As many as 3 million children in the U.S. haven’t received any education since their schools shuttered in March – a sobering new estimate of the havoc the coronavirus pandemic is wreaking on the country’s most vulnerable students.
“The consequences for these students’ education and well-being are not marginal concerns: They are an emergency,” researchers at Bellwether Education Partners warned in a new report. “The long-term consequences of this crisis are difficult to estimate without seeming hyperbolic.”
Given how difficult reliable information on student learning has been to collect during the pandemic, researchers estimated the total number of students experiencing the worst consequences of school closures and the shift to distance learning by identifying groups of students most at risk and then calculating a likely percentage of those groups not in school, based on media reports and available data.
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The researchers focused on students with disabilities, English learners, students in foster care, migrant students and homeless students.
If 1 in 4 students in those groups has been shut out of education for months, that adds up to more than 3 million students – as if, the researchers point out, the entire school-aged population of the state of Florida dropped out of school.
If even 1 in 20 students in those at-risk groups did not access any education in the ongoing pandemic, that adds up to approximately 620,000 students.
The reasons so many students have been cut off from education include lack of access to the internet and technology devices, lack of available supports for English learners and students with disabilities, the economic pressures that have forced some students to get a job to help keep their families afloat as others have been forced to assume the role of the primary caretakers, watching their little brothers and sisters.
While these students can be found in every state, they’re concentrated in urban areas, the researchers noted. And once a student leaves school, they warned, it is difficult for them to return. One study of a large, urban district, for example, found that two-thirds of high school dropouts never reenrolled, and among those who did reenroll about half dropped out again.
“Circumstances that might push a student out of school today are very different, but even if all of the currently missing students return to school as soon as they are allowed to do so, months of missed opportunities for learning could mean permanent setbacks,” they wrote.
The researchers lamented the lack of public recognition of the serious challenges facing the country’s most vulnerable students and the potential consequences should millions continue to be disconnected from schools.
“Not only are educational futures at stake, but in some severe cases, students’ basic safety and well-being are in jeopardy,” they wrote.