School & District Management Data

For the First Time in the Pandemic, a Majority of 4th Graders Learn in Person Full Time

By Sarah D. Sparks — June 10, 2021 3 min read
Student with backpack.

For the first time since the pandemic began, the majority of 4th graders nationwide have finally made it back to classes in person full time, according to the latest federal data. But there are still big racial and socioeconomic differences in who has access to full-time in-person instruction.

In the fourth of five monthly federal surveys this spring, tracking how schools have been reopening and instructing students during the pandemic, the National Center for Education Statistics finds that by April, nearly all K-8 schools offered at least some in-person instruction, and 56 percent of them provided full-time instruction on campus.

“Today’s data reaffirms what we’ve been seeing and hearing for months—that we’ve met and exceeded President Biden’s goal of reopening the majority of K-8 schools, and that as a nation we continue to make significant progress in reopening as many schools as possible before the summer,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona in a statement on the data.

This spring and summer, NCES surveyed staff from a nationally representative sample of 2,200 schools with a 4th grade and 2,100 schools including 8th grade.

But there’s a difference between schools’ offerings and students’ access, because smaller and rural schools have been quicker to move back to full in-person instruction. Nearly three-quarters of 4th graders and 65 percent of 8th graders get at least some in-person instruction, but only 51 percent of 4th graders and 40 percent of 8th graders attend in-person full time.

Moreover, white students have been much quicker to move back to in-person schooling: only 14 percent of white students are still fully remote; for Black students, that’s 38 percent, and 30 percent for Hispanic students.

Some advocates have argued that parents—and particularly parents of racial and gender minority students—should have the option to keep their students in remote-only instruction, to avoid harassment and bias the students previously have experienced on campus. For example, a new report by the Los Angeles-based group Speak Up United Parents noted that while more than 80 percent of Black parents in the Los Angeles Unified school district said they chose to keep their students home after the schools reopened in April, more than 40 percent also said they were worried their students would face bullying and racism.

Adult vaccination also has been a major influencer of when students fully return to campus, and while most states have prioritized teachers for receiving the protection, NCES found slow progress in the numbers of teachers who have received at least one dose. The majority of administrators participating in the survey didn’t know the vaccine status of their staff.

For those who did know their teachers’ vaccination status, in April, 34 percent of schools including 4th grade and 35 percent of schools including 8th grade had at least 60 percent of their teachers who had been at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19. That’s a 4 percentage point improvement in schools with 4th grades and a 2 percentage point gain in those with 8th grades from the prior month.

Private independent schools had the lowest percentages of vaccinated teachers, but private Catholic schools were split; 57 percent had less than 20 percent of teachers at least partially vaccinated, but another third had at least 60 percent of staff immunized from the coronavirus.

It’s expected that districts will be moving to prepare schools for a return to full in-person instruction, as at least nine states have said they will require the format for the 2021-22 school year. As of June 8, Education Week’s state tracker has found that at least 14 states now require full or part-time in-person instruction for at least some grades.

The last of the scheduled federal survey results, covering May, are expected to be released July 8.

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