Saturday, November 27, 2021

The state of schools as the pandemic decreases

This is the Education Briefing, a weekly update on the most important news in American education. Sign up here to receive this newsletter in your inbox.

This week: After a year of distance learning and quarantines, most classrooms are finally open again. And proms glitter in all their glory, though some restrictions applied.


Most children in the U.S. started the 2020-21 school year on laptops or other devices at home. Now, nine months later, most children will mark the end of the year in school buildings.

The percentage of districts across the country that remain fully virtual is, according to small persons, about 1 percent this tracker of the American Enterprise Institute. Yet many students have completed the year (or are about to leave) to spend at least part of the week online. According to the same tracker, only 54 percent of the districts currently give students in all grades the option to teach full-time, in-person.

The technology company Burbio is up and running his own school tracker. It monitors 1,200 districts, including the 200 largest. His data show that conservative countries in general reopen school faster as liberal-leaning. But the democratic areas have changed greatly: the Northeast and the Middle East have reopened much faster than the West Coast, which has the highest concentration of remote learners.

A significant number of students from the country, although they were no longer a majority, remained virtually according to their parents’ choice. According to federal dataAs of March, 34 percent of fourth and 40 percent of eighth-graders have virtually learned. (The federal survey did not ask for high school students who are more likely to go to remote classes.)

White students had the least chance of having any race or ethnic group learning virtually; Asian American students were the most likely. (Our colleague Jack Healy explains why many of them are reluctant to return.)

More than a million students still study virtually alone in the two largest districts in the country, New York City and Los Angeles.

Increasing vaccinations and falls make it likely that school will look normal in the fall. Many districts have promised to provide full-time, personalized training for all students. And several states and districts, including New York City, have said they plan to completely limit virtual options.

But in districts that still offer remote schooling, a large number of parents can still opt for the option. Similar to this year, the parents will likely be disproportionately black, Latino, Asian Americans, and poor.

In Arlington, Va., About 5 percent of families in general – but about 10 percent of black and Asian American families and 9 percent of the families of English-speaking learners – chose for virtual learning in the school year 2021-22. Three-quarters of them claimed that they had health and safety problems, or that they were waiting for their children to be vaccinated.

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As most students do better in school, as many experts believe, districts and officials have a lot of work to do to convince these parents that the school is safe.


In a beautiful article, our colleague Jill Cowan worked with photographer Maggie Shannon to capture unbridled joy at four high schools in California.

Some students wore custom masks, and schools required vaccination cards or coronavirus tests to enroll. But elderly people still danced in their rhinestone heels and three-piece suits, swapped crusts and curled their lashes.

“All high school rituals take on some kind of hindrance,” Jill told us. “There is always drama, there are always people who get stressed about what they look like. But everyone I talked to was just very happy there. ”

For Jill, who went with one of her best friends, prom was just a given. But many of these elderly people got the green light a few weeks ago.

“They came in after these very difficult years,” Jill said, “and they could really enjoy it because they know how it feels to have uncertainty about it.”

“It was so long ago that we were all together,” Komal Sandhu, a senior and her school’s student body president, told Jill. “To see how everyone was dressed was worth all the stress, all the late nights.”

Michelle Ibarra Simon, a senior in Southern California, has never been to the school dance. When her best friend insisted, she happily conceded. “Covid helped me see that I was making time fly by and slipping through my fingers every moment,” she told Jill. Prom, she added, “was probably one of the best moments of my life.”

We love listening to “Odessa,” a documentary series from four parts of our audio colleagues about a high school in the city of Texas, known for “Friday Night Lights.” Over the course of this year, our colleague Annie Brown worked with other members of The Daily to follow the march.

“It basically documented how our understanding of this year’s crisis has changed from a public health crisis to a mental health crisis,” Annie told us.

This Thursday, at 6 p.m., Eastern, Annie and two of the residents of Odessa speak to Michael Barbaro in a live follow-up. Kate will also be talking to them about what schools might look like next year.

You will hear the procession play. You will learn how Annie and the Daily team remotely reported and asked students and teachers to share iPhone recordings. And you will hear how the students and teachers in Odessa are doing now. Subscribers can reply here.

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