COVID-19 and the Digital Divide: Inequities in Online Learning


Julia Kaufman, Senior Policy Researcher

Most school buildings closed their doors at the end of March in order to keep children and families and teachers safe from the COVID-19 pandemic. We know that when they did close their school buildings, they typically tried to provide some form of remote instruction, whether that was face-to-face learning or packets sent home with children. But we also know that the learning experiences that students did have were likely drastically different than what they would have experienced if they were in person.

For example, based on our research, we know that about 12 percent of teachers indicated that they were able to cover all or nearly all the curriculum they would have covered if schools had remained open. Many teachers reported providing a lot of review and very little learning of new concepts.

We also know that many teachers were unable to contact students or families. And of course, these issues were even bigger in schools with higher poverty and schools with students of color. Teachers in schools that serve more vulnerable populations typically reported being less likely to be able to contact all families. They reported being less likely to address all of the curriculum they would have covered, less likely to provide instruction and new concepts. And the list goes on. And so, many students were at a disadvantage during the time that school buildings were closed and likely had inequitable opportunities to learn.