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As covid-19 spreads, educational gaps widen

By: Brittany Stinson

The covid-19 crisis is shutting down schools in its wake. Thousands of K-12 schools across all fifty states have closed their doors. The transition to online learning has been a rocky one made abruptly and without prior preparation or protocols in place to make the switch. Although it’s not the ideal way to finish out the school year, most students are equipped with the necessary resources to trudge on through. At the same time, groups who were already most vulnerable may be prone to falling further behind, to the extent of possibly having to repeat the entire school year.

If anything the covid-19 pandemic has consistently been revealing the nature of the socioeconomic disparities that still remain ever present in our nation, with education being no exception. It comes as no surprise that students have different capacities to complete schoolwork at home. The home has become the new learning environment, but for many kids, it’s far from the ideal one. While this transition has proven to be disruptive to kids from all walks of life, low income students will be hit hardest by the adjustment for a variety of reasons out of their control. Here, we consider various conditions that are likely to negatively impact the capacity for low-income children to effectively learn at home.

The perceived success of the transition to online schooling is based on the assumption that all kids have easy access to a quality wireless internet connection and computers or laptops–which is far from the case. Research from the Brookings Institute unsurprisingly indicates that with rising neighborhood poverty, broadband adoption rate drops. In the context of covid-19, this means that the students who are already more susceptible to falling behind will be facing even more challenges just to simply keep up. Public schools can’t guarantee internet connection or available devices to ensure that all students are able to complete their coursework at home.

This “homework gap” is nothing new, and parents have had to come to creative and painstaking solutions to offer some sort of remedy to the situation. It’s not uncommon for parents to take their kids to parking lots at McDonald’s, libraries, cafes and gas stations, even these tiresome and extraordinary solutions might prove to be impossible amidst the coronavirus pandemic as spaces are of course, closed while people are strongly encouraged to remain where they are are home.

On a brighter note, broadband providers have stepped in to try and close the widening gap. The FCC recently initiated the Keep Americans connected pledge, internet service providers who sign on agree not to disconnect customers who are unable to pay their bills over the course of 60 days, waive late fees and open up hotspots. Some companies are going further to offer free services to students. Third parties like Google are stepping in, having announced that they will donate 4,000 Chromebooks to students and provide free Wi-Fi to 100,000 rural households in California for at least three months.

While there are opportunities to mitigate the problem of digital connection, this is but one of numerous hurdles. This does not negate the fact that there are other areas where low income students can fall through the cracks.

In a recent questionnaire conducted by the Pew Research Center with data collected from April 7th to April 12th, 83% of parents surveyed indicated that they where at least “somewhat” satisfied with the way that their child’s school has been taking on online instruction, although 64% of parents still express some concern and 28% say they are “very” concerned about their children falling behind in school as a result.

Level of educational assistance that parents or other adults in the household are able to offer at home is one factor that is changing the playing field. Results from the Pew study indicate that this capacity does change across socioeconomic status. Consider children of essential workers such as grocery store delivery service employees who, in most states, are not earning living wages, experiencing incredible demand during the crisis, and struggling to get hazard pay added to their salaries. There is no guarantee that the essential workers have access to childcare at all.

With being out of the house for long periods of time, they are less likely to be able to help their children meet the new demands of online coursework, or help them with homework problems. Additionally, essential workers are at higher risk themselves for contracting covid-19. Should they and their children fall ill, this will mean another disruption to the learning environment.

On a different note, many forget to consider that schools are an important site for children to receive free meals. These closures will undoubtedly make it more difficult for some families to be able to feed their kids.While schools are offering services where parents can pick up meals, what happens to those who lack the transportation to do so? Or the parents of children who are out at work all day? This food insecurity not only affects children at the physiological level, but introduces new anxieties about where their next meal will come from. These worries combined with lack of energy and ability to focus make it nearly impossible to perform their best in school.

Chris Cuomo, Governor of New York has recently called covid-19 “the great equalizer” but this is far from the truthThis pandemic has proven itself to be disruptive to all, but especially to the most vulnerable population. Covid-19 may not care who it infects, but access to resources dictates who lives and dies and as the economy plunges, who is able to stay afloat.


Brittany is a senior at Stanford University studying Human Biology. She cares about how socio economic disparities influence barriers to health and well-being.

Work Cited:


Inc G. 42% of parents worry covid-19 will affect child’s education. Published March 31, 2020. Accessed May 2, 2020.


Callahan AT Lara Fishbane, Angela Siefer, and Bill. Digital prosperity: How broadband can deliver health and equity to all communities. Brookings. Published February 26, 2020. Accessed May 1, 2020.


Tomer LF and A. As classes move online during COVID-19, what are disconnected students to do? Brookings. Published March 20, 2020. Accessed April 30, 2020.


Johnson S. Thousands of California students to get free Wi-Fi and Chromebooks for distance learning. EdSource. Accessed May 2, 2020.


NW 1615 L. St, Washington S 800, Inquiries D 20036 U-419-4300 | M-419-4349 | F-419-4372 M. Methodology. Pew Research Center - U.S. Politics & Policy. Published April 14, 2020. Accessed May 3, 2020.


Covid-19 disrupts school schedules, child care arrangements. Accessed May 4, 2020.


Dunn CG, Kenney E, Fleischhacker SE, Bleich SN. Feeding low-income children during the covid-19 pandemic. New England Journal of Medicine. 2020;382(18):e40. doi:10.1056/NEJMp2005638


Jones BL, Jones JS. Perspective | Gov. Cuomo is wrong, covid-19 is anything but an equalizer. Washington Post. Accessed May 1, 2020.

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