In late January, when Washington, D.C. schools began offering in-person learning again amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, one thing became clear: Many minority students opted out, impacting education equity disparities even more.
Minority students overwhelming chose continued online learning
The reasons Black and Hispanic students largely chose to continue virtual learning varied. The first was that minority populations have been hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic. People of color have had higher infection rates and some Black and Hispanic parents didn’t want their children to face coronavirus exposure with in-person learning. Overall, only 9,200 of the 15,000 eligible students in the Washington, D.C. school district chose to return to classrooms in late January. The district overwhelmingly has students of color enrolled.
Another reason minority students and those in poorer neighborhoods chose to continue online learning is that parents were concerned about childcare options. Parents didn’t want to face losing before and after school care amid a COVID-19 outbreak. Parents already had found other childcare options for their children and didn’t want to change those. Some parents chose to continue their children’s virtual learning because their children couldn’t attend school in-person for more than a few hours a day.
Online learning’s impact on student learning
Students who struggle in school are more likely to struggle even more with online learning, though. For minority students with learning disabilities, such as dyslexia or ADHD, virtual learning is even more difficult. Students who aren’t native English speakers also face more challenges with online learning.
In fact, many minority and ESL middle school and high school students have failed classes they’ve taken through virtual learning. Many education experts are concerned about how online learning may widen the achievement gap between White students and students of color. They feel minority students who fail online learning classes will be discouraged and may then fall even further behind.
It may take another year or more to understand the full impact of virtual learning on education equity. For now, unfortunately, the pandemic has put many minority students more behind and struggling to catch up.