School Shutdowns Will Aggravate Racial Disparities

Graphic source: McKinsey & Co., “COVID-19 and student learning in the United States: The hurt could last a lifetime.”

A new report by the McKinsey & Company management-consulting firm contends that delaying in-class schooling to Jan. 2021 would result in a catastrophic loss of learning for students — a loss that would be even more pronounced among blacks and Hispanics than whites (and, presumably, Asians, who are not mentioned despite comprising 5.6% of the U.S. population).

The average loss of learning for all students would be 6.8 months. The loss would be slightly less for whites, about 6.0 months, but significantly greater for blacks (10.3 months) and Hispanics (9.2 months). The racial/ethnic achievement gap, which has defied all efforts of school administrators to close over the past decade, would grow significantly worse, says the article, “COVID-19 and student learning in the United States: The hurt could last a lifetime.”

The McKinsey scenario does not describe the hybrid stay-at-home/back-to-school model proposed by the Northam administration for Virginia, but it highlights many of the problems that Virginia school districts would encounter by having students attend school only two days per week.

States the study:

Learning loss will probably be greatest among low-income, black, and Hispanic students. Lower-income students are less likely to have access to high-quality remote learning or to a conducive learning environment, such as a quiet space with minimal distractions, devices they do not need to share, high-speed internet, and parental academic supervision. Data from Curriculum Associates, creators of the i-Ready digital-instruction and -assessment software, suggest that only 60 percent of low-income students are regularly logging into online instruction; 90 percent of high-income students do. Engagement rates are also lagging behind in schools serving predominantly black and Hispanic students; just 60 to 70 percent are logging in regularly.

The impact could be long lasting.

In addition to learning loss, COVID-19 closures will probably increase high-school drop-out rates (currently 6.5 percent for Hispanic, 5.5 percent for black, and 3.9 percent for white students, respectively). The virus is disrupting many of the supports that can help vulnerable kids stay in school: academic engagement and achievement, strong relationships with caring adults, and supportive home environments. In normal circumstances, students who miss more than ten days of school are 36 percent more likely to drop out.

None of this should come as a surprise. Commentators of various political stripes highlighted many of these issues as Virginia schools struggled to transition from in-school to online learning this spring. Although the schools will have had all summer to prepare for a hybrid learning environment, they are not organized for it, and, let’s face it, school systems are not exactly the most flexible of organizations. If the next school year devolves into chaos as schools and parents grapple with Northam administration guidelines, it is not inconceivable that the result will be worse than any of the McKinsey & Company’s three scenarios.

But never fear. The Northam team has a built-in defense against any adverse outcomes — any achievement gap is caused by structural racism! If the achievement gap grows even wider next year, it won’ t be because of the chaos Northamites created, it will be because minority students lacked Internet access or their parents weren’t home, or they live in smaller houses with less privacy and more distractions…. as if those factors were not entirely foreseeable.

Bacon’s bottom line: Virginia’s K-12 schools are heading for a perfect storm. The “restorative justice” approach to discipline is creating more disorder in the classrooms. The “social justice” fixation on racial disparities won’t make anyone any happier, but will distract from the tasks of teaching and learning. And the hybrid school/online response to COVID-19 will sow confusion.

I fervently hope that I am wrong, but I fear that the history books will show that the Northam administration presided over the greatest meltdown in K-12 education in Virginia history.

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16 responses to “School Shutdowns Will Aggravate Racial Disparities

  1. Your chart shows that low-income is by far the biggest impact so why continue to focus on race?

  2. blacks have always been a higher percentage of the economically disadvantaged.

    Economically disadvantaged families – tend to be under-educated – no big surprise – but under-educated people do not raise their kids the same way that educated people who are economically secure do.

    No big surprise that kids of under-educated, economically disadvantaged parents – tend to be harder to educate and have more discipline issues.

    Making it about race is disingenuous and worse… why do some do it to start with?

    • James Wyatt Whitehead V

      $22 trillion has been spent in the past 55 years on Great Society programs that were supposed to eliminate the gaps in Mr. Larry’s graph. One of the key classroom instructional points I always tried to make about the New Deal, the Second New Deal, and The Great Society (3rd New Deal) is that there seems to be a limit to the amount of good government can do to alleviate the symptoms of poverty. No matter how much is spent. I thought this was interesting, but a bit dated now.

