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Report finds New York's learning gap grew in 2020

Students at schools with the largest share of

Students at schools with the largest share of low-income students are 1.7 times as likely to be learning entirely remotely as those with the smallest share of low-income students, according to a new study. Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/Maria Symchych-Navrotska

When Long Island’s schools went to remote learning on March 13, it quickly became apparent that the gap between what the region’s richest districts could offer during the pandemic and the academic programs the lowest-income schools could provide was even larger than in normal times.

And even beyond money, the racial composition of districts is a factor in what they offer, and what families accept.

The resource gap, which exposes the academic and racial divides between most districts, is often even more extreme in kids’ homes than in their schools, so moving classes to those homes meant even more challenges for kids who might not have computers, internet access, a parent who could help, or even just peace and quiet.

Now a study conducted by The Education Trust, a nonprofit focused on education equity, of the state’s school district report cards on COVID-19 has compiled data about distance versus in-person learning this year that paints an ugly picture of the learning gap.

Across New York, students at schools with the largest share of low-income students are 1.7 times as likely to be learning entirely remotely as those with the smallest share of low-income students. Students at schools with the largest share of students of color are about 1.4 times as likely to be learning entirely remotely as those at schools with the smallest share of students of color.

And the gap is even larger on Long Island.

"On Long Island, students at schools with the largest share of low-income students are about three times more likely to have no in-person learning," Education Trust-New York Executive Director Ian Rosenblum said. "And students at schools with the greatest share of students of color are about twice as likely to have no in-person classes as those with the smallest share."

The Roosevelt school district, for example, high-needs and mostly minority, is entirely remote, while nearby Baldwin has 2,881 students learning in-person, and 1,553 doing all remote.

Rosenblum said the reason is twofold. One problem is less-resourced schools offering far less in-person instruction. But another factor is poor and minority parents, who he said are less trusting of their schools and aware that their communities have been hit far harder by the virus than richer and whiter ones. Such families are more likely to opt for distance learning even if their schools have an in-person option.

"What this tells us is we need to be doing a lot more to make sure these districts with higher percentages of low-income and minority students have to be given the resources they need to create rigorous, high-quality distance learning," said Rosenblum.

He pointed out that these school report cards are maintained by the Department of Health, not the Department of Education, and include no education information.

"We don’t know anything about attendance for these districts where so many students are being taught remotely," Rosenblum said. "How do we know what percentage are even logging on each day, how many have the computers and internet they need, how many are keeping up and how many are falling behind?"

Roger Tilles, Long Island’s representative on the state Board of Regents, said everything he’s seeing matches up with The Education Trust report.

"The disparity in what districts are offering is very real," Tilles said, "and certainly, in the cases of districts like Hempstead and Wyandanch, both of which now have state monitors trying to help get them back on track, parents have good reason to worry that the poor governance of the districts makes them less trustworthy when it comes to keeping their children safe."

Tilles went on to say that the lack of information on how remote learning is going is an issue in every district.

"You have kids not logging on, or logging on for attendance and then dropping out, or watching in bed or in pajamas, and I’m hearing that about students in all kinds of districts," Tilles said.

The Education Trust report can be found here.

And the state’s school COVID report cards can be found here.

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