When the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic recession hit in early 2020, everyone faced new challenges and abrupt life changes. Some individuals, families, and communities are experiencing the effects more acutely than others — and disruptions to Washington students are particularly concerning.
“National studies indicate that interruptions in education because of the pandemic are hitting some students of color and students from low-income backgrounds particularly hard compared to their peers,” says Brian Jeffries, policy director for Partnership for Learning.
A recent McKinsey study estimates that, because of COVID-related remote learning, K-12 students could return to school in January 2021 experiencing seven months of learning loss — and losses could be greater if school buildings remain closed beyond January. The study also concludes that learning loss experienced by Black students (10.3 months), Latinx students (9.2 months), and students from low-income backgrounds (12.4 months) could be even greater.
“The pandemic is clearly magnifying educational inequities that have long existed,” Jeffries adds.
In the broader economy, communities of color, young workers, and those with a high school diploma or less are bearing the brunt of the downturn. More than half of Black and Latinx households nationwide reported employment loss due to the pandemic. The national unemployment rate in October for workers age 20 to 24 was more than 1.5 times that of workers age 25 to 54. About two-thirds of workers claiming unemployment in Washington state in November did not have a credential, a 12 percentage point overrepresentation compared to non-credentialed workers in the general population.
“A critical take-away from the current economic recession is that, more than ever, post-high school credentials are essential in our state’s economy,” Jeffries says. “As we all manage life during the pandemic, it is imperative that students continue to learn and get the supports they need to prepare for and complete a credential, such as a degree, apprenticeship, or certificate.”
Strategies such as engaging families, partnering with community-based organizations, and using high-quality diagnostic tools can help maintain learning and support students, particularly those who are further from educational opportunity, to stay on track and work toward completing a postsecondary credential.
Supportive family involvement
As students navigate hybrid and virtual learning, both Liz Ritz, director of teaching and learning at Oak Harbor Schools, and Joycelin Vester, dean of students at North Whidbey Middle School, emphasize the importance of increased involvement with their students’ families to support academic success.
“It’s affirmation for parents to know that educators love and care about their kids and are thinking of them, even if we aren’t seeing them in person,” Vester says.
Educators are communicating with parents more intentionally and on an ongoing basis, and districts are getting creative about how they work together with parents to close equity gaps, says Michaela Miller, deputy superintendent at the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).
“The pandemic has created a different and more meaningful opportunity to engage with families. The creativity and innovation around parent connection are critically important in closing gaps,” Miller