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Report: Pandemic Exposes Educational Equity Challenges

New UMD-led Report Recommends Solutions for School Systems to Better Support Kids

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Children and families across Maryland and throughout the United States are grappling with the challenges and necessity of virtual learning required by the Covid-19 pandemic. But Black, Latino, and low-income children face starker difficulties and may be at risk of falling behind or disengaging from school entirely. Inequities that existed before the pandemic have become even deeper and difficult to bridge. 

A new report “Securing Educational Equity: Learning From the Lived Experiences of Black, Latino and Low Income Families, During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Beyond” provides a wake-up call for school systems and recommends concrete solutions to support student engagement and success and increase equity. 

The research, based on interviews and focus groups with 52 Black and Latino parents, students and educators in Montgomery County Public Schools in August, was led by associate professors Amy Lewin and Kevin Roy in the Department of Family Science. The report was the result of a partnership with the Black and Brown Coalition for Educational Equity and Excellence.

“This study came about because of the concern that online learning was leaving many people behind—that they were disengaging from school,” said Dr. Lewin said. “When the pandemic hit, it became clear that the existing issues of equity were going to get worse, and we needed to do something.”

The report highlights three main findings and provides concrete recommendations in each of these areas:

  1. Adult support -  students need more contact with adults at school, and there is a need for the schools to provide individualized and proactive outreach to students who are disengaged or at risk of disengagement 
  2. Communication - schools need to communicate with students and parents more frequently and in a way that is clear and accessible to all families, regardless of language or technological capacity
  3. Resources - students need access to individual mental health resources within schools and communities, support for technology challenges, and improved access to meal distribution. Interviews with families revealed that many kids were juggling not only the challenges of online school, but in taking care of siblings and helping their parents manage family needs.

“It was important to work with the University of Maryland School of Public Health to produce this report because it has an excellent reputation and credibility, and we wanted to make sure that we had people who could make the interview subjects comfortable. You are talking about some really difficult issues that families are going through, so this was so important,” said Mondi Kumbula-Fraser, Esq, director of the Black and Brown Coalition for Educational Equity and Excellence.

The coalition, which was co-founded by Identity, Inc., which works with Hispanic students and the Montgomery County chapter of the NAACP, has been advocating for the district’s more than 90,000 Black, Latino, and low income children since before the pandemic, so every child has the opportunity to reach their full academic potential regardless of race or income.

“The whole education system is going through a forced restructuring this year, and we have to try to ensure that it happens in a way that increases equity, decreases disparities and can be sustained after the pandemic is over,” said Dr. Lewin. 

Although this study was conducted in one school system, many of its findings are likely to be broadly applicable.

“What we heard from students and parents is not unique to Montgomery County,” said Dr. Roy. “It is reflective of the stressors of this moment we’re in. We hope these recommendations can be helpful to other counties across the state.”

The University of Maryland School of Public Health research team included: 

  • C. Andrew Conway, MSW, LCSW, University of Maryland School of Public Health
  • Amy Lewin, PsyD, University of Maryland School of Public Health
  • Juliana Muñoz, MA, University of Maryland School of Public Health
  • Kevin Roy, PhD, University of Maryland School of Public Health
  • Martha Yumiseva, MSEd, University of Maryland School of Public Health
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