By March, a year after the pandemic first shuttered schools nationwide, a majority of 4th and 8th graders had made it back into the classroom at least part-time. But students of color still were more likely than white students to rely entirely on remote learning.
In the third of five monthly federal surveys being conducted this spring and summer, the National Center for Education Statistics surveyed staff from a nationally representative sample of 2,200 schools with a 4th grade and 2,100 schools including 8th grade. Researchers looked at how schools were reopening and instructing students as of March.
NCES found 44 percent of 4th graders attended in-person class full time by March, and another 21 percent attended hybrid classes online and in-person. That’s an increase of 10 percentage points in the total number of students attending school in person at least part time since January. Likewise, a third of 8th graders have returned to campus full time and another quarter attend hybrid classes, a 10 percentage point increase since January. Still, only about 20 percent of 4th and 8th graders in hybrid schools attend in person more than three days a week.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said the survey “reaffirms that we reached President Biden’s goal of reopening the majority of K-8 schools ahead of schedule,” as 54 percent of the schools surveyed had reopened in person, full time, and 88 percent were offering either hybrid or full-time, in-person instruction by March.
The federal data bolster other surveys finding schools moving to reopen live instruction as more teachers become fully vaccinated and states begin to lift pandemic restrictions. As of April 26, Education Week has found at least 14 states now require all students to have access to full- or part-time in-person instruction and a half-dozen states plan to require full-time in-person instruction in the 2021-22 school year.
NCES also found that as of March, 30 percent of schools including 4th grade and a third of schools including 8th grade had at least 60 percent of their teachers who had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Catholic and independent private schools had the lowest percentages of vaccinated teachers.
Equity gaps are closing slowly
More students of all grade levels, racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, and academic needs were coming back into the classroom, the data show, but big opportunity gaps remained, particularly for some high-need students and communities of color that have already been hardest hit by COVID-19.
Fewer than 1 in 4 white students in either 4th or 8th grades attended school only from home, less than half the rate of Black or Hispanic students and closer to a third that of Asian students. While those gaps have closed somewhat as more Black and Hispanic students move into hybrid and in-person classes, the gap between white and Asian students widened by a percentage point, as white students returned to in-person instruction full time faster than Asian students did.
Remote learning still meant a significantly different instructional experience for students in March, NCES finds. Less than a third of 4th grade students and 39 percent of 8th grade students in remote classes in March received at least five hours of live, synchronous instruction from a teacher. Moreover, 27 percent of 4th graders and 21 percent of 8th graders received two hours of live teaching or less. That’s no different from January for 4th graders and only a 5 percentage point improvement for 8th graders in the number of students receiving very little live remote instruction. Teachers have already reported more difficulty getting students—particularly students with disabilities and other academic needs—to engage and turn in assignments regularly in remote classes.
Mark Schneider, the director of the Institute of Education Sciences, the Education Department’s research agency, said in a statement that the data “provides evidence that we have a long road ahead to recovering from the educational disruption students experienced over the last year.”