Classroom Technology

Low-Income Children Less Likely to Experience ‘Live’ Contact With Teachers, Analysis Finds

By Alyson Klein — February 12, 2021 2 min read
Image of a student working on a computer from home.

Many students may be learning virtually, but children from lower-income families are less likely to have live contact with their teachers than kids from wealthier families, according to an analysis of census data published Feb. 11 by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

Twenty-one percent of children from families making less than $25,000 a year reported having had no “live contact” with a teacher in the past week, whether in-person, by phone, or virtually. That’s compared with 11 percent for kids whose families make at least $200,000 a year.

In fact, the greater the family income, the more likely it is that a child has had recent live contact with a teacher, the analysis found. For instance, 16 percent of students from households earning between $50,000 and $74,999 annually said they had no live contact with a teacher in the past week, while 14 percent of students whose families make $75,000 to $99,999 a year said the same.

One big reason children from lower-income families may have had less teacher contact: Kids who live in poverty are less likely to have access to the internet for learning than wealthier children. Ninety percent of kids from households earning at least $200,000 annually indicated that they always had online access for educational purposes, compared with 55 percent of students from households earning less than $25,000 a year.

Indeed, children from all income levels are more likely to have access to a computer than to the internet, although here too, lower-income children lag behind their wealthier peers. Ninety-two percent of students from households earning $200,000 or more indicated there was always a computer available for educational purposes, compared with 61 percent of those from households earning less than $25,000.

That could be partly because schools have invested more in providing students with devices to learn from home online than in providing them with internet access. At the start of the pandemic, in late April, 39 percent of students reported that their school or district had given them a computer to learn from home. Just 2 percent said the same about internet access.

In late November, 65 percent of students said their school or district had provided them with a computer, compared with 4 percent who said the same about internet access.

Educators and experts have long pointed to the impact of the so-called “homework gap”, which, they argue, puts students whose families don’t have internet access at a serious learning disadvantage. But the problem has been especially noticeable during the pandemic.

It’s unclear just what impact the switch from in-person to virtual learning will have on kids over the long term, wrote Anthony Carnevale, the Center’s director, and Megan Fasules, a research economist at Georgetown, in a Medium post.

But, they added, “What is clear, though, is that gaps in access to the technologies necessary for virtual learning are exacerbating the challenges already faced by students in lower-income households. The effects of these gaps will be felt widely in the wake of COVID-19 and may affect current K–12 students for many years.”

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