COVID-19 crisis widens student achievement gap in Los Angeles County

April 20, 2020

USC research shows a widening distance learning gap in Los Angeles County by ethnicity, income and location. The gap leaves students of color behind as they struggle to complete schoolwork without the necessary resources. About 250,000 families are affected.

Contact: Ron Mackovich, rmackovi@usc.edu

When schools moved from classrooms to computers at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a learning gap immediately opened, according to an analysis by Hernan Galperin, associate professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication.

Stay-at-home mandates to minimize spread of the coronavirus forced 1.5 million K-12 students in Los Angeles County to online classes. Galperin and his team examined household availability of two key components of distance learning: a residential internet connection and a desktop or laptop computer.

The research showed one in four K-12 households in L.A. County lacks those resources. The problem worsens among Los Angeles Unified School District students, as one in three live in households without high-speed Internet or a computer.

“The closure of school campuses is laying bare the disparities in household resources for effective distance learning,” Galperin said. “Without aggressive initiatives from schools and local or state governments, low income and minority students will fall further behind as a result of COVID-19.”

Other key findings include:

  • Only about half of the K-12 families in the bottom fifth of income distribution are prepared for distance learning. That compares to 90% preparedness for families in the top fifth.
  • Households lacking distance learning resources are clustered in South and East L.A. In those communities, less than half of families have the necessary technology resources for distance learning.
  • Regardless of income, students of color are less likely to have the technology resources for distance learning. For example, the gap between Hispanic and non-Hispanic students at the same income level is as high as 20 percentage points. The reason is likely because minority students, regardless of income, tend to live in communities with underfunded schools and less advanced broadband infrastructure.

Click here for full data. An interactive map detailing distance learning gap in Los Angeles County is available here.