How COVID’s ‘hybrid gap’ hinders less wealthy schools

Of the nation's 25 wealthiest districts, 16 are running a hybrid schedule
By: | January 5, 2021
16 of the nation's 25 poorest districts have remained fully online, seven have returned to in-person learning and only two are offering a hybrid, according to a FutureEd research analysis. (GettyImages/FatCamera)16 of the nation's 25 poorest districts have remained fully online, seven have returned to in-person learning and only two are offering a hybrid, according to a FutureEd research analysis. (GettyImages/FatCamera)

Equity concerns are growing over a “hybrid-learning gap” that has emerged as wealthy and less affluent schools continue to grapple with the COVID pandemic.

The wealthiest districts are far more likely to offer hybrid instruction, which experts say is currently the safest mode of in-person learning, according to an analysis by FutureEd, a Georgetown University think tank.

Of the nation’s 25 wealthiest districts, 16 are running a hybrid schedule in which some of the youngest students are attending class in-person full-time.

On the other hand, 16 of the nation’s 25 poorest districts have remained fully online, seven have returned to in-person learning and only two are offering a hybrid, says Catherine Dragone, a FutureEd research associate.


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“The divide between students learning remotely and those learning in person has emerged as a troubling new contributor to the already wide opportunity gaps in the nation’s schools,” Dragone wrote.

Hybrid approaches are “more expensive and logistically challenging than in-person or virtual models,” adds Dragone, who used the School Funding Fairness Data System at Rutgers University’s Education Law Center to determine the districts’ funding levels.

The 50 districts in the analysis are geographically diverse, but most are small with only 11 enrolling more than 4,000 students.

Other researchers have found a similar trend. Michigan State University researchers, for example, found that students from low-income districts in that state were far less likely than students from wealthier districts to attend class in-person.

However, district leaders should remain cautious about bringing students back to classrooms, say FuturedEd researchers Mario Ramirez, an emergency medicine physician, and Andrew Buher, former chief operating officer of the New York City Department of Education.


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That’s because state and local data, despite some earnest attempts, do not clearly show how much COVID transmission is occurring within schools or the extent to which children are contributing to community spread, Ramirez and Buher wrote.

Several states in which schools offered in-person learning did not show sharp COVID rate increases until two weeks ago.

“The reality is that we’re debating school openings on the basis of politics and preference, with inadequate data to support the reasoning,” they wrote. “However desperately we wish to travel back in time and undo the decisions that prioritized reopening bars and restaurants over schools, we cannot.”