4th and 8th Graders: Nationwide Pandemic Learning Disparities

Newly released data from the U.S. Department of Education highlights learning during the pandemic.  Revealing the percentages of students still attending schools virtually, the disparities may be greater than previously understood. In January and February of this year, 43% of elementary students and 48% of middle grades students remained fully remote.

The data, collected in this first installment of a series of school surveys intended to provide a national view of learning during the pandemic, showed large differences by race:

  • 68% of Asian
  • 58% of Black
  • 56% of Hispanic fourth graders, and
  • 28% of White students were learning entirely remotely.

Almost half of White students were learning in person full time, compared to Asian-15%, Black-28% and Hispanic-33% of fourth graders. The rest had hybrid schedules.

The disparities may be partly attributed to where they live. City schools are far less likely to offer full-time, in-person learning as compared to rural schools. Full time learning was dominant in the South and Mid-West.

little girl taking online classes

Three out of four districts around the country were offering some in-person learning in January, which was more common than hybrid schedules. In light of the pandemic’s impact on learning, former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, last October, said that there was no need to collect such data, which aligns with The Nation’s Report Card. The Biden administration is requiring the ‘Report Card’ in 2022. The data collected from the school surveys is intended to identify inequities, which is critical information during this swift transition to remote learning for children.

Other key data indicate that more than 4 in 10 districts said they were giving priority to students with special needs for in-person learning. However, 38% of students with disabilities remained remote, compared with 43% overall. At the same time, many parents of special needs learners are saying and have said that their children receive very little benefits from virtual learning. On a personal note, so many parents have reached out to me to tutor their child[or children] who were/are receiving remote instruction. Noteworthy is it that these learners are largely black and brown.

Before schools decided to offer hybrid or in-person learning to students, I had been advocating for the families I serve to petition their schools, and ask just that- their children are given priority status for classroom instruction. So Kudos to parents and the decision-makers who have been involved in the new design of learning platforms that are actually placing special needs learners at the fore. That demonstrates responsive planning of instruction. Now, let’s see schools and school districts become more relevant in content and context.

man in gray crew neck shirt studying and writing on white paper

This pilot survey, the first in a series, queried how many hours of live video instruction that students received remotely. The majority of schools reported that they offer more than 3 hours each day. But, 10% of eighth graders, and 5% of fourth graders get no live instruction at all remotely.  The work they may do include activities like homework packets, or watching pre-recorded lessons.

Out of 27 large urban school districts that were targeted in this survey, the response rate was lowest in the Northeast, and overall, 16 districts declined to participate. That information is noteworthy. We must ask why only 11 districts participated in this national survey. This was the perfect time to engage, because this survey can offer extremely critical information about our nation’s education system and our nation’s learners, as well. Moving forward, it is this type of data that helps to better plan instruction and give direction for the best, most effective ways to transform the system and the lives of our learners.

Probably one of the more critical sources of insightful information regarding inequalities and systemic inequity, this survey was designed to gather national characteristics of children, families and the system as a whole. This survey, nationally representative, is an opportunity for schools, districts and administrators to have their challenges recorded and recognized at the federal level.  This is an opportunity to highlight areas in which system-wide change can be implemented.

Funding streams, as in school budget allocation and programming changes, staffing needs and trends, and educator, family and student support services adjustments,  state learning standards can be better aligned and standardized more equitably and the curriculum can be made more inclusive with relevance for both the population and the world at large. We have work to do!

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