As parents, teachers, and students learned the hard way this year, not many schools had a plan in place to guide them through an extended school closure. When COVID-19 emptied classrooms from coast to coast, it was—as one school official in Maine said—“literally like building a new educational system overnight.”

That's the main story, but not the whole story, from a RAND survey of school principals in the immediate aftermath of those COVID closures. Some districts, in fact, had thought through what an extended closure would look like, and how they would keep students engaged and learning at home. Principals in those districts were much more likely to say they expect no drop-off in student performance.

“Schools need to get serious about getting these plans and their technology infrastructure into place,” said Heather Schwartz, a senior policy researcher at RAND who focuses on pre-K to 12 educational systems. “During a disruption, what are you going to do? It could be a fire, it could be flooding, a hurricane, it could be influenza or some other type of pandemic. You can't just go buy 1,000 iPads and think you're done.”

She and other researchers at RAND had raised concerns in recent years about whether schools were prepared for the disruption of a long closure. When hurricanes swept through the Houston area in 2017, for example, they tracked more than 1,000 schools that had to close for ten or more days. Few offered any kind of distance learning.

Read the full article about how schools have adjusted to COVID-19 by Doug Irving at RAND Corporation.