Missing in the Margins: Estimating the Scale of the COVID-19 Attendance Crisis

Research Rundown Issue: November '20
Publisher: Bellwether Education Partners
Date Published: October '20


COVID-19 school closures have a disproportionate impact on traditionally underserved student groups—from access to technology to more drastic learning loss. To better quantify the impact, Bellwether Education Partners analyzed media reports, survey data, and federal sources to estimate how many of our country’s highest-need students have not had any formal education, whether it be in-person or virtual, since March. In total, Bellwether estimates that as many as 3 million students from specific demographic groups—students in foster care, students experiencing homelessness, English learners, students with disabilities, and students eligible for Migrant Education Program—are either offline, hard to find, or have transitioned more permanently away from school engagement.

The researchers note that the reasons for this go beyond access to the internet and laptop, noting:

  • For many English Learners and students with disabilities they are not receiving the proper educational accommodations and services that they are legally entitled to;
  • Some young people have transitioned to work or are providing full-time primary care for their siblings; and
  • Children who are in foster care or homeless had educational barriers prior to COVID-19, which have likely been exacerbated.

Why This Matters in Minnesota

Bellwether estimates that, in Minnesota, as many as 52,250 students from these high-need groups have not received any type of formal education since March. And locally, a recent report by Foster Advocates highlights that more than 80% of Minnesota foster care students were negatively impacted by COVID-19, with many reporting that they were concerned about their living situations, affording basic needs, and being exposed to the virus.

As more districts and charter schools move to distance or hybrid learning (or pause plans to bring students back),  policymakers must consider how they will effectively serve traditionally underserved students and work to prioritize those most likely to have been disconnected from learning when it comes to resources and policy decisions. It will be critical to re-engage these students as soon as possible, and from there, to directly address the needs that have emerged during the pandemic with targeted supplemental programming and support.

See the analysis