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THE GREAT DIVIDE

Racial gaps in access to in-person instruction worse than expected, according to a new poll

Survey also finds parents more positive about remote than hybrid instruction

Jose Vaz, a father of a 12th-grader at Marblehead High School, said his son, who has special needs, goes to school twice each week and likes the setup.
Jose Vaz, a father of a 12th-grader at Marblehead High School, said his son, who has special needs, goes to school twice each week and likes the setup.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

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Two months into an unprecedented school year, the racial and socioeconomic gaps in terms of who can access in-person learning appear to be larger than expected, according to a statewide poll of parents to be released Thursday.

About 73 percent of Black families and 80 percent of Latino families with incomes under $75,000 reported entirely remote instruction, compared to slightly less than half of white families at the same income level.

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While mirroring a nationwide gap, those disparities are “bigger than what I had expected to see,” said Natasha Ushomirsky, Massachusetts director for The Education Trust, which coordinated with the MassINC Polling Group on the survey. “It’s hard to imagine that disparities in opportunity and outcomes — that were already pretty vast in Massachusetts before this — are not going to grow.”

The poll, conducted Oct. 19 through Nov. 1, included about 1,550 parents, and offers one of the most detailed glimpses to date of Massachusetts families’ experiences and priorities this school year. More parents polled rated health and safety as what matters most to them this school year than any other area, including academics and opportunities for their kids to socialize.

MassINC, which released a related poll in June, expects to complete two more polls before the school year ends, sponsored by the Boston-based Barr Foundation. Barr also provides financial support for the Globe’s Great Divide reporting on education inequality.

Of those polled, the vast majority of parents had children in either remote or hybrid models — with an even split between the two. Only a small fraction reported full-time in-person instruction. In a hybrid model, students spend part of their time learning at home and part in school.

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Parents are evenly split on hybrid/remote learning

Percentage of parents who say their child(ren)’s school format is the above options. The totals add up to more than 100 percent because some parents have children in more than 1 format.
Percentage of parents who say their child(ren)’s school format is the above options. The totals add up to more than 100 percent because some parents have children in more than 1 format.The MassINC Polling Group

Although the parents in hybrid learning are more likely to have opted into that model, they actually rated their kids’ experience lower than the parents in purely remote learning.

The percentage of parents in the hybrid model who feel their children are falling behind grade level this school year, for instance, was significantly higher than for the remote and full-time in-person groups.

Impact of school so far this year

How parents feel about schooling
How parents feel about schoolingThe MassINC Polling Group

That finding surprised researchers and education advocates alike since remote learning has hardly received rave reviews from many parents. But it correlates with another poll finding that white and wealthier families (who are the most likely to have kids in hybrid models) are the most pessimistic about the effects of the school year on their children.

Ushomirsky said hybrid learning might lead to greater frustration because “it’s really hard to get into a routine” at home or at school.

“There are also complications from just a purely logistical standpoint of families, who are arranging child care a couple of days a week while balancing schooling, and ensuring their children get additional support for the remainder of the week,” she said.

Yet experiences on the ground still differ widely across families. Jose Vaz, who participated in the poll, said he prefers the hybrid model to fully remote. His son, who has special needs, goes to school twice each week at Marblehead High School. “It’s a good experience,’' Vaz said.

If he had his wish, his son would be in school full time. “If he was face-to-face [full time] it would be much better,’' Vaz said. “But right now . . . with the pandemic, it’s not easy, but we are gonna try the best we can to survive right now.”

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Across the board, the polling results were bleak, said Steve Koczela, president of the MassINC Polling Group, which conducted the study. “There’s a lot of upheaval already in the first part of the school year,” he said. “Parents are struggling. That’s the thing that I think is very clear from this data. There aren’t many who see positive impacts coming out of this.”

One Hyde Park mother who participated in the poll (but didn’t want her name published) has found both remote and hybrid schedules can be stressful. She toils as a baker while juggling her three boys’ different schooling arrangements. Two of them, ages 4 and 6, are taking remote classes in public schools, and her 11-year-old does a hybrid schedule at a Catholic school close to their home, she said.

Her job occupies her 10 hours a day, yet she often finds herself having to leave work temporarily to help her sons, particularly the youngest, with technology, or to motivate them to pay attention during Zoom classes.

None of the options seem ideal for her, and she worries about whether the schools will be safe when in-person learning resumes full time.

Beyond the access to in-person learning, there were other racial divides. While more parents said they have enough devices for everyone to use for schooling than in the June poll, the percentage reporting “sufficient” Internet access and bandwidth has not budged since the spring — with families of color significantly disadvantaged.

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“We’ve seen the numbers haven’t necessarily improved and have even slipped a little bit, particularly for Black and Latino parents,’' Koczela said. That could be because the needs — with many more hours per week of live Zoom classes — have increased substantially since the spring.

Special education was another area with some regression. While significantly more parents said their children are receiving services than in June, a higher percentage expressed dissatisfaction with those services: up from 11 percent four months ago to 27 percent now.

Ushomirsky said the takeaways from the poll are twofold. She said that it’s imperative to make remote learning “as strong as possible” for the time being while simultaneously beginning planning for when buildings reopen.

“We’re going to need a very strong recovery plan in every district that’s put together in collaboration with families to make sure that students are getting the support they need to catch up,’' she said.

Pessimism on the impact on school fell along racial lines

The MassINC Polling Group





Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.