Poll: Satisfaction with distance learning drops, as pandemic widens equity gaps for low-income students and students of color

by | Jun 29, 2020 | Press Release

Review of school district continuity plans for school closures points to disparities in instructional access and support for historically underserved student groups

Civil rights, education, parent, and business organizations call on state leaders to adopt specific equity-driven guidelines for school district reopening plans

NEW YORK – With a new poll finding that New York parents are increasingly dissatisfied with distance learning and that families from low-income backgrounds and families of color report that they were not receiving the necessary support during school closures, The Education Trust–New York’s analysis of school districts’ instructional continuity plans reveals significant disparities and gaps in instructional access and support during the pandemic.

“In this unprecedented moment, New York’s education system is facing the dual crises of the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic and the realities of systemic racism in our society,” said Ian Rosenblum, executive director of The Education Trust–New York. “As state and school district leaders continue to plan for reopening schools, New York only has two choices: to allow the pre-existing inequities in our education system to continue to widen, or to take deliberate action to address them.”

[Today’s release includes three parts: a poll of public school parents conducted by Global Strategy Group; Ed Trust–NY’s review of the instructional continuity plans created by school districts statewide; and recommendations from The New York Equity Coalition for state and school district leaders focused on reopening schools. All of these documents can also be found at EdTrustNY.org/Coronavirus.]

Although parents support their schools’ overall handling of coronavirus (83% in the June poll, consistent with our earlier poll at the end of March which has support at 85%), a major gap has opened between the response of low-income and higher-income families. Again, while 8 in 10 parents of children in New York State’s public schools say their child’s school is doing an excellent or good job handling the coronavirus (83%), low-income families are 10 points less likely to give positive ratings (76%) than their higher-income counterparts (86%). This is a contrast to our March poll, when the difference between the response of low-income and higher-income families was insignificant.

According to the poll findings, from March to June, parent satisfaction with distance learning dropped from 57% of parents citing distance learning as successful to 43% – a 14-point difference. This decrease is also primarily driven by low-income families, who are much less likely to describe distance learning as successful (36%) than higher-income families (48%). Satisfaction with distance learning dropped by 16 percentage points among Black families.

At the root of many parents’ dissatisfaction with remote learning is a fear that their child will fall behind academically (86% concerned, rising above all other concerns in the poll). The poll reveals that the education system’s response to the pandemic is making existing equity gaps even worse, with disparities in the type and quality of services provided to families and students, including access to teachers, feedback on assignments, and technology devices and high-speed internet.

Looking to the fall, the poll finds that parents’ top priority is extra support for students who are falling behind – 70% say there should be more of this in schools next year. When asked to rate their comfort level with a series of protocols and accommodations that could be made next year to protect student health and safety, parents are most comfortable with in-classroom options over exclusively remote learning: precautions like maintaining rigorous cleaning protocols (80% comfortable), regularly testing staff and students (79%), and ensuring social distancing (75%) are all preferred over school buildings remaining closed (62%).

‘Planning for Equity?’ An Initial Look at School District Instructional Continuity Plans for 2019-20 School Closure

The same themes found in the poll are reflected in Ed Trust–NY’s new analysis of the instructional continuity plans developed by school districts this spring in response to school closures.

The report – Planning for Equity? – draws on copies of all instructional continuity plans that were submitted to the New York State Education Department by school districts. The analysis is based on a quantitative analysis of responses from all 688 school districts to a limited number of questions and a qualitative analysis of all responses and supplementary materials submitted by the 50 school districts serving the greatest number of students from low-income backgrounds.

Among the findings:

  1. High-need school districts were less likely to offer teacher-led instruction that mirrored a “traditional” classroom.
  2. Gaps in technology availability exacerbated inequities for students and teachers.
  3. Just 7 of the 50 school districts serving the greatest number of students from low-income backgrounds provided clear evidence of meaningful alternatives to online learning.
  4. The school districts serving the greatest number of students from low-income backgrounds showed gaps in student access to teachers and in student engagement strategies.
  5. Many plans did not go far enough to support students with disabilities, Multilingual Learners/English Language Learners, and students experiencing homelessness.
  6. Despite a focus on social-emotional support, meaningful access to school counselors remained a significant unmet need.
  7. School districts used multiple strategies to communicate with families, but inequities persisted – including insufficient outreach in families’ home languages.

The report also includes examples of promising practices from many school districts across the state that inspire hope and celebration: districts where teachers and school counselors conducted ongoing outreach to families, where high-quality instruction was the expectation for all students and schools worked to fill technology gaps to make learning possible, and where families received intensive support in their home language and using the family’s preferred methods of communication.

The review of plans points to the need for clear, consistent, and high expectations from the state about the services and supports that school districts are expected to provide all students and families; the need for real-time monitoring and transparency; and resources to support school districts in filling the holes in their plans and capacity.

