The Impact of COVID-19 on Education – Recommendations and Opportunities for Ukraine

Robin Donnelly, Harry A. Patrinos, James Gresham

School closures due to COVID-19 have brought significant disruptions to education across Europe . Emerging evidence from some of the region’s highest-income countries indicate that the pandemic is giving rise to learning losses and increases in inequality. To reduce and reverse the long-term negative effects, Ukraine and other less-affluent lower-middle-income countries, which are likely to be even harder hit, need to implement learning recovery programs, protect educational budgets, and prepare for future shocks by “building back better.”

At the peak of the pandemic, 45 countries in the Europe and Central Asia region closed their schools , affecting 185 million students . Given the abruptness of the situation, teachers and administrations were unprepared for this transition and were forced to build emergency remote learning systems almost immediately.

One of the limitations of emergency remote learning is the lack of personal interaction between teacher and student . With broadcasts, this is simply not possible. However, several countries showed initiative by using other methods to improve the remote educational experience, including social media, email, telephone, and even the post office.

Ukraine also implemented measures to support remote teaching and learning , starting with broadcasting video lessons via television and using online distance learning platforms. Organizations like EdCamp Ukraine organized online professional development and peer-to-peer learning opportunities for teachers to meet remotely and share experiences with online learning during the COVID-19 crisis. Ukraine also conducted information campaigns, such as “Schools, We Are Ready,” together with UNICEF, to inform teachers, administrators, students, and parents about the guidelines for safe and sustained learning under COVID-19 in the 2020–21 school year.

Unfortunately, despite best efforts to set up a supportive remote learning experience, evidence is emerging to show that school closures have resulted in actual learning loss es . Research analyzing these outcomes is ongoing, but early results from Belgium , the Netherlands , Switzerland,  and the United Kingdom indicate both learning losses and increases in inequality. Alarmingly, these losses are found to be much higher among students whose parents have less education, a finding reinforced by a study showing that children from socioeconomically advantaged families have received more parental support with their studies during the school closure period.

These emerging data, which provide insights into the region’s highest-income countries, can also be used to predict outcomes in middle-income countries. Despite their substantial technological capability, even Europe’s high-income countries have experienced learning losses and increased inequality as a result of the abrupt transition to virtual learning. These outcomes are likely to be even more acute in middle- and lower-income countries like Ukraine, where there is much less technological capability and a larger share of families live below the poverty line.

Outside the classroom, learning losses may translate into even greater long-term challenges. It has long been known that decreases in test scores are associated with future declines in  employment . Conversely, increases in student  achievement  lead to significant increases in future income, as do additional years  of schooling, which are associated with an  8–9 percent  gain in lifetime earnings. In the absence of any intervention, the learning losses arising from the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to have a long-term compounding negative effect on many children’s future well-being. These learning losses could translate into less access to higher education, lower labor market participation, and  lower future earnings .

To mitigate these challenges while also building a more resilient system that can withstand future crises, we make three core recommendations for Ukraine and other countries: implementing learning recovery programs, protecting education budgets, and preparing for future shocks.

1.     Implement learning recovery programs. Most immediately, governments must ensure that students who have fallen behind receive the support that they need to catch up to expected learning targets. The first step must be to carry out just-in-time assessments to identify these students and their support needs. Research  has shown that 12-week programs of  tutoring  can help students make the kind of progress that would be expected from three to five months of normal  schooling . In  Italy , middle school students who received three hours of online tutoring a week via a computer, tablet, or smartphone saw a 4.7 percent boost in their performance in math, English, and Italian.

Ukraine is implementing learning continuity programs, including through the establishment of the All-Ukrainian Online School platform for distance and blended learning for students in grades 5–11. The project, organized by Ukraine’s Ministry of Education and Science (MOES) and Ministry of Digital Transformation, helps teachers and students to remain connected, gain access to educational materials, and continue schooling during the period of enhanced quarantine measures when schools are closed. The platform contains lessons in 18 basic subjects and consists of videos, tests, and a compendium of lessons. Students also have the opportunity to track their learning progress. Even so, studies confirm that limited internet connectivity and access to devices for online learning (especially in rural areas), compounded by inadequate public support for distance learning, poses challenges. In addition to learning continuity programs, Ukraine could consider supporting ”just-in-time” student assessments to measure the extent of learning losses and identify the students who have fallen behind and may need additional targeted support to catch up.  Accelerated learning or tutoring programs could help address the learning gap.  

