A new paper out from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirms that students in school districts that relied heavily on remote instruction during the pandemic had worse learning outcomes and mental health effects than children who had more access to in-school instruction. Also, those students without access to in-school instruction were disproportionately Black and Brown.
Here’s what we didn’t know: in New Jersey, “nonwhite students were more likely to be limited to virtual school compared to their white peers at a margin greater than in any state.”
The other state with a 30%+ disparity in access to live instruction for non-Hispanic white students compared to students of color was Pennsylvania. There, students of color were 38.6% more likely to be limited to full-time remote instruction. In NJ students of color were 41.4% more likely than white students to be shut out from school buildings.
There was enormous variability across America, reports lead author Emily Oster from Brown University, but racial disparities were consistent. Across the country, 75% of non-Hispanic white students had access to full-time, in-school instruction but only 63% of Black students and 59% of Hispanic students did. (The researchers did not look at how many students attended school, just how many had the option to attend school.)
The Philadelphia Inquirer notes that PA and NJ are states with atypical numbers of school districts –500 for the former, 600 for the latter–which limits opportunities for collaboration and scaling. Alyana Alfaro, a spokesperson for Gov. Phil Murphy, said the governor “knows that there is no substitute to in-person education” and noted that he had required all schools in New Jersey to provide full-time, in-person instruction for the coming year.
Oster et.al. conclude,
“These disparities underscore the importance of prioritizing equitable access to this learning mode for the 2021–22 school year. To increase equitable access to full-time in-person learning for the 2021–22 school year, school leaders should focus on providing safety-optimized in-person learning options across grade levels. CDC’s K–12 operational strategy presents a pathway for schools to safely provide in-person learning through implementing recommended prevention strategies, increasing vaccination rates for teachers and older students with a focus on vaccine equity, and reducing community transmission.”