This knowledge brief is part of a continuing series designed to inform California education leaders about new research findings on key state policy topics. It summarizes themes emerging from interviews conducted in June 2020 with California County Offices of Education leaders about pandemic-related issues and includes findings on that topic from national surveys of teachers and school leaders.

By Francesca Delgado-Jones, Elizabeth Burr, Eric W. Crane, and Ryan W. Lewis

To better understand the reopening planning process and other issues related to education during the pandemic, WestEd conducted telephone interviews with COE leaders from five different counties about how school closures due to COVID-19 impacted their work with districts and schools. All five interviewees had participated in WestEd’s Measure to Improve Network (MIN) during 2018 and 2019. These interviews were conducted in early June, before the July 17 mandate from the Governor’s Office that schools cannot reopen in person.

The five COE leaders who were interviewed for this brief represent different corners of the state: Tehama, Tulare, Orange, Napa, and Placer counties. These counties range in size, with Tehama and Napa having among the smallest enrollments in California, while Orange has the third largest enrollment. The counties also vary demographically: For example, only 21 percent of Placer’s enrollment is Hispanic or Latino, a mirror image of Tulare’s 78 percent. Across these counties, common themes emerged throughout the interviews around how COVID-19 has impacted COE work with schools and districts. Most notably, the school closures have changed how COEs and local educational agencies (LEAs) collaborate and communicate with each other, with their students and their families, and with service providers. Additionally, although school staff endeavor to make learning conditions more equitable for students, distance learning brought equity issues to the forefront, including students’ access to internet connectivity, technology devices, and supports for specific student populations.

To place these findings from California in a national context, the authors of this brief also analyzed data from RAND’s 2020 American Educator Panels, the American School Leader Panel (ASLP) and the American Teacher Panel (ATP) surveys. These surveys, conducted in May 2020, included a special section related to the pandemic. Although responses from California teachers cannot yet be isolated in these data, the ASLP and ATP results are among the first large-scale survey data releases to include responses to COVID-related questions, providing a glimpse into how school leaders and teachers in the United States are viewing the issues that WestEd researchers discussed with COE leaders.

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