Over the course of a few weeks in 2020, schools closed across the country and the world. According to the UN, schools had shut down in-person learning for 90 percent of the world’s students. I’m a board member of a San Francisco nonprofit called 826 Valencia. Like many nonprofit organizations, 826 had to pivot in 2020. In our case, it was from providing writing instruction, tutoring, and general inspiration via in- and after-school programs to being an organization that helped get kids set up for extra help over the internet. What the staff learned right away was that our students, mostly economically challenged Latino and Black kids, almost instantly fell behind, many of them having to share laptops or connectivity with friends or neighbors. These stories were a stark contrast to my own kids’ experience in a house with high-speed broadband and enough laptops that we could use old ones as doorstops. My daughter’s school actually required kids to use the school-issued Chromebooks. It was a metaphor for the whole education system. One district had so many laptops that they could decide which ones should be used by students, while another district had no laptops and often no high-speed connectivity. The broadband divide was something that should have brought people together. If people without decent access in rural America got together with the people without decent access in urban areas, you’d have a political force that could demand change.

But that’s not how things played out. It shouldn’t surprise you that national academic test scores just fell to lowest levels in decades. It should surprise you even less that the kids who were hardest hit were the ones with no computers and/or lousy connectivity. These test results will be turned into a political sideshow with one side arguing it’s a story about our reckless closing of schools (conveniently ignoring that over a million Americans have died from Covid). But, like so many American stories, this one is about inequality.

+ Here’s an article from May of 2020 that really hammers this story home. Taking an AP test outside McD’s: The low-income student’s predicament.

+ Today’s first paragraph is pulled from my book Please Scream Inside Your Heart. If you want to understand today’s America, from the Trump cases to our relationship with media, you have to understand 2020. Get it: Amazon | Bookshop | Audible (Audiobook featuring Peter Coyote)