Now that many schools nationwide have announced plans to hold in-person sessions this fall, questions have been raised about what’s next for students who spent much of the last year learning virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pamela Davis-Kean, a University of Michigan professor of psychology and research professor at the Institute for Social Research, studies the inequalities in educational opportunities and what that means for families, schools and children as the crisis is potentially increasing achievement gaps across the country.

Prior to the pandemic, students struggled in reading and science, but held steady with math proficiency when 4th and 8th graders were tested. What outcome do you expect a year from now when the analysis of the 2020-21 test scores becomes available?

We are already seeing issues in what is being projected by the NWEA (formerly known as Northwest Evaluation Association) which administers the MAP test across the country. They projected that reading achievement might hold steady but we were going to see a drop in math achievement. Unfortunately, their projections look to be pretty good because the data from the school year 2020-21 shows that most students are holding their own with reading achievement throughout the pandemic but that math scores are dropping in a very concerning way. They reason that parents were able to stimulate kids’ reading in the home environment, but that they could not necessarily keep up with math and that the remote schooling was not filling the gap.

Consistent with my research on the inequalities in parental educational attainment, parents with higher levels of education hold higher expectations for their children going to college and are providing resources and activities to keep them stimulated—reading to them, buying books, going to museums and libraries. Some parents don’t see this cognitive stimulation as the job of the parent and look to the schools to provide this, particularly with math. Other parents don’t have the time or resources to provide these activities or don’t feel confident in providing this, and that is why moving schooling to the home environment only increases the inequalities in education.

Schools help to reduce the inequalities related to socioeconomic differences by providing cognitive simulation, emotional support and training. For many families, providing what schools have been providing as a separate institution was not possible and remote schooling wasn’t filling the gap.

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