2.     Protect the education budget . Given the significant financial strain that economies have been under during the pandemic, some countries may face government budget cuts that could jeopardize the gains that have been made in recent years in terms of access to education and improved learning  outcomes . To ensure a resilient recovery, it is essential that the education budget be protected and that the schools that need financing the most are supported. To help the most vulnerable students, governments should prioritize by directing much of the funding and resources to support schools delivering remote instruction, particularly if those schools are serving high-poverty and high-minority populations . To encourage students to remain in school, incentives  such as scholarships may need to be implemented. Yet learning recovery programs will not be feasible without substantial financial support. In the presence of budget cuts, affluent families will be able to continue to fund educational boosts like tutoring; however, lower-income families will not as easily be able to fill this gap. For example, the  United Kingdom  announced a £1 billion pupil catch-up fund that contained a portion set aside for tutoring and the National Tutoring Programme with a £76 million budget. Clearly, significant budget allocations and further actions will be needed to return to previous  levels of learning.

Ukraine has taken steps to protect and shore up education spending in 2021 by increasing transfers to local governments for teaching aids and equipment, providing further support and social protection to teachers and academic staff through salary increases, and implementing a new transfer to local governments for school safety and other measures aimed at combating COVID-19. Looking ahead, Ukraine will want to closely monitor overall funding levels for education to ensure that funds are being used efficiently and that resources are available to support learning recovery interventions, particularly for those students who most need them.   

3.     Prepare for future shocks by building back better.  It is imperative that we not only recover from the pandemic but that we use this experience to become better prepared for future crises. To support this aim, countries need to build their capacity to provide blended models of education in the future. Schools should be better prepared to switch easily between face-to-face and remote learning as needed. This will protect the education of students not only during future pandemics, but also during other shocks that might cause school closures, such as natural disasters or adverse weather events. It will also create opportunities for more individualized approaches to teaching and learning. With this in mind, it will be necessary to develop flexible curricula that can be taught in person or online. Additionally, teachers need to be better equipped to manage a wide range of IT devices in the event of future school closures. Offering short training courses to improve their digital skills will help. Using the post-pandemic period to rebuild education systems and make them resilient is a priority. At the same time, it is important to build a future education system that can make better use of blended learning models to reach all learners at their level and to provide more individualized approaches to teaching.

Although this is a long-term process, Ukraine is already taking steps in this area. The authorities have developed regulations for distance education, and efforts are ongoing to continue to expand the number of schools with internet connectivity and access to digital devices and equipment to allow for greater use of blended learning approaches in schools going forward. Even so, “building back better” requires bold action and a vision for the kind of human capital Ukraine will need to grow and thrive in the future. It is critical to continue the larger education reform process that was started initially in 2014, including both the New Ukrainian School (NUS) initiative in school education and the reform of higher education in line with the standards of the European Higher Education Area. Ukraine’s MOES is preparing a project with the World Bank to support learning continuity and operational resilience in higher education through initiatives to expand digitalization in the education sector. These efforts will help higher education institutions to recover from the impacts of COVID-19 while also adapting to more resilient and flexible approaches going forward.

Interview originally published by Dzerkalo Tyzhnia in the Mirror Weekly

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The Effect of COVID-19 on Education

Jacob hoofman.

a Wayne State University School of Medicine, 540 East Canfield, Detroit, MI 48201, USA

Elizabeth Secord

b Department of Pediatrics, Wayne Pediatrics, School of Medicine, Pediatrics Wayne State University, 400 Mack Avenue, Detroit, MI 48201, USA

COVID-19 has changed education for learners of all ages. Preliminary data project educational losses at many levels and verify the increased anxiety and depression associated with the changes, but there are not yet data on long-term outcomes. Guidance from oversight organizations regarding the safety and efficacy of new delivery modalities for education have been quickly forged. It is no surprise that the socioeconomic gaps and gaps for special learners have widened. The medical profession and other professions that teach by incrementally graduated internships are also severely affected and have had to make drastic changes.

