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Curriculum From Our Research Center

Fully In-Person Instruction Is Gaining Ground in Schools

By Catherine Gewertz — September 08, 2020 3 min read
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In the weeks leading up to the start of this school year, many districts have been abandoning plans to teach students in person because of the coronavirus. And thousands are indeed starting the year with remote-only instruction. But now there are signs that more districts are embracing the traditional model: 100 percent face-to-face instruction.

A survey conducted by the EdWeek Research Center on Aug. 26-28 found that while only a small slice of districts plan to conduct all of their instruction in person, their ranks are growing. Our nationally representative online survey of 826 K-12 educators included 415 teachers, 149 principals, and 262 district-level administrators.

When we asked the district leaders to describe their reopening plans, 13 percent said they’d use 100 percent face-to-face instruction. That’s up from 9 percent the last time we administered the survey, on July 23.

Make no mistake: The picture is hardly one of an overwhelming rush to in-person learning. In the five weeks between the two surveys, the biggest shifts were in the direction of remote instruction and hybrid formats, which blend remote and face-to-face teaching. And EdWeek’s own database of districts’ reopening plans shows that as of Sept. 2, 73 percent of the 100 biggest districts in the country plan to reopen in all-remote mode.

But the edging-upward in the traditional, 100 percent face-to-face model is worth noting, given all the simultaneous movement in the opposite direction in recent weeks.

Another portion of the EdWeek Research Center’s survey also points to an increasing embrace of all-in-person instruction: Support for face-to-face learning is rising among teachers, principals, and district leaders.

In the July 23 survey, less than half of those educators favored a return to full-time, in-person instruction. By Aug. 28, that number had risen to 61 percent. (Teachers are the least supportive, but even among that group, 54 percent said they favor full-time in-person instruction. Sixty-nine percent of principals and 71 percent of district leaders expressed support for the idea.)

Watching Virus Infection Rates

The Mifflinburg school district in Pennsylvania illustrates one way the shift to in-person instruction can happen: when local virus metrics become friendlier to welcoming students back into campus buildings.

After planning for a hybrid model, the district’s board decided Sept. 1 that it would open with face-to-face instruction for all students on Sept. 8 because local coronavirus case numbers have declined, according to local media reports.

Mifflinburg’s most recent plan is the third in five weeks, reflecting the constantly changing landscape schools are dealing with as they plan for reopening.

In a vote July 28, the board decided to let parents opt for full-time face-to-face or fully remote instruction. But in a letter to parents Aug. 14, Superintendent Daniel R. Lichtel said the state departments of health and education were advising districts in their county to consider remote learning options because of rising COVID-19 cases.

On Aug. 25, the school board voted to offer the choice of in-person instruction only to elementary-age students. Those in grade 6 and above would attend school on some days, and learn from home on others.

By Sept. 1, however, case numbers warranted a shift in the county’s risk designation from “substantial” to “moderate,” allowing Mifflinburg to reopen fully for in-person teaching.

Photo: Students returning to West Jefferson High School in Harvey, La., keep a distance from each other as they walk into school Aug. 31 for in-class learning during the coronavirus pandemic. —Chris Granger/The Advocate via AP

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.