Politico

Biden hits 100-day school reopening goal, but reopening difficulties persist


President Joe Biden hit his 100-day goal of reopening the majority of K-8 schools for in-person learning in March, statistics from a White House-ordered school learning census indicated on Thursday. Yet the data also underscores the administration’s myriad challenges: repairing racial disparities, reopening schools and reassuring parents that classroom learning is safe — all as the country starts looking ahead to summer learning and the fall semester.

Close to 90 percent of public K-8 schools offered hybrid or full-time in-person instruction by the end of March, the government said. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said 54 percent of K-8 schools were open in-person on a full-time basis.

“The data released today reaffirms that we reached President Biden’s goal of reopening the majority of K-8 schools ahead of schedule,” he said in a statement.

Public school K-8 students of color returned to in-person classes at higher rates between February and March, according to the latest estimates from the school reopening survey Biden commissioned. But federal data released Thursday continued to show enrollment gaps for in-person learning between white students and their peers from other racial groups.

“We are still seeing a much lower percentage of Black, Hispanic, and Asian students enrolled in full time in-person learning compared to their White counterparts,” Cardona acknowledged. “And even when offered in-person options, many Black, Hispanic, and Asian students, as well as multilingual learners and students with disabilities, are still learning fully remote.”

By the numbers: Nationwide, 58 percent of white fourth-graders were back inside public schools full time by the end of March, according to data from the Education Department’s research branch. But at least 45 percent of Black, Hispanic and Asian fourth-graders were still enrolled in remote instruction by March. Seventy-two percent of Asian eighth-graders were in remote classes by that time, along with more than half of Black and Hispanic eighth-graders — but just 24 percent of white eighth-graders.

Each of those numbers represent a notable improvement from earlier in the year, but students of color still attend remote-only classes at disproportionate rates.

“We are seeing higher percentages of students enrolled in full-time, in-person learning, though there are still gaps,” said Lynn Woodworth, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, in a statement. “Most Black, Hispanic and Asian students are still not attending school in-person at all.”

What’s next: Cardona said officials “must act with urgency and bring every resource to bear” to get more schools reopened full-time this spring and address persistent disparities.

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