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Pandemic Widens Academic Gap Between Rich And Poor, Black And White

Against the backdrop of massive nationwide protests against police brutality and the murder of George Floyd, Stephanie Ruhle widened the lens to examine inequitable treatment in education, too.

There's already an education gap in our nation between kids in wealthier neighborhoods and poorer ones. The nationwide shutdown of schools in March only widened it, with kids becoming fully dependent on laptops and internet connections to be able to stay up-to-date on assignments. Stephanie Ruhle cited a Brown University study's conclusion that the pandemic could cost students up to a year's worth of academic gain. If a student is poor, that loss will be greater.

The previous segment told the story of Cynthia, a 16-year-old straight-A student in Detroit, who was sharing a laptop with her three younger siblings, and trying to be their teacher in addition to keeping up with her own studies. Ruhle brought Jeffrey Canada in to discuss ways in which to close that gap. He had a brutal reality check about what is truly required, and what poor kids deserve to have in order to flourish.

CANADA: Cynthia's story just broke my heart, because I know this is happening all over this country. You see how smart and intelligent that young girl was. What chance does she and her siblings have with one device that they're trying to figure out how to make it? This is an absolute disgrace that in the richest, wealthiest country in the world we would have conditions where some of our children can't get an education. And this is a crisis. We've got to deal with it like a crisis, I and I think we're being so distracted. And it's not that we don't really have to deal with police brutality and the murder of African-Americans, but we are seeing the next generation's future being absolutely undermined by this pandemic. And we've got to take really drastic action right now.

RUHLE: Then let's not get distracted. Let's take this moment when we're calling for change and call for more. What specifically needs to be done when it comes to narrowing this gap?

CANADA: Every single child in this country should have internet connection. This is the same as having textbooks. You can't do school without an internet connection today. And so we need a national strategy whether you're in the urban centers, whether you're in rural America. We've got to make internet accessible to all children regardless of their parents' ability to pay. That's number one. Number two, we've got to make sure there are devices for children, for multiple children in a household. Each one needs a device. And kids in the inner city, they need headphones. You know, our kids often can't go into a separate room to do their work. They're often in communal living spaces. The distraction of other people talking and listening is going to interfere with their ability to learn. Third, we've got to really think about how we're using this summer to try to make up some of the time our students have lost. We can't let our kids lose a year of education instruction and think, poor kids are going to enter the school a year behind rich kids and that we'll have equity and equality in this country. We've got to do something right now to make sure we begin to give those kids the kinds of supports they need to make up some of that learning loss this summer.

While Canada sees police reform as critical to the well-being of poor and Black communities, he insists it's not going to solve income inequality. Police reform is not going to stop unemployment disparities, unfair housing practices, and low home ownership.

He sees solving disparities in education as key to helping kids grow up in healthy communities. The dilemma he wants spotlighted, in addition to police reform? "How do we do a massive comprehensive community reinvestment campaign in America right now to strengthen these communities, to strengthen these kids so that they can have a fair shot at the American dream?" Not basing a school's budget on surrounding property taxes would be a good place to start.

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