United Black Fund Commentary

It should not be a surprise to anyone who is paying attention that the Covid-19 Pandemic is exacerbating inequities that have traditionally plagued ethnic minority and lower-income citizens in the United States.

Probably one of the most long-lasting damages begin caused by the Pandemic will be this society’s efforts to close the educational achievement gap. Indeed, the future wealth and income of large numbers of ethnic minority and lower-income students mightily depends on the ability of school districts to close the gap between those who are economically and socially privileged and those who are not.

Experts have noted the administrative dilemma faced by public and private school administrators posed by the pandemic that was forced by the pandemic. For months schools had to close. Nearly all local districts had to tinker with various combinations of in-person programs and online curricula. These challenges have been aggravated by the fact that many districts have not adequately trained their teachers and non-teaching staffs to gain the technical expertise to work within an online structure.

Traditional disparities in home internet access, which existed long before the onset of the pandemic, have not helped matters. Over nine million children aged three to 18, or about 14% of the total, did not have Internet access at home in 2020, according to a study released by the National Center for Education Statistics.

The study estimated that 19% of African-American and 17% of Hispanic children did not have home Internet access in the U.S., compared to about 12% among white and Asian children. A recent study by the consultant group McKinsey & Company cited data that indicated that 60% of low-income students are regularly logging into online instruction – compared with 90% of students from high-income households.

Much of this is attributable to the fact that the low-income students and schools lack access to the latest computer products, as well as to quiet spaces with minimal learning distractions. This is compounded by the fact that the parents of these children are disproportionately represented as “essential” or “front-line” employees who must physically report to the workplace, and are unable to supervision during on-line instruction.

McKinsey and Company, in its recent study, estimated that the pandemic has generated an overall learning loss of nearly seven months among all students in the U.S. The study estimates an average learning loss of over 10 months for African-American students, nine months for Hispanic students, and 12 months for low-income students.

McKinsey estimated that the current crisis will likely increase existing educational achievement gaps between white and minority students by 15% to 20%

While the pandemic appears to be worsening an already wide achievement gap between white students and students of color, it should be noted that there were indications that the gap had been steadily narrowing in the years before 2020.

An article published by the Brookings Institute in late 2019 – entitled “The achievement gap in education: Racial segregation versus segregation by poverty. What would Dr. King say?” –noted that while desegregation efforts had significantly declined since the 1980s, there was some evidence that ethnic disparities in education had narrowed in recent years.

Another study released by the Center for Education Policy Analysis at Stanford University before the pandemic indicated that, as of 2012, the white-black and white-Hispanic education achievement gaps were 30-40% smaller than they were in the 1970s, but that the disparities were still wide.

School district administrators nationally have identified expanding summer school programs, public-private collaborations to bolster youth and summer educational camps, staggering in-person and online instruction schedules, and speeding the graduation of new teachers and social workers currently in colleges and universities, as short-term measures to address student learning loss from the pandemic.

But sadly, sustained progress in educational attainment in the African-American community — just like so many areas of society – may likely have to wait for policymakers to decisively address the Covid-19 crisis.

Charities, like the United Black Fund, seek to close the educational gap by providing funds to a large number of non-profit organizations in Cleveland Ohio in hopes to reach more children part of these minorities.