Online inquiry: How and where your students say they are learning best

The preference of white teens is much different from that of their Hispanic and Black peers.

Plenty of surveys have asked parents, teachers and pundits if they prefer remote learning or in-person instruction, but what do students think? Virtual learning has been far less common over the last several months than it was even a year ago when entire districts remained remote and others operated on alternating hybrid schedules.

Eight in 10 teens–ages 13 to 17–say they attended school fully in person over the previous month and that’s how a majority of students like it, according to a new Pew Research Center survey that was conducted April 14-May 4. (Just 11% of students reported learning in a hybrid format and 8% were fully online, the survey also found.) About two-thirds of students want to be in-person all the time when the pandemic ends while 18% favor a combination of face-to-face and remote instruction. Only 9% would prefer being fully online.

But for all these and other numbers, there is some variance based on race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status. Some 70% of white teens prefer full in-person learning when the pandemic ends compared to 64% of Hispanic teens and 51% of Black teens. Black and Hispanic teens are more likely than white teens to prefer hybrid learning. Preference for hybrid schooling also is more common among teens living in households earning less than $75,000 a year than among teens in homes earning more.

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A majority of teens expressed little to no concern that they had lost ground academically during the pandemic. But Black and Hispanic teens were more likely to say they are extremely or very worried that COVID’s disruptions caused them to fall behind. Three in 10 Hispanic teens shared those fears compared to 19% of Black teens and just 11% of white teens. Teens from households making less than $75,000 annually were also more likely to worry about slipping.

Aside from COVID, the survey examined three challenges of the homework gap–lack of access to a computer or the internet, having to do homework on a cellphone and needing to use public Wi-Fi to do homework. Around 30% of teens reported experiencing at least one of these challenges “often or sometimes.” Hispanic teens were more likely than both Black and white teens to report a lack of reliable access to a computer or the internet. They were also more likely than white teens to have to use a cellphone or public Wi-Fi to do homework. Black and white teens were equally likely to report at least sometimes experiencing one of these problems.

Here’s what else teens said about the homework gap:

  • About one-in-five teens (22%) often or sometimes have to do homework on a cellphone.
  • A majority of teens who sometimes have to do homework on a cellphone say keeping up with assignments is harder.
  • 12% are sometimes unable to complete homework assignments because they do not have reliable access to a computer or internet connection.
  • 24% of teens who live in a household making less than $30,000 a year sometimes cannot complete homework because they do not have reliable access to a computer or the internet.
  • 6% say they have to use public Wi-Fi to do their homework at least sometimes because they do not have an internet connection at home.
  • Larger shares of teens whose parent has a high school diploma or less sometimes face all three homework gap challenges.
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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