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Dealing with an Equity Crisis within the Crises Blog Header

Dealing with an Equity Crisis within the Crises 

By Dr. José Iniguez and Dr. Rupi Boyd 

The current state of technology is a far cry from a time when the Sony Walkman was the cat’s pajamas. However, just like many could not afford a Walkman, many are currently unable to access quality technology, including affordable high-speed internet service. Although access to quality technology is an essential component of equitable and quality education, socioeconomic status, English language proficiency, neighborhood of residence, or race/ethnicity is often directly correlated with a lack of access to these critical resources. The results of an EdWeek survey (Kurts, 2020) demonstrate that, during the recent physical closures of schools, 33% of low-income students communicate with their teacher daily as compared to 56% of low-poverty students. Alarmingly, nearly one in three low-income students are considered “virtually absent/missing” as compared to 12% of low-poverty students. 

 The need to educate students remotely using technology perpetuates, and even exacerbates educational inequities that were present before the COVID-19 crises. Inequities that existed before a crisis, when compounded by a crisis, can result in students experiencing even more significant learning gaps after the crisis ends. As an example, Harris and Larsen (2019) reported students directly affected by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, regressed academically as much as two full years as a result of the pre-existing educational inequities, emotional trauma, economic impact, and change of school environment. The negative impact was measurably worse for low-income and African American students. Worse, students are likely to suffer intergenerational effects when one of their parents or guardians loses a job during the COVID-19 crises. These effects could include dropping out of school, being suspended, repeating a grade-level, or a lower educational attainment level over their lifetime (Patel et al. 2018). 

 Although we do not yet know the severity and length of the current health crises, the educational impact will be significant. Understandably, our minds are currently preoccupied with the health of our families, friends, colleagues, and students. However, we will eventually return to our familiar classroom settings. In preparation for this momentous occasion, we encourage districts to prioritize the equitable access to technology and the need for additional academic support when creating next year’s budgets and strategic plans. For example, in California, the development of Local Control and Accountability Plans (LCAP) presents critical opportunities to engage families in a technology-related needs assessment. Do all families who need WiFi hotspots have access to one? Is there sufficient bandwidth to support all students accessing the internet at the same time? We encourage districts to explicitly ask questions regarding access to technology when reaching out to parents through LCAP surveys or virtual meetings. Here are some possibilities: 

  • During the school closure, have you been able to access your child/teenager’s learning assignments? If not, why?

  • Were you or your child/teenager able to communicate with a teacher regarding lessons/assignments? If so, how?

  • Did you experience any difficulty accessing needed technology, including high-speed internet service? If so, why?

  • Were you able to get assistance with using technology when you needed it? If not, why?

There is little doubt the COVID-19 crises will widen pre-existing educational disparities. Although most districts across the country have implemented remote learning protocols, an estimated 70% of low-income students have not received school-issued technology devices, online tutoring, or online/phone therapy (Kurts, 2020). Now is the time to explore and discuss what comes next. While paying for technology and increased academic support can be challenging, they are essential components of an equitable and quality education.

Dr. José  Iniguez (jiniguez@sdsu.edu ) and Dr. Rupi Boyd (rboyd@sdsu.edu) are executive coaches at NCUST.

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