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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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