    • James, can I ask you how much money we have spent to eliminate crime or traffic congestion in the last 55 years?

      I don’t think – there ever was a “design” to the “war on poverty” in terms of eradicating it no more or less than we’d throw money at crime or congestion.

      We have a lot less people living in extreme poverty than before but we still have a fair number of people living in “poverty” who do receive entitlements funded by taxpayers.

      One of the most significant anti-poverty programs was Medicare.

      You’re an educator. You know that for those who graduate without a good education that getting a good job is problematical.

      You also know how hard it is to get some kids educated.

      Would you actually sign on to the GOP “cure” for poverty espoused by folks who created that chart you posted?

      • James Wyatt Whitehead V

        Mr. Larry you and I care about the same thing. Reducing poverty, empowering the individual to stand on their own two feet, and aid those who cannot stand for a variety of reasons. It just looks like we are stuck. I use that exact graph of yours every year when we cover LBJ and the War On Poverty in class. Those ideas are 55 years old now. The needle isn’t moving anymore. I just wish we had a better plan. I am out of ideas on how to help the whole on the issue of poverty. But I know I have and will continue to make a difference for the individual. What else can be done?

        • We don’t really disagree but as long as we have people who do not have a good education – and as a result don’t have economic security – as long as they continue to have kids, we continue to have a problem.

          Let me point out a statistic you may or may not be aware of.

          between 40-50 percent of births in the US are paid for by Medicaid.

          Think of that – about 1/2 the kids you taught were paid for by taxpayers.

          About that same number of kids get free & reduced… AND their health care is Medicaid.

          That’s more than just “poverty” , no?

          Are we counting all the money spent on this as for “anti-poverty”?

          So half the parents and kids are getting entitlements but we’re only counting half of them as truly poverty?

          I dunno… I don’t have any better answers than you but we don’t think cutting these benefits to these parents and kids will fix it,right?

          • James Wyatt Whitehead V

            Mr. Larry I believe those benefits to poor students and families are going to be expanded in exponential ways in the days ahead. Hopefully new ideas that work. My bet is that the needle will not move very much. I hope I am wrong.

      • James Wyatt Whitehead V

        16.2 Trillion spent on transportation according to these guys. 70 year tracking period.

  3. I am delighted to see the attention this has given to the gross deficiencies in broadband availability in rural and poorer neighborhoods (and especially to the restrictions placed on local governments preventing them from responding intelligently) — and not incidentally, to the naive assumptions and poor implementation behind much of the on-line, remote secondary-school teaching around Virginia this Spring. On-line isn’t as effective as in-classroom but it sure beats nothing. Let’s hope the Fall doesn’t simply bring more of the same.

    • I get the impression that the broadband thing is secondary to the idea of “in-person” instruction. That EVEN WITH broadband, it’s not good.

      Makes one wonder how any of us “learn” if we have to have an “in-person” teacher…

  4. As reported in today’s RTD, the Northam administration is backing away from the document issued by the Dept. of Education. It now says that it is just guidance and it is up to each local school board as to how it opens schools in the fall. That would include in-person classes.

  5. Shutting down disproportionately affects poor children.
    COV2 disproportionately kills poor adults.
    Hmmm, I see a real dilemma.

  6. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    One observation I have made in the Warrenton area, large number of Hispanic kids are working. Are they going to return to limited in person instruction/virtual instruction at school or get paid? I know a 13 year old boy from El Salvadore right down the street making 17 bucks an hour. He is all smiles!

    • Hispanics still have their culture intact. Thus their workers are carrying the nation in many respects. Whole industries now would collapse without their Hispanic workers, and their wages and wealth are rising. Significant segments of other cultures in America, both black and white, however, are in free fall or collapsed. The reasons for this decline and collapse, including the poor and middle class are many and varied, most induced by our craven elite, and the dysfunctional institutional systems they have built to benefit themselves at the cost of the rest of society. We must reverse this damage done, and its causes and trends. Most importantly we must rebuild the cultures of these people and their communities being left behind now. We must start with rebuilding work ethics, confidence, sense of place and responsibility, and viability of families, and real education for all in America.

      • James Wyatt Whitehead V

        Great observation Mr. Reed. You always add to the conversation. The key to Hispanic cultural preservation is the Catholic Church. It is really very simple, the way we Americans once were just a few generation back.

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