Parents of Children in SpED Are More Concerned About Learning Gaps — Are You?

The difficulties of distance learning are being felt across the country, and many parents particularly fear the learning gaps stemming from Covid-19’s impact. A recent survey of 1,500 parents by the organization ParentsTogether documented families’ concerns over learning gaps and found that, unsurprisingly, special education students and students from low-income families are more greatly affected.

As NPR notes, education experts have addressed distance learning’s tendency to “magnify inequities,” resulting in less drastic learning gaps for “highly advantaged” students without disabilities. In a recent interview with ABC, California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond admitted, “There are students who never really checked in since we moved to distance learning in March.” And as ParentsTogether finds from their sample group, 4 out of 10 U.S. students experiencing poverty only access remote learning once a week or less. That’s compared to 83% of students living in households that earn over $100,000 per year, where they report access to daily distance learning, often for two hours each day.

More specifically, parents earning less than $25,000 per year were 10 times more likely than higher-income parents to report that their kids are doing little or no remote learning. And if their kids are distance learning on a more frequent schedule, 35% of parents earning lower incomes say the coursework is merely busywork, compared to only 19% of wealthier parents. 

Students enrolled in special education classes are facing additional obstacles that distance learning does not address. According to ParentsTogether, 4 in 10 parents say they’ve received no support from their schools at all — with only 1 in 5 parents saying they’re receiving all of the services and resources their school is already supposed to provide. This is deeply concerning. As Dr. Amy Hanreddy told Special X in her live chat with us, schools are supposed to provide the exact same modifications they offered pre-distance learning. And, while the number of service minutes may be different during distance learning, special education lawyer Grace Clark told Special X that all IEPs are still in effect.

Distance learning’s impact on students with disabilities doesn’t end there, according to the ParentsTogether survey. Compared to 17% of parents with children in general education, 35% of parents with children in special education say that their kids are doing little to no distance learning. Close to half (40%) of parents with children in special education are worried about distance learning impacting their child’s mental health. Only 23% of parents with children in general education have the same concerns.

For students from low-income families and students with disabilities, larger learning gaps relate to the lack of resources being provided to them. For example, 11% of parents with lower incomes say their kids’ schools don’t provide any distance learning materials, but only 2% of parents with higher-income report the same. Additionally, 32% of children in low-income households don’t have access to a technological device, or have to share that device with siblings.

As we approach the end of the school year and prepare for ESY, check out these resources from Dr. Hanreddy to improve your child’s distance learning, even — or especially — if their school is falling short. We’ve also compiled a list of Google Chrome accessibility extensions that may be very helpful for your child.

Can you relate to these surveyed parents’ concerns about distance learning and learning gaps? Have you received the help you need from your child’s school or district, or have you encountered any roadblocks? We’d love to hear about the resources that have helped you and your child work through these roadblocks.

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