Education, digital and health inequities are being compounded by the pandemic impacting families in unprecedented ways and devastating families already struggling economically and socially. The impact on parents is beyond the stress of being a teacher’s aide or school counselor at home. In addition to worrying about basic necessities, parents are struggling to support their children with online technology or understand how to help when the technology does not work. Literacy and language barriers are making it challenging for parents to understand school information about distance learning and often rely on their older children to translate and explain. Worse, families with little to no digital literacy or an established email cannot search and apply for online support or resources, much less reach out to their students’ teacher or school staff.
Children who have support at home with homework assignments and online educational resources can access content and enrich their educational experience, developing skills they need for college and careers. Those that do not will fall behind and likely exacerbate learning and educational inequities. Critical to a family’s ability to support their child’s learning at home is having a relationship with their teacher(s) that is based on respect and trust; where communication is open and solution-oriented. This is true for distance learning but should also be considered as schools prepare for both the summer months and the reopening in the Fall.
Based on parent surveys, interviews as well as input from our partners, we offer ways in which problems impacting families can be addressed and mitigate growing learning inequities.
Key findings include:
- 1 in 3 parents do not have health insurance, while most of their children do have coverage.
- Parents are worried about basic necessities, such as Health, Jobs, and Shelter.
- More than 45% of EL families are not receiving the support they need.
- More than 70% of families do not know if their child is meeting IEP requirements through distance learning.
- 1 in 3 parents do not have email addresses.
- More than a quarter of parents do not know if their child is turning in required schoolwork.
- Nearly a quarter (21%) of families are not receiving the equipment necessary to access and participate in online classes.
Capacity Building for Educators:
- Invest in family engagement training for teachers, principals and support staff to ensure school personnel has the knowledge and tools needed to effectively connect and build strong relationships with every family.
- Provide 1 to 1 check-ins between school/district and parents in a language parents understand to assess their well-being and needed supports to create the best environment for successful student distance learning. This mitigates against growing learning inequities.
- Recognize that engagement involves regular and ongoing interaction between families and schools. Ongoing, regular engagement also strengthens students’ relationships with their parents, because they see that their parents are committed to their education and success. At this time teachers, bilingual aides, home/school coordinators, and counselors need to regularly outreach to parents needing this support.
- Develop linguistic and culturally responsive practices to address socioeconomic and linguistic barriers that prevent developing effective parent engagement.
- Develop guidance and guidelines for teachers on how to support students including low-income and English Language Learners as well as students with disabilities and foster youth.
- Develop a process by which schools and teachers track and maintain the connection with students and families now and through a transition “back to school” in the language spoken by the parents.
Skills Building and Supports for Families
- Provide technical assistance to parents that is linguistically accessible so that they may support student with online learning or other distance learning opportunities.
- Develop adult digital literacy whether through workshops or seminars for families; or as an integrated part of parent-teacher partnership activities.
- Ensure access to free internet service, hotspots, software, software licenses, devices, as well as instructions in their language for each of these items, that allow students and families to participate in online learning.
English Language Learners
- Ensure that families of English Learners (ELs) are active participants in education and assessment plans and receive resources and trainings in their language to develop language and literacy skills for them to support learning at home.
- Provide digital or hard copy curricula, instructional materials and methods to support their children that are responsive to the unique needs of ELs and are not simply translations of the materials distributed to other students.
- Develop a short-term and long-term plan for distance learning which assesses parent’s ability to support with or without online technologies and provide necessary support where needed.
- Provide guidance for teachers on how to implement distance learning when there is a language barrier with the parents. Most English Learners are instructed in English. This language barrier requires specialized strategies to help them support their children’s ability to access online work.
Students with Disabilities
- Districts must take proactive measures to support students with disabilities. Such students must receive equal access to any remote learning alternatives schools provide to all students.
- Broadband access and smartphones are not enough in communities with language and literacy challenges and limited digital literacy skills. Digital literacy support for families that is culturally and linguistically accessible and woven into a school’s parent engagement strategy is essential for their children’s academic progress and growth. Lack of access and supports for technology and skills development to access learning opportunities will exacerbate learning gaps, furthering educational inequities.
- Promote digital equity and support local digital inclusion strategies that are responsive to the diversity of families.
- Local governments across the U.S. are involved in “Smart Community” initiatives, aimed at using networked technologies and data to transform city service delivery, transportation, economic development, governance and civic participation. We urge local government and smart community leaders to include digital inclusion as a strategic goal of smart community initiatives.
- Continue to ensure children have access to free breakfast and lunch
- Expand access to health insurance. When parents are uninsured, children suffer. If parents are unwell and stressed about not being able to get medical attention, or worse have a chronic condition that cannot be treated, it impacts parent’s ability to support learning at home as well as the workforce, and the health of the community.
- Increase the number of counselors, social workers, and other mental and behavioral health professionals available during this crisis and ensure they have the resources and technology to safely identify student needs and provide appropriate services or referrals.
FUNDING AND RESOURCES
- Target funds equitably to support programs, services, and resources that meet the needs of the students most impacted by the crisis, specifically English learners, students with disabilities, students from families with low incomes, students experiencing homelessness, immigrant and first-generation students, and students of color.
- Support the on-going reinvestment of $100 million in the College Readiness Block Grant (CRBG), $23 million to support outreach and recruitment efforts through the University of California (UC)’s Student Academic Preparation and Educational Partnerships (SAPEP) Programs. The CRBG has been critical in leveling the playing field for low-income and disadvantaged students.]
- Support the Schools & Communities First Initiative to strengthen the schools for our children, a healthy family, and safe neighborhoods.