Large socio-economic, geographic and demographic disparities exist in exposure to school closures

Zachary Parolin & Emma Lee:

The coronovirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has prompted many school districts to turn to distance or at-home learning. Studies are emerging on the negative effects of distance learning on educational performance, but less is known about the socio-economic, geographic and demographic characteristics of students exposed to distance learning. We introduce a U.S. School Closure and Distance Learning Database that tracks in-person visits across more than 100,000 schools throughout 2020. The database, which we make publicly accessible and update monthly, describes year-over-year change in in-person visits to each school throughout 2020 to estimate whether the school is engaged in distance learning. Our findings reveal that school closures from September to December 2020 were more common in schools with lower third-grade math scores and higher shares of students from racial/ethnic minorities, who experience homelessness, have limited English proficiency and are eligible for free/reduced-price school lunches. The findings portend rising inequalities in learning outcomes.