4 COVID-era education lessons from The Bronx

New report zeroes in on the digital divide and other remote learning inequities
By: | December 2, 2020
Providing students with devices and Wi-Fi access is only part of the solution to COVID-era education inequities, says an advocacy group in The Bronx. (GettyImages/FG Trade)Providing students with devices and Wi-Fi access is only part of the solution to COVID-era education inequities, says an advocacy group in The Bronx. (GettyImages/FG Trade)

Even with the prospect of widespread COVID vaccinations on the horizon, the pandemic’s impact on education will persist, most noticeably for underprivileged students in neighborhoods such as The Bronx in New York.

A new report zeroes in on the digital divide and other remote learning inequities in The Bronx to chart a path forward for bringing some students back to the classroom while others remain remote.

At the time of this posting, New York City Schools were set to reopen classrooms for a second time this school year on Dec. 7.

Providing students with devices and Wi-Fi access is only part of the solution, says Lessie Branch, director of The Think Tank at The Thinkubator, the education nonprofit that released the report.


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“Resources are an excellent start,” Branch says. “But resources in the absence of context or a plan for how they can be leveraged to gain maximum efficacy renders resources ineffective.”

The think tank is recommending the following four policies:

1. Establish precautions for COVID-19 virus escalation​

Schools should conduct broad testing and temperature checks within buildings and develop staggered arrival times and pick-up times for students.

Administrators should also alter class schedules to reduce congestion and limit the sharing of school supplies and technology.

In-person time should be prioritized for students in the greatest needs, such as those who don’t have online access and children who are most at risk of falling behind.

2. Operationalize access to at-home technology

Because CARES Act funding did not close the digital divide, communities with significant need will new additional financial support.

Educators in the Bronx must inventory their communities’ tech resources and identify the connectivity needs of individual students.

3. Facilitate individualized services for vulnerable student populations

Administrators and policymakers must focus on risk factors for learning loss, such as learning disabilities, language barriers, housing and immigrant status, and and the impact of family sickness and deaths on students.

Bronx administrators should therefore conduct ongoing student and family needs assessments and expand access to low-technology digital resources.

Schools should also increase the number of mental health counselors and therapists focused on self-care, mindfulness and mental health.


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Finally, teachers should provide more digital literacy lessons for students and parents.

4. Develop systems to collect feedback from families and students.

New York City should work to prevent teacher shortages to keep class sizes small. Officials must also recruit more Latinx and Black educators.

Educators in The Bronx should establish two-way communication with all stakeholders, design creative assignments for students and adopt successful online learning practices from other schools in New York City.

“Since I was a kid attending Bronx public schools in the 1980s radical education reform was needed in my community to address the grave inequities, this continues to be the same 30-plus years later,” said Edward Summers, president and CEO of The Thinkubator.


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