COVID-19 has brought a wave of new challenges to our world, affecting both home and school life worldwide, and taking our interactive classrooms and lectures online. In late March, schools across America began to shut down in fear of a further spread of the coronavirus. Consequently, the shutdown of schools have left thousands of students to rely on online calls and google classroom to get them through the remainder of their year. However, COVID-19 has also brought a universal issue to light, and to the desks of school administrators: how to bring an internet-dependent curriculum to children with no internet.
The issue of educational inequality is not new, but it's an issue exacerbated by our current circumstances. Before COVID-19, there was an evident educational gap between impoverished and middle class communities, evidenced in part by the difference in graduation rates and standardized test scores between these groups. However, in our new status quo, all educational funding and resources have been removed from a child’s school life, leaving only what they are offered by their districts, and an online curriculum, to supplement the loss of a school day. It is here the problem arises: the gap between high, middle-income, and impoverished students, already severely pronounced across the US, only widens because affluent and middle-class students are more likely to have high-speed internet and web-enabled devices than their low-income peers. The number of books in affluent and middle-class households, too, tend to be twice the number than in low-income families’ homes. With the digital divide so sharp, countrywide confinement leaves affected families more isolated than ever.
While students across the country self-quarantine inside their homes, it is easier than ever to truly scale the effect income has on education. According to Paul Reville, Massachusetts’ former secretary of education,“now that [students’] entire learning lives, as well as their actual physical lives, are outside of school, those differences and disparities come into vivid view.” The true effect of COVID-19 on our education system lies in its tendency to bring greater urgency to century-old issues of inequality.
The fact that low-income families will not have the quality resources and education that high-income students will receive during quarantine is not a new problem, but one that has been highlighted by recent events. Low-income students have been facing these disparities for generations, the reality that they will not receive the same opportunities, or quality of education, that those of more privileged communities will. Sean F. Reardon from Stanford University has found that the standardized testing gap between low and high income students has increased by 40% over the past 70 years, and the gap of college completion has increased by 50%. These issues are directly related to our unequal society, and the opportunities afforded to students inside and outside of the classroom. Students who come from families with limited resources and education will be further behind students who grew up in middle-class households. This all echoes the reality of our society: that those who make less are offered less.
COVID-19 will continue to worsen the problem of educational inequality that has existed within our society since its inception, and there is no doubt about that. However, there is a way to solve it: by mending racial and income-based disparities through laws that level the playing for generations to come.