The US Department of Education has published the first in a series of school surveys designed to provide a national overview of learning during the pandemic. It turns out that the percentage of students who practically still go to school may be higher than previously thought.
Through January and early February of this year, 44% of elementary school students and 48% of middle school students in the survey remained completely remote. And the survey found huge differences by race: 69% of Asian, 58% of Black, and 57% of Hispanic fourth graders studied completely remotely, while only 27% of white students did.
Conversely, nearly half of white fourth graders studied full-time in person, compared with just 15% of Asian, 28% of black, and 33% of Hispanic fourth graders. The rest had hybrid schedules.
This inequality may be due in part to where students live. The survey found that urban schools are less likely than rural schools to offer full-time education. Full-time personal schooling dominated in the South and Midwest, but was far less common in the West and Northeast.
The racial and ethnic differences may also be partly due to families choosing to stay away even when face-to-face learning is offered. Three out of four districts across the country began offering face-to-face learning as of January, the report said that full-time face-to-face learning is more common than hybrid timetables.
Education created the survey in response to a Executive action signed by President Biden on his first full day in office. To get results quickly, the researchers used the existing infrastructure of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the testing program also known as “The Nation’s Report Card”.
More than a year after schools across the country first switched to virtual learning, this is the first attempt at federal data collection on the progress of school opening. Although the Trump administration pushed for the school to reopen, it made no such effort. “I’m not sure there is a role in the department in collecting and collating this research,” said former Education Minister Betsy DeVos said last october.
This survey includes a nationally representative sample of approximately 7,000 schools, half of which trained fourth graders and the other half trained eighth graders (these are grades that are included in the nation’s report card tests).
New results will be published monthly until at least July. The results are intended to provide context for the nation’s testimony in 2022 and for state testing that the Biden requires administration this year.
The survey is also intended to reveal inequalities. For example, among the other key findings: More than 4 in 10 districts said they give priority to students with disabilities for personal instruction. In practice, 39% of primary school students with disabilities stayed away compared to 44% overall. Many families of students with disabilities have said that their children only benefit to a limited extent from virtual learning.
Finally, this pilot survey asked how many hours of live video lessons students received while distance learning. The majority of schools stated that they offer more than three hours a day. But 10% of eighth graders and 5% of fourth graders don’t get any live lessons at all when studying remotely. You may be working on other activities such as homework kits or software, or viewing recorded lessons.
The response rate to this nationally representative survey varied across the country and was lowest in the northeast. Notably, 16 of the 27 major boroughs covered by the survey declined to participate.
Previously, NPR cited school reopening data provided by an organization called Burbio. Burbio searches the school district websites to see if the school is offered as a hybrid, full-time, or all-virtual school. Their data set – 1,200 school districts, which represent 35,000 schools and nearly half the US school population – is larger than that recorded in this federal survey.