As the 2020 school year arrived with no end in sight to the coronavirus pandemic, parents and educators were understandably worried. How would we maintain social distancing in schools? Where will teachers get enough PPE to keep themselves safe?
And while those questions are absolutely important, they miss one major problem. It turns out that keeping students safe once they come back to school is only one part of the bigger picture.
Studies have shown that online education isn’t the most effective way for many kids to learn. It can be harder to pay attention, stay on schedule, and retain information.
Younger kids can miss out on developing key social skills and forming bonds with their peers. Older students can become depressed and isolated. They may develop bad habits that negatively impact their studies and even their sleep.
The other major problem with online learning is a lack of access. Even if every single kid is sent home with a tablet or laptop, some children have more reliable access to the internet than others. Disadvantaged kids can fall even farther behind as they lack the resources and environment to study at home.
Given the choice between the risks of classroom education and the downsides of online learning, some parents have gone with a third option. Pulling kids from school, whether it’s for private education or to enter the workforce early, is going to have a lasting impact on our society.
According to a USA Today report, thousands of students have fallen through the cracks in our education system. School districts across the country are reporting declines in enrollment. In particular, public schools are “missing large swaths of children in the youngest grade.”
In addition to parents pulling their kids from school, an alarming number of older students are dropping out. This is especially common in lower-income families, where teenagers are choosing to work instead of attending school.
However, students from more affluent families are also leaving the school system. Their parents can afford private teachers and other options that simply aren’t available to disadvantaged kids.
Experts warn that we’re looking at an ever-widening gap between the haves and the have-nots.
It’s not just kids who are impacted by this. The school districts themselves will end up facing budget shortfalls. With declining enrollment comes declining funds.
USA Today estimates that the loss of 10,000 students this year in Clark County, Nevada, translates into a budget reduction of over $61 million. Teacher layoffs could follow, as well as reductions in student services, specialized classes, and support staff.