Students from low-income school districts and students of color are nearly twice as likely to be learning remotely as the school year moves forward with dramatic differences in the learning modes available across the state.
Roughly 85 percent of Schenectady students are learning remotely this school year as parental concerns and budget cuts limit the share of students receiving in-person instruction, according to state data. More than 90 percent of Amsterdam students are learning remotely, according to the district-reported enrollment information posted daily on the state’s COVID-19 School Report Card. Meanwhile, at Niskayuna, Schalmont, Saratoga Springs and other districts in the region, roughly 80 percent of students are receiving at least some in-person instruction.
“It’s going, but it’s real tough,” Gyonni Winter, Schenectady High School senior class vice president, said of learning online for the beginning of the year. “The first week it was OK, but as the weeks keep progressing, I’ve realized this isn’t actually as good as I thought.”
Winter and other Schenectady High students said they missed the direct – and sometimes serendipitous – encounters of being in school, and noted the extra challenges of motivating themselves to engage fully in their academics.
Students also grieved the loss of the option to attend school in person, an option students in most districts in the region have in varying forms.
A similar pattern has emerged across the state as large urban districts have delayed or curtailed in-person instruction for logistical and budgetary reasons, while smaller rural districts and wealthier suburban districts have moved forward on reopening plans that welcome a large share of students back to school buildings for at least some in-person learning.
Albany data correction: The number of remote students for Albany should read 5,653.
Note: The data used in this chart was retrieved from a regularly-updated state database on Oct. 15 and has possibly changed since then. Some districts raised concerns about the data that was included in the chart. Amsterdam, for example, most recently reported 1,055 students learning on site and 2,582 students learning remotely; Johnstown reported 539 on-site students and 875 remote students. Johnstown uses Wednesday as a remote day for all of its students, with hybrid students rotating in person for two days a week, which accounts for the data in the original chart. Districts submit the data to the state on a daily basis.
In an analysis of the statewide enrollment data, Education Trust-New York found that students from low-income backgrounds were 1.7 times more likely to be learning remotely than students in higher-income districts; students in districts with the largest share of students of color were 1.4 times more likely to be learning remotely than in districts with few students of color. The disparities are even greater when data from New York City and the state’s other largest city districts are not included. Educators and advocates around the state fear the altered learning landscape brought on by the pandemic will only further exacerbate persistent academic disparities.
“That means that the students who were underserved before the pandemic and underserved during the pandemic are mostly likely to be relying on remote instruction,” said Ian Rosenblum, executive director of Education Trust-New York. “That leads to questions about whether students who are learning remotely are receiving high-quality instruction, technology access and support to get the education they need.”
Overall, about half the state’s students are learning remotely, while the other half are learning in person or a mix of in person and remote, according to the organization’s data analysis. Rosenblum said state officials should finds ways to make more data publicly available to help guide further policy development.
The group highlighted data on technology access, attendance and engagement, and the level of live interaction in remote settings, as key to better understanding how virtual education was playing out across the state.
“There is an urgent need for information that can help fuel action, and that means having data at least monthly, while also recognizing that schools are under incredible burdens right now,” he said. “It seems like now we need to know what’s actually happening on the ground to determine what kind of oversight resources and supports are necessary.”
Clarification 10/18 5:20 p.m.: Note added below the graph. Corrected Albany data added 10/19 7:51 p.m.