The COVID-19 crisis has amplified preexisting disparities, reminding us how much work still remains to be done to achieve equity in K-12 education. As schools rely on remote learning to slow the spread of the pandemic, different students will receive different learning experiences based on where they live and what school they attend. Many students will face challenges; however, low-income and minority students face particularly acute risks of falling behind academically, as their challenges are more often compounded by a lack of material resources and a host of additional stressors disruptive to focus and learning. Schools will need targeted strategies and resources to support vulnerable students; otherwise, resuming virtual instruction this fall may further increase disparities in student outcomes.
“Children cannot learn if they’re not housed and fed and feel emotionally safe in their community.”
Impacts of COVID-19 on Education in Los Angeles County
Psychological stress affects students’ ability to focus and impairs the areas of the brain responsible for decision-making, learning, and memory. Prior to the pandemic, students with lower socioeconomic status experienced heightened stress levels. Now, the increased risks of trauma associated with COVID-19 may disproportionately impact vulnerable students. For example, communities with more essential workers face increased exposure to the virus, and families living in overcrowded housing are less able to maintain physical distancing. As a result, students from already-disadvantaged groups are also more likely than others to be dealing with the illness or death of loved ones due to COVID-19. Moreover, the economic effects of the virus, such as reduced work hours or unemployment, may exacerbate tensions in some households. Distress related to housing insecurity, food insecurity, immigration status, or a lack of access to healthcare in the family can distract and exhaust students, understandably decreasing their ability to focus on schoolwork.
Furthermore, the killing of George Floyd and other manifestations of systemic racism have triggered significant emotional turmoil for students. Unsurprisingly, given these compounding social inequities, a national student survey of 5th-12th graders found that Latino, Multiracial, and Black students were the least able to focus on learning while their schools were closed. Students suffering from the effects of systemic inequality often lack even the most basic support from counselors and social workers at school. Even before the pandemic, educational institutions were failing to meet the needs of vulnerable K-12 students in Los Angeles County, as demonstrated by long-standing gaps in achievement and graduation rates. Now with the COVID-19 pandemic, hardships are compounding and student vulnerability is increasing. In these uncertain times, ensuring that all students have access to a high-quality education will require a clear understanding of the conditions that threaten equitable outcomes and the political courage to respond with bold but sustained system changes.
Every student —regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, language, disability, family income, or zip code— should feel supported and have access to a high-quality education.
The virtual learning model assumes students have both residential internet access and a laptop or desktop computer. However, in Los Angeles, 27 percent of K-12 households lack one or both of these resources (Connected Cities and Inclusive Growth 2020).
- 27% 27%
Similarly, the odds of a Black student having the resources for distance learning are about 65 percent of a non-Black student, regardless of income or location” (Connected Cities and Inclusive Growth 2020).
- 65% 65%
76 percent of students experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles County were Latino, and 10 percent were African American. Of the students in foster care, around 62 percent of students were Latino and around 25 percent were African American.
- 76% 76%
5 Educational Policy Recommendations
Support students, families, and school staff during remote instruction
Support equity-based funding policies
Focus on cultural competency
Engage parents and students
Policy makers should support Community Schools in the use of data for continuous improvement strategies.
Our Streets Our Stories
“Families are fractured. It takes a community to raise a child. We don’t have enough heads that are able to effectively guide these youth into a better direction.”