What’s being called the most comprehensive national study of the impact of remote learning found Florida avoided the dramatic losses in learning during the 2020-21 school year.
Harvard University spearheaded the study, which generally found that high-poverty schools spent more weeks in remote instruction and that these more disadvantaged schools suffered larger losses in academic achievement during the second school year affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
But school districts that remained open and largely in-person lost relatively little ground, according to the study of test data from 2.1 million students in 49 states and the District of Columbia.
Overall, researchers found that high-poverty schools lost a half-year of achievement during the 2020-21 school year, about twice as much as low-poverty schools in the same district. But Florida, the first to order its schools open for the 2020-21 school year, was noted as an outlier in the findings, as was Texas, which also opened schools earlier than most states.
“Interestingly, gaps in math achievement by race and school poverty did not widen in school districts in states such as Texas and Florida and elsewhere that remained largely in-person,” said Thomas Kane, one of the study’s authors, in an interview with the Harvard Gazette published last week.
“Where schools remained in-person, gaps did not widen,” said Kane, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “Where schools shifted to remote learning, gaps widened sharply.”
Kane likened the shift to remote learning to flipping a switch, calling in-person school, “a critical piece of our social infrastructure that we take for granted.”
“Our findings imply that public schools truly are the ‘balance wheel of the social machinery,’ as Horace Mann would say,” Kane told the Harvard Gazette.
Most Florida schools resumed in-person instruction when the 2020-21 school year started, sometime during the second half of August 2020. Broward County was an exception, resuming in-person instruction on Oct. 9, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control. The same was true for Miami-Dade, which restarted in-person classes on Nov. 10
Gov. Ron DeSantis, who fought with the teachers’ unions and others over when to reopen schools, responded Monday to those who called the reopening in August 2020 “reckless endangerment of our children.”
“No one will even admit they wanted the kids home, even though many people did,” DeSantis said.
Republican Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., who will soon be the state’s Education Commissioner, tweeted about the study Tuesday: “Florida students are benefiting from the leadership of @GovRonDeSantis! Another vindication of #FL’s push for in-person education that will continue long term positive effects for students. The spring ‘21 test results exemplified this fact.”
The option to attend school remotely largely ended with the start of the 2021-22 school year. But the data the state submitted to apply for American Rescue Plan funds show that Florida’s Black and low-income students, as well as those with disabilities, suffered the worst decreases in achievement when comparing 2019, pre-COVID-19 test scores to 2021 data.
The national study that came out last week was a collaboration between the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University; CALDER Center at the American Institutes for Research, which uses data to examine how student outcomes affect learning; NWEA, a not-for-profit that develops student assessment tools; and Dartmouth College.