Students of color more likely to be learning virtually during pandemic: survey

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Students of color are more likely to be engaged in virtual learning this year as more schools reopen for in-person classes, according to data released Wednesday by the Department of Education. 

The survey, the first in the department’s series of national studies on learning during the coronavirus pandemic, measured attendance and method of instruction among fourth and eighth graders nationwide as of January into early February. 

At the time, about 68 percent of Asian students were only learning remotely, as well as 58 percent of Black students and 56 percent of Hispanic students. 

Comparatively, just 27 percent of white students were receiving all-virtual instruction. 

The data, collected by Education Department’s research and evaluation arm, the Institute of Education Sciences, indicated that about 23 percent of white students were learning in some sort of “hybrid” setting in which they were attending at least a portion of classes in person, with just 10 percent of Hispanic students, 14 percent of Black students and 16 percent of Asian students doing the same. 

While the survey released Wednesday did not specify whether enrollment in virtual versus in-person learning was due to available offerings or personal decisions by parents, the Education Department reported that among the schools surveyed, 77 percent were offering hybrid or full-time in-person learning as of January.

The report is the first major attempt at data collection since the coronavirus pandemic forced schools across the country to close amid lockdown orders and safety restrictions. 

The Education Department created the survey in response to one of President Biden’s first-day executive actions, with monthly findings expected through at least July. The reports are expected to determine the long-term impacts of the pandemic on learning, including identifying inequalities. 

The first report came the same day Education Secretary Miguel Cardona told NBC’s “Today” that he anticipates all U.S. schools will be able open for in-person learning by the fall. 

He added that he will first focus “on getting as many now in the spring.” 

“I think if we continue with mitigation strategies that we know work and we utilize the American Rescue Plan funding to put in those safeguards that are needed to provide safe environments for our students, we can really continue to make the progress that we’re making to get students [back in school] in the spring,” he said. 

However, the push to reopen schools has prompted concerns from teachers unions and minority groups. 

On Tuesday, the nation’s second-largest teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers, questioned the Biden administration’s decision to reduce the recommended distance between students in a classroom from 6 feet to 3 feet, saying that they were “not convinced that the evidence supports changing physical distancing requirements at this time.” 

Additionally, a Census Bureau report released Monday found that homeschooling, separate from virtual learning, doubled during the pandemic, with a significant increase measured among the Black community from 3.3 percent choosing homeschooling to 16.1 percent.

Tags Asian American biden administration Black students Coronavirus coronavirus pandemic Education Department Hispanic Institute of Education Sciences Joe Biden Miguel Cardona minority students NBC Remote learning TODAY virtual learning

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