The transition to an online education during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic may bring about adverse educational changes and adverse health consequences for children and young adult learners in grade school, middle school, high school, college, and professional schools. The effects may differ by age, maturity, and socioeconomic class. At this time, we have few data on outcomes, but many oversight organizations have tried to establish guidelines, expressed concerns, and extrapolated from previous experiences.

General educational losses and disparities

Many researchers are examining how the new environment affects learners’ mental, physical, and social health to help compensate for any losses incurred by this pandemic and to better prepare for future pandemics. There is a paucity of data at this juncture, but some investigators have extrapolated from earlier school shutdowns owing to hurricanes and other natural disasters. 1

Inclement weather closures are estimated in some studies to lower middle school math grades by 0.013 to 0.039 standard deviations and natural disaster closures by up to 0.10 standard deviation decreases in overall achievement scores. 2 The data from inclement weather closures did show a more significant decrease for children dependent on school meals, but generally the data were not stratified by socioeconomic differences. 3 , 4 Math scores are impacted overall more negatively by school absences than English language scores for all school closures. 4 , 5

The Northwest Evaluation Association is a global nonprofit organization that provides research-based assessments and professional development for educators. A team of researchers at Stanford University evaluated Northwest Evaluation Association test scores for students in 17 states and the District of Columbia in the Fall of 2020 and estimated that the average student had lost one-third of a year to a full year's worth of learning in reading, and about three-quarters of a year to more than 1 year in math since schools closed in March 2020. 5

With school shifted from traditional attendance at a school building to attendance via the Internet, families have come under new stressors. It is increasingly clear that families depended on schools for much more than math and reading. Shelter, food, health care, and social well-being are all part of what children and adolescents, as well as their parents or guardians, depend on schools to provide. 5 , 6

Many families have been impacted negatively by the loss of wages, leading to food insecurity and housing insecurity; some of loss this is a consequence of the need for parents to be at home with young children who cannot attend in-person school. 6 There is evidence that this economic instability is leading to an increase in depression and anxiety. 7 In 1 survey, 34.71% of parents reported behavioral problems in their children that they attributed to the pandemic and virtual schooling. 8

Children have been infected with and affected by coronavirus. In the United States, 93,605 students tested positive for COVID-19, and it was reported that 42% were Hispanic/Latino, 32% were non-Hispanic White, and 17% were non-Hispanic Black, emphasizing a disproportionate effect for children of color. 9 COVID infection itself is not the only issue that affects children’s health during the pandemic. School-based health care and school-based meals are lost when school goes virtual and children of lower socioeconomic class are more severely affected by these losses. Although some districts were able to deliver school meals, school-based health care is a primary source of health care for many children and has left some chronic conditions unchecked during the pandemic. 10

Many families report that the stress of the pandemic has led to a poorer diet in children with an increase in the consumption of sweet and fried foods. 11 , 12 Shelter at home orders and online education have led to fewer exercise opportunities. Research carried out by Ammar and colleagues 12 found that daily sitting had increased from 5 to 8 hours a day and binge eating, snacking, and the number of meals were all significantly increased owing to lockdown conditions and stay-at-home initiatives. There is growing evidence in both animal and human models that diets high in sugar and fat can play a detrimental role in cognition and should be of increased concern in light of the pandemic. 13

The family stress elicited by the COVID-19 shutdown is a particular concern because of compiled evidence that adverse life experiences at an early age are associated with an increased likelihood of mental health issues as an adult. 14 There is early evidence that children ages 6 to 18 years of age experienced a significant increase in their expression of “clinginess, irritability, and fear” during the early pandemic school shutdowns. 15 These emotions associated with anxiety may have a negative impact on the family unit, which was already stressed owing to the pandemic.

