The Impact of COVID-19 Policy on Education

Even Where Schools Open for In-Person Instruction, Students Stay Home

The permutations of K-12 instruction being delivered are many right now, and so are the choices families are making for the education of their students. By mid-March 2021 more than three-quarters of fourth- and eighth-grade students (76%) were being offered the chance to attend public schools open at least some of the time for face-to-face lessons. But just a fraction of those students attended in-person instruction. The remaining 24% of grade 4 and grade 8 students were in schools that were only online.

Those results came from a data collection program being run by the National Center for Education Statistics in the Institute of Education Services and shared through a public interactive dashboard. The data collection was developed in response to an executive order issued by President Biden in January, to "fully understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on students and educators, including data on the status of in-person learning." The survey is scheduled to collect data five times, once a month from February through June 2021. The current analysis represented a collection period that ran between Feb. 22 and Mar. 12, 2021 among a sample size of about 5,000 public schools -- between 40 and 70 schools per state.

According to the "Monthly School Survey Dashboard" maintained by IES, a greater share of fourth graders had the option of attending in-person than eighth-graders, 78% compared to 74%.

However, just 55% of all grade 4 students and 48% of grade 8 students attended class either in-person or in a hybrid model, which mixes in-person and remote instruction.

For students attending hybrid classes, the data suggested that few had access to in-person sessions every day of the week. Among fourth graders, 13% attended schools that were offering one to two days each week of in-person instruction, 3% averaged three days and 14% attended four to five days.

For eighth graders, a fifth (20%) showed up in schools with one to two days of instruction, 6% had access to three days of in-school instruction and 15% got four to five days.

For grade 4, the in-person model was more prevalent for White students (49%) versus Asian (15%), Black (28%) and Hispanic (33%) students. The hybrid model, which mixes in-person and remote instruction, follows a similar pattern. While 23% of White students have the opportunity to attend hybrid classes, the same is true for just 10% of Hispanic students, 14% of Black students and 16% of Asian students.

The gaps were large in grade 8 as well. According to the data, 37% of White students may attend in-person classes compared to 10% of Asian students, 19% of Black students and 21% of Hispanic students. For hybrid schools, 28% of White students can attend those versus 10% of Asian students, 13% of Hispanic students and 14% of Black students.

Students with specific needs were prioritized for in-person instruction by schools. The reporting for grade 4 found that students with disabilities received the highest priority (at 44% of schools), followed by English learners (28%), students without internet at home (27%) and those who were experiencing homelessness (23%). In grade 8, nearly half of schools (48%) prioritized students with disabilities, followed by those lacking internet at home (34%), English learners (33%) and those who were homeless (29%).

The same dashboard also offered a look at the amount of "live" instruction for students delivered via online means each day. For fourth graders, a small fraction -- 7% -- received none at all. Another 21% had less than two hours daily. The remainder, 72%, had at least three hours. For eighth graders, 10% had access to no live instruction in their remote schooling, while 14% had less than two hours and the remainder had at least three hours each day.

The portrait of the status of education delivery isn't complete. Current numbers encompass just 74% of schools across the country. Several states -- Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, South Dakota, Utah and West Virginia -- declined to participate or didn't meet the participation rate; and many others -- Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas -- had "insufficient data" for inclusion.

Project organizers stated that the results of the new pilot survey would be available for analyzing with the results of the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), thereby providing additional background for understanding those testing results when they appear.

The dashboard is openly available on the IES website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.