Reproduced from a CRPE report; Chart: Axios Visuals

About half of school districts across the country will return to school buildings in the fall — but the majority of the big-city school districts that also serve large numbers of at-risk students will be doing remote learning for the foreseeable future.

The big picture: There's a stark divide in school reopening plans between urban and rural districts, according to an analysis by the Center for Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington Bothell.

  • Students in most rural U.S. school districts will be returning to classrooms this fall.
  • Meanwhile, almost 4 out of 5 urban districts will start the year fully remote.

Why it matters: Remote instruction challenges — such as spotty broadband access and poor instruction — in the spring have already created major learning hurdles for the students with the most to lose from school disruptions.

  • Even though many districts rushed to provide digital access to as many students as possible in the spring, there are still gaps in students' ability to learn in an all-virtual environment.
  • The divide in school reopening plans could lead to even more divergent learning outcomes as the true levels of COVID-19 learning loss are more understood in the coming years, noted CRPE director Robin Lake.

A worrisome finding: There's significant overlap between districts with the highest poverty levels and those planning to start the year with fully remote classes.

  • That's problematic because many students in poverty tend to need more social, emotional and academic support that is harder for their households to provide.
  • Parents are less likely to have jobs that allow them to work from home and help supervise their children's online learning progress.

The bottom line: "[T]he challenge this fall isn’t to just continue learning. For so many students, the challenge will be to start to make up for lost time from last spring," per CRPE.

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Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

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