Nearly 100% of Students Back to School Full Time and In Person | Education News

Ninety-nine percent of public school fourth- and eighth-grade students are learning in person, full-time, despite…

Ninety-nine percent of public school fourth- and eighth-grade students are learning in person, full-time, despite roughly one-third of schools offering remote learning to at least some students, according to the first batch of data released through a new Education Department portal.

The site, the School Pulse Panel, includes new data collected by the National Center for Educational Statistics, the research arm of the department’s Institute of Education Sciences, which aims to deliver more timely and standardized information about the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on K-12 schools in the U.S.

“These critical data expand our understanding of the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the operation of U.S. public schools and how schools have responded to the pandemic,” NCES Commissioner Peggy Carr said in a statement. “It is encouraging to see that almost all public school students have returned to classrooms for in-person instruction during this academic year.”

The top-line finding is not necessarily breaking news. For months now, both President Joe Biden and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona have been touting the fact that 99% of students are learning in-person, juxtaposing the positive statistic with a reminder that at the end of the last school year, 74% of fourth-graders and 67% of eighth-graders were enrolled full time and in person or in a hybrid model.

“Last Christmas, our children were at risk without a COVID-19 vaccine,” Biden said earlier this month. “This Christmas, we have safe and effective vaccines for children 5 and over, with 20 million children and counting now vaccinated. Last year, a majority of our schools were closed at Christmas time. Now, 99% of our schools are open.”

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But with its portal, the government will collect extensive data on issues concerning the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on students and staff – including reopening efforts, strategies to mitigate the spread of the virus, services offered for students and staff, and technology use – and it will be updated frequently.

“The School Pulse Panel provides a snapshot on critical issues, such as the instructional mode offered by schools; enrollment counts of students using various instructional modes; strategies to address pandemic-related learning needs; safe and healthy school mitigation strategies; special education services; use of technology; and information on staffing,” NCES Associate Commissioner Chris Chapman said in a statement. “These data are essential and will support our understanding of the pandemic’s impact on American students.”

Notably, the new data shows that 99% of fourth- and eighth-grade students are attending school full time and in person in schools where 25% or less of the students enrolled are races other than white, as well as for those in schools where 76% or more of the students enrolled are races other than white – a major improvement from last school year, when the majority of schools still operating remotely or on a hybrid schedule served mostly students of color and students from low-income families.

The new data also shows that, as of September, about 39% of public schools reported over three-quarters of their staff have been vaccinated – though 24% reported not knowing the percentage of their staff who have been vaccinated. Also as of September, three-quarters of public schools reported requiring or requesting students to stay home after a possible COVID-19 exposure.

When it comes to remote learning devices, the data show that public schools are continuing to provide devices and internet access to students, with almost 70% providing internet at home to those who need it and more than 90% providing devices to students who need them. And on the heels of Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issuing a rare warning about mounting mental health crises among adolescents, the new data shows that 42% of schools are hiring new staff to focus on students’ social, emotional and mental well-being, and 86% are encouraging staff to address students’ social, emotional and mental well-being.

Yet the good news in the Education Department’s new data portal that almost 100% of students are learning in person and full time is undercut by research published this week reinforcing significant learning loss that occurred over the last two school years, especially for Black and Hispanic students, for students with disabilities and those learning English and for students from low-income families.

According to a new analysis from McKinsey published Tuesday, students remain behind in both math and reading, and the gains made since the spring are uneven, with some students making up lost ground and others stalling out, further exacerbating decades-old achievement gaps.

For example, students in majority-Black schools remain five months behind where they typically are in both math and reading, the McKinsey analysis shows, while students in majority-white schools are now just two months behind where they typically are – meaning students in majority-Black schools are now 12 months behind their peers in majority-white schools, having started the pandemic nine months behind.

The findings are mirrored in new research from NWEA, an assessment company, that compares the test scores of 6 million public school students in grades three to eight from fall 2021 to students in the same grade in fall of 2019 – just prior to the onset of the pandemic. Those findings show evidence of significant levels of unfinished learning, particularly in math, with historically marginalized students and students in high-poverty schools disproportionately impacted, especially in the elementary grades.

Moreover, higher achievers made gains that were more consistent with projected growth, whereas lower-achieving students were more likely to fall short of growth projections – a concerning finding that also appeared in the most recent results from the National Assessment of Education Progress, which reported out such poor math and reading scores that Carr asked NCES researchers to go back and run the numbers again.

“This latest research highlights that while students are back in classrooms it does not mean that all is back to pre-pandemic normal even though there are early signs of some stabilization,” Chris Minnich, CEO of NWEA, says. “The ongoing impact continues to disrupt learning and, especially, hit our most vulnerable students.”

“It is critical – now more than ever – that we direct funding where it is needed most and determine the necessary interventions to improve student outcomes, particularly for those who have suffered the greatest disruptions,” he says.