Pandemic Parent Survey Finds Perverse Pattern: Students Are More Likely to Be Attending School in Person Where Covid Is Spreading More Rapidly

Michael B. Henderson, Paul E. Peterson and Martin R. West
Year of publication: 
January 19, 2021
Education Next

President-elect Joe Biden has made reopening a majority of K–8 schools for in-person instruction a priority for his administration’s first 100 days, with the goal of getting more American students safely back into the classroom. Yet neither information gathered so far by researchers, nor data reported by the federal government and the states, can say where the nation stands with respect to that goal. While various organizations have tracked school districts’ stated policies on reopening, those policies defy easy categorization and may not capture reality on the ground. Many districts and schools offer parents some choice about how their child is educated, making it even harder to gauge who is entering schools. Nearly halfway through the 2020–21 school year, we remain in the dark about how American schools have adapted amid the pandemic—and what American families are experiencing as a result.

We set out to close this gap. In November and December 2020, we surveyed a nationally representative sample of 2,155 American parents with children in kindergarten through 12th grade, including oversamples of parents who identify as Hispanic and parents who identify as Black. We also oversampled parents with children in private and charter schools, making it possible to compare their experiences with those making use of the traditional district sector. Each parent we surveyed answered questions about the schooling experiences of each of their children in kindergarten through 12th grade, including 3,762 children in total. We also asked them a set of questions about schools and school policies in the United States in order to see if those experiences have altered parents’ views.

Our data reveal that more than half of U.S. students are receiving instruction entirely remotely this school year, while 28% of students receive instruction that is fully in person. Of the 19% of students in hybrid models, in-person instruction varies from one to five days a week.

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