Analysis from Jessica Carson, Ph.D., Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire and commissioned by the John T. Gorman Foundation
The U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey is a unique source of timely data on how households are faring across the United States and in each state during the pandemic. Topics include household income and employment changes, mental health, food insufficiency, and the shift to remote learning. In this data glimpse, we use these new data to explore remote learning shifts in New England and the United States.
All remote learning questions were asked of adults 18 years or older who live in households with children who were enrolled in public or private school in February 2020. The data considered here are from May 21 – May 26, 2020 for New England and the United States. Although data are available for Maine, most estimates for the state are unreliable, due to small sample sizes, described below.
Pandemic’s Effects on Educational Delivery Methods
Nationwide, most adults in households with children in school reported pandemic-related changes to their children’s education, with three-quarters reporting that the pandemic meant classes normally taught in person moved to a distance-learning online format (Figure 1). Forty percent of adults reported that classes normally taught in person were altogether cancelled (although this could refer to a subset of children’s classes only). A small share reported the use of paper materials delivered to children. In New England, patterns were similar, but more likely to have online instruction and less likely to use paper than nationwide.
Figure 1. U.S. & New England Adult Reports of Pandemic’s Effects on How Children in Household Receive Education
Source: Carsey School of Public Policy analysis of U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey, week 4.
Note: Includes adults who report at least one child in their household was in public or private school in February 2020. About 1 percent of adults in households with school children did not respond to the question on educational delivery methods. Respondents could select more than one answer.
Computer and Internet Availability at Home
Adults who had school children in the house were also asked about the availability of internet for educational purposes in their household. In the United States, 91 percent of adults responded that their household always or usually had internet available. Similarly, 87 percent of U.S. adults reported that their household always or usually had a computer or other digital device available for educational purposes. In New England, 95 percent of adults reported that their households always or usually had internet available, and 93 percent reported that their households always or usually had a computer or digital device available While these are high rates of access, it is worth noting that coverage is incomplete, and still more than one-in-ten American households with children in school do not have regular access to a digital device.
Nationwide, more than one-third of those reporting some household computer or digital device availability, said that a device had been provided by the children’s school or school district for home use outside of school — a similar share as in New England. (This includes adults who reported that in their household a computer or digital device is “always”, “usually”, “sometimes”, or “rarely” available for educational purposes, but excludes those who reported that a device is “never” available.) However, because respondents could indicate multiple responses, referring to multiple devices, it is unclear whether school-issued devices are most often found in households that already have at least one device, or whether these devices are intentionally filling digital access gaps.
Average Household Hours Spent on Education
Across the United States, adults report that their households spent an average of 11.7 hours on remote learning from May 21 – May 26. We estimated that across New England households spent an average of 12.3 hours on remote learning activities during this week. Given small sample sizes for smaller states in this survey, estimates for Maine are imprecise, but indicate that Maine households with children spent at least 10 hours per week on remote learning activities.(We intentionally use the language “at least” here, given that 10.1 hours represents the bottom of the 95% confidence interval calculated for Maine households. The mean was 12.9 (+/-2.8).)
Interestingly, the average number of household hours spent on education in the United States does not vary considerably by household income. The national average household hours spent on education for the lowest household income bracket (less than $25,000) was almost the same as the average household hours for the highest household income bracket ($200,000 and above)—at 11.6 and 12.2 hours, respectively. Whether the quality of available materials and remote instruction varies by household income, however, remains unknown.