School Closures and the Pre-Pandemic Digital Divide

School Closures and the Pre-Pandemic Digital Divide

Aug 12, 2021

Explore student outcomes before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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This dashboard provides multiple interactive explorations of the impact of COVID-19 on school closures as well as the digital divide faced by students and their families.

  • Pre-Pandemic: This dashboard examines the length of school closures due to COVID-19, by county, and other factors that might affect how school closures impact students.
  • May 2020: This dashboard explores disparities in the adoption of online learning and learning loss, by state, alongside other factors related to technology access in May 2020.
  • September 2020: This dashboard examines school responses to a new academic year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic in September 2020. Measures of online learning and learning loss, by state, are juxtaposed with measures of technology access.


There was significant variation across the nation in the proportion of the 2019-2020 school year that was affected by school closures due to COVID-19; the number of instruction days between when school closures began and when the 2019-2020 school year was originally planned to end. Similar challenges have persisted into the 2020-2021 school year as schools continue to reckon with difficult decisions around in-person and distance learning. The extent to which school closures and shifts to distance learning lead to learning losses that exacerbate achievement gaps will depend on disparities in the resources for learning available to different groups of students.

Disparities in technology used for distance learning

Most schools have tried to provide some form of distance learning, but access to this learning is not equal across and within districts. Rates of internet access and computer ownership are particularly low among households with low income levels and communities with low rates of access to broadband internet. Indeed, many disadvantaged families own smartphones but do not own a laptop or desktop computer more suitable for schoolwork. Families without computers or broadband internet face challenges to effectively engaging with distance learning. This may intensify achievement gaps among economically disadvantaged students, as these students are more likely to belong to households without these technologies.

Data Sources

COVID-19 school closure dates

District-level sources

District-level information on when schools closed is used where available.

  • The EdSource compilation of district closure dates in California includes public school districts closed as of April 27, 2020.

    Johnson, S. (2020, April 27). "List of California K-12 districts closed for in-person instruction due to coronavirus." EdSource. Retrieved from

  • Nebraska Department of Education data, shared directly, includes district-level dates on school closures and end of instruction for SY 2019-2020.
  • The CRPE database on school district responses to COVID-19 includes data on over 100 districts, including the 30 largest districts in the country, members of the Council of the Great City Schools, and smaller districts that participate in CRPE’s rural studies.

    Center on Reinventing Public Education, University of Washington (2020). School District Responses to COVID-19 Closures Database. Retrieved from


State-mandated school closure dates

For counties where district- or county-level information was not available, the dashboard uses the date schools were officially closed statewide. This data was collected from the Boston University COVID-19 US State policy database.

Raifman J., Nocka K., Jones D., Bor J., Lipson S., Jay J., and Chan P. (2020). "COVID-19 US state policy database." Retrieved from


SY 2019-2020 instruction end dates

To estimate the number of instruction days affected by school closures, we collected information from various sources on when the school year was set to end before the pandemic. The number of instruction days are calculated as the number of weekdays between (and inclusive of) the closure and instruction end dates, less 5 days assumed for spring break and any school holidays that fell between those dates (e.g., Memorial Day). Percentages of the school year are then calculated assuming a total of 180 instruction days. County-level estimates are averages of district-level estimates, weighted by the number of students enrolled according to the most recent Common Core of Data (CCD) records.

State department of education databases

When possible, the dashboard uses data maintained by the state on instruction beginning and end dates at the school or district level.

Direct contact with state department of education staff

For states that did not provide publicly available data on instruction dates, this information was requested by email.

State and district education websites

When data were not publicly available, information was collected from state department of education websites, public websites with searchable information on school calendars. For states where this did not provide information, websites for the largest districts in the state were used.

Student information

Student enrollment and characteristics

Data on the number of students and student race, ethnicity, and eligibility for free or reduced-price lunches come from the most recent CCD enrollment data. This school data is aggregated to the county level as sums for numeric counts and enrollment-weighted means for school-level percentages. Schools indicated as closed, adult education, or vocational training centers were not included, nor were schools with missing data or zeroes for total enrollment.

U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (SY 2017-18). Retrieved from


Student achievement levels and gaps

Data on achievement levels and gaps come from the Stanford Education Data Archive (SEDA). County-level estimates of composite math and ELA achievement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) account for differences by subject, grade, and cohort.

Reardon, S. F., Ho, A. D., Shear, B. R., Fahle, E. M., Kalogrides, D., Jang, H., and Chavez, B. (2019). Stanford Education Data Archive (Version 3.0). Retrieved from


Household demographics, access to technology

Data on the percentage of households with broadband internet and a desktop or laptop in the home come from the 2018 American Community Survey 5-year estimates.

U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey (ACS) 2014-2018 5-year estimates, Tables B28001, B28002. Retrieved from


Student household, learning loss and technology usage

Data on May 2020 and September 2020 student home learning patterns, class cancellations, and availability of technology come from the Household Pulse Survey Phase 1 and Phase 2 data tables.

U.S. Census Bureau, Household Pulse Survey (2020), Phase 1 and Phase 2 Data Tables. Retrieved from