Education in a Pandemic: The Disparate Impacts of COVID-19 on America’s Students

The federal Office for Civil Rights within the Department of Education has released a report outlining the disparate impacts of COVID-19 on America’s students. Major observations include the following:

  • OBSERVATION 1 (K-12): Emerging evidence shows that the pandemic has negatively affected academic growth, widening pre-existing disparities. In core subjects like math and reading, there are worrisome signs that in some grades students might be falling even further behind pre-pandemic expectations. 
  • OBSERVATION 2 (K-12) COVID-19 appears to have deepened the impact of disparities in access and opportunity facing many students of color in public schools, including technological and other barriers that make it harder to stay engaged in virtual classrooms. 
  • OBSERVATION 3 (K-12): Even before the pandemic, many students learning English struggled to participate on equal terms in the classroom as they confronted the dual challenge of mastering grade-level content while continuing to learn English. For many English learners, the abrupt shift to learning from home amid the challenges of the pandemic has made that struggle even harder. 
  • OBSERVATION 4 (K-12): For many elementary and secondary school students with disabilities, COVID-19 has significantly disrupted the education and related aids and services needed to support their academic progress and prevent regression. And there are signs that those disruptions may be exacerbating longstanding disability-based disparities in academic achievement. 
  • OBSERVATION 5 (K-12): During the pandemic, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) students in elementary and secondary schools have faced particularly heightened risks for anxiety and stress and have lost regular access to affirming student organizations and supportive peers, teachers, and school staff. These students also are at an increased risk of isolation and abuse from unsupportive or actively hostile family members. 
  • OBSERVATION 6 (K-12 and postsecondary): Nearly all students have experienced some challenges to their mental health and well-being during the pandemic and many have lost access to school-based services and supports, with early research showing disparities based on race, ethnicity, LGBTQ+ identity, and other factors. 
  • OBSERVATION 7 (K-12 and postsecondary): Heightened risks of sexual harassment, abuse, and violence during the pandemic, including from household members as well as intimate-partners, and online harassment from peers and others, affect many students and may be having a continued disparate impact on K-12 and postsecondary girls and women and students who are transgender, non-binary, or gender non-conforming. 
  • OBSERVATION 8 (K-12 and postsecondary): Identity-based harassment and violence have long had harmful effects on targeted students and their communities. Since the pandemic’s start, Asian American and Pacific Islander students in particular have faced increased risk of harassment, discrimination, and other harms that may be affecting their access to educational opportunities. 
  • OBSERVATION 9 (postsecondary): COVID-19 has raised new barriers for many postsecondary students, with heightened impacts emerging for students of color, students with disabilities, and students who are caregivers, both for entry into higher education and for continuing and completing their studies. 
  • OBSERVATION 10 (postsecondary): Many institutions of higher education that disproportionately serve students of color and students from low-income backgrounds have seen declines in enrollment since the pandemic began. During the 2020-21 academic year historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), and Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) also had declines in enrollment that in some cases far outpaced enrollment declines in their predominantly white peer institutions. Higher-education institutions also reported a sharp drop-off in enrollment in 2020 of students graduating from high-poverty high schools compared to pre-pandemic numbers. 
  • OBSERVATION 11 (postsecondary): Students with disabilities in higher education are facing significant hardships and other barriers due to COVID-19, threatening their access to education, including through remote learning, and basic necessities.

Also included in the report is maintenance of equity guidance for states. This guidance details the calculations for how to protect high-need school districts from cuts in state funding in FY 2022 and 2023 on a per-student basis, and that high-poverty school districts receive at least as much in state funding in FY 2022 and FY 2023 as they did in FY 2019 on a per-student basis.

.For the report, see: