Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
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Disparities in Learning Mode Access Among K–12 Students During the COVID-19 Pandemic, by Race/Ethnicity, Geography, and Grade Level

July 7, 2021

Emily Oster recently co-authored "Disparities in Learning Mode Access Among K–12 Students During the COVID-19 Pandemic, by Race/Ethnicity, Geography, and Grade Level," a report focused on access to full-time in-person learning for non-Hispanic White students, non-Hispanic Black students, Hispanic students, and students of other race/ethnicities from January–April 2021.  


In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools across the United States began transitioning to virtual learning during spring 2020. However, schools’ learning modes varied during the 2020–21 school year across states as schools transitioned at differing times back to in-person learning, in part reflecting updated CDC guidance. Reduced access to in-person learning is associated with poorer learning outcomes and adverse mental health and behavioral effects in children. Data on the learning modes available in 1,200 U.S. public school districts (representing 46% of kindergarten through grade 12 [K–12] public school enrollment) from all 50 states and the District of Columbia during September 2020–April 2021 were matched with National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) demographic data. Learning mode access was assessed for K–12 students during the COVID-19 pandemic, over time and by student race/ethnicity, geography, and grade level group. Across all assessed racial/ethnic groups, prevalence of virtual-only learning showed more variability during September–December 2020 but declined steadily from January to April 2021.