RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
OK, parents - more than a year into the pandemic, are your kids back to in-person classes, or are they still at a computer at your kitchen table? We haven't had a clear national picture of how the pandemic has disrupted students and their learning until now. This morning, the federal Department of Education released the first in a series of nationally representative school surveys, which are intended to fill in the blanks.
Anya Kamenetz from NPR's education team has been going through the data and joins us now. Hi, Anya.
ANYA KAMENETZ, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.
MARTIN: What struck you from this survey?
KAMENETZ: So as of January and early February of this year, we saw 3 out of 4 schools are offering some in-person learning with full time being more common than the hybrid or part-time schedules. However, what I noticed is that just under half of all students in the survey were still fully remote. And there are some really large differences by race and ethnicity here. So 7 out of 10 Asian fourth-graders are at home learning remotely full time, so were 58% of Black and 57% of Hispanic fourth-graders. But just 27% of all white students are at home full time, where almost half of all white students are full-time in person.
MARTIN: So the majority of elementary students of color are remote. Why? Why is that the case?
KAMENETZ: Well, some part of that may be family preference because some students choose to stay remote even when their school is offering in-person learning. It also may be partly driven by where students live. City schools in this survey, as well as schools in the West and Northeast, were less likely to offer full-time in-person classes versus rural schools and schools in the South and Midwest. I should add that there were several large city districts that declined to participate in this survey, although these are still nationally representative numbers. In any case, this remote learning gap is something to watch, Rachel, because there are lots of ongoing concerns about, you know, are students really doing the work? Are they really signing on? Do they even have computers and Wi-Fi?
MARTIN: And what is that curriculum, right? I mean, what did the data show about the quality of remote learning that schools are offering right now?
KAMENETZ: So it's very complicated. But as a way of getting at that, this pilot survey asked, about how many live hours of video instruction remote students are getting? And the majority of schools said they are offering more than three hours of live, real-time video teaching per day. On the other hand, 10% of eighth-graders and 5% of fourth-graders were getting no live instruction at all when learning remotely. So they might be working on paper packets or on software programs or even watching prerecorded videos, but no live contact on those days.
MARTIN: I know, Anya, you have been paying particular attention to how the pandemic and virtual learning has affected kids with disabilities. What did the survey say about that group?
KAMENETZ: Right. So we hear from many families of students with disabilities that their children have a hard time benefiting from virtual learning. They're not getting the services that they're supposed to get by law. More than 4 in 10 districts told the Department of Ed that they are giving students with disabilities priority for in-person instruction. Yet when you look at the numbers, they found about 4 in 10 of these students remain remote - so not a lot of evidence that they are being prioritized.
MARTIN: Just quickly, President Biden ordered this study be done right after he was sworn into office. Does that mean the Trump administration wasn't tracking the effects of the pandemic on learning?
KAMENETZ: Yeah, we actually have a - you know, we heard Betsy DeVos, the former education secretary, say she didn't think it was really their job to do so despite the push for school reopening in the last administration. With this data is going to come a potential attempt at accountability and trying to measure the student learning that may or may not have been done, as well as redress those gaps going forward.
MARTIN: NPR's education correspondent Anya Kamenetz, thanks.
KAMENETZ: Thank you.
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