Lack of access to technology and achievement gaps contribute to Latino students struggling to engage in online learning during COVID-19 pandemic.
Teachers continuously adjust to meet the learning needs of their kids. The best teachers are keenly in touch with their students, team up with fellow teachers and school staff, partner with parents, and are constantly in a creative mode to meet the learning objectives that they know will set their kids up for success.
When a school closure is coordinated and teachers have the opportunity to adjust their instructional plans, as might happen with snow days, students’ academic performance does not suffer as much as when student absences are caused by factors that teachers may have less control over or are less able to plan for.
Even then, low-income students and those in elementary school are more adversely impacted by the gaps in instructional time. However, these insights are based on research on shorter-term absences and there is a lack of comparable precedent to the massive and extended school closures as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. For the most part, an educational uncharted territory.
As classes moved online, wide disparities have emerged in participation and attendance in the learning options offered to students across the country. Teachers are reporting that low-income and students of color are less likely to show up or be in contact with their teachers.
The barriers for Latino students to engage continuously and effectively in online alternatives are substantial and can’t be overlooked. Latino students currently do not have equal access to quality educational opportunities, resulting in persistent gaps in academic achievement.
Since 2013, both English reading and math proficiency among Hispanic 4th graders have not significantly improved. Actually, the numbers have declined among 8th graders, consistently performing below their white counterparts.
In terms of access to technology, 38% of low-income Hispanic students lack access to high speed internet, compared to 28% of low-income white students. Additionally, Latino students are more likely to be part of low-income households, where they are also at higher risk of contracting the coronavirus.
As teachers set up online programs and adjust their lessons to complete at home or with the support of parents and siblings, they are finding that Hispanic students are not showing up as much.
For instance, the Los Angeles Unified School District, where 73.4% of the students are Latino, recently reported that by the first week in April, approximately 40% of their elementary school students had not yet connected to the online school offerings.
On the other hand, some school districts in Florida that also serve many Latino students are actively following up with families, which may be behind the fact that they are reporting higher attendance rates.
Latinos are projected to comprise 1 in 3 of the K-12 public schools population by 2027. Florida and the Southwestern states have already experienced dramatic increases in the Latino student population, but this is a national trend that is happening everywhere as the U.S. increases in diversity and becomes less white.
The combination of risk factors for Latino students such as already being behind in academic performance, lacking the appropriate technology to engage online, and the emerging patterns of excessive absences are alarming.