School & District Management

Are Schools Ready to Reopen Full-Time This Fall? Federal Data Show Spotty Progress

By Sarah D. Sparks — July 08, 2021 4 min read
Student attending class from a remote location.

Clarification: An earlier version of this story did not note that statistics on teacher vaccination status are only available for schools that reported data.

While nearly all schools had moved to offer at least some in-person instruction this spring, new federal data suggest some schools were significantly farther along than others in getting all students back on campus full time.

In the last of five monthly federal surveys conducted this spring and summer, the National Center for Education Statistics found close to three-quarters of the nation’s 4th and 8th grade students were receiving at least some in-person instruction by the end of the year, with 52 percent of 4th graders and 46 percent of 8th graders attending in person five days a week.

On closer inspection, however, the data show that only white students had a majority attending full-time, in-person in both primary and middle schools. For the most part students of color still attended school partly or fully remote, with limited live interactions with teachers—particularly in schools in towns and smaller rural communities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have warned that racial gaps in access to in-person learning have in some cases even widened this spring, particularly for older students.

Asian-American students remained the group least likely to return to in-person instruction of any kind, with more than half still learning entirely online and little more than 1 in 4 on campus five days a week when the school year drew to a close. Experts have noted higher concern from Asian-American parents about the safety of returning their students to school, both in the risk of exposure to the coronavirus and from potential bullying and hate crimes against Asian-American students, which spiked in the months after the pandemic began in Wuhan, China.

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona expressed confidence that schools will all be on the same page by the end of summer.

“It remains my expectation that in the upcoming academic year, all schools will offer full-time, in-person learning opportunities five days a week to every student. Today’s data shows that this goal is more than within reach—as long as schools continue to take key prevention and mitigation precautions as we recover and reemerge from the coronavirus pandemic,” Cardona said in a statement on the results.

“Educators and school leaders across the country are already proving that students can safely learn and thrive inside their classrooms, and that as a nation, we can provide the social, emotional, academic, and mental health supports to deliver on the promise of an excellent and equitable education for every child,” he said.

Campus safety from outbreaks are still a concern

By the end of May, more than half of primary and elementary students attended schools that did not know the vaccination status of their teachers, and only about 1 in 5 of the remaining students attended a primary or middle school where all or nearly all of their teachers had received at least one dose of vaccine to protect against SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Most of the vaccines require two doses, set a month apart, followed by a two-week buffer period, so schools that got a late start may have difficulty ensuring all their staff are protected before reopening in-person classes this fall.

Vaccines for students younger than 12 are unlikely to be distributed before the start of school, and recent studies suggest immunizing all adults and older students and universal masking remain the most effective ways to prevent campus outbreaks, particularly as highly transmissible new strains of the coronavirus gain traction.

This was the final installment of NCES’s first pandemic-related school study, which surveyed staff from a nationally representative sample of 2,200 schools with a 4th grade and 2,100 schools including an 8th grade. Researchers looked at how schools were reopening and instructing students each month from January through May.

Chris Chapman, the statistics agency’s associate commissioner for sample surveys, announced that in August, it will launch a new, expanded study of school and district staff from 1,200 elementary, middle, and high schools. The IES School Pulse Panel will continue to track to what extent schools continue to use remote and hybrid instruction, as well as information on staffing, what mental health and special education supports schools provide, how they are helping students recover from learning loss, and the strategies they are using to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks as they reopen.

“The overall numbers from May are better than anyone could have reasonably expected when we launched this survey earlier this year,” said Mark Schneider, the director of the Institute of Education Sciences, the Education Department’s research agency, which oversees NCES. “Reopening schools and welcoming back students was the first step, but the hardest work is still to come. We must do all we can as a nation to ensure that all students, especially the most high-need students who have already borne the brunt of the coronavirus and its effects, recover from any learning losses.”

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Safe Return to Schools is Possible with Testing
We are edging closer to a nationwide return to in-person learning in the fall. However, vaccinations alone will not get us through this. Young children not being able to vaccinate, the spread of new and
Content provided by BD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
Meeting the Moment: Accelerating Equitable Recovery and Transformative Change
Educators are deciding how best to re-establish routines such as everyday attendance, rebuild the relationships for resilient school communities, and center teaching and learning to consciously prioritize protecting the health and overall well-being of students
Content provided by Campaign for Grade-Level Reading
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Addressing Learning Loss: What Schools Need to Accelerate Reading Instruction in K-3
When K-3 students return to classrooms this fall, there will be huge gaps in foundational reading skills. Does your school or district need a plan to address learning loss and accelerate student growth? In this
Content provided by PDX Reading

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Opinion COVID-19 Ripped Through Our Emotional Safety Net. Here’s How My District Responded
Three years after overhauling its approach to student mental health, one California district found itself facing a new crisis.
Jonathan Cooper
2 min read
A young man stands under a street light on a lonely road.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and Getty Images
School & District Management Opinion Students Need Better Connections. To Wi-Fi, Yes, But Also to Teachers
We have to fix our digital divide, but let’s not lose sight of the relationship divide, writes one superintendent.
Susan Enfield
2 min read
A teacher checks in on a remote student.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and Getty Images
School & District Management Opinion Superintendents Have Weathered a Lot of Vitriol This Year. What Have We Learned?
The pandemic turned district leaders into pioneers, writes one superintendent. We had to band together to make it through.
Matthew Montgomery
2 min read
A person walks from a vast empty space towards a team of people.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and Getty Images
School & District Management Opinion Critics Complain My District Doesn’t Really Need Relief Aid. If They Only Knew…
District expenditures have ballooned in the pandemic, but many critics expect the opposite. How can leaders set the record straight?
Theresa Rouse
2 min read
A business person convinces colleagues by presenting a plan.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and Getty Images