Household Experiences During the Coronavirus Pandemic: Impact on Education

Household Experiences and Education

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on data collection and consumption, and also on various facets of our community. It’s no surprise with schools being closed and moving to online learning that there has also been a significant effect on education data on a national, state, and local level. 

We’re going to take some time to look at the numbers surrounding the shift in schooling of children under 18, based on the Census Household Pulse Survey. The survey, implemented weekly, focuses on the Detroit-Warren-Dearborn Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) as it provides a larger sample of geographically and socioeconomically similar people than using Detroit, Warren, or Dearborn alone. The data collected from this survey can help community advocates see where additional support is needed for education and distance learning, especially as planning continues for summer programming and the 2020-2021 school year. 

The data that we’re examining is from Week 6, capturing lived experiences as of June 4th-9th.

Changes in the Detroit MSA  Education Landscape

The pandemic resulted in a dramatic shift in lived experiences, especially for households with children who are normally attending school.  The Pulse Survey identifies adults over 18 years old in the US. The education-related dataset focuses on those adults living in households with minor children who are attending school.  It’s important to note that the survey doesn’t distinguish between multiple children. For example, a family where one student’s classes were moved entirely online and another child in a different grade had a mixture of cancelled classes and paper learning, would select all three experiences for their household. These are not student-level data points.

In Michigan, and by extension the Detroit MSA, children are less likely to be normally homeschooled than they are on the national level. Nearly 98% of children in the Detroit MSA were attending public or private schools. This is an especially big deal for the Detroit MSA, as this geographical region is home to more than half of the households with children in school in the entire state of Michigan. 

So what happened to the educational programs for these students?

According to the Pulse Survey, roughly 70% of children in public/private schools in the Detroit MSA moved classes to online distance learning, and nearly 20% were provided paper materials for distance learning. About 2.6% of respondents indicated that classes changed in some other way, and 44.5% stated that classes normally taught in person were cancelled—quite a bit higher than the national average of 39.7%. 

Have you noticed that this totals up to more than 100%? It’s important to be a mindful data consumer and keep the context in mind for these numbers. Remember, some schools may be taking a mixed-methods approach and these reflect a household-level experience for all children in a household so the percentages of each experience do not add up to 100%. Students could also fall into different categories on their own depending on how different teachers responded to the situation. It is significantly more difficult to move a music, art, or a science lab class to distance learning than history or a foreign language.

While many students transitioned to distance learning, the next important question is “how has this transition impacted time spent learning?”

Detroit MSA respondents reported spending a little over 12 hours per week on all teaching activities in their household, which is slightly higher than the reported national average. However, the students are receiving less time with their teachers via virtual contact, at 3.7 hours, than the average American child at 4.4 hours. 

It’s evident, and not very surprising, that children that normally attend school are spending less time on teaching activities than they did when schools were opened, and even less time interacting with teachers, on average. While researchers have acknowledged a large gap in learning gains due to the pandemic, there is a concern that disparities already evident in our education system will be widened due to this. The Pulse Survey helps identify which families are more likely to spend more time on teaching activities, and which children are spending less time than others with their teachers. Let’s take a look at some of the contributing factors.

Who is Spending the Least Time Learning? 

The demographic differences between the various respondents corresponded with the amount of time that was spent on learning activities and on virtual contact with teachers. One of these factors is the age of respondents. Children in households with adult respondents that are very young (ages 18-24) or senior citizens (65+) tend to spend less time in virtual contact with their teachers, reporting 1.3 and 2.1 hours spent in the past week, respectively. 

Children in households with middle-aged respondents tended to experience both more hours spent on all teaching activities and more hours in virtual contact with their teachers. Respondents between the ages of 25 and 54 reported the highest number of hours spent on all teaching activities, while respondents aged 55-65 reported the most virtual contact with teachers.

Differences in time spent on education were also seen across racial demographics. In particular, Hispanic respondents reported the lowest rate of teaching activities and online virtual contact with teachers across the board. Respondents that identified as White or Black alone reported higher than average hours spent on all teaching activities. This reflects a trend in the United States of fewer opportunities and more barriers to education for Hispanic populations and other immigrant populations nationwide.

Respondents that identified as Other or as two or more races reported an abnormally high number of hours spent on teaching activities—however, this data should be taken with a grain of salt due to the high margin of error

Interestingly, unemployment and loss of income did not have a large impact on the number of hours spent on teaching activities reported by respondents. However, respondents that indicated that they are currently employed also reported more hours spent on virtual contact between teachers and students than those who are not employed, which indicates that parents who are working are more likely to take advantage of keeping school-aged children engaged with teachers and online learning tools. 

