On March 14, 2020, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper delivered an executive order that closed all K-12 public schools in the state. Weeks later, he cancelled all in-person instruction for the remainder of the school year, and classroom (and remote) conditions remain in flux this fall. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has not so much ignited a fire but added an accelerant to the long-burning embers of inequality in the state’s educational system, a function of historic segregation and ongoing disinvestment in public education in North Carolina.
In a new report delivered to the Brady Education Foundation, researchers from the Cook Center and the Public School Forum of North Carolina summarize what data already exists about COVID-19 and public education, what is being collected, and what data should be collected in the future in order to address educational inequality in North Carolina, with a focus on the following topic areas:
the authors summarize what data already exists, what is being collected, and what data should be collected in the future in order to address educational inequality in North Carolina, with a focus on the following topic areas:
North Carolina was ranked 48th in the nation on per-pupil spending after adjusting for regional cost differences in 2019. The state also ranked 49th nationally on a measure of funding effort (the level of spending on education as a percentage of overall state wealth).
According to the Broadband Infrastructure Office, recent estimates indicate that approximately 200,000 households with students in North Carolina lack access to the internet. However, the numbers are bleaker when considering broadband adoption – which refers to households that subscribe to an internet service plan. The state’s broadband adoption rate is only 59.4 percent.
In schools with highly-supportive working conditions, the percent of teachers who feel successful declined by only 6 percentage points during the pandemic. However, in schools with unsupportive working conditions, the percent of teachers who felt successful plummeted by 42 percentage points, from 90 percent to 48 percent. Crucially, there is not a collection process to assess teacher working conditions in North Carolina during the pandemic.
Teacher turnover rates in North Carolina are higher in high-poverty districts and those that serve high numbers of students of color; these are expected to increase across the board in 2020, and will likely continue to disproportionately impact these districts.
While contemporary data from DPI and other public institutions is still to be compiled, it is most likely that the pandemic will have a disproportionate impact on students, teachers, and staff from lower socio-economic backgrounds and traditionally marginalized racial minority populations in North Carolina. Said another way, the communities most likely to face systemic inequalities in education are likely to face exacerbated inequalities due to the pandemic.
Moving forward, existing data collection and reporting efforts across the state should focus on actionable insights that serve North Carolina’s most vulnerable students and schools. Specifically, data collection should aim to answer the following question: In what ways and to what extent has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted racial and socioeconomic inequities in educational opportunity and access in North Carolina?
Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity Duke University