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The Disparate Impact of COVID‐19 Remote Learning on English Learners in the United States

Written by: Peter Sayer
Published on: Aug 30, 2020

Home Schooling
Image credit: Silvia Jansen/iStockphoto

The March 2020 closure of most schools in the United States due to the COVID‐19 pandemic marked a sudden and dramatic shift in how teaching and learning happened. All the 55 million K‐12 students were deeply affected by the move from face‐to‐face to remote learning. However, the 4.9+ million English learners (ELs) and their families were disproportionately affected by the abrupt change from physical to virtual classrooms. We consider three main reasons why ELs were more disadvantaged than other students by the educational impacts of COVID‐19.

First, U.S. schools with more socioeconomically marginalized families, including a larger proportion of immigrant families, were less prepared to provide resources for the move to remote learning. Second, there were significant communication challenges with multilingual families while trying to organize and distribute resources; there was often a flood of information in English to students and parents with minimal accommodation for EL families. Third, even when online resources and remote learning were put in place for content‐area learning, they often did not support students’ English acquisition, lacking meaningful social interactions needed to support second language (L2) learning. Finally, we consider some of the silver linings, namely opportunities for classroom teachers to connect with immigrant families in new ways and for students to learn to use language and technology for real‐world problem solving.

TESOL Journal