Tuesday, 15 Jun 2021

The State of Schools as the Pandemic Wanes

Most classrooms are open as the school year comes to a close.

By Amelia Nierenberg and Kate Taylor

This is the Education Briefing, a weekly update on the most important news in American education. Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.

This week: After a year of remote learning and quarantines, most classrooms have finally reopened. And proms glittered in all their glory, though some restrictions applied.

The state of the school year

Most children in the U.S. began the 2020-21 school year on laptops or other devices at home. Now, nine months later, most children will mark the end of the year in school buildings.

The percentage of districts across the country that remain fully virtual is tiny, roughly 1 percent, according to this tracker from the American Enterprise Institute. Still, many students finished the year (or will soon) spending at least part of the week online. According to the same tracker, only 54 percent of districts currently give students in all grades the option of full-time, in-person instruction.

The technology company Burbio has been running its own school tracker. It monitors 1,200 districts, including the 200 largest. Its data says that in general, conservative-leaning states reopened schools faster than liberal-leaning ones. But Democratic areas had strong variation: The Northeast and the Midwest reopened a lot faster than the West Coast, which has the highest concentration of remote learners.

A substantial number of the nation’s students, though no longer a majority, remained virtual by their parents’ choice. According to federal data, as of March, 34 percent of fourth graders and 40 percent of eighth graders were learning virtually. (The federal survey did not ask about high school students, who are more likely to be in remote classes.)

White students were the least likely of any racial or ethnic group to be learning virtually; Asian American students were the most likely. (Our colleague Jack Healy explains why many of them are reluctant to return.)

Over a million students are still learning virtually just in the nation’s two largest districts, New York City and Los Angeles.

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