Lower-income parents worry about learning loss

Lower-income parents are more than twice as likely as upper-income parents to be “very concerned” that their children are falling behind from missing school during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a Pew Research Center survey.

The survey confirms that lower-income parents value their children’s education as much as anyone. And they are right to be concerned. Even if schools can reopen in the fall, most students will be away from the classroom for nearly half a year. As a New York Times editorial argues, this could have catastrophic effects.

Schools and teachers are making heroic efforts to keep students engaged via distance and online learning. The same Pew survey found that most parents, regardless of income, are satisfied with those efforts. But online learning isn’t the same as in-person learning with teachers in the classroom: Witness the poor record of virtual charter schools in Indiana.

The survey found that 41% of lower-income parents are very concerned about their children falling behind, compared to only 17% of upper-income parents. Some 76% of lower-income parents were very or somewhat concerned, compared to about 58% of upper- or middle-income parents.

It’s one more example of how the pandemic is shining a light on the inequities in America’s education system. And how it’s likely to make them worse.

Lower-income parents and caregivers are less likely to have the kind of professional or managerial jobs that allow them to work from home, where they can coach and encourage their children through online learning. As Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick has pointed out, they’re also less likely to have effective online services. If they do have access, their children are more likely to be sharing a single device – probably a phone – to access the internet.

Lower-income families are also more likely to rely on schools for breakfast and lunch, before- and after-school programs and other necessities. Many school districts are going above and beyond to distribute free meals while school buildings are closed, but some families are no doubt being missed.

It’s not surprising that more affluent parents are less worried. Their kids may miss out on some learning in the short term, but they have the resources for tutoring and other programs to help their kids catch up.

Lower-income parents know they don’t have those advantages. They put their faith in schools, and the schools should not let them down.

2 thoughts on “Lower-income parents worry about learning loss

  1. The real question to be answered is the how of “the schools should not let them down.” Does that mean longer school days or school years as some are suggesting? Does that mean more cramming the tested content into the school day in order to “catch up” to the line that the state (and federal) government policy has determined is where they all need to be and at what time? Does that mean more funding for online instruction for the second wave of this virus and then the expansion of these abysmal online charter schools or virtual tools, etc.?

    My own take is that when the kids do come back, they will need social emotional and physical health help more than anything else. Many will need to learn to self-regulate again, to trust others again, to express their emotions appropriately again, and to have the time to connect with their teachers and peers again. Any talk of “catching up” might make things more stressful than they already may be in the restart of in-person schooling. Perhaps teachers would like professional development that increases their skills at differentiated instruction–meeting kids where they are in their learning and going from there, attuned to different levels of abilities/knowledge, tailoring lessons accordingly. Perhaps we should finally abandon high stakes testing and use that massive amount of money for the in-depth learning and instruction needed to give kids a high quality education.

    But whatever happens, we need to be ready to circle the wagons around public education as an institution and social good. We see what vulture capitalism does during and post crisis. #Katrina They are already talking about reimagining and revamping public ed–with education savings accounts, further de-professionalizing the teaching profession, and more. I hope we can put educators’, not these entrepreneurial “innovators,'” voices at the center and to listen deeply and intently to the people most likely to “lose” in this current crisis.

    Thanks for the post, Steve! Always thought provoking.

    • Thanks for the comment, Cathy. Lots of good points. I’m inclined to think that “catching up” academically is important but doesn’t need to happen all at once. I agree that the social emotional aspect may be the most important.

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