Report: How are Michigan students learning during the pandemic?

November 19, 2020

new report from Michigan State University’s Education Policy Innovation Collaborative, the strategic research partner of the Michigan Department of Education, shows that even though the majority of Michigan school districts planned to offer full-time in-person instruction in November, far fewer families actually choose this form of instruction. Additionally, districts with high proportions of Black and poor students were much less likely to provide students the option to learn in person five days a week.

Empty classroom with desks

Katharine Strunk, director of the Education Policy Innovation Collaborative, or EPIC, and the Clifford Erickson Distinguished Professor of Education Policy at MSU, expressed concern over these numbers.

“The pandemic is augmenting the massive inequities that have long existed in society—in Michigan and nationally,” Strunk said. “These data show that different kinds of students in Michigan are receiving different kinds of education. Fewer Black and poor students are able to access in-person instruction and all that comes with it—the community and care of being inside a school building with trusted professionals and peers. As the pandemic goes on and conditions worsen, with more schools shifting to remote learning, it is imperative that we work to meet the needs of Michigan’s traditionally underserved students.”

The report also found:

  • A vast majority of districts in Michigan are offering students the opportunity to learn in person. In November, just 14% of districts (16% of students) are in fully remote districts. But this has changed over time; far fewer districts are only offering fully remote learning and many more are offering full-time or part-time in-person options. 
  • Districts in the Detroit and Lansing regions are the most likely to offer solely remote instruction.
  • When students are learning remotely, live instruction occurs only about one-third to one-half of that time.

This is EPIC’s third report on how districts are continuing to shift their instructional models to adjust to the COVID-19 pandemic under the current Return to Learn legislation. The data, published on Michigan’s Center for Educational Performance and Information’s Extended COVID-19 Learning Plan Dashboard, show what methods of instruction districts are providing to students during the pandemic. Districts reported data through a survey, and the dashboard is expected to be updated monthly.

This first dashboard report reflects survey results as of Friday, Nov. 6, prior to the Nov. 15 emergency epidemic order issued by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. It displays a breakdown of district plans to provide fully in-person, fully in-person with a remote option, fully remote, or a hybrid of in-person and remote instruction. Districts report data through a monthly survey, and the dashboard is expected to be updated with point-in-time information that is subject to change as the pandemic necessitates. While plans do not necessarily align completely with the realities of education delivery during the pandemic, they are intended to showcase approved local board decisions about the delivery model on a monthly basis.

Katharine Strunk Image
Katharine Strunk

According to Strunk, these kinds of data are critically important to making good decisions about K-12 education during the pandemic.

“Across the country, there has been a dearth of readily available data that allow the public and researchers to understand how K-12 school districts are operating during the pandemic and how this changes over time,” she said. “It’s a testament to Michigan’s focus on evidence-based policy that the state is collecting these data so that we can better understand how our students are experiencing school this academic year and what resources they may need to ensure they continue to learn during the pandemic and especially in the months and years to come.”

State Superintendent Michael Rice said, “Educating our children is challenging during the pandemic. Leaders are making tough decisions to protect the health and lives of Michiganders. Educators and support staff are doing their best to assist students during this difficult time. We need everyone to wear masks, socially distance, wash their hands frequently and disinfect regularly. By masking up, we flatten the COVID curve and give more children the opportunity to be educated in person, in schools where kids learn best. This is especially important for our most educationally vulnerable children: our severe special needs students, our beginning English language learners and our fledgling readers. Mask up, Michigan!”

This post, written by Kim Ward, originally appeared on MSU Today.