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Beyond BLS

Beyond BLS briefly summarizes articles, reports, working papers, and other works published outside BLS on broad topics of interest to MLR readers.

December 2023

The unequal responses to pandemic-induced schooling shocks

Summary written by: Jelena H. Goldstein

Education is meant to benefit all students. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, changed this notion. The pandemic emphasized discrepancies in support and resources for school children of different socioeconomic backgrounds, and the aftermath of the pandemic may be seen beyond the short-term differences. In their article “The unequal responses to pandemic-induced schooling shocks” (Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Review, first quarter 2023), Andrea Flores and George-Levi Gayle look at what effects the pandemic has had on school-age children. They suggest, similar to natural disasters, that COVID-19 limited schooling of children on the basis of their background. Limitations included canceled classes, no access to online schooling, and general school resources. Flores and Gayle state that “non-White respondents were more likely to have had their classes cancelled at the onset of the pandemic.” This group of students was also less likely to have computer access if their classes continued online. Overall, school disruptions affected both short-term learning and their continued education.

To determine how the pandemic altered children’s learning, the authors use a dataset that they first introduced in an earlier article that they coauthored. They use this dataset, which they developed from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey data, to compare demographics from April 2020 through March 2021. The study covers 2 academic years, including the initial pause to in-person meetings and return to the classroom with distancing. Flores and Gayle use Census data to measure three “changes in learning format,” identified as “switch to remote learning,” “class suspension,” and “schools remaining open.” They also focused on computer access.

Flores and Gayle find that “children in households in the bottom quintile of the income distribution and children in non-White and non-college-educated respondents’ households” faced more class cancellations and less computer access when classes were switched online. These students’ long-term education was disrupted substantially more than their peers who could better continue learning during COVID-19. School is seen as an equalizer, allowing students to learn and grow. Students with access to computers at home were able to continue learning, while those who did not have resources did not continue the same level of learning at home. Findings show that educational benefits can no longer be equal when they are taken away from or disrupted for only some groups.