Another major concern is the length of isolation many children have had to endure since the pandemic began and what effects it might have on their ability to socialize. The school, for many children, is the agent for forming their social connections as well as where early social development occurs. 16 Noting that academic performance is also declining the pandemic may be creating a snowball effect, setting back children without access to resources from which they may never recover, even into adulthood.

Predictions from data analysis of school absenteeism, summer breaks, and natural disaster occurrences are imperfect for the current situation, but all indications are that we should not expect all children and adolescents to be affected equally. 4 , 5 Although some children and adolescents will likely suffer no long-term consequences, COVID-19 is expected to widen the already existing educational gap from socioeconomic differences, and children with learning differences are expected to suffer more losses than neurotypical children. 4 , 5

Special education and the COVID-19 pandemic

Although COVID-19 has affected all levels of education reception and delivery, children with special needs have been more profoundly impacted. Children in the United States who have special needs have legal protection for appropriate education by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. 17 , 18 Collectively, this legislation is meant to allow for appropriate accommodations, services, modifications, and specialized academic instruction to ensure that “every child receives a free appropriate public education . . . in the least restrictive environment.” 17

Children with autism usually have applied behavioral analysis (ABA) as part of their individualized educational plan. ABA therapists for autism use a technique of discrete trial training that shapes and rewards incremental changes toward new behaviors. 19 Discrete trial training involves breaking behaviors into small steps and repetition of rewards for small advances in the steps toward those behaviors. It is an intensive one-on-one therapy that puts a child and therapist in close contact for many hours at a time, often 20 to 40 hours a week. This therapy works best when initiated at a young age in children with autism and is often initiated in the home. 19

Because ABA workers were considered essential workers from the early days of the pandemic, organizations providing this service had the responsibility and the freedom to develop safety protocols for delivery of this necessary service and did so in conjunction with certifying boards. 20

Early in the pandemic, there were interruptions in ABA followed by virtual visits, and finally by in-home therapy with COVID-19 isolation precautions. 21 Although the efficacy of virtual visits for ABA therapy would empirically seem to be inferior, there are few outcomes data available. The balance of safety versus efficacy quite early turned to in-home services with interruptions owing to illness and decreased therapist availability owing to the pandemic. 21 An overarching concern for children with autism is the possible loss of a window of opportunity to intervene early. Families of children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder report increased stress compared with families of children with other disabilities before the pandemic, and during the pandemic this burden has increased with the added responsibility of monitoring in-home schooling. 20

Early data on virtual schooling children with attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit with hyperactivity (ADHD) shows that adolescents with ADD/ADHD found the switch to virtual learning more anxiety producing and more challenging than their peers. 22 However, according to a study in Ireland, younger children with ADD/ADHD and no other neurologic or psychiatric diagnoses who were stable on medication tended to report less anxiety with at-home schooling and their parents and caregivers reported improved behavior during the pandemic. 23 An unexpected benefit of shelter in home versus shelter in place may be to identify these stressors in face-to-face school for children with ADD/ADHD. If children with ADD/ADHD had an additional diagnosis of autism or depression, they reported increased anxiety with the school shutdown. 23 , 24

Much of the available literature is anticipatory guidance for in-home schooling of children with disabilities rather than data about schooling during the pandemic. The American Academy of Pediatrics published guidance advising that, because 70% of students with ADHD have other conditions, such as learning differences, oppositional defiant disorder, or depression, they may have very different responses to in home schooling which are a result of the non-ADHD diagnosis, for example, refusal to attempt work for children with oppositional defiant disorder, severe anxiety for those with depression and or anxiety disorders, and anxiety and perseveration for children with autism. 25 Children and families already stressed with learning differences have had substantial challenges during the COVID-19 school closures.

High school, depression, and COVID-19

High schoolers have lost a great deal during this pandemic. What should have been a time of establishing more independence has been hampered by shelter-in-place recommendations. Graduations, proms, athletic events, college visits, and many other social and educational events have been altered or lost and cannot be recaptured.

