The Return to Learn Tracker (R2L), developed by the American Enterprise Institute in partnership with the College Crisis Initiative of Davidson College, monitors over 8,500 public school districts’ instructional statuses on a weekly basis. The tracker examines which schools are offering fully in-person, hybrid, and fully remote instruction and analyzes instructional status across various district and county demographics.

Last Data Update: April 26, 2021

see key findings from update
  • For the first time since the pandemic began, “fully in-person” is the largest category of instruction: As of April 26, 49% of districts are fully in-person, 4% are fully remote, and about 48% of districts are offering some type of hybrid instruction.
    • Stark differences persist by counties’ vaccine hesitancy and mask usage.Districts in counties where people are hesitant to take the vaccine are more likely to be fully in person. As of April 26, 62% of districts in counties with self-reported high vaccine hesitancy are fully-person, compared to 36% of districts with low vaccine hesitancy. This pattern has persisted since the beginning of the school year.
    • There are also large differences by mask usage. Districts in counties with lower rates of mask usage are more likely to be fully in person. As of April 26, 61% of districts in counties with self-reported low mask usage are fully in-person, compared to 37% of districts in counties with high mask usage.
  • Ten states have at least three-quarters of districts offering fully in-person instruction: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, and South Carolina.
  • California saw a dramatic decrease in remote-only districts: As of April 26, about 6% of districts are fully remote, which is down from over half at the beginning of March. This gives more Hispanic students the option for in-person instruction. 93% of Hispanic students now have the option for fully in-person or hybrid instruction, compared to just 70% at the beginning of March.
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Change In Instructional Status

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Change in Instructional Status by Majority Race Districts

INTERPRET WITH CARE
Unlike the charts above, these charts examine differences for small subsets of districts that have majority-Hispanic and majority-Black student populations. About 1 in 10 districts are majority-Hispanic districts, and 47% of Hispanic students in R2L data attend school in these districts. About 1 in 20 districts are majority-Black districts, and 26% of Black students in the R2L data attend school in these districts.

There’s much more to understand about differences by race. Click the button below to view instructional status by race over time and percent of students by race attending remote, hybrid, and in-person districts.

Bi-Weekly Change in Instructional Status

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Fully Remote Hybrid Fully In-Person

Nov 2 Apr 26

COVID-19 Cases and Instructional Offerings

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April 26

State Rankings

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Our goal is to provide a fundamental, up-to-date baseline of school districts’ current reopening plans and how they change during the COVID-19 crisis. This tracker categorizes instructional models for about 8,500 school districts nationwide and regularly monitors how each district changes between categories. Accessible, accurate knowledge of districts’ plans is foundational for developing strategies of how to best respond to the pandemic. We hope these data will serve school communities as they face ongoing decisions, provide the basic knowledge necessary for shaping policy across states, and allow other researchers to more accurately study how COVID-19 is upending and changing schools.

We adhere to high standards in research methodology and practices, pursuing rigorous transparency in our approach to this work.

This is a live data collection. Current and prior categorizations of districts may be misclassified. As such, we will be doing constant quality assurance over the upcoming months. Publications of previous data may change with additional corrections to the data. If you would like to submit a correction request, please contact us. Please find a thorough description of R2L methodology and data here.

AEI would like to thank The Achelis and Bodman Foundation for its generous support that helped make the Return to Learn Tracker possible.

Our coding is based on district-wide policies collected from district webpages, social media announcements, or direct contact with a district representative. Idiosyncratic closures due to school-specific outbreaks are not reflected in our data unless they closed a grade range for the entire district for at least one week. To ensure uniformity in collector responses, the district’s operating plans are coded into three mutually exclusive categories:
 Fully in-person
All grade levels can attend school in buildings five days per week, though families can opt for fully remote instruction or a hybrid model.
 Hybrid
Either students in some grades can return to buildings in person while other grades can only return in a hybrid or remote model or all students can return to buildings for four days or less each week (or five partial days) while learning remotely from home the remaining time.
 Fully Remote
All grade levels above first grade participate in virtual instruction five days per week, with no option for in-person or hybrid learning. Districts that only allowed in-person or hybrid instruction for prekindergarten, kindergarten, first grade, or select subgroups of students are included in this category.
 

