New Analysis Shows That Large Districts Are Increasingly Open for...


New Analysis Shows That Large Districts Are Increasingly Open for In-Person Learning

Oct 22, 2020

Nearly half of the 50 largest school districts in the United States are now offering in-person learning to significant groups of students, and 11 more plan to reopen school buildings in the coming weeks, according to a new analysis from The Washington Post. This marks a major change from the first day of school, when nearly all large districts opened with remote learning only.

Post education reporters Laura Meckler and Valerie Strauss attribute the shift to a number of factors, including growing concerns of learning loss during remote learning, especially for vulnerable populations, and few proven instances of rapid spread of COVID-19 through school communities. In addition, some states, including Florida and Texas, have mandated in-person offerings.

Still, teachers and staff at other large districts have not seen enough evidence to convince them that it is safe to reopen in-person. Chicago Public Schools scrapped its plans to open for hybrid or fully in-person learning amid teachers’ unions’ concerns about safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Chicago now plans to allow some special education students and prekindergarten students to return to school buildings by the end of 2020.)

The growing shift to in-person learning comes at a time when about 40 U.S. states are seeing rising COVID-19 infection rates. Some schools have returned to or remained remote-only amid outbreaks and increasing case counts. That’s been true in New York City, where neighborhoods with high infection rates were ordered closed, and in Boston, which delayed a return to classrooms amid high COVID-19 positivity rates citywide.

But the Post analysis explains that remote-only learning and school closures are the exception, not the rule. To date, Texas and other states and locales that make reports of COVID-19 cases among students and school staff public have found small numbers of infections. A dashboard from researchers at Brown University report similarly low numbers. These early results have given confidence to district administrators who are balancing safety concerns with concerns over the learning and social-emotional deterioration of not providing in-person options to students.

The EdSurge/Social Context Labs database of 375 districts shows that districts of all sizes are following a similar trend as the large districts in the Post analysis. The EdSurge/Social Context Labs database has a more restrictive definition than the Post for fully in-person and hybrid learning. The database reports instances where those options are available as a choice for most students, rather than open to select qualifying students such as special needs students, English language learners, or homeless students.

Even so, 46% of districts in the database now report offering fully in-person learning. Another 38% of districts are offering hybrid learning. (Districts typically also offer a remote learning option.) Just over a quarter of districts are remote-only with no option for any type of in-person learning, down from 42% at the beginning of September.

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