Adolescents reported higher rates of depression and anxiety associated with the pandemic, and in 1 study 14.4% of teenagers report post-traumatic stress disorder, whereas 40.4% report having depression and anxiety. 26 In another survey adolescent boys reported a significant decrease in life satisfaction from 92% before COVID to 72% during lockdown conditions. For adolescent girls, the decrease in life satisfaction was from 81% before COVID to 62% during the pandemic, with the oldest teenage girls reporting the lowest life satisfaction values during COVID-19 restrictions. 27 During the school shutdown for COVID-19, 21% of boys and 27% of girls reported an increase in family arguments. 26 Combine all of these reports with decreasing access to mental health services owing to pandemic restrictions and it becomes a complicated matter for parents to address their children's mental health needs as well as their educational needs. 28

A study conducted in Norway measured aspects of socialization and mood changes in adolescents during the pandemic. The opportunity for prosocial action was rated on a scale of 1 (not at all) to 6 (very much) based on how well certain phrases applied to them, for example, “I comforted a friend yesterday,” “Yesterday I did my best to care for a friend,” and “Yesterday I sent a message to a friend.” They also ranked mood by rating items on a scale of 1 (not at all) to 5 (very well) as items reflected their mood. 29 They found that adolescents showed an overall decrease in empathic concern and opportunity for prosocial actions, as well as a decrease in mood ratings during the pandemic. 29

A survey of 24,155 residents of Michigan projected an escalation of suicide risk for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender youth as well as those youth questioning their sexual orientation (LGBTQ) associated with increased social isolation. There was also a 66% increase in domestic violence for LGBTQ youth during shelter in place. 30 LGBTQ youth are yet another example of those already at increased risk having disproportionate effects of the pandemic.

Increased social media use during COVID-19, along with traditional forms of education moving to digital platforms, has led to the majority of adolescents spending significantly more time in front of screens. Excessive screen time is well-known to be associated with poor sleep, sedentary habits, mental health problems, and physical health issues. 31 With decreased access to physical activity, especially in crowded inner-city areas, and increased dependence on screen time for schooling, it is more difficult to craft easy solutions to the screen time issue.

During these times, it is more important than ever for pediatricians to check in on the mental health of patients with queries about how school is going, how patients are keeping contact with peers, and how are they processing social issues related to violence. Queries to families about the need for assistance with food insecurity, housing insecurity, and access to mental health services are necessary during this time of public emergency.

Medical school and COVID-19

Although medical school is an adult schooling experience, it affects not only the medical profession and our junior colleagues, but, by extrapolation, all education that requires hands-on experience or interning, and has been included for those reasons.

In the new COVID-19 era, medical schools have been forced to make drastic and quick changes to multiple levels of their curriculum to ensure both student and patient safety during the pandemic. Students entering their clinical rotations have had the most drastic alteration to their experience.

COVID-19 has led to some of the same changes high schools and colleges have adopted, specifically, replacement of large in-person lectures with small group activities small group discussion and virtual lectures. 32 The transition to an online format for medical education has been rapid and impacted both students and faculty. 33 , 34 In a survey by Singh and colleagues, 33 of the 192 students reporting 43.9% found online lectures to be poorer than physical classrooms during the pandemic. In another report by Shahrvini and colleagues, 35 of 104 students surveyed, 74.5% students felt disconnected from their medical school and their peers and 43.3% felt that they were unprepared for their clerkships. Although there are no pre-COVID-19 data for comparison, it is expected that the COVID-19 changes will lead to increased insecurity and feelings of poor preparation for clinical work.

Gross anatomy is a well-established tradition within the medical school curriculum and one that is conducted almost entirely in person and in close quarters around a cadaver. Harmon and colleagues 36 surveyed 67 gross anatomy educators and found that 8% were still holding in-person sessions and 34 ± 43% transitioned to using cadaver images and dissecting videos that could be accessed through the Internet.