“We recognize that school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic were an unpredictable disruption to traditional classroom instruction,” said Francisco Miguel Araiza, associate director of research and policy for The Education Trust–New York“Sadly, our analysis of school district continuity of instruction plans revealed the predictable exacerbation of inequities in instructional quality, access to technology, and in school districts’ ability to meet individual student academic and non-academic needs. To ensure every student has an equitable education in the fall – and beyond – state, district, and school leaders must not only improve upon the immediate crisis response, but also work to uproot the systemic issues that too often deny Black, Latinx, and other traditional underserved students the opportunities to learn and thrive.”

Reopening Stronger: Educational Equity Priorities for Fall 2020

As New York prepares for the next academic year and beyond, the state has a unique opportunity to prioritize educational equity in school reopening planning. To do this, state and local leaders must also address the persistent historical inequities in our education system which have been exacerbated by school closures caused by coronavirus.

Just as state and local leaders are focused on the health and safety components of successful school reopening, The New York Equity Coalition of civil rights, education, parent, and business organizations asks that educational equity also drive academic reopening considerations.

To achieve this goal, The New York Equity Coalition is recommending that state leaders adopt specific state guidelines and require school district reopening plans to address eight priority areas, described in greater detail in the policy brief, Reopening Stronger:

  1. Adopt school schedules that provide safe in-person instruction to the maximum number of students possible;
  2. Close learning gaps and ensure high expectations for all students;
  3. Re-engage students who are at greatest risk of dropping out;
  4. Help high school seniors get and stay on track;
  5. Adopt anti-racist policies and practices, including implementing culturally responsive and sustaining curriculum, expanding efforts to support educator diversity, improving equitable access to advanced coursework, reducing the over-reliance on suspensions, and allocating resources to schools with a focus on student need;
  6. Improve engagement and communication with parents and families;
  7. Prepare for distance/blended learning and possible future school closures; and
  8. Ensure transparency.

“The New York Equity Coalition has long advocated for policies to increase education equity,” said Heather Briccetti, president and CEO of The Business Council of New York State. “This pandemic has brought to light the inequities that already existed in education, so we need to ensure that we address them head-on with policies that best support the students most in need.”

“We are at a generational crossroads dealing with two pandemics – COVID-19 and systemic racism,” said Samuel L. Radford III, past president of the District-Parent Coordinating Council of Buffalo and co-chairperson of We the Parents. “The mood and momentum of our country makes this a critical and most opportune time to address persistent historical inequities in our education system. All school district reopening plans must be expected to address these pressing issues.”

“The inequities that have been exposed and worsened as a result of pandemic school closures cannot be unseen,” said Dia Bryant, deputy director and chief partnerships officer for The Education Trust–New York. “Now, we must take intentional action to ensure that our students, especially those in Black and Brown communities, experience schools that are culturally affirming, emotionally supportive and academically rigorous. Our students and families need our education systems to think and act with their best possible futures in mind.”

“The negative impacts of our global pandemic will be felt for years to come, but in the field of education, we have the opportunity to eke out a silver lining,” said Paula L. White, executive director of Educators for Excellence-New York. “That’s why it is imperative that we commit to reopening schools in the most impactful way possible, to minimize the effects of this event on our students, and to chart a new course for what is possible for their learning.  This guidance provides such a path, and so we must follow it.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic forced school closures, disrupting the education of all students especially for students of color,” said Frankie Miranda, president of Hispanic Federation. “As Latino workers helped to keep a bare bones economy running, our families and children suffered a disproportionate impact. Economic, health, and educational disparities are not new but, COVID- 19 underscored the need to address long-standing educational inequities affecting Latinx students. As we explore ways to safely reopen schools this fall, we challenge educators to adopt our coalition’s recommendations so that all students, especially students of color, have the same access to quality education and opportunities to excel.”

“During COVID-related school closures, students with disabilities and their families struggled significantly to access remote learning,” said Barbara Glassman, executive director of INCLUDEnyc. “We refuse to repeat this experience in the fall and cannot allow the achievement gap between non-disabled students and students with disabilities to widen further.”

“These times require a sense of urgency to achieve equity for low income students and students of color,” said Crisanta Duran, New York State director of Democrats for Education Reform. “That’s why it’s imperative that state leaders adopt equity driven guidelines for school district reopening plans.”

“With the national spotlight finally illuminating inequities that we have long worked to address, Read Alliance believes that solutions that promote potential and promise are key to moving toward a future where children from all backgrounds have equal opportunity to succeed,” said Danielle Guindo, executive director of Read Alliance. “Now is the time to truly invest in equitable solutions that level the playing field for all children and youth.”

“Our commitment to ensuring that every New Yorker has the quality education they deserve is rooted in equity and justice,” said Sheena Wright, president and CEO of United Way of New York City. “As we plan reopening, and prepare for the next academic year, we must center the experiences of those who are still facing the disproportionate impact of this pandemic, and those who have always faced the impacts of systemic neglect.”

Read the policy brief and explore additional resources at EdTrustNY.org/Coronavirus.