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Michigan Schools Shifting to Provide In-Person Instruction

Young student in mask with hand up in class

Michigan school districts are shifting away from remote instruction toward offering some in-person instruction, with less than half as many districts providing remote-only instruction in February compared to January, says a new report. February also saw the largest increase (from 64% to 83%) in districts planning to offer some form of in-person instruction since the start of the 2020-21 academic year.

Governor Whitmer, who issued a goal that all schools offer in-person instruction as soon as possible and no later than March 1, 2021 is closely monitoring districts’ plans to ensure the safe opening of school buildings as soon as possible.

“These findings from our incredible partners at EPIC are encouraging,” said Governor Whitmer. “In-person learning is critical to the growth and development of our children and their findings show that the vast majority of schools in Michigan are providing students with face-to-face opportunities. With proper mitigation strategies, we can send kids back to class without compromising the health of our communities.”

Headshot of Katharine Strunk, she has short dark brown hair with a green and blue scarf.

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

However, there continue to be differences throughout the state in terms of what districts plan to offer students. Districts with lower pre-pandemic student achievement — measured in the 2018-19 school year — are less likely planning to provide either in-person or hybrid learning options. Districts with the lowest average Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress, M-STEP, or SAT scores in math are approximately two to ten times as likely as those with middle and upper range scores to plan to only provide fully remote instruction.

“With strong mitigation efforts, more educators and other citizens vaccinated daily, and the presence of antigen tests, our COVID numbers have flattened. More and more districts are rightly re-opening as a result,” said State Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice. “While we need to remain vigilant, we also need to offer families in all districts at a minimum an in-person option for their children. In-person instruction is better for so many of our kids, socioemotionally and academically. Families deserve choices for their children’s education.”

The latest report is from Michigan State University’s Education Policy Innovation Collaborative, the strategic research partner of the Michigan Department of Education.

Katharine Strunk, director of the Education Policy Innovation Collaborative, or EPIC, and the Clifford Erickson Distinguished Professor of Education Policy at MSU, points out that these changes reflect the federal and state guidance that all school districts should strive to offer in-person learning by March 1.

“These data suggest that the Biden and Whitmer administrations’ efforts have encouraged districts to return to in-person learning. However, there remain troubling discrepancies for some of the most vulnerable students. While the true impact of remote instruction on student outcomes is yet unknown, schools and districts will likely have to find new and innovative ways to help students who are most at-risk of falling behind during the COVID-19 pandemic”

The report also found:

  • The proportion of districts planning to provide some form of in-person instruction has been increasing steadily in each month of 2021. By February, 65% of districts were planning to offer fully in-person instruction to students and 18% of districts were planning to offer hybrid instruction. Only 15% of districts were planning to offer only remote instruction, a 57% decrease from the previous month.
  • Districts offering fully in-person instruction tend to be smaller than the state average, whereas districts offering hybrid instruction tend to be larger. The 65% of districts that planned to offer fully in-person schooling in February represent only 55% of Michigan K-12 students. Conversely, 29% of Michigan students attend the 18% of districts that planned to offer hybrid schooling in February. Fifteen percent of Michigan students attend districts that planned to only offer remote schooling in February.
  • Although districts might offer students the option to learn in-person, some students and families are opting to continue with remote instruction. However, the proportion of students opting for remote instruction is also shifting over time. In February, districts estimated that between 30% and 49% of students were learning remote only, down from 48% and 63% in January. Between 31% and 45% of students were estimated to be learning fully in-person in February, up from 24% to 36% of in-person in January. Between 19% and 30% of students were estimated to be learning in a hybrid format in February, up from 13% to 22% the month before.
  • Across all months, districts with a history of low student attendance were almost twice as likely to only offer fully remote instruction. Similarly, districts with low achievement on state achievement tests and college entrance exams were substantially more likely to only offer remote instruction. Higher-achieving districts are more likely to offer in-person and hybrid instructional modalities.

This is EPIC’s fifth report on how Michigan school 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, were accepted from districts through Feb. 17, 2021.

Kim Ward via MSU Today

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