Many third- and fourth-year medical students have seen periods of cancellation for clinical rotations and supplementation with online learning, telemedicine, or virtual rounds owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. 37 A study from Shahrvini and colleagues 38 found that an unofficial document from Reddit (a widely used social network platform with a subgroup for medical students and residents) reported that 75% of medical schools had canceled clinical activities for third- and fourth-year students for some part of 2020. In another survey by Harries and colleagues, 39 of the 741 students who responded, 93.7% were not involved in clinical rotations with in-person patient contact. The reactions of students varied, with 75.8% admitting to agreeing with the decision, 34.7% feeling guilty, and 27.0% feeling relieved. 39 In the same survey, 74.7% of students felt that their medical education had been disrupted, 84.1% said they felt increased anxiety, and 83.4% would accept the risk of COVID-19 infection if they were able to return to the clinical setting. 39

Since the start of the pandemic, medical schools have had to find new and innovative ways to continue teaching and exposing students to clinical settings. The use of electronic conferencing services has been critical to continuing education. One approach has been to turn to online applications like Google Hangouts, which come at no cost and offer a wide variety of tools to form an integrative learning environment. 32 , 37 , 40 Schools have also adopted a hybrid model of teaching where lectures can be prerecorded then viewed by the student asynchronously on their own time followed by live virtual lectures where faculty can offer question-and-answer sessions related to the material. By offering this new format, students have been given more flexibility in terms of creating a schedule that suits their needs and may decrease stress. 37

Although these changes can be a hurdle to students and faculty, it might prove to be beneficial for the future of medical training in some ways. Telemedicine is a growing field, and the American Medical Association and other programs have endorsed its value. 41 Telemedicine visits can still be used to take a history, conduct a basic visual physical examination, and build rapport, as well as performing other aspects of the clinical examination during a pandemic, and will continue to be useful for patients unable to attend regular visits at remote locations. Learning effectively now how to communicate professionally and carry out telemedicine visits may better prepare students for a future where telemedicine is an expectation and allow students to learn the limitations as well as the advantages of this modality. 41

Pandemic changes have strongly impacted the process of college applications, medical school applications, and residency applications. 32 For US medical residencies, 72% of applicants will, if the pattern from 2016 to 2019 continues, move between states or countries. 42 This level of movement is increasingly dangerous given the spread of COVID-19 and the lack of currently accepted procedures to carry out such a mass migration safely. The same follows for medical schools and universities.

We need to accept and prepare for the fact that medial students as well as other learners who require in-person training may lack some skills when they enter their profession. These skills will have to be acquired during a later phase of training. We may have less skilled entry-level resident physicians and nurses in our hospitals and in other clinical professions as well.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected and will continue to affect the delivery of knowledge and skills at all levels of education. Although many children and adult learners will likely compensate for this interruption of traditional educational services and adapt to new modalities, some will struggle. The widening of the gap for those whose families cannot absorb the teaching and supervision of education required for in-home education because they lack the time and skills necessary are not addressed currently. The gap for those already at a disadvantage because of socioeconomic class, language, and special needs are most severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic school closures and will have the hardest time compensating. As pediatricians, it is critical that we continue to check in with our young patients about how they are coping and what assistance we can guide them toward in our communities.

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The authors have nothing to disclose.

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Schools, skills, and learning: The impact of COVID-19 on education

The global lockdown of education institutions is going to cause major (and likely unequal) interruption in students’ learning; disruptions in internal assessments; and the cancellation of public assessments for qualifications or their replacement by an inferior alternative. This column discusses what can be done to mitigate these negative impacts.

The COVID-19 pandemic is first and foremost a health crisis. Many countries have (rightly) decided to close schools, colleges and universities. The crisis crystallises the dilemma policymakers are facing between closing schools (reducing contact and saving lives) and keeping them open (allowing workers to work and maintaining the economy). The severe short-term disruption is felt by many families around the world: home schooling is not only a massive shock to parents’ productivity, but also to children’s social life and learning. Teaching is moving