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These stacked bar charts display the percentage of districts in each category of instruction. Additionally, categories of instruction are displayed for categories such as poverty, in which high-poverty districts are above the national district average for the measure of poverty and low-poverty districts are above the average.

Bar graph variable definitions

Achievement
Achievement indicates districts’ academic achievement, drawn from multiple prior years of student test scores. High achievement refers to districts with student test scores above the national average. Low achievement refers to districts with student test scores below the national average.
Source: Author’s calculations using R2L data and Educational Opportunity Project at Stanford University, 2021, https://edopportunity.org/

Adult Baccalaureate
Adult baccalaureate rates refer to the proportion of adults with bachelor’s degrees or higher in the county. High adult baccalaureate refers to districts in counties whose population averages adult baccalaureate rate was above the national average. Low adult baccalaureate refers to districts in counties with baccalaureate rates below the national average.
Source: Author’s calculations using R2L data and Educational Opportunity Project at Stanford University, 2021, https://edopportunity.org/

Broadband
Note: Broadband indicates household access to broadband at the district level. High broadband refers to districts with broadband access above the national average. Low broadband refers to districts with broadband access below the national average.
Source: Author’s calculations using R2L data and US Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2015–18

Covid Rate
Covid rate indicates whether a district was in the top, middle, or bottom tertile in terms of county Covid cases per 100,000 for a given week.
Source: Author’s calculations using R2L data and USA Facts Covid Data, 2021, https://usafacts.org/visualizations/coronavirus-covid-19-spread-map/

District Size
District size indicates the number of schools in a district. We defined small districts as those with three to five operational schools. Medium districts have between six and 11 operational schools. Lastly, large districts are defined as having 12 or more operational schools.
Source: Author’s calculations using R2L data and Common Core of Data, 2019, National Center for Education Statistics.

Mask Usage
Mask usage indicates the estimated percentage of people within a county who would say “always” in response to the question “How often do you wear a mask in public when you expect to be within six feet of another person?” These data come from a large number of interviews conducted online by the global data and survey firm Dynata at the request of The New York Times. The firm asked a question about mask use to obtain survey responses between July 2 and July 14, 2020.
Source: Author’s calculations using R2L data and Mask Wearing Survey Data at the New York Times, 2020, https://github.com/nytimes/covid-19-data/tree/master/mask-use

Minority Students
High minority districts are those that have more than the national district average of non-white students.
Source: Author’s calculations using R2L data and Common Core of Data, 2019, Nation Center for Education Statistics.

Poverty
Poverty indicates levels of household poverty in a district. High-poverty districts are above the national district average for the measure of poverty and low-poverty districts are below the national district average.
Source: Author’s calculations using R2L data and Educational Opportunity Project at Stanford University, 2021, https://edopportunity.org/

Presidential Vote
Presidential vote indicates counties’ voting histories in the 2020 election. “Majority Trump Votes” refers to a district that resides in a county the majority of the population voted for Donald Trump. “Majority Biden Votes” refers to a district that resides in a county where the majority of the population voted for Joe Biden.

Single Mothers
Single mothers indicates the proportion of families with a single mother in a county. High single mothers refers to districts in counties with single mother rates above the national average. Low single mothers refers to districts in counties with single mother rates below the national average.
Source: Author’s calculations using R2L data and Educational Opportunity Project at Stanford University, 2021, https://edopportunity.org/

Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE)
Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates from the US Census Bureau report the percentage of children aged 5-17 in poverty at the school district level. High SAIPE refers to districts above the national district average for this measure, and low SAIPE districts are those below the average.
Source: Author’s calculations using R2L data and US Census Bureau Data, 2020, https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/saipe.html

Urbanicity
Urbanicity refers to whether the district is primarily located in urban, suburban or rural locales.
Source: Author’s calculations using R2L data and Common Core of Data, 2019, Nation Center for Education Statistics.

