The Coronavirus pandemic has shined a light on existing educational inequities that are exacerbated by school closures and distance learning programs. There is also a new wave of urgency and commitment to racial equity and social justice. Everyone living through this time is navigating a public health and economic crisis and a time of society reckoning with systemic racial injustice. Both can be opportunities and catalysts for positive change.
As back to school plans have become part of a broader national conversation, education leaders must also prioritize the narrowing of equity and achievement gaps during and after the COVID crisis.
Planning for a New School Year in New Circumstances
Moving out of crisis mode and into intentional planning for the upcoming school year, it is critical that education leaders engage with marginalized student populations and their families to determine how to best build learning models that will meet their needs and keep from further widening equity and achievement gaps. Plans for back to school must be built with an equitable approach that addresses the intersections of race, poverty, residential segregation, and accessibility to social services.
Disproportionate Access to Essential Resources and the Digital Divide
Schools always have been more than just places of learning. Many students rely on school for meals, shelter, and mental health services. Without school in session, children and families may be lacking the resources they need. Access to community resources is vital under normal circumstances, let alone in the midst of a public health and economic crisis.
Without meeting students’ basic needs, learning will not take place effectively. Access to computing devices and wifi is an issue that is disproportionately affecting vulnerable student populations. According to the most recent federal data, about 14 percent of households with school-age children do not have internet access. In order to be a part of the solution in bridging the digital divide, Hoonuit will launch a new tool this fall to assist education agencies in mapping wi-fi access points and helping students and their families locate their nearest hotspot.
Social Emotional Learning: Supporting Mental Health
According to a study by JAMA Pediatrics published in April 2020, “Schools have long served as a de facto mental health system for many children and adolescents. […] during 2012 to 2015, 35% [of adolescents receiving mental health services] received their […] services exclusively from school settings.” The study goes on to say that “It is important to also understand that school closures will be relatively more disruptive for the mental health care of some youths. Adolescents in racial and ethnic minority groups, with lower family income, or with public health insurance were disproportionately likely to receive mental health services exclusively from school settings.”
Social emotional learning has understandably risen to the top of education priorities. As distance learning took hold, our district and agency partners have emphasized social emotional learning. Some integrated simple daily check-ins in the form of surveys, and others redirected with embedded curriculum. Social emotional learning will need to continue to be balanced with academic initiatives to support the whole child. It is important to understand that social emotional data is often collected in a silo, and therefore, does not provide whole child insight. Hoonuit helps educators bring together this information for a holistic view of their students.
Gleaning Insights and Building Actionable Plans with Data
Data tells a story. With the analysis of data, equity and achievement gaps can be identified. In order to make informed decisions and drive effective action plans, you need information. Equity-oriented data analysis, including subgroup analysis, is critical to pinpointing disproportionalities in our education systems.
The United States education system is intended to provide equal opportunity, but often disparities result from its design. It is the responsibility of every contributor in our educational institutions to examine the design of our systems and how each of us uphold the parts that aren’t working for all students.
You’ve probably heard the saying that schools are a microcosm of society, and change starts with education, and this upcoming school year must be different. Let us know how you will be using data to ensure equity in your schools in the 2020-21 school year. Our data consulting team can help you identify your data needs and develop a strategic plan.
We look forward to continuing the conversation and being a part of the solution.