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How the trauma of Ferguson hurt student learning — and what that might mean for Charlottesville

August 18, 2017
Matt Barnum

Among the many consequences of this weekend’s events in Charlottesville: teachers are wondering how the violent displays of racism will affect their students.

Research suggests they may be right to worry. A number of studies have found that violent and traumatic events outside of school do real damage to student learning — particularly among students who are already struggling.

Perhaps the most relevant study examined the impacts of the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, and the protests and clashes with police that followed in Ferguson, Missouri.

Researchers Seth Gershenson of American University and Michael Hayes of Rutgers examined the districts in and around Ferguson, and found that both student achievement and attendance declined relative to other schools in the St. Louis metro area.

“The most obvious [explanation] is the direct effects of stress and trauma that’s taking up mental bandwidth on the part of students, teachers, and parents that would normally go to school,” said Gershenson.