How Will the Coronavirus Crisis Affect Children's Learning? Unequally.


Nearly all U.S. public and private schools are closed due to the novel coronavirus, and at least 55 million from the nation's 57 million elementary and school students are from school. Up to now most schools happen to be closed about three weeks, but seven states have announced that schools will not reopen this academic year, four have closed schools \”until further notice,\” and the other nine states plan to keep schools closed at least into May. The remainder have nominal plans to reopen in April, but it seems likely that most if not completely of these closures is going to be extended further.

What may be the likely impact of long school closures on children's short-term learning and long-term success? Bad. As the current nationwide closures are unprecedented, history offers several examples of local school closures lasting months or even years. Teacher strikes closed New York City public schools in excess of two months in 1968 and closed French Belgian schools for more than 8 weeks in 1990. Massive potential to deal with desegregation closed public schools in Norfolk, Charlottesville, and Warren County, Virginia for five months in 1958-59, and deprived black kids of schooling for 4 years, from 1959 to 1963, in Prince Edward County, Virginia. Severe natural disasters-most notably hurricanes, but additionally earthquakes, tsunamis, even plagues of locusts-have closed schools or kept children home for periods of months or even years. Heavy snowfall sometimes closes schools as well, but snow closures are usually short in most cases made up by adding extra days towards the end of spring semester.

The impacts of closures on children's success are usually negative. When students returned to New York City schools following the two-month strike of 1968, their test scores were about 8 weeks lower, on average, than children's scores the previous year. French-speaking Belgian students impacted by the 1990 strike were more likely to repeat a grade and didn't advance as far in advanced schooling as similar Flemish-speaking students whose teachers did not strike. Test scores fell sharply among New Orleans-area children whose schools closed due to Hurricane Katrina, even though some of these children, particularly from struggling schools in the city, composed the losses when they transferred to better schools, mainly in Texas.

Although the coronavirus closure is challenging, students will most likely find out more, on average, than students did during closures past. Today's students possess a handful of advantages over previous generations. The first is technology. Today teachers can communicate and collect lessons and assignments using email, websites, cloud storage, and videoconferencing software. Students can build study groups utilizing the same technologies. There is a wide variety of educational software and games, which are becoming what amounts to a once-in-a-generation stress test.

But ed tech doesn't buffer all children equally. According to a 2021 census survey, about one child in seven lacks home internet access, and the fraction was twice as high in families with low incomes and less educated parents. The college District of Philadelphia, laboring underneath the impression-likely mistaken-that half its children lack internet access, has refused to provide any students with internet instruction before the equity issue is resolved. The district is spending $11 million-nearly half contributed by private donors-to give 50,000 notebook computers to students in traditional public schools. Nevertheless, teachers won't start teaching online until May 4-seven weeks after school closed.

Even if all families have access, the outcome of technology it's still uneven. Some schools and districts will make better use of technology than the others, and few will use technology in addition to they might if they had additional time to organize. Few modern ed tech products, even incredibly popular ones like Khan Academy, happen to be evaluated rigorously, and there was hardly time for you to conduct an organized review of evidence before schools shut down.

Most ed tech products were designed to supplement school, to not change it outright, plus some functions of school are difficult to replace, especially when you are looking at younger children and softer skills. A third grader learning arithmetic facts may do pretty much with adaptive software drills, and a self-starting senior high school senior might be able to prepare for AP exams using emailed assignments and exercise tests. However for a kindergartener who must learn to not cut line, yell, or hit classmates, technologies are not much of the solution. Reluctant first grade readers who've didn't have more than Half an hour of homework could cause trouble when they see their first emailed assignment. And kids with serious learning disabilities may be seriously out of luck.

The other buffer that youngsters have is the parents. Since several parents are working remotely or unemployed, children have more use of their parents today than they've had during previous closures. When teachers struck a generation ago, some married mothers were able to stay at home. Today fathers are home as well. And kids have fewer siblings today to compete for their parents' attention. A minimum of on average.

Parents, though, are much more unequal than technology. An only child with two college-educated parents could get lots of help and enrichment-particularly if those parents are financially secure, have flexible work arrangements, and aren't too freaked out by news and social media. But think about a single parent with three children along with a high-school education. Her children will have to compete for her attention, so when they get it, it's not as likely she will enable them to with homework and technology. If the parent has just lost her job, fears infection, and it has less than a month of expenses in the bank, helping her second grader with schoolwork might appear to be a minimal priority. As you mother of 4 told the Associated Press, \”My worry is survival, not conjugating verbs.\”

We've known because the 1966 Coleman Are convinced that families are a lot more unequal than schools. We're about to see what goes on when we turn up the volume on families and switch it down on schools.

Because I do research on summer learning, numerous people have asked whether summer learning research provides much insight into what is going to happen while schools are closed. I figured the analogy was plausible initially, but because I've thought about it more, some of the similarities break up.

Older summer learning research suggested the reading and math gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged children grew dramatically during summer, while growing slowly if throughout the school year. That fit nicely with the concept that people are more unequal than schools. As I wrote last summer, though, recent findings on summer learning have failed to duplicate that old results. In some studies, gaps barely change during summer. In other studies, gaps grow during summer, but no faster than they grow during school.

If families are more unequal than schools, why doesn't research consistently reveal that reading and math gaps grow fastest when school is out for summer? One possible reason is that upper-class families aren't necessarily attempting to build their children's reading and math skills during summer. Families of all social classes tend to view summer as a vacation-a time when kids could be kids, watch television, play sports, see friends, and spend some time outside. While there isn't much academic research on how children spend their summers, research of California children in 1989-90 discovered that, though poor children watched a lot more television during summer, both upper and lower class children changed their average reading time hardly any. And no one considered to ask how much time they spent doing math.

The current crisis is different. It's not a vacation, as I keep telling my 10-year-old daughter, and there's still half a semester's worth of curriculum to understand. If families differ within their ability to support their children's learning, especially during an financial crisis, this is where we will see it.

I've got several predictions for when school resumes within the fall-if it will resume in the fall. Almost all children is going to be behind where they would happen to be had school stayed in session. Score gaps between the children of many less educated parents may have grown. And plenty more kids than normal will have to repeat a grade, particularly in kindergarten.

The challenge is going to be that schools won't know which kids need retention or remediation, because schools won't have any spring tests to take, and also the teachers do not possess seen the scholars in person for 6 months. Perhaps some of the money saved from canceling the spring tests can be reallocated to diagnostic testing within the fall. Districts that already routinely conduct such testing may be best positioned of all to determine precisely what is lost in the pandemic-at least within the academic sense.

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