Remote Learning

Time Spent in Virtual Schooling Probably Didn't Meet State Thresholds

How much virtual schooling happened during the early months of the pandemic? Less than what the laws in at least half of states say students should be getting. That's what the Education Commission of States found when it analyzed data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau in a "household pulse survey." The Commission helps develop education policies across state lines and shares resources and expertise among states.

From Jun. 4 to Jun. 9, the survey asked people how much time their children had spent in the previous week on learning activities, along with questions about access to computers and the internet.

The survey found that adults spent about eight hours on all teaching activities with their school-age children during the prior week. Children spent 7.9 hours that week learning on their own and an additional 3.4 hours in direct contact with teachers. In other words, students typically dedicated fewer than 20 hours a week on any learning activities. As Commission researcher Claus von Zastrow pointed out in an article summarizing the findings, that falls below the minimum number of instructional hours required in at least 25 states.

At the national level, he added, "there weren't many consistent differences by race, ethnicity or income." However, people in households with incomes $200,000 and higher did appear to show some big variations. There, the adults reported spending longer teaching activities with their kids (9.2 hours), the students had more contact with teachers (4.6 hours), and the children spent more time (10.3 hours) in their own learning activities.

While 90 percent of households told the surveyors that the internet "was always or usually available to children for educational purposes," big gaps surfaced by race, ethnicity, household income and access to food.

While nine in 10 people in households earning $150,000 said their children always had access, just 50 percent of those in households earning less than $35,000 said the same. And there was a 10-point difference between White and Asian households and Black and Latinx household reporting constant access (75 percent versus 65 percent).

For households that said they "often" don't have enough to eat, just 40 percent said they always had access to the internet and 37 percent said they always had access to devices. The survey found that four percent of households didn't pay for internet access; they received it from school districts or other outside sources.

Von Zastrow recommended that government and industry step in "to extend or even intensify efforts to provide free or subsidized internet and devices to those who need them most." And states and school districts should be prepared, he added, to place students with the least amount of access to learning resources during the shift to online learning at the front of the line for "face-to-face summer school or after-school programs, when they become available."

The report, as well as interactive data tables and links to the survey results, are openly available on the Commission's website.

About the Author

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