Latinx: The Expendables of the COVID-19 Crisis
COVID-19 Is Likely to Exacerbate the Learning Gap Between Latinx Students and Their White Counterparts
By: Amanda Fernandez
In the best of economic times and prosperity, the Latino community experiences some of the largest income inequality that has existed in the nation. In fact, Latinas make just 54 cents on the dollar to White men in the workplace. This is exacerbated by the historical gaps in access to educational opportunity. As an example, by eighth grade, Latinx students lag behind white peers in math and reading by double digits. These gaps already existed before COVID-19, during a time when students were face-to-face with teachers every day.
With COVID-19, the gulf between Latinx and White students has cracked wide open for all to see. During this pandemic, Latinx students face fears and hardships many students can only imagine. Latinx educators in our network report being most fearful about the toll on students whose parents work in high-risk jobs. Families who live in concentrated urban centers are experiencing a higher rate of COVID-19 illness as a result. These teachers follow up with their students but can’t be there in the ways they’d like, such as helping work through a math problem one-on-one or allaying financial or medical fears.
The lightning speed at which technology has become the de facto option for remote learning has contributed heavily to widening inequities faced by low-income children, including Latinx students. Couple this with images of children and families lining up outside of their schools to get two meals a day. We can’t unsee this injustice now.
Too many districts were unprepared for the inevitability of online learning, which has been foisted upon our students and families. While thousands of hard-working educators have risen to the challenge, only some kids have benefited. Many Latinx still do not have a computer. Even if they did, the infrastructure to support it is not in their homes or communities. Latinx students and families in lower economic brackets are less likely to have access to a home computer than other students. These struggles put stress not only on their learning but also their well-being. To stop the exacerbation of learning gaps, we must prioritize our most vulnerable children during planning for school re-entry in the fall.
We can do that by focusing on solutions that prioritize the needs of low-income and Latinx students through technology access, representation, and a whole-child focus.
I hear people refer to what’s happening now in education as “e-learning” far more than I hear people call it “remote learning.” But it’s only e-learning if a student has access to a computer and internet connection. As long as the COVID-19 virus continues to spread we can expect that e-learning is here to stay.
In this moment we must see a collaboration of public, private, and philanthropic partnerships coming together to help relieve resource constraints. Our Latinx students are struggling but they are resilient and want to learn. To do so, they need the tools that more well-off kids already have. Let’s remember that digital literacy will be a requirement for our future workforce. Today’s Latinx students are tomorrow’s employees and bosses, but only if they have access to technology, proper supports, and educators who can engage them now. After all, we continue to be the largest growing demographic in our education system. We are the future workforce.
Many among us feel that, while we are fighting COVID-19, we just need to worry about the basics and can forgo other issues in our school system, such as lack of educator representation. Prior to the pandemic, there was finally increased momentum to address this issue. This current time of uncertainty and isolation only highlights the need for diverse, culturally and linguistically affirming educators and leaders that our students trust and relate to. I would even say that had we been better at this we may not have experienced the levels of student disengagement this past Spring. The Latinx community makes up almost one-quarter of U.S. schoolchildren but only eight percent of teachers. We cannot lose this focus.
Sweeping state and federal reforms are required to fix this completely, but we can take some action now, which is why Latinos for Education just launched its EdCentro platform. It connects Latinx educators to resources and matches talented Latinx educators to open positions in the education sector. EdCentro also serves as a community where Latinx educators can share stories, ask advice, and leverage each other’s materials for the benefit of students across the U.S.
If our kids are going to rise above the fear, hardship, and confusion of the COVID-19 pandemic, we, as parents, educators, and community members need to prioritize their emotional and physical well-being. School staff has been called on to be all things to all students – teachers, counselors, food providers, problem solvers, surrogate parents, and more. But, educators simply do not have the funds or bandwidth to do this for every student without help. Instead, we need increased support and coordination with our community organizations — especially those that specialize in one of the aforementioned issues or have cultural competencies that can benefit our most vulnerable students.
These are not easy shifts, but we are building momentum to do right by those who have been systematically left out. We as Latinos are not the expendables any longer. Our ganas is evident as our community plays an important role in keeping this nation running right now. If education leaders truly take care in making these changes, the support we provide our most vulnerable students will never be the same, and that’s a good thing.
About Amanda Fernandez
Amanda Fernandez is the CEO and co-founder of Latinos for Education, the first Latino-founded and led national organization dedicated to creating leadership pathways for emerging Latino education leaders and diversifying education nonprofit boards. She is a Trustee of the Board with the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and Roxbury Community College. El Planeta has twice named her one of the 100 most influential Hispanics in Massachusetts.