May 15, 2020

May 2020 Research Rundown

By Krista Kaput

Welcome to EdAllies’ May Research Rundown; our curated list of recent, relevant research we think is worth adding to the education equity conversation. This month, we are highlighting:   

  • Two new surveys that shed light on how educators and families think distance learning is going, and 
  • How principal approaches to student discipline actions impact student outcomes. 
1. EdWeek Survey of Teachers and District Leaders 

EdWeek Research Center, May 2020 

EdWeek’s nationally representative survey of teachers and district leaders provides good insight into how distance learning is going around the country. The survey found that teachers are spending less time teaching new, standards-aligned material, but that the degree of change varies quite a bit, with the potential to drive disparities in learning loss. In districts serving predominantly low-income families, 76% of teachers report teaching less new material, compared to 55% of teachers in districts serving few low-income families. 

The survey also found that teachers are spending less time on student instruction, with students spending about 3 hours per day learning.  Almost 60% of teachers indicated that student engagement has declined. Furthermore, access to devices and the internet remains a problem, particularly for schools that serve higher populations of low-income students. Only 44% of teachers in districts that serve predominantly low-income families reported that their schools offer 1-to-1 computing. 


Many of the trends from the survey hold true in Minnesota. To get a better understanding of how schools around the state are approaching distance learning, EdAllies analyzed the plans of 61 Minnesota districts and 30 charter schools, honing in on those with the largest low-income student populations. 

We found that only about a third of distance learning plans specified that students would be learning new content, and that approaches to internet and device access vary widely. Given predictions that distance learning could be part of the student experience into the coming year, it is critical that state policymakers and school leaders work to address gaps and build on best practices. This should include state investments in internet and device access, as well as a strong, equitable approach to spending federal CARES Act funds.
Check out the full survey

2. Understanding the Coronavirus Study  

USC Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research, April 2020 

The USC Center for Economic and Social Research conducts regular surveys to track key issues facing households across the nation. They recently fielded questions to understand how families with school-aged children are experiencing distance learning and found:  

  • Nearly a quarter of parents indicated that they are worried that their children will not be prepared for the upcoming academic year. This concern is more significant for students of color, and greatest among Latino parents, with 37% worrying about their child’s preparedness for school in the fall. 
  • 14% of families with a high school senior reported that their child has changed their postsecondary plans. 

There are also stark disparities in internet and device access. Families that make less than $25,000 are at least 24 percentage points less likely to have access to both a computer and the internet than families who make over $25,000. 


In a normal year, students can lose anywhere from two weeks to two months of academic growth due to summer learning loss. Learning loss related to COVID-19 school closures could be more drastic, with a research projecting a more significant impact on students in lower grades and on math outcomes. It’s vital that leaders start planning for how they will identify and address the learning loss that many of our students will have experienced.

As the legislature readies to adjourn by May 18, policymakers are considering a number of bills that would address student inequities in access to devices and the internet. And even though Minnesota students have been distance learning for well over a month and are set to continue through at least the remainder of the school year, many students—mostly from low-income and rural communities—still do not have access to reliable internet so they can fully engage in distance learning. The legislature must act and respond to the immediate needs of Minnesota’s students.
Read the full study

3. Getting Tough? The Effects of Discretionary Principal Discipline on Student Outcomes 

Annenberg Institute at Brown University, April 2020 

Researchers at RAND, Duke University, and the University at Albany-SUNY analyzed North Carolina’s disciplinary, education, and criminal justice records in order to understand the impact of principal-driven disciplinary decisions—the propensity to remove (PTR)—on middle school outcomes. Their analysis found that higher-PTR principals reduced minor disciplinary actions like being late for class, bus misbehavior, cutting class, and property damage. However, their analysis also found that these higher-PTR principals increased the likelihood of student removal by 7 percentage points, meaning they were much more likely to assign out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, or school transfers.  

Their analysis also found that this drives disengagement for students of color. In some schools, principals were more likely to remove a black student for the same offense as a white student—not surprisingly, these schools had significantly higher absenteeism and lower test scores and graduation rates for black and Latino students. For white students this was the complete opposite: their absenteeism was lower, and their test scores and graduation rates increased. The authors conclude that “principal discretion in assigning punishment can have serious consequences for students,  particularly if principals use that discretion to treat students differently based on the student’s race or ethnicity.” These findings are in alignment with recent research from Stanford which found a link between achievement gaps and exclusionary discipline practices. 


Minnesota’s history of disproportionately suspending and expelling students of color is well-documented, as are the egregious black-white achievement gaps. Local advocates have been calling for legislative action on school discipline for years; working to ensure all students, and particularly students of color and students with special needs, are not needlessly pushed out of the classroom. This research indicates that reforming discipline should remain a priority both for policymakers and practitioners.
Read the report

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