Respondents that reported not having enough to eat tended to report fewer hours spent on teaching activities and fewer hours spent in virtual contact between students and teachers. This indicates that families without enough to eat may not place the same emphasis on spending time on learning activities as families that do. 

Prior to the pandemic, approximately 16% of Detroit MSA residents reported using SNAP food assistance—a rate slightly higher than the state average of 14.9%. This is a significant amount of the population, and may have an impact on the total population numbers in terms of average hours spent on teaching activities and virtual contact with teachers.

Online Accessibility and Learning in the Detroit MSA

Besides demographic elements that contribute to time spent learning, an important factor that impacts the hours and quality of education received by these students in the Detroit MSA is access to internet connection and devices for educational purposes.

Reliable internet access is a commodity that isn’t always available to every metro Detroit household. The percentage of Detroit MSA residents that reported internet access as rarely or never available is roughly double the national average. The number of Detroit MSA respondents that indicated that internet access was only sometimes available is also close to double the national average at 9.2%. 

Access to computers or other electronic devices for learning purposes is also lacking in Michigan and the Detroit MSA. Nearly 13% of Detroit MSA respondents indicated that their household rarely or never has access to a device for online distance learning purposes. This amounts to almost triple the national average.  Understanding what census tracts have lower rates of internet connectivity or device availability can help community organizations focus their efforts to connect students to online learning to places where it might have the greatest impact.

Who has the Best Access to Online Learning Tools?

As in hours spent on teaching activities, differences in access to internet connection and devices are seen across the various Detroit MSA demographics. For instance, households that identify as racial minorities are less likely to have devices available, with Hispanic respondents being significantly more likely to report that devices are rarely or never available for educational purposes. 42.5% of respondents that identified as Hispanic indicated that they rarely or never have internet access or devices available for educational purposes. 

With these responses indicating that Hispanic households are less likely to have access to online resources, it’s not surprising that Hispanic respondents reported using paper materials sent home in classes that were moved to a distance learning format at a rate more than double other households that identified as not Hispanic.

Hispanic respondents are not the only minority households that may have inequitable access to distance learning tools. More than 30% of respondents that identified as Black did not indicate that classes were moved to a distance learning format, indicating a possibility that 30% of children in households with Black respondents may not be receiving any supplemental education, online or by paper materials.

Not surprisingly, income is another factor that impacts potential access to devices for education, and by extension, the ability to engage in distance learning. Respondents that indicated that their household had experienced a loss of employment income and respondents that are not currently employed were more likely to indicate that they rarely or never had access to internet or devices for educational purposes.

Better Education Access in Households with Higher Education

Access to internet and devices, and time spent using online resources tended to be greater in households with higher education. More than 90% of respondents with a bachelor’s degree or higher indicated that classes that were moved to a distance learning format were using online resources. Furthemore, close to 98% of these respondents indicated that they always or usually had access to the internet and devices for educational purposes. 

Interestingly, respondents with a bachelor’s degree or higher also indicated significantly lower rates of classes being completely cancelled. 

Respondents with less than a high school education have indicated a much higher rate of using paper materials sent home instead of using online resources. This can also account for the difference seen between time spent on all educational activities, and time spent in virtual contact between teachers and students.  

It’s also possible that these households opted to use paper materials sent home because they are less likely to have consistent access to the internet or devices for educational purposes. Targeting resources to census tracts with larger proportions of adults who did not complete high school could provide a larger impact.

Regardless of education level, device availability was generally found to be a greater limitation than internet availability. This can likely be explained by a number of households having multiple children, but only one device for educational purposes whereas internet is generally accessible by multiple devices if devices are available.

Device Accessibility and Community Outreach 

A bit more than 20% of respondents have indicated that educational computers or devices were provided by the school or district—more than 10% fewer than the state average and 16% fewer than the national average. This can be especially troubling for communities that do not have consistent access to computers or other devices.  

These communities and communities that have a lower rate of attaining higher education are some that can benefit the most from the efforts of the educational advocates and nonprofits in the Metro Detroit area. 

Do you know how your community is faring in the changing educational landscape? Our State of the Detroit Child tool allows users to explore Michigan geographies and get an idea of the number of children that live there, and what resources are available to them. 

Do you have additional questions about the data surrounding education or other changes that have been brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic? Just AskD3! We are committed to thoroughly answer all of your data-driven questions during this uncertain time.