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As public schools grapple with how to safely educate students during the coronavirus pandemic, many districts will turn to online learning. But children whose parents are frontline workers or who simply cannot afford to stay home will have to navigate distance learning on their own, in their own homes.

Pamela Davis-Kean, a research professor at the Institute for Social Research’s Survey Research Center, studies the relationships and pathways between parental socioeconomic status-in particular parental education-and children’s achievement outcomes. Davis-Kean, also a research affiliate with the Population Studies Center and a professor of psychology, is concerned that the different ways in which children receive education during this time will deepen achievement gaps.

Can you describe what achievement gaps are?

Achievement gaps are about differences in students on standardized achievement tests. Achievement gaps begin prior to schooling, and come from socioeconomic status differences in our country that perpetuate through what children are exposed to in the home environment. This means whether kids get cognitive stimulation in the home environment and whether the parents have the resources to afford daycare. For example, in kindergarten, some children can already recite the alphabet, read fairly simple words and count versus kids who cannot count at all and do not know the alphabet. These kinds of gaps exist every fall: there are some kids in the classroom working well above grade level and kids who are working below grade level or at grade level. We’re tracking those types of gaps, and because the intent of schooling is to reduce those gaps, we’ve been trying to develop successful interventions to reduce the gaps.

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