K-12 School Reopening Trends

February 15, 2021

For more detail on Burbio's dataset, please email dennis@burbio.com

Where We Are Now

Burbio School Opening Tracker- Now Including State Averages

  • % US K-12 students attending "virtual-only" schools = 33.6% (from 35.2% last week)
  • % US K-12 students attending "traditional" In-person/every day" schools = 40.8%
  • % US K-12 students attending "hybrid" schools = 25.6%

    The above percentages are set to Sunday, February 14th. Our data is presented as "students attending schools that offer this learning plan" - most districts also offer virtual even when providing in-person. For above, 33.7% of US K-12 students are currently attending schools that offer virtual-only plans, 39.7% offering traditional, etc.

Trends and Observations

  •  The number of US K-12 students attending virtual only schools started at a high of 62% at Labor Day, falling gradually to a low of around 37% by early November . Rising Covid-19 rates and precautionary holiday breaks concentrated in the Midwest and Northeast took that number back up to 55% the first week after the New Year. Since then we have seen an almost-universal return of schools that were in-person as of November. Further, in the last three weeks parts of the country that had been "Always Virtual" - never had students in the classroom - have started introducing students for the first time and as a result the national "Virtual" number is at its lowest point since we began tracking at 33.6%.
  • In "Always Virtual" areas Rochester, NY introduced students last week for the first time last week. Loudon County, VA is one of several VA districts planning returns in March . Some New Mexico schools began introducing in-person and we saw a bit of district movement in Washington, Oregon and California. Green Bay, WI, which two weeks ago said they would hold off in-person until three weeks after teachers were vaccinated, reversed course and will start sooner. In January Pawtucket RI schools voted to stay virtual for the year and this week they also reversed course and will begin returning students in March. Durham, NC school district, which had decided to stay virtual all year, is closely following a bill proceeding at the North Carolina statehouse that would require in-person learning within 15 days of passage.In "Always Virtual" areas Rochester, NY introduced students last week for the first time last week. Loudon County, VA is one of several VA districts planning returns in March . Some New Mexico schools began introducing in-person and we saw a bit of district movement in Washington, Oregon and California. Green Bay, WI, which two weeks ago said they would hold off in-person until three weeks after teachers were vaccinated, reversed course and will start sooner. In January Pawtucket RI schools voted to stay virtual for the year and this week they also reversed course and will begin returning students in March. Durham, NC school district, which had decided to stay virtual all year, is closely following a bill proceeding at the North Carolina statehouse that would require in-person learning within 15 days of passage.
  • As noted previously, we anticipate material changes to scheduling and learning next year outside of how in-person instruction is delivered. Dallas, TX, ISD stands out as a city district that has been in-person almost the entire year and has a range of plans in motion. They added an option for five extra weeks to the school calendar and created a "mitigating loss decision tracker" outlining different calendars for the next two years. In "virtual" news,Iowa City, IA created a permanent online school open to any K-12 student in Iowa. Two weeks ago we noted Sioux City, IA did the same thing. Iowa is a state that mandated in-person instruction, but the simultaneous introduction of state-wide virtual options would seem to create future flexibility
  • In big city news, a King County (Seattle) schools spokesperson indicated the district will not return any students older than grades K-2 to the classroom this year. New York City will open middle schools later this month and Philadelphia appears to still be on track to introduce children to the classroom later this month as well.
  • In the most important news of the week the Centers for Disease Control issued updated guidance that effectively nationalizes the discussion of school reopening by adding explicit community spread threshold benchmarks, prescriptions around things like when sports should be played, and emphasis on 6 foot physical distancing. The document creates four tiers of transmission - lowest to highest being blue, yellow, orange, and red. In the red zone middle and high schools should be virtual (K-5 would be hybrid) if schools can't implement expanded screening testing and in the orange zone hybrid would be recommended for all. For perspective, here is what a map of the US looks like right now based on the guidelines (red: virtual for middle and high school)

And here is a map of where US schools are open:

And here are the zones broken down by where US students currently go to school:

As indicated above 91% of US students overall are attending schools in the red tier. We calculate that 93% of the students currently attending "traditional" schools live in the red tier. The guidelines don't call for the closing of schools currently educating students in-person, but by following the CDC guidelines districts in "Always Virtual" areas will need to meet higher standards to introduce in-person learning than districts that have opened earlier this academic year. Further, as widely noted, the stipulation for six foot distancing makes planning for traditional in-person learning problematic.

Since August our auditors have collectively examined the 1,200 districts in our data set, which represent 35,000 schools, tens of thousands of times to monitor their status. A consistent observation is the seriousness with which Superintendents take guidance from the State and Federal level even as there has been continual adjustment and iteration to best practices. Based on our experience these CDC guidelines will generate immediate discussion as it relates to decision making for both the balance of the Spring and next Fall regardless of a school's current educational model.

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Burbio data was featured in this recent piece in Bloomberg on the BIden administration's school opening plans, in addition to this NPR piece on districts struggling to reopen for the first time and an NBC News piece on vaccines, teachers and school reopenings. Burbio was also featured in this November 20th overview of school closures in USA Today plus a recent segment on CNBC. about Fall school closures. Burbio data has been cited in CNBC stories about racial inequality in education and the impact of virtual learning on retail sales. Axios led with the data in a piece on virtual learning glitches; Bloomberg in multiple stories as well as NPR Marketplace. Burbio has also been cited by The Information in a piece about Ed Tech, as well as CNBC in a piece about working parents and virtual education plus an NBC News piece about physical stress of remote learning on children and the USC Center for Health Journalism. The Baltimore Sun featured Burbio in a data on Maryland school openings and the New York Times in an op-ed about virtual learning and engagement. NPR highlighted Burbio data in a piece summarizing Fall school openings. and Axios featured Burbio in a piece about the instability of school openings. CNBC featured Burbio data in a piece about how disruption in K-12 education is affecting women in the workforce. CBS featured Burbio data in an interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci and Politico has featured Burbio data in a variety of pieces on national K-12 trends. Burbio data has been a resource for numerous government organizations, academic researchers, trade associations, think tanks and non-profits.

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