Thurgood Marshall Institute Report

Beyond Learning Loss

Prioritizing the Needs of Black Students as Public Education Emerges From a Pandemic

By Sandhya Kajeepeta, PhD

From 2020 to 2022, multiple crises reshaped the U.S. landscape, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic downturn. Empirical evidence indicates that Black Americans faced elevated age-adjusted rates of COVID-19 infection, hospitalization, and mortality relative to their white counterparts. Moreover, the economic ramifications were discernibly pronounced, with Black households exhibiting a 29% higher likelihood of pandemic-induced loss of employment income compared to their white counterparts. The repercussions of these crises led to noteworthy disruptions in the educational paths of school-aged children and adolescents, with a marked disproportionate impact on Black students.

The Thurgood Marshall Institute’s latest report Beyond Learning Loss: Prioritizing the Needs of Black Students as Public Education Emerges From a Pandemic examines a broad range of outcomes to describe how Black students have been impacted by the upheaval of the first few years of the pandemic. The report offers key recommendations to improve educational equity and better serve the needs of Black students as schools emerge from the pandemic. Read the full report here.

To date, attention to the impacts of the pandemic on Black students has focused heavily on “learning loss,” which refers to declines in student academic performance relative to historical trends. The focus on learning loss and the need to catch up to pre-pandemic academic performance overlooks the ways in which the public school system has historically underserved Black students. 

Overall, the evidence presented in this report demonstrates that all students have experienced serious disruption to their health and educational experience. Importantly, these data also shed light on the unique pressures and adverse outcomes that Black students have faced over the past few years, extending over and above the narrow frame of “learning loss.” Black students are facing an erasure of their culture and identity from academic curriculum through anti-truth laws and book bans. They are facing strikingly high rates of health consequences from COVID-19, caregiver loss due to COVID-19, attempted suicide, feelings of disconnectedness, hunger, and homelessness. And Black students continue to face disproportionately high rates of exclusion from school through suspension and expulsion.

Together the report’s findings confirm that a return to normalcy will not serve Black students. Instead, educational leaders must explore this moment as an opportunity to address structural drivers of educational inequity. As the nation emerges from the pandemic, with the help of record-breaking investments in the public education system through COVID-19 relief funds, educational leaders have a once in a generation opportunity to make equitable investments in public schools that the vast majority of Black students attend.

Recommendations to Improve Educational Equity and better Serve Black Students:

Invest in material school and home resources.

Implement high-impact tutoring.

Eliminate police from schools and the overrelience on exclusionary school discipline.

Recruit and retain high-quality Black educators.

Protect the right to a truthful, inclusive education.

Thurgood Marshall Institute Report

Prioritizing the Needs of Black Students as Public Education Emerges From a Pandemic

The latest report from the Thurgood Marshall Institute examines the disruption and upheaval caused by the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic and sociopolitical crises’ impact on Black students. The report underscores the need to prioritize Black students and eliminate structural barriers to educational equity.

Educational leaders must explore this moment as an opportunity to address structural drivers of educational inequity.

Beyond Learning Loss: Prioritizing the Needs of Black Students as Public Education Emerges From a Pandemic is composed of three parts:

Part One

Structural Causes of Historic and Ongoing Inequity in Education

The first part of the report provides context and framing by discussing the structural forces that have shaped historic and ongoing education inequity. The COVID-19 pandemic is not the first instance of the U.S. public school system poorly serving Black students. Before the start of the pandemic, the public school system has been characterized by stark racial gaps in educational opportunity where Black students experience significant disparities in academic outcomes compared to their white peers.

School segregation, residential segregation, economic inequality, and the school-to-prison pipeline intersect to create serious risks for Black students with academic, public health, and criminal legal consequences. The pandemic and other coinciding crises have further exacerbated these risks. Efforts to emerge from the pandemic and prioritize the needs of Black students must address the structural factors that give rise to educational inequity.

Part Two

Recent Changes in Student Outcomes By Race

The second part of the report presents and synthesizes existing recent empirical evidence of changes to 1) student health and well-being and 2) educational experiences. Impacts on student health and well-being include physical health, mental health, caregiver loss, and substance use. Impacts on educational experiences include changes in academic performance, attacks on truthful and inclusive curricula, exposure to white supremacy and racialized violence, and school discipline. The empirical section of this report does not involve any original data collection or presentation of new data. It is, however, the first time such a broad range of student outcomes has been collectively presented and synthesized to illuminate the complex ways in which students have been impacted by the pandemic and other coinciding crises, and how those impacts may vary by student race.

Part Three

Opportunities to Advance Educational Equity Moving Forward

Part three of the report offers recommendations that schools can take to improve educational equity and better serve the needs of Black students as schools emerge from the pandemic. Student life was severely disrupted by the pandemic and other coinciding crises between 2020 and 2022. In many cases, Black students experienced more intense consequences than other students, such as widened opportunity gaps for younger Black students, more severe health outcomes due to COVID-19, higher rates of caregiver loss to COVID-19, and more. These recommendations address the work of educators, school administrators, policymakers, the College Board, and State Boards of Education.

Thurgood Marshall Institute Report

Beyond Learning Loss

Prioritizing the Needs of Black Students as Public Education Emerges From a Pandemic

More on Education Equity

LDF Report

Published in 2021, LDF’s Reopening Schools Guide issues guidance and recommendations for schools to protect the health and safety of students, and ensure equitable access to education during COVID-19 related closures and more.

Advocacy

The Need for Universal, Healthy School Meals

Expanding access to free school meals would help eliminate food insecurity and poverty and improve overall student health, particularly for Black students. This guide includes resources for parents and lawmakers.

LDF Original Content

Maryland Must Ensure Baltimore City Students Have the Funding Necessary For an Adequate Education

Baltimore City Public Schools have been chronically underfunded for decades, and Black students have suffered most. Maryland must deliver on its constitutional promise and ensure that another generation of children is not left behind.

LDF Original Content

Public education has suffered the consequences of the pandemic as well as the consequences of growing efforts to restrict students’ access to an accurate and truthful education. This piece explains why truthful, inclusive education benefits all students and how to make it happen.

Litigation

The Supreme Court's Affirmative Action Decision, Explained

On June 29, 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Harvard and the UNC’s affirmative action programs violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Here’s what you need to know about the cases and decision.

Shares