Vaccine Hesitancy
Vaccine hesitancy indicates the estimated percentage of people within a county who indicate that they would “probably not” or “definitely not” receive a COVID-19 vaccine when available. Estimates are based on responses to a question (“Once a vaccine to prevent COVID-19 is available to you, would you get a vaccine?”) from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey (HPS) on March 3, 2021 – March 15, 2021.
Source: Author’s calculations using R2L data and Vaccine Hesitancy for COVID-19: State, County, and Local Estimates, US Department of Health and Human Services, 2021, https://aspe.hhs.gov/pdf-report/vaccine-hesitancy

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Sankey diagrams are a type of flow chart in which the width of arrows is proportional to the percentage changing from one category to another over a given period. Sankey diagrams will also presented for districts with different characteristics to contrast different rates of change over time (coming soon).

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The map of COVID-19 cases and instructional offerings displays a heat map of counties by their seven-day average daily case rate per 100,000 population. Each colored dot represents a district color coded according to its instructional model for the current week.

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The state map presents the average percentage of districts with three or more schools in each category of instructional model for a given week.

About

States are ranked by the percentage of districts with three or more schools in each instructional model for a given week. We also classified districts by whether their operational status is “aggressive” or “cautious” relative to the districts’ seven-day average of daily COVID-19 case rates per 100,000 for a given week. With no established standard for case rates and reopening plans, we benchmark aggressive and cautious districts on a standard of a seven-day average of 25 daily cases per 100,000 population (discussed below).

This standard was offered by the Harvard Path to Zero group in its July report “The Path to Zero: Key Metrics for COVID Suppression.” A subsequent Path to Zero report, “Schools and the Path to Zero: Strategies for Pandemic Resilience in the Face of High Community Spread,” published in December, noted that schools may operate safely in person with appropriate mitigation strategies at rates much higher than this rate. However, we use the rate Path to Zero used in July as a functional benchmark to identify districts with an above average risk tolerance, because historically many districts operate remotely at these caseload rates. We categorize cautious reopening districts as those that are fully remote at half this rate, or a seven-day average of 12.5 daily cases per 100,000. We do not use these categories to imply a judgment about these district decisions, but only to contrast those operating models with the majority of their peer districts.

R2L data can be reported at the district or school level, but the results should be explicitly understood for what is represented at each level. At the district level, percentages are the proportion of districts offering fully in-person, hybrid, or fully remote instruction at all schools. At the school level, percentages are of schools that belong to districts offering fully in-person, hybrid, or fully remote instruction at all schools. As such, in-person percentages cover only a portion of schools that have an in-person option available to all students, such as elementary schools open five days a week in a district in which high schools are remote or hybrid. Similarly, remote percentages capture a subset of schools that are fully remote and would not include fully remote high schools referred to above. We may refer to school percentages to communicate the extent of these categories, since district percentages equate three school districts with 500 school districts. Measures of the percentage of students in three categories are available from Burbio‘s excellent representative sample data.

About

States are ranked by the percentage of districts with three or more schools in each instructional model for a given week. We also classified districts by whether their operational status is “aggressive” or “cautious” relative to the districts’ seven-day average of daily COVID-19 case rates per 100,000 for a given week. With no established standard for case rates and reopening plans, we benchmark aggressive and cautious districts on a standard of a seven-day average of 25 daily cases per 100,000 population (discussed below).

This standard was offered by the Harvard Path to Zero group in its July report “The Path to Zero: Key Metrics for COVID Suppression.” A subsequent Path to Zero report, “Schools and the Path to Zero: Strategies for Pandemic Resilience in the Face of High Community Spread,” published in December, noted that schools may operate safely in person with appropriate mitigation strategies at rates much higher than this rate. However, we use the rate Path to Zero used in July as a functional benchmark to identify districts with an above average risk tolerance, because historically many districts operate remotely at these caseload rates. We categorize cautious reopening districts as those that are fully remote at half this rate, or a seven-day average of 12.5 daily cases per 100,000. We do not use these categories to imply a judgment about these district decisions, but only to contrast those operating models with the majority of their peer districts.