VIRGINIA ASSOCIATION OF SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENTS

Closing Equity Gaps

By Marcus J. Newsome

According to Tory Frerichs, vice president of investment services at Country Financial, “There are many reasons Americans could be feeling good about their financial futures right now. Savings rates have gone up, we are hearing positive news about a Covid-19 vaccine and the stock market is at an all-time high.” As more Americans are staying home, personal savings rates have hit a record high fueling hopes for a strong economic recovery. Conversely, groups including people of color, lower earners, women and workers with less education, continue to struggle (Dickler, 2020).

In findings from Country Financial, 55% of the adults surveyed rated their financial security as positive compared to 42% who said their level of financial security was the same or worse since the pandemic began (Country Financial Security Index, 2020).

The COVID pandemic has highlighted the economic disparities in the US and throughout the world. These disparities have uncovered growing inequities in education as well. Frerichs’ findings suggest that equity is not just an education problem; it’s a socio-economic problem. When legislators, business leaders, parents and communities become more accountable, then schools will be better equipped to narrow equity and achievement gaps.

In a November 24, 2020, article published by the Washington Post, Hannah Natanson writes, “evidence of poor achievement in virtual classrooms is beginning to emerge nationwide: In the Independent School District in Houston, more than 40 percent of students are earning failing grades in at least two of their classes, according to data reported by the Houston Chronicle.

Likewise, in St. Paul, Minnesota, the superintendent recently reported that nearly 40 percent of St. Paul Public Schools high-schoolers have failing marks, local TV station KARE reported” (Natanson, 2020).

These reports are indications that current virtual learning environment is not working for far too many students. Just last week IAID Director Anthony Fauci, admonished communities to “close bars and keep kids in school.” Destiny is a homeless student who said, “I’m on edge all day long…Everything was really good until recently. I’ll survive. It’s just actually really hard…School was my outlet…It’s just really a small loving community. Everyone goes above and beyond to help (Blankstein & Newsome, 2020). Isolation, lack of routines and stabilities is increasing the equity gap.

Natanson suggests that at this phase of the pandemic the damage done to students with limited resources at home has reached a tipping point. She says once students return to school, “we need to slow the pace down in the name of equity.”

Dr. Brabrand, superintendent of Virginia’s largest school division already has a plan, which includes helping struggling children by instituting “catch-up days” and extending the first-quarter grading period. Fairfax County Public Schools has also revised its student workload to make assignments less burdensome this semester—for example teachers have been instructed to give students no more than one hour of homework per week for each course.

Providing students with devices and Wi-Fi access is only part of the solution. Resources are an excellent start, but resources in the absence of context or a plan for how they can be leveraged to gain maximum efficiency renders resources ineffective” (Branch, 2020). Lessie Branch, director of The Think Tank at The Thinkubator, recommends four policies to address inequities.

  1. Establish precautions for COVID-19 virus escalation​. Schools should conduct broad testing and temperature checks within buildings and develop staggered arrival times and pick-up times for students. Administrators should also alter class schedules to reduce congestion and limit the sharing of school supplies and technology. In-person time should be prioritized for students in the greatest needs, such as those who don’t have online access and children who are most at risk of falling behind.

  2. Operationalize access to at-home technology. Because CARES Act funding did not close the digital divide, communities with significant need will need additional financial support. Educators must inventory their communities’ tech resources and identify the connectivity needs of individual students.

  3. Facilitate individualized services for vulnerable student populations. Administrators and policymakers must focus on risk factors for learning loss, such as learning disabilities, language barriers, housing and immigrant status, and the impact of family sickness and deaths on students. Conduct ongoing student and family needs assessments and expand access to low-technology digital resources. Schools should also increase the number of mental health counselors and therapists focused on self-care, mindfulness and mental health. Finally, teachers should provide more digital literacy lessons for students and parents.

  4. Develop systems to collect feedback from families and students. The community should work to prevent teacher shortages to keep class sizes small. Officials must also recruit more Latina and Black educators. Educators in Establish two-way communication with all stakeholders, design creative assignments for students and adopt successful online learning practices from other schools. (Zalaznick, 2020).

For more information on closing equity gaps, review the VASS Blueprint for Achieving Equity in Virginia Public Schools 2020. VASS Blueprint 2020.pdf

References:

Blankstein, A, Newsome, M. (2020). Breakthrough Leadership: Six Principles Guiding Schools Where Inequity is Not an Option. Corwin Publishing.

Country Financial Security Index. (2020). Bloomington, Ill. Withstanding the Storm: Americans’ Feelings of Financial Security Stay at Pre-Pandemic Levels Despite Impacts of COVID-19 and the Election (countryfinancial.com)

Dickler, J. (2020). 42% of people falling behind as Covid-19 widens the wealth gap (cnbc.com). 42% of people falling behind as Covid-19 widens the wealth gap (cnbc.com)

Natanson, Hannah: Failing grades spike in Virginia’s largest school system as online learning gap emerges nationwide, Washington Post, November 24, 2020 at 7:16 p.m. EST. Fairfax County Public Schools reports more students failing - The Washington Post

VASS Blueprint 2020.pdf

Zalaznick, M. (2020). 4 COVID-era education lessons from The Bronx: New report zeroes in on the digital divide and other remote learning inequities. District Administrator  4 COVID-era education lessons from The Bronx (districtadministration.com)

 

Virginia Association of School Superintendents
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