Education Department has released the first in a series of school surveys intended to provide a national view of learning during the pandemic. It reveals that the percentage of students who are still attending school virtually may be higher than previously understood. As of January and early February of this year, 43% of elementary students and 48% of middle school students in the survey remained fully remote. And the survey found large differences by race: 68% of Asian, 58% of Black and 56% of Hispanic fourth graders were learning entirely remotely, while just 27% of White students were. Conversely, nearly half of white fourth-graders were learning full-time in person, compared with just 15% of Asian, 28% of Black and 33% of Hispanic fourth-graders. The remainder had hybrid schedules. This disparity may be partly driven by where students live. City schools, the survey found, are less likely than rural schools to offer full-time, in-person classes. Full-time, in-person schooling dominated in the South and the Midwest, and was much less common in the West and Northeast. The racial and ethnic gaps may also be driven in part by which families are choosing to stay remote, even where some in-person learning is offered. Three out of 4 districts around the country were offering some in-person learning as of January, the report says, with full-time, in person learning more common than hybrid schedules. The Education Department created the survey in response to an executive action signed by President Biden on his first full day in office. To obtain results quickly, researchers used the existing infrastructure of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the testing program also known as "The Nation's Report Card." More than a year after schools around the country first switched to virtual learning, this is the first attempt at federal data collection on the progress of school reopening. Although the Trump administration pushed for school reopening, it made no such efforts. "I'm not sure there's a role at the department to collect and compile that research," former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said last October . This survey covers a nationally representative sample of around 7,000 schools, half of which were educating fourth-graders and the other half educating eighth-graders (those being grades included in The Nation's Report Card testing). New results will be reported monthly through at least July. The results are intended to provide context for The Nation's Report Card in 2022, and state tests, which the Biden administration is requiring this year. The survey is also intended to pinpoint inequities. For example, among the other key findings: More than 4 in 10 districts said they were giving priority to students with disabilities for in-person instruction. Yet in practice, 38% of elementary students with disabilities remained remote, compared with 43% overall.


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And following the parliamentary information scandal, the rhetoric of Vukšić’s critics became even stronger. Some journalists called the director of the ANB a “Russian spy” and “a Trojan horse in NATO” ( Odgovor.ba , March 20). Russian media is adding fuel to the fire, openly bragging about Moscow’s successes in Montenegro. For example, pro-Kremlin business newspaper Vzglyad published an article entitled “Pro-Russian Forces Staged a Sweep of the Montenegrin Special Services.” In the piece, the author points out that in three months of 2021, Dejan Vukšić “managed to partially shake up, and partially and completely disperse the entire Montenegrin intelligence and counterintelligence services […] cleaning out” the supporters of President Đukanović ( Vzglyad , March 22). At the same time, several Montenegrin experts, including Vesko Garčević, a former ambassador of Montenegro to NATO and now a professor at Boston University, note that Vukšić really could have made a mistake, and there is no direct evidence of his ties to Russia. That said, Garčević believes that providing secret information to committee head Milan Knežević, the leader of the pro-Russian Democratic Front, almost certainly means that the disclosed information will ultimately turn up in Moscow (Author’s interview, March 25). As for the real policies of the new government, in December, upon assuming power, Foreign Minister Đorđe Radulović declared that Montenegro would not be lifting its sanctions on Russia, as the country—a European Union aspirant—must respect EU rules ( Balkan Insight , December 14, 2020). Nonetheless, some steps taken by the parliament are causing concern among pro-Western experts. In particular, on February 3, the new parliamentary majority announced that it plans to repeal the existing Law on the Special Public Prosecutor’s Office and pass a new one, focused on the fight against organized crime and corruption. However, supporters of the incumbent president believe the real rationale for the initiative is the removal of Special Prosecutor Milivoje Katnić, the main prosecutor in the 2016 “coup d’état” case ( European Western Balkans , February 24). According to information from the Prosecutor’s Office, in the autumn of 2016 a group of Serbian and Montenegrin citizens, under the leadership of case officers from Russia, planned to seize Montenegro’s parliament and replace President Đukanović in order to prevent the decision for Montenegro to join NATO. Among the would-be coup participants, two leaders of the Democratic Front, Andrija Mandić and Milan Knežević, were sentenced to five years in prison for complicity in the conspiracy ( Balkan Insight , May 9, 2019). However, on February 5, 2021, the Appellate Court scrapped all the guilty verdicts in the case, citing “significant violations of criminal procedure,” and asked the High Court to retry the case ( Balkan Insight , February 5). This decision also raised concerns among local experts. Following the alleged leaks of classified information to Montenegrin lawmakers last March, NATO initiated a special inspection to evaluate the information security protocols in the country as well as the level of existing threats. In this regard Ambassador Garčević pointed out that this is not the first time NATO has faced such problems from its newest members (Author’s interview, March 25). For example, in 2008, in Estonia, the former head of the department for the protection of state secrets of the Ministry of Defense, Herman Simm, was arrested on suspicion of espionage on behalf of Russia and subsequently sentences to 12.5 years of imprisonment. Then, in 2012, Estonian Security Police officer Aleksey Dressen was arrested, also for espionage on behalf of Russia ( RBC , February 24, 2012). Most recently, in March 2021, Bulgarian authorities uncovered a spy ring involving several current and former members of the Ministry of Defense who were allegedly passing top secret military information, including pertaining to NATO, to the Russian embassy in Sofia (see EDM , March 31).