The extent of the learning that never happened when schools in Connecticut shut down during the pandemic was laid bare in a recent survey of districts, and the state’s education commissioner is calling it an “education crisis.”

Here are five things to know about the learning that was lost when schools shut down three months early.

One-in-4 students went MIA when COVID closed schools

Thousands of students either didn’t participate in remote learning at all, or only did so very minimally after schools closed, according to a survey completed by the state of nearly every school district.

That’s 137,000 children – one out of every four students in the state – who lost learning.

And even for the students who were considered to be “fully” learning during the closure, the threshold was pretty low. To be considered fully participating, a student had to just complete assignments on a weekly basis.

Why students aren’t logging on: competing priorities at home

A parent has to work and the student is being cared for by a sibling. A relative in the student’s family is sick with COVID-19 and that is consuming the family’s focus. The parent or student’s primary language is not English and they are struggling to participate. A parent lost his/her job during the economic shutdown and sorting out where to get unemployment benefits, food or another job is consuming that household’s time.

These are just some of the reasons thousands of students struggle to participate fully in remote learning.

District officials report nearly 92,000 children – one out of every 6 students in Connecticut – has family, health, trauma or other home-life obstacles that are a barrier to learning at home.

With most districts offering online instruction as their primary approach to remote learning, thousands of students are also struggling to connect because of weak internet access or because they don’t have enough computers or other devices at home.

Statewide, nearly 50,000 students – about one out of every 11 students – were in need of a computer or another device as of mid-May. While many of these students may have a computer or smart phone at home, there were not enough for each child to participate. Nearly 29,0000 students didn’t have internet access, it was too slow, or their smart phone or computer wasn’t compatible with the learning platform being used by their school.

Suburban children participate at much higher rates

Connecticut for years has had some of the largest-in-the nation gaps in achievement between groups of students – and the state’s education commissioner has been warning the extended school closures will rip those disparities even wider.

“The inequities have really come to the surface,” Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona said on the day he and the governor announced school building would remain closed throughout the school year. “The impact that that’s going to have – it will last generations.”

The survey his department conducted laid bare how the shutdown has worsened those disparities.

In the state’s 10 lowest-performing districts, students are more than 5 times less likely to have a computer or other device to learn remotely, three times less likely to have internet access, and 2.5 times more likely to have obstacles at home impeding their ability to participate in remote learning.

The result: only 48% of the students from those struggling districts fully participated in remote learning compared to 84% in the suburban, better off districts.

Nine percent of students in the struggling districts didn’t participate at all in remote learning when schools shut down, compared to 2% in the other districts.

Federal government sent money to help schools

Congress sent $100 million in emergency funding to help local school districts cope with the increased costs of the pandemic. That aid can be used to purchase internet access and devices or curriculum or used to cover additional expenses, like cleaning more often, when districts reopen. But there is is widespread concern that the federal aid will not be enough.

Gov. Ned Lamont’s office has received much more from the federal stimulus package, which can be used largely at the governor’s discretion to pay pandemic-related bills,  and teachers’ unions and others are asking some of that be spent on schools.

When announcing that schools will reopen in the fall – as long as the number of people infected doesn’t start to spike – Lamont said he intends to help districts as much as he can financially.

“Let’s see what the budgets come back with. You know, we don’t have an infinite amount of money, but we’re there to be supportive and do what we can to help,” he said.

Here’s a rundown of how much districts so far have been told they will receive.

Read the full survey by clicking here.

Jacqueline was CT Mirror’s Education and Housing Reporter, and an original member of the CT Mirror staff, joining shortly before our January 2010 launch. Her awards include the best-of-show Theodore A. Driscoll Investigative Award from the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists in 2019 for reporting on inadequate inmate health care, first-place for investigative reporting from the New England Newspaper and Press Association in 2020 for reporting on housing segregation, and two first-place awards from the National Education Writers Association in 2012. She was selected for a prestigious, year-long Propublica Local Reporting Network grant in 2019, exploring a range of affordable and low-income housing issues. Before joining CT Mirror, Jacqueline was a reporter, online editor and website developer for The Washington Post Co.’s Maryland newspaper chains. Jacqueline received an undergraduate degree in journalism from Bowling Green State University and a master’s in public policy from Trinity College.

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