Report reveals disparities among Black, Latino LAUSD students in online learning amid COVID-19 pandemic

A new LAUSD report shows more than 50,000 of its Black and Latino middle and high school students didn't regularly participate in online instruction after campuses closed in March.
LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- More than 50,000 Black and Latino middle and high school students in Los Angeles did not regularly participate in the school system's main platform for virtual classrooms after campuses closed in March, reflecting the disparities faced by students of color amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the difficulties ahead as the LAUSD prepares for continued online learning, according to a new report.

The numbers, reflected in a first-of-its-kind report by Los Angeles Unified School District analysts examining student engagement during campus closures, paint a stark picture of students in the nation's second largest school district struggling under the new pressures of online learning, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Nearly every category of students -- sorted by race, income and learning needs -- included large numbers who did not regularly participate in distance learning. But low-income students and Black and Latino students showed participation rates between 10 and 20 percentage points lower than white and Asian peers, according to study cited by The Times.

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English learners, students with disabilities, homeless students and those in the foster-care system had lower rates of online participation, according to The Times.

The engagement report dated July 7, was completed before Superintendent Austin Beutner announced Monday that campuses would remain closed when the new school year begins on Aug. 18. In making the decision, he acknowledged that online learning would be no substitute for the classroom.

The report measured engagement without explaining why certain groups of students were less likely to participate. But previous surveys have shown that many families of color and low-income families at first lacked computers and internet access. L.A. Unified moved to minimize those issues by providing computers and internet hot spots.

At the same time, the coronavirus crisis has taken a uniquely devastating toll on Black and Latino families, whose members disproportionately work as essential front-line workers, frequently in low-paying jobs that have exposed family members to health risks and prevented them from overseeing their children's schoolwork at home.

The achievement gap among Black and Latino students has persisted for decades.

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The LAUSD study examined the period between March 16, the Monday after schools closed, and May 22. It described how students engaged at various levels online. For example, some students simply logged in and did little else. Others only viewed their work. Those whom the report described as "participating'' were students who submitted work, took tests, posted on a discussion board or created a message.

Using that measure, the report found that on an average day only about 36% of middle and high school students participated online. About 25% logged on or viewed work only. And about 40% were absent, The Times reported.

Among Latinos, who make up three-quarters of the district's 206,000 middle and high school students, the peak weekly participation rate was 67 percent for middle school students and 73 percent for high school students. For Black students, it was 67 percent and 71 percent.

By comparison, weekly participation among the district's 19,300 white secondary students peaked at 88 percent for middle school students and 85 percent for high school students.

Among Asians, who had the highest participation rates, it was 89 percent and 91 percent. They account for 8,241 students in the analysis.

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Low-income students, meanwhile, lagged between 10 and 20 percentage points behind their peers from more affluent families. And among English learners, students with disabilities and those who are homeless or in foster care, peak weekly participation was 57 percent or lower.

"These are deeply disturbing, yet not surprising data,'' UCLA education professor Tyrone Howard, who also directs the Black Male Institute, told The Times. "Unfortunately, what these data remind us is that race, socioeconomic status, disabilities and disadvantage still matters.''

City News Service contributed to this report.
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