Bruce Murphy
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State Ranks Higher in Virtual Classrooms

Students of color most likely to get virtual instruction. Racial gap 14th highest in Wisconsin.

By - Jul 6th, 2021 11:32 am
Laptop. (CC0 Public Domain).

Laptop. (CC0 Public Domain).

A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds there were racial and geographic gaps in terms of which K-12 students were taught virtually during the COIVID-19 pandemic—with non-Hispanic white kids more often the ones attending a brick-and-mortar school full-time in most states.

From last September through April, students in the South generally had greater access to full-time, in-person learning than those in other regions of the U.S., the study found, with 62.5% of students attending in-person classes during the most recent school year. That compares to 27.1% in the Midwest, 21.8% in the West and just just 16.2% in the Northeast.

In Wisconsin just 25.5% of students had access to in-person instruction. That was lower than all but 17 states.

These differences tend to reflect the fact that states differed in their rules on social distancing to combat the pandemic, with southern and Rocky Mountain states far less likely to institute such policies. Thus Hawaii ranked the lowest, with an average of 1.3% of students getting in-person instruction, compared to 100% of students in Wyoming and Montana and 98.4% of those in Florida.

The study also found a significant racial difference in the percent of students getting full-time, in-person instruction: nationally an average of 75% of non-Hispanic white students were getting in-person instruction as of April versus 63% of Black students and 59% of Hispanic students. In 43 states, access to in-person learning was higher for non-Hispanic white students compared to those of color.

The highest racial disparities were in Ohio and Pennsylvania, where on average, students of color were 21% and 23% less likely to have access to in-person instruction. In Wisconsin students of color were 12.9% less likely to receive full-time, in-person instruction. That was a bigger gap then all but 13 states in the nation.

This, too, may largely reflect different approaches to social distancing. Urban areas like Milwaukee, with high percentages of minority students, were often more careful to restrict social distancing, given statistics showing a higher incidence of COVID-19 among Black and Hispanic families, and were slower to return to in-person instruction.  

“During January–April 2021, access to full-time in-person learning for non-Hispanic White students increased by 36.6 percentage points, 31.1 percentage points for non-Hispanic Black studentsz” and “22.0 percentage points for Hispanic students,” the study found.

The gap between which students were learning virtually versus in classrooms could exacerbate some of the educational disparities that already exist in America, the report warned: “Growing evidence suggests virtual learning can be a challenge for many students, leading to learning losses for children and worsening mental health for children and parents.”  

“To increase equitable access to full-time in-person learning for the 2021–22 school year, school leaders should focus on providing safety-optimized in-person learning options across grade levels in all geographic areas. Vaccination and other efforts to reduce levels of community transmission should be intensified,” the study recommended.

The study’s lead author was Brown University economist Emily Oster, who became a hero and villain during the COVID-19 pandemic for her data analysis of the health threats to children and for arguing that schools should reopen. 

One thought on “Back in News: State Ranks Higher in Virtual Classrooms”

  1. sbaldwin001 says:

    The differences between school districts are so great that I doubt a general principle can be derived at this time from this data. It would be better to wait until the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction 2021/22 standardized test results are available.
    With this additional information we will be able to see which districts have fallen farthest behind so that measures can be put in place for them to catch-up. Personally, I would like to see incentives for lengthening the school year.

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