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School Leaders Keep Eye on Equity as Unusual Year Begins

Wallace Foundation Blog |

​​Dr. Sonja Brookins Santelises, chief executive officer of Baltimore City Schools, has heard the same concern from parents across her district’s 161 schools since in-person instruction was suspended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. No matter where they live, she says, parents throughout her high-poverty district are worried that their children are losing ground academically during this period.

They have reason to be concerned: A McKinsey & Company report estimates that if in-person instruction does not fully resume until January, black, Hispanic and low-income students could lose as much as nine to 12 months of learning because they are less likely to have received high-quality remote instruction last spring and now again this fall.

As Baltimore developed its re-opening plan, some voices in the district argued that schools should focus on students’ social and emotional needs and put academics on the back burner. Santelises refused. Schools must tend to their students’ mental health, she says, but short-changing instruction would only exacerbate learning loss and widen the achievement gap for the most vulnerable groups. Simply put, schools have to do it all.