country, and importantly, the impacts on students and educators. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting many gaps in our country’s data infrastructure, including for our entire educational system. The Data Coalition recently highlighted the challenges for our federal data collection and data management efforts that should be addressed to effectively respond to the global pandemic. Admittedly, we failed to identify one important issue: as our country’s educational institutions respond to the pandemic with varied approaches there is no comprehensive, timely mechanism for assessing the public health and other impacts of these efforts.  

When it comes to educating our nation’s children – our government institutions and educational community have an obligation to ensure relevant information is collected and analyzed to effectively and equitably enable learning for those who will be responsible for our country’s future.  

The U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) is one of the most qualified and respected institutions for presenting information about the state of education in the United States. But IES is unable to capture and present real-time information about schools across the country in responding to the pandemic, assessing learning losses, and gauging the adequacy of mitigation policies and behaviors. 

Despite the gaps at the Education Department in collecting information, we know anecdotally schools across the country are innovating, adjusting, and piloting new approaches that could improve learning for the next generation of students. How will our country, our parents, our school administrators, and our policymakers know what works best for responding to the pandemic?

In short, our country needs better evidence about the impacts of the pandemic on our educational institutions. The United States needs a School Pulse Survey, conducted monthly over the next year.

There are some existing and admirable efforts to gauge the impacts of COVID-19 on schools, students, and teachers around the country. For example, the Census Bureau’s weekly Household Pulse Survey, which provides some weekly insights at the household level, including based on questions about learning. The insights are unfortunately not useful at gauging school- or district-level impacts. Philanthropic and academic institutions have also stepped in to fill some gaps, though the scope of scale of existing projects continues to present challenges for developing comprehensive insights in real-time. 

Additionally, IES’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) provides a wealth of information about educational quality and learning across the U.S. The current data collection and analytical activities of NCES, however, take years to implement. The country cannot wait five years – over even one – to better understand the impacts of COVID-19 on our students. 

A School Pulse Survey can do both: gauge school and district level impacts in real time. This will rapidly fill in existing gaps in knowledge about activities in the country while existing data collection mechanisms continue unimpeded. We encourage Congress to appropriate or direct the Department of Education to allocate up to $5 million and at least 1 FTE to develop, manage, execute, and report an Education Pulse Survey with monthly waves during the coming school year.

A School Pulse Survey for school administrators should specifically gauge behavioral and mitigation behaviors applied for responding to the global COVID-19 pandemic, and also capture information relevant for assessing learning loss and other key outcomes or indicators of educational quality in the coming year. Such a survey could be designed to minimize burden on school administrators while also ensuring policymakers and key decision-makers have the information they need to ensure our educational institutions provide the quality of learning that our children deserve. 

Everyone in our country has suffered or been adversely impacted during the global pandemic. We need to build a rapid-cycle evidence capable of ensuring our children – and our future – benefit from innovations that are happening in the county. A national Education Pulse Survey must be part of the solution. 

It is one thing to say our children are our future. It is another to ensure we have the evidence to make that future both a possibility and a reality.  Our country’s students need us to make evidence-based policy choices informed by timely, accurate and relevant data.  The Data Coalition strongly urges the Congress and the Department of Education to act to rapidly build this evidence base. 

Thank you for your consideration of how to meaningfully deploy data in our country for effectively responding to the pandemic. We know you have many critical choices in coming weeks but hope prioritization of a new School Pulse Survey will be among those priorities. For immediate assistance, please contact me or the Data Coalition’s policy manager, Corinna Turbes ( 



–Nick Hart, Ph.D.

CEO, Data Coalition



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