By Paige B. Greenwood
Neuroscience Doctoral Candidate
Reading and Literacy Discovery Center
Albert C. Yates Fellow
University of Cincinnati
As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic swept the U.S., Ohio Governor DeWine closed Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) through May 1. Although this closure was necessary, it reinforces pre-existing access challenges for CPS’ students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
I am a recurring volunteer in CPS teaching elementary students about neuroanatomy by tailoring my teaching methods to be inclusive of underrepresented students’ needs. I also spearheaded a reading fair for K-6th grade students, with the objective of placing 2-3 books in their at-home libraries. This, and other programs that are designed to support underrepresented students’ needs, are now halted.
Upon school closures, CPS decided to continue serving breakfast and lunch, which is critical for students on, free or reduced lunch. CPS also shifted to remote learning with enrichment packets provided to students to complete during their schools’ closure.
“These packets are meant to accommodate students in the interim; however, these packets do not replace classroom learning. We have an online platform called Schoology, but only 25% of my class have completed their online assignments as many do not have access to a computer,” says an anonymous teacher within the district.
Similar to addressing meal plans, CPS must implement online learning and provide strategies for students to master the skills they need to be prepared for their next grade level. There are 57 schools in the CPS district and the majority of the students are systematically underprepared with lower achievement and progress levels.
The Ohio Department of Education has reported that fourth and eighth-grade students in CPS did not meet their expected progress scores in English/language arts, math, and science. In particular, economically disadvantaged students are underperforming in language arts and math compared to their peers. Low socioeconomic status households are less likely to have access to computers and learning materials with lower rates of academic achievement. In Cincinnati, 27.2% of the population are estimated to be in poverty with 15.8% not having a computer in their household.
Traditionally, students have access to computers in school to complete assignments, but current school closures have made this process difficult. The Ohio Department of Education’s current recommendations on remote learning are that Internet or computer devices are circumstantial, with “no viable” options for online instruction. They encourage that schools’ partner with the Educational Service Centers (ESCs) and Information Technology Centers to aid in solutions for remote learning.
The process of distributing computers to households is a reasonable and doable method as New Jersey schools decided to lend out Chrome-books to students in the wake of schools closing. This allows students to engage in discussions with teachers and complete online assignments. Charter communications have also begun offering free Spectrum broadband and Wi-Fi for the homes of K-12 students for the next 60 days.
Ohio has issued a statewide order for all residents to stay home. As there is a high probability that schools will be closed for the remainder of the semester due to the increase in confirmed cases of COVID-19.
CPS should provide technology to assist disadvantaged families to continue classroom learning. The school district should distribute new or used computers to students in need. Providing technological resources and shifting to online learning platforms for all students within the district would be beneficial to those who are currently underperforming and need the additional instruction during school closures. Lack of resources should not be a deterrent for the students to continue learning.
We are complicit in contributing to the gap in academic achievement for disadvantaged students if we do not support them during and after this pandemic.