Over 730 Christian schools participated in ACSI’s third nationwide survey of Christian schools’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Findings showed that the vast majority of Christian schools reopened in-person this fall and did so safely and comprehensively. The report, which can be accessed here, shares survey data on enrollment trends, COVID disruption, distance-learning planning and discounts, COVID modifications to sports and other activities, special education and student support, and faculty well-being.
Close to 90% of Christian schools opened with in-person instruction for the 2020-2021 academic year, with two-thirds of schools also offering distance learning in addition to in-person instruction, whether as an option for school families or as part of a blended learning approach. Just 4% of schools continued to have their physical campuses closed, with only distance learning being offered. When compared with data from the July 2020 survey, these numbers remained within a margin of 2.5 percentage points, which suggests that most schools implemented their reopening plans as designed.
Importantly, the survey’s findings suggest that schools’ reopening plans were implemented with safety foremost in mind, with input from local health departments, state guidance, and advice of medical personnel ranking as the highest influences on school decision-making. This was reflected in schools’ widespread use of a range of COVID modifications in the areas of health and safety, scheduling and student cohorts, expanded cleaning, space usage, and student activities, with over two-thirds reporting zero to minimal disruption from the spread of coronavirus in their school community.
Data from the survey also shows that a majority of schools will keep current practices in place into the spring, both in terms of instructional format (on campus, blended, and/or distance learning) and COVID-related modifications made for scheduling, space usage, and health and safety. This pattern suggests that for the most part, schools’ reopening plans have been sufficiently suited to operating within the COVID context.
In terms of enrollment trends, close to half of schools reported increases (33.8% of schools) or steady enrollment (14.5% of schools) from the previous year. For the remaining half that experienced enrollment losses, the most frequent percentage range reported was between a 5 and 10% loss.
Additional data provided a more thorough picture of Christian school enrollment trends. Over 80% of schools reported gaining students they might not have if it wasn’t for COVID, and over a third of schools reported enrollment increases between the start of school in the fall and mid-November. Schools that reopened exclusively or primarily on campus and increased support for special education students grew their enrollments by 9.9% on average. These findings, when coupled with qualitative data collected through the survey, suggest that this uptick in new student enrollment at Christian schools is due to families’ dissatisfaction with the distance learning or limited on-campus instruction offered by other area schools.
Top Concern: Teacher Well-Being
The pressing need for schools to care well for teachers and staff, students, families, and the school community during this academic year was evident in several findings of the survey. Out of all challenges posed by COVID, overwork for teachers and staff caused the greatest concern for respondents (reported by 77% as extremely or very concerning). Presumably in response to this concern, close to 80% of schools reported that they are supporting teacher well-being through various ways this year. Qualitative data revealed a number of efforts undertaken by schools to support employee well-being, such as additional staffing, increased HR and wellness benefits, referral to or partnership with outside resources, changes to the school calendar to allow for additional planning or rest, and professional development and group support.
The survey found that many school leaders are already thinking beyond this school year to consider post-COVID plans. For example, of those schools with distance-learning options currently in place, 44% plan to either keep those options (29.6%) or expand them in some way (14.6%) beyond the pandemic. The question of what to do with existing distance-learning options is just one of many facing schools, however. Although the tyranny of the COVID-urgent will continue to occupy school leaders and their teams in the spring, it is essential to begin not just looking ahead, but also learning ahead, to the post-COVID future. To this end, the report suggests that schools should engage in reflection and strategic dialogue with their constituents this year, with the goal of learning from their experiences and prioritizing ongoing innovation and nimbleness with the school’s learning, operational, and financial models to improve missional sustainability into the future.
For more information, and to download the survey report, visit here. A wide range of helpful COVID-19-related resources can also be accessed by visiting ACSI.org and clicking on the COVID-19 tab at the top.
About the Authors
Dr. Lynn Swaner is the chief strategy and innovation officer at ACSI, where she leads initiatives and develops strategies to address compelling questions and challenges facing Christian education. Prior to joining ACSI she served as a Christian school administrator and a graduate professor of education. Dr. Swaner serves as a Cardus Senior Fellow and is the lead editor of the books MindShift: Catalyzing Change in Christian Education and PIVOT: New Directions for Christian Education, co-author of Bring It to Life: Christian Education and the Transformative Power of Service-Learning, and editor of the ACSI blog. She received her EdD from Teachers College, Columbia University, in New York City. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @LynnSwaner1.
Matthew Lee is an intern with Thought Leadership and Research at ACSI and a graduate student in education policy at the University of Arkansas. He is co-editor of the book Religious Liberty and Education: A Case Study of Yeshivas vs. New York. He can be reached via email at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @hmatthewlee.