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Latino education was disproportionately hurt in the pandemic, advocates say

Lack of high-speed internet, other resources compounded by language barriers contributed to educational shortfall

Latino students experienced an unequal impact from remote learning and other COVID-era factors, according to a nonprofit’s report released Monday.

UnidosUS, a Latino advocacy group, published its findings in a comprehensive report detailing over 30 years of progress and successes made by Latino students in education and noting the roadblocks created by the COVID-19 pandemic for Latino students and English learners across the United States.

According to the report, 70% of Latino parents believed their children experienced significant learning challenges during the pandemic. Nearly half said they do not have people or resources in their community to overcome those challenges.

Luisa Blanco, a public policy professor at Pepperdine University, suggests this problem is especially bad in California, where more first-generation families reside.

“Remote learning definitely creates a more challenging environment for Latino parents, especially those who are immigrants and have limited English proficiency,” she said. “Remote learning requires significant adult supervision and guidance, where some families were better equipped to provide that to their children than others. In California, where we had the majority of the 2020-21 academic year fully online, this problem is even more marked.”

Blanco referenced a Harvard study published this May showing that the longer the schools stayed remote, the greater the students’ learning gap. She said minorities were affected more than non-minorities by staying in remote learning for longer periods.

UnidosUS believes the impact on students stems from a loss of balance with their peers. Often, students learning English lacked critical infrastructure at home to connect with their teachers and classmates to the same degree as their peers.

“When schools closed during the pandemic, many ELs [English learners] lost access to critical resources and lacked technology to connect with their teachers and classmates, mimicking and magnifying the effects of summer school closures,” the report found.

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Research also suggests a lack of English proficiency among first-generation parents may compound issues in the remote learning environment.

“The majority of ELs come from low-income families in which parents have limited levels of education,” the report states. “ELs are also more likely to be unhoused than the general student population and less likely to have high-speed internet access.”

According to a U.S. Department of Education statement cited in the report, Texas-based English learners typically made academic gains at rates like or higher than their peers in non-COVID conditions. However, in Texas, where ELs learned remotely 50% of the time, they did not meet grade-level standards for a Spanish-assessments roughly 1.5 times more than their English-assessment colleagues.

Blanco believes this responsibility to tutor in lower-income Latino households may ultimately affect women disproportionately, according to her research.

“Many Latino parents, specifically mothers, had to take the role of childcare providers during the pandemic and take full responsibility [for] their children’s learning needs during remote learning,” she said. “We found that this situation created significant stress among these families, which is certainly detrimental to the learning experience of Latino children.”

According to NWEA, a research-based non-profit that measures growth and educational proficiency, Latinos 8 to 14 years of age saw the most significant declines in standardized test results.

“While performance on math and reading assessments declined among all student groups during the pandemic, Latino students in 3rd through 8th grade saw greater declines than their non-Latino white peers,” according to the report.

Latino students were also more likely to attend high-poverty schools that participated in remote learning for longer. Those schools experienced the most significant declines in achievement growth. Researchers estimate that students attending high-poverty schools that provided primarily remote education in the 2020-21 school year lost roughly half a year of growth in math and reading.

The report also found that Latino freshman enrollment in college declined for the first time in 10 years, down 7.8% from the academic spring of 2020 to 2021.

Those numbers rebounded in 2022 with a 4% increase. Overall, college enrollment is down more than 9% since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, with nearly 1.4 million fewer undergraduates.

UnidosUS released the report as part of its annual conference focusing on the progress and successes made by Latino students in education.

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Latino students were also more likely to attend high-poverty schools that participated in remote learning for longer.

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