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Equity & Diversity Explainer

Closing COVID-19 Equity Gaps in Schools

September 16, 2020 4 min read
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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.

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.

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Eighth in a series of eight installments.

These times are unprecedented. Through eight installments, Education Week explores the steps administrators need to take to ensure the safety of students and faculty.

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

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


Installment 8NextSteps

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.

Deep Dive: Fighting for Fairness Amid a Pandemic


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.

Deep Dive: Do Parents Trust Schools? Where the Fault Lines Are During COVID-19
Downloadable: What Schools Can Do to Build Trust: Advice From Parents


Installment 8SpecialNeeds

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.

Deep Dive: Bridging Distance for Learners With Special Needs
Downloadable: Key Back-to-School Questions for ELLs and Students With Disabilities


Installment 8Poverty

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.

Deep Dive: Shielding Students From the Economic Storm
Downloadable Guide: A Guide for Serving Homeless Students

Reporters: Daarel Burnette II, Corey Mitchell, Christina A. Samuels
Designers/Visual artists: Laura Baker, Emma Patti Harris, and Gina Tomko
Illustrator: Stephanie Shafer for Education Week
Photo editor: Jaclyn Borowski
Web producers: Mike Bock, Stacey Decker, Hyon-Young Kim
Project editors: Lesli A. Maxwell, Christina A. Samuels, Debra Viadero

Titilayo Tinubu Ali, director of research and policy, Southern Education Foundation; Lydia Breiseth, director, Colorín Colorado; Luvelle Brown, superintendent, Ithaca, N.Y., schools; Betty Chang, director, Education Resource Strategies; Patricia Chavez, director of policy, Parent Institute for Quality Education; Jenna Chiasson, assistant superintendent, Louisiana Department of Education; Lora Daily, director of learning supports, Iowa City, Iowa, schools; Angela Davis, parent, Miamisburg, Ohio; Miriam Ehtesham-Cating, director of programs for English-learners, Burlington, Vt., schools; Emily Elliott, instructional liaison, Albemarle County, Va., schools; Laila Ferris, interim chief of languages and dual language, El Paso, Texas., schools; Yvette Goorevitch, chief of specialized learning and student services, Norwalk, Conn., schools; Kenya Haynes, program specialist, National Center for Homeless Education; Greta Hinderliter, homeless liaison, Natrona County School District, Casper, Wyo.; Shenetria Jackson, parent, Houston; Vanessa Jimenez, president, Phoenix Union Classified Employee Association; Lindsay Jones, chief executive officer, National Center for Learning Disabilities; Christy McCoy, president-elect, School Social Work Association; Karen Hawley Miles, chief executive officer and president, Education Resource Strategies; Ron Nielson, Superintendent, San Juan School District, Blanding, Utah; Kevin Nohelty, superintendent, Dolton West School District 148, Dolton, Ill.; Tia C. Madkins, assistant professor, University of Texas at Austin; Adrián A. Pedroza, national director of strategic partnerships, Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors; Kristina Robertson, English language supervisor, Roseville, Minn., schools; Keri Rodrigues, founding president, National Parents Union; Suzy Pepper Rollins, author and consultant; Zakiya Sankara-Jabar, national director of activism, Brightbeam; Shalinee Sharma, co-founder and chief executive officer, Zearn; Sean Smith, professor of special education, University of Kansas; Tonya Spicer, director of special education, Owsley County, Ky., schools; Shelly Spiegel-Coleman, strategic advisor, Californians Together; Victor Tam, principal, Edwin and Anita Lee Newcomer School, San Francisco Unified, Calif., schools; Zoila Carolina Toma, parent, Signal Hill., Calif.; Cameron Walker; parent, Dayton, Ohio; Kate Eberle Walker, chief executive officer, PresenceLearning; Alexis Patterson Williams, assistant professor, University of California, Davis; Kerry Wrenick, state coordinator for education of homeless children and youth, Colorado Department of Education.

Studies and Documents:
“Reimagining Remote Learning,” by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association (2020); “We Choose To Reimagine Education: Centering On Love And Emotionally Responsive Teaching And Learning,” by Tia C. Madkins and Alexis Patterson Williams (2020); “Centering Children and Families at the Margins,” by Zakiya Sankara-Jabar (2020); “Reopening Resilient Schools,” by John Bailey (2020); “COVID Comeback Models,” By Education Resource Strategies (2020); “Distance Learning Equity Dashboard,” by Titilayo Tinubu Ali, Sujith Cherukumilli and Mirel Herrera (2020); “NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Position on School Reopening During COVID-19 Pandemic,” by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (2020); “For Students of Color, Remote Learning Environments Pose Multiple Challenges,” by Natalie Spievack and Megan Gallagher (2020); “COVID-19 Hospitalization and Death by Race/Ethnicity,” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2020); “Family-School Engagement of Families Who Are Speakers of Other Languages,” by the U.S. Department of Education Office of English Language Acquisition, 2019; “How Educators Can Support English-Learner Students in Distance Learning,” by WestEd (2020); “Latino Parent Voices: What Our Families Need Now,” by Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors (2020); “Online Learning for Students with Disabilities: Considerations for LEA Policies, Practices, and Procedures,” Center on Online Learning and Students with Disabilities (2017); “Questions for Proactive and Equitable Educational Implementation During the COVID-19 Crisis,” by COVID-19 Education Coalition Centering Equity (2020); “Special Education and Distance Learning: Supporting Students Through the Pandemic,” by ExcelinEd (2020); “Supporting English-Learners in the COVID-19 Crisis,” by the Council of the Great City Schools (2020); “Supporting English Learners Through Technology: What Districts and Teachers Say About Digital Learning Resources for English-Learners,” by the U.S. Department of Education (2019); “Planning for Equity and Inclusion: A Guide to Reopening Schools,” by the National Center for Learning Disabilities (2020); “Roles and Responsibilities of Parents of Online School Students with Disabilities,” Center on Online Learning and Students with Disabilities (2017); “Understanding Teletherapy as an Option for K-12 Students with Disabilities,” by the Center on Online Learning and Students with Disabilities, (2018).

Coverage of whole-child approaches to learning is supported in part by a grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, at www.chanzuckerberg.com. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.
A version of this article appeared in the September 30, 2020 edition of Education Week


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