Slew of Data Shows Widening Inequality Among Students Due to Coronavirus Pandemic

Illustration for article titled Slew of Data Shows Widening Inequality Among Students Due to Coronavirus Pandemic
Photo: fizkes (Shutterstock)

In the last week, more data has come out showing the extent that the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated an already-unequal education system.

As the Washington Post reports, the scope of the data varies—some look at national trends, other reports focus on state and district-level education. Each piece of data provides a snapshot of a particular metric: enrollment rates in Chicago, for instance, or application rates to college. Altogether, the data has painted a clearer picture of how the pandemic has affected America’s most vulnerable students: Black and Latinx children; those with learning disabilities; students attending high poverty districts; English language learners; and students without adequate access to online lessons or in-person learning.

One national analysis, released this week by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co., concluded that the shift in remote learning this past spring set white students back one to three months in math. For students of color, this setback was much more drastic: They fell behind three to five months in the subject.


Even worse, the firm predicts that the gap will only grow as pandemic management measures continue in districts throughout the country. Throughout the fall, Black and Latinx students have been underrepresented in schools where in-person learning is available.

“Something out of the ordinary is needed to help these kids catch up,” Emma Dorn, one of the authors of the McKinsey report, told the Post. “No matter what we do now, tangible learning loss has already occurred.”

Part of the issue is the resources that remote learning requires of students and their families. As the Post notes, research has shown that 79 percent of Black children had a device for school—a number that rose up to 89 percent by the fall. But they still lagged behind white students, 93 percent of whom had devices that allowed them to access online lessons.

On top of having the right devices and reliable internet service, students also need quiet places to work and can often benefit from the help of a parent while at home (of course, even having all these resources isn’t a guarantee that students will have a smooth time adjusting to online learning, as many parents and guardians found out this year).


Last week, a nationwide study found math scores had declined for students, though not as much as originally predicted. A major caveat of the analysis, however, was that fewer schools and fewer students took the standardized test than the year before, leaving many to question whether some of the most at-risk students were not captured in the data.

In another recent analysis, Nat Malkus, a resident scholar in education policy at the right-leaning think tank American Enterprise Institute, found that children in high-poverty districts missed an average of 12 days of classroom time when schools transitioned to remote learning in the spring—more than two weeks of school. That number was lower at low-poverty schools, which saw an average of 8 days lost.


The switch to remote learning has also come with drops in enrollment. From the Post:

In Connecticut, attendance among Black, Latino and “high-needs” students — meaning those with disabilities, children from low-income families and English-language learners — is down by roughly 5 percent this year, the state reported. The declines are worse in districts located in some of Connecticut’s poorest cities.

Chicago Public Schools reported enrollment among Black pre-kindergartners had dropped by 44 percent, and by nearly 30 percent for Latino children, both larger figures than those for White and Asian children.


Those who have stayed in school, meanwhile, are more likely to be under-performing in their classes. Multiple school districts have also released data showing that failing grades have increased dramatically this fall, with vulnerable students being the most likely to be handed failing grades.

While this data centers on pre-K and K-12 education, this massive shift in American learning—and the new challenges it has introduced—could also have a profound effect on college attendance. Submissions to the Common Application, a portal used by hundreds of U.S. colleges, have gone down, as well as applications for federal student aid (by a rate of 16 percent). Who this trend affects is telling: As the Post reports, the drop was most pronounced for Latinx and low-income students, as well as teens whose parents did not attend college.


John B. King Jr., former education secretary and president of the advocacy group Education Trust told the Post, “I think we should be very concerned about the risk of a lost generation of students.”

Staff writer, The Root.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter