Remote learning is consistently associated with decreased instructional opportunities and student outcomes when compared to in-person schooling, according to data from a RAND Corporation study.
Researchers surveyed teachers and principals to gain a better understanding of K-12 students’ learning opportunities across a variety of learning models (in-person, hybrid, and fully remote) during the 2020-2021 school year.
The decreased outcomes associated with remote learning include less curriculum coverage, more student absenteeism, and lower principal-reported math and ELA achievement.
The latest data from the RAND study indicate that roughly 90 percent of fully remote schools offered at least one synchronous class per day. The data also show that more than half of teachers in hybrid schools (68 percent) taught concurrently–teaching students remotely and in-person at the same time–despite the difficulties that teachers have reported in doing so.
And while the study demonstrates lower academic achievement, it also shows that teachers in fully-remote schools were more likely to have adopted new curriculum and technology. The extent to which these new tools will influence and improve remote learning remains to be seen, but remote learning environments could very well improve over time.
Key findings include:
1. K–12 schools’ operational models—fully remote, fully in-person, or hybrid—varied considerably in the 2020–2021 school year. Schools that were fully remote tended to serve higher percentages of students of color and low-income students.
2. Reported instructional time and curriculum coverage were significantly lower in schools that were fully remote.
3. Seventy-four percent of principals in fully remote schools estimated that their students’ average achievement in mathematics was below grade level in spring 2021, compared with 63 percent in hybrid settings and 46 percent in fully in-person settings.
4. Remote teachers’ estimates of student assignment incompletion and absenteeism were almost twice as high as those of teachers in fully in-person settings.
5. Although teachers in the highest-poverty schools and those with most students of color reported more student access to free tutoring, they were less likely to report access to reading specialists and one-on-one student-teacher meetings.
6. Nearly all schools providing any in-person instruction had at least some safety measures, such as masks, in place. However, teachers’ opinions about the necessity of safety measures varied depending on their schools’ operational models.
7. One-third of teachers who have taught fully remotely for the majority of the school year either indicated a preference to do some remote teaching in the future or otherwise had no preference.
8. One-third of schools reported plans to offer remote instruction to any student who wants it after the pandemic has passed. Schools that have been remote in 2020–2021 were more likely to be planning for remote options in future school years.
Recommendations to address inequitable teaching and learning pathways include:
1. When making decisions about how to spend federal funds, district and school leaders should rely on multiple data points collected now and in the following school year, including those related to absenteeism, performance on formative assessments, and students’ potential nonacademic needs.
2. Researchers and policymakers should keep a close eye on instruction over the next school year to ensure that districts and schools have access to the right set of expertise and supports.
3. Researchers, policymakers, and district leaders should consider the extent to which the technologies that many educators have switched to over the course of the pandemic—and plan to continue using in a post-pandemic era—support teaching and learning.
4. School districts and policymakers should reflect on the variety of regulatory decisions that could support or obstruct remote learning.
5. Federal and state policymakers should provide clear and consistent health and safety guidance to support school system decision making.