Last month, University of Louisiana professor Michael B. Henderson and Harvard University professors Paul E. Peterson and Martin R. West released the findings of their COVID reopenings report. Their study’s sample is a nationally representative one of over 2,000 American families with children in traditional public, public charter, and private schools. When considered alongside ACSI’s Christian Schools and COVID-19 survey of over 730 member schools in December 2020, there is compelling evidence that Christian schools are leading the way on reopening schools during the ongoing pandemic.

Henderson and his coauthors find that only 28% of all students nationwide have returned to school for in-person instruction. Nearly three-quarters continue to receive some form of remote learning, with 53% of all students exclusively remote as mode of instruction. In contrast, 60% of the nation’s private school students have returned for in-person instruction. ACSI schools exceed the national average, even compared to EdNext’s private school sample, with 81% of ACSI school leaders reporting their schools are primarily offering in-person instruction (with many offering a remote option for families who desire it), and only 11% reopening using a hybrid or remote model.

The decision to reopen for in-person instruction is critical for several reasons. The researchers find that parents with students attending schools that reopened with hybrid or remote learning models were more likely to perceive negative effects on students’ academic knowledge and skills, emotional well-being, social relationships, and physical fitness. Conversely, parents of students receiving in-person instruction are more than twice as likely to report being “very satisfied” with their school and roughly half as likely to report perceiving learning loss. No differences were detected for hybrid relative to remote schools.

ACSI’s December report provides some clues as to why parents of students physically returning to school may be perceiving less learning loss and fewer problems, as well as reporting higher levels of satisfaction. Amidst the challenges of navigating COVID-19, roughly two-thirds of responding school leaders reported finding a way to continue athletics, performing arts, and other student activities. Particularly important to consider is the role of religious services. A recent Gallup survey finds that while Americans’ mental health declined substantially in 2020, those attending a weekly religious service were the only subgroup to improve in their mental health last year. Nearly all ACSI schools (94%) have resumed religious services like chapels.

There are a few key differences to consider. The EdNext report surveyed a nationally representative sample and reported findings at the student level. Ours was a sample of convenience with a high response rate of school leaders from ACSI member schools. These differences caution us against extrapolating conclusions by making direct comparisons. Nonetheless, the overall story is this: while reopening schools during the coronavirus pandemic has been fraught with challenges, parents report that it has been worth it. We applaud the Christian school leaders and teachers who work each and every day to make it possible.

Data Comparison

EdNext

ACSI

  • Across the sample, 28% were in-person, while 72% were in some form of remote learning (19% hybrid, 53% remote).
  • 60% of private school students were in-person, with the remaining 22% hybrid and 18% remote.
  • Parents of students attending school in-person express higher levels of satisfaction, with 51% “very satisfied” in-person (3% “very dissatisfied”), 23% remote (9% very dissatisfied), and 21% hybrid (11% very dissatisfied).
  • Perceived effects on learning for in-person instruction were that 38%  were learning less, while hybrid reported that 75% were learning less and remote were 66% learning less.
  • ACSI schools exceed the national average even for the private school subsample, with 81% primarily in-person (57% primarily in-person with a remote option), 7% hybrid, 4% remote.
  • Decision to reopen in-person is important because parents with students attending schools that reopened with hybrid or remote models more likely perceive negative effect on students’ academic knowledge and skills, emotional well-being, social relationships, and physical fitness.
  • Parents of private school students were less likely to report perceived negative effects on these measures relative to traditional public and public charter school parents.
  • In addition to continuing to offer their academic programs, ACSI schools are finding ways to continue religious services (94%), athletics (67-68%), performing arts (68%), and student clubs (64%).

 

 

About the Author

Matthew Lee - ACSI Authro Matthew Lee is ACSI’s Director of Research. He is co-editor of the book Religious Liberty and Education. He can be reached via email at matthew_lee@acsi.org and followed on Twitter @hmatthewlee.

Questions to Consider:

Make plans to share and discuss the report, Christian Schools and COVID-19: 2020-2021 School Year Profile, with your team. What reflections and questions arise from your team’s discussion of the report’s findings?

 

How can your school gather stories and share the good news about what you and your team are doing this year?

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