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Closing COVID-19 Equity Gaps in Schools

—Stephanie Shafer for Education Week

The grim facts of how coronavirus affected the spring are well known by now: Schools and districts scrambled to train teachers in virtual learning and to provide educational materials, including computers and Internet access, to their students. Yet children and youth who already faced educational challenges in normal times possibly lost months of educational progress.

About This Project

This is the final in a series of eight installments.

These times are unprecedented. Through these eight installments, we will explore the steps administrators need to take to ensure the safety of students and faculty.

> Full report: How We Go Back to School
> Part 1: Socially Distanced School Day
> Part 2: Scheduling and Staffing
> Part 3: Transportation
> Part 4: Remote Learning
> Part 5: Teaching & Learning
> Part 6: Overcoming Learning Loss
> Part 7: Teaching SEL Skills
> Part 8: Closing Equity Gaps

How We Go Back to School is supported in part by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

Will this school year be more of the same, or will we be able to start bridging the equity gaps that widened in the spring?

To be sure, many of the same profound difficulties remain. Many districts plan to keep their buildings closed for at least several more weeks, while others have opened to in-person instruction. An Education Week survey of parents showed that Latino and Black families are far more likely to start the year in schools that are engaged in full-time remote learning. But Black and Latino families were also more likely to be poorly served by remote learning in the spring.

The 2020-21 school year doesn’t have to be a difficult retread of the previous months, especially for the nation’s most vulnerable students. Education Week talked to dozens of educators and parents and combed through documents focused on how to infuse equity into learning plans for the coming year.

Many school officials say they’ve absorbed the lessons of the previous school year and have used the time to prepare. They say they have better trained their teachers and have rolled out more technology to the students who need it.

Educators are also working on improving remote lesson accessibility for students with disabilities and English-language learners. They are looking for community support to help a potential surge in the numbers of students facing homelessness, buffeted by the economic as well as educational impact of the pandemic.

A common theme for schools for the new school year is enlisting authentic and deep connections with families, who will have to take charge of their child’s learning in a new way.

No one has suggested they’ve found a perfect solution to ensuring equity for vulnerable students. But one positive outcome, experts say, is if schools are open to trying new ways of reaching children and supporting families. In that small way, the coronavirus crisis may have a glimmer of a silver lining, if it allows districts an opportunity to shake off failing policies and procedures in favor of trying something new for the students who need the best a school has to offer.

—Christina A. Samuels

NEXT STEPS FOR EDUCATIONAL EQUITY

There’s no question that the shift to remote learning was a blow to many students who were already vulnerable before the pandemic even started—particularly students of color and low-income children and youths. Yet, educators and experts say that the new school year doesn’t have to be a repeat of the spring, if educators are committed to focused work in accelerating learning, reaching out to families, supporting technology needs, and revising and evolving plans when necessary.


BUILDING PARENTS’ TRUST

Schools are banking on a lot of support from parents as they navigate the new school year, but parents say they have mixed views on how well they believe schools will safeguard their children’s health. A survey shows families from marginalized communities and lower-income families are much more likely to say that they have little trust in schools. Building authentic connections with parents is an essential first step to gaining trust, parents say.


STUDENTS WITH SPECIAL NEEDS

When schools shut down this spring, many weren’t equipped to provide robust remote learning for students with disabilities and English-language learners. Experts say these student groups should be prioritized during remote learning for the 2020-21 school year. That could mean investing in assistive technology, getting those students in front of live teaching as much as possible, and ensuring that special educators and general educators have time to jointly plan ways to support students with disabilities who are in regular education classes.


PRESSURES OF POVERTY

The economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic continues to have a profound effect on families, many of whom are facing job loss, evictions, and a general lack of financial stability—all of which affects how prepared students will be for learning. School districts are already an important source of connecting families with the support they need, and they’ll need to continue that work even more aggressively for the coming school year.


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