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  • Writer's pictureKaya Long

How COVID-19 Continues to Fuel Education Inequality

Updated: Apr 10, 2022

Although COVID-19 has closed down a majority of schools across the country, a few schools have continued to allow their students to attend in person classes full time. Private schools, in particular, have been able to open up again and continue to remain open, opposed to a majority of public schools whose doors have been closed to students since March of 2020.

This significant difference in learning dynamic has widened the educational gap between private and public school students, which is greatly based on the economic divide. “The virus is this huge stress test on our education system,” said Robert Pianta, Dean of the School of Education at the University of Virginia. He goes on to say that “it has exposed a great deal of inequity” and “certain kids in certain systems, depending on the resources, are going to get much closer to what looks like a typical high-quality education than others.”

Private schools have better capabilities to adhere to the safety regulations and accommodate their students due to the small class sizes and more proportional teacher to student ratios. Going to school in person, with large class sizes and not a sufficient amount of teachers to divide classes into smaller groups, makes it nearly impossible for public schools to abide by social distancing regulations. This is the situation that a majority of public schools are facing.

In addition to the social distancing dilemma, public schools simply lack the funding to effectively sanitize their campus and implement the necessary preventative safety measures. These include hand washing stations, hand sanitizer dispensers, extra masks, desk cleaner, etc.

In fact, according to the New York Times, “public schools faced a funding crisis even before the pandemic.” Despite the $13.5 billion received by K-12 schools “from the federal coronavirus relief package in March (though Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has required that it be shared with private schools), school officials and education policy researchers say that the money was not nearly enough” writes New York Times correspondent Claire Cain Miller.

Meanwhile, long-term remote learning has proven to be difficult for everyone involved, including teachers, students, and parents. Teachers have reported that a significant challenge is the slower pace of learning. According to Education Week, “two-thirds of teachers said that the majority of their students were less prepared for grade-level work than they were at this time last year.”

The common struggle amongst distanced learners is shared, but the ability to seek an in-person private school education is certainly not. “Schools are highly unequal. But the ability of families to provide education is even more unequal,” says Richard Kahlenberg, director of K-12 equity at The Century Foundation.

In addition, research suggests that school closures have widened achievement gaps. Early reports of falling grades have made it inherently clear that this pandemic is taking its toll on “education at every level” according to CNBC. Therefore, COVID-19 causing school closures has made it increasingly apparent that ideal educational opportunities are quite literally bought.

Distanced learning means that some students are more likely to be falling behind. The Education Week Research Center, “found that schools where most of the students qualified for free and reduced-price lunch, and schools that serve majority students of color, are more likely to offer remote learning, rather than in-person classes” writes Education Week staff writer Sarah Schwartz. In addition they are “less likely to have access to a digital device or the internet. The odds are kind of stacked against them,” says Julia Kaufman, a researcher at the RAND Corporation.

During the summer of last year, correspondent for the New York Times Dana Goldstein predicted that “racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps will most likely widen because of disparities in access to computers, home internet connections, and direct instruction from teachers”.

Those who cannot afford to send their children to private schools have no other option aside from an online education. Despite hard working teachers trying their best to engage their students, the large class size and lack of internet access that many students have, make it extremely difficult to match the educational value of an in person school day.

According to CNBC, as the pandemic carried on into 2021, “more families are seeking out schools that are fully in-person rather than remote — and, for many, that means switching to an independent institution, despite the cost.” A survey by the National Association of Independent Schools conducted back in August “found that 51% of private schools either maintained or grew enrollment for the coming school year, and 58% reported a “larger than average” number of admission inquiries”

according to TIME news.

Sending their children to in-person school “alleviates the burden on parents and, in many cases, allows them to go to work or pursue employment opportunities from home” according to CNBC. “There’s an explosion of families looking to make a last-minute change” says president of Abacus Guide Educational Consulting Emily Glickman.

Widespread school closures have proven that the best learning dynamic suited to optimize educational excellence is physical school for all students. Fortunately, “the ways in which private schools are reopening show it can be done with creative ideas — and the money to carry them out” (New York Times).

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