The negative effects of the pandemic reinforce an already vicious circle: Students from low-income households tend to have access to fewer opportunities for educational enrichment and are more likely to attend historically underfunded schools.
The opportunity gap that Garcia and Weiss warned about has always existed – but it has worsened with the pandemic.
“This is nothing new,” Garcia, who focuses on education policy in his work as an economist, told CNN Business. But the consequences of the pandemic will worsen and last beyond the short term, she said.
“Children are resilient and they are learning something, so the question is going to be what each child has learned. It is going to be very different,” said Betsey Stevenson, professor of public policy and economics at the University of Canada. Michigan who served President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers.
While some children may have progressed in a particular subject during distance learning, others are now further behind than before the pandemic.
Double whammy for low-income households
“We have this forked society where some parents of kids are in their twenties and some parents of kids are in their 40s,” Stevenson said. And that makes a difference when it comes to household wealth and educational opportunities for children.
This too was a problem before the pandemic. But it got worse because of it.
“Slightly older people have more established working lives. It just means higher incomes,” Stevenson said. “Everyone earns less in their twenties than in their thirties. And for people with a higher education, that curve is steeper.”
On top of that, people with higher education levels tend to delay children’s education for longer, further compounding wealth inequality between younger and older parents.
Unequal return to school
Re-engaging students after more than a year in non-traditional learning scenarios will be a daunting challenge for educators and the government.
Personalized learning for students and increased resources for schools and teachers are obvious ways to start tackling this problem, Garcia said. But the gaps in pandemic opportunity cannot be addressed with a one-size-fits-all approach.
“This is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It is about learning and understanding how children learned and developed during the pandemic,” Garcia said.
Worse yet, the students most likely to benefit from re-engagement initiatives are also more likely to be in areas where schools are historically underfunded, she added.
It is too early to say how the effects of the pandemic will play out on the generation of schoolchildren who have gone through Covid-19. Those who can’t catch up on the hardware could still be at a disadvantage as they enter adulthood.
“This will be the case that some children just won’t find their way back to school,” Garcia said.
Action before data
The pandemic was so sudden and devastating that policymakers had to make plans before much of the data detailing the damage became available. The situation is similar here.
“We need to distribute a lot of resources over the next three years to make sure our children are healed and healed from the pandemic,” Stevenson said.
“You may or may not measure a student’s lead or lag. But those disparities are increasing. So if you really want to intervene, you have to think about the strategies that are necessary,” Garcia added.
This might require more leadership from local school districts or incentives provided by the state or even the federal government to fill in the gaps.