Biden Hits Schools Goal 05/06 07:12
(AP) -- President Joe Biden has met his goal of having most elementary and
middle schools open for full, in-person learning in his first 100 days,
according to new survey data, but the share of students choosing to return has
continued to lag far behind.
The survey, conducted in March by the Education Department and released
Thursday, found that 54% of public schools below high school were offering
full-time classroom learning to any student who wanted it. It marks steady
progress since January, when the figure was 46%.
But even with that milestone achieved, most students continued to learn at
least partly away from school. Almost 4 in 10 students continued to take all
their classes remotely, the survey found, and another 2 in 10 were split
between classroom and remote learning.
The disparity reflects a trend that has alarmed education officials at all
levels: Even when schools reopen, many families have opted to keep students at
home for remote learning. It has been most pronounced among Black, Hispanic and
Asian American students, most of whom spent no time in a classroom in March,
the survey found.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona applauded the nation's progress but also
drew attention to racial disparities, saying schools must do more to reach all
"While we've made important progress, I will not be satisfied until 100% of
schools are safely open for full time in-person learning for all students,"
Cardona said in a statement. "The department will continue to work with
students, families, educators, states and districts, to ensure our education
system serves all students, not just some."
Among students of all races, there was a modest shift toward classroom
learning in March, but gains were largest among whites. Just more than half of
white students were learning entirely in-person, compared to about a third of
Black and Hispanic students. Only 15% of Asian Americans were learning entirely
in the classroom.
Progress has been equally uneven based on geography, the survey found. Half
of all students in the South and Midwest were learning entirely in-person in
March, compared to less than 20% in the West and Northeast. Still, the
Northeast saw the largest gains, with Connecticut doubling its share of fourth
grade students learning fully in-person, from 17% to 35%.
Wyoming had the largest share of fourth grade students attending full-time
in the classroom, at 94%, while California had the lowest, with 5%. Schools in
rural areas were the most likely to be opened, while schools in cities have
been the slowest to reopen.
Across the country, younger children -- they are less likely than adults to
get seriously ill from COVID-19 -- have returned to the classroom at higher
rates. As of March, more than 4 in 10 fourth grade students were back in the
classroom full-time, the survey found, compared to a third of eighth graders.
The latest survey reflects a period of growing momentum in the push to open
schools. In March, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said students
could sit 3 feet apart in classrooms as long as they're wearing masks, down
from a suggested 6 feet. Several states adopted the smaller recommendation,
allowing more students to return to schools.
At the same time, Biden was pushing states to make teachers and other school
workers a priority in vaccine rollouts. Some governors went on to order some or
all of their schools to reopen in March, including in Arizona and Oregon.
Since then, schools have continued to reopen. States including Massachusetts
and New Hampshire have ordered districts to invite students back to the
classroom, and major districts elsewhere have started to reopen, including in
The Biden administration started the survey this year to track the
pandemic's effect on schools and students. It's based on responses from 3,500
public schools that serve fourth graders and 3,500 schools that serve eighth
graders. Several states have declined to participate, including Montana, West
Virginia and Utah.
The survey does not include high schools, which pose additional challenges
and have been the slowest schools to reopen. Biden has acknowledged that high
schools will take longer to reopen because of the higher risk of contagion
among older students.
Schools have been a priority for Biden as he works to jump-start the economy
and address learning setbacks among students. In March he signed a $1.9
trillion relief bill that included $123 billion to help schools reopen and
recover from the pandemic. Last month he proposed a budget that would
significantly expand education funding, with a proposal to double Title I
funding for low-income schools.
Biden in December pledged to reopen "the majority of our schools" in his
first 100 days in office. In February he reframed the goal, promising to have
most schools from kindergarten through eighth grade opened five days a week in
Cardona has rallied behind Biden's efforts, saying schools will need help
addressing disparities that were worsened by the pandemic. On Thursday, he
urged schools and education officials to "maintain a high level of urgency"
even as more schools reopen.
"This success is the result of hard work and intentional collaboration
between the administration, states, school districts, educators and families
across the country," he said. "Nothing can replace in-person learning, and
thousands of schools have made that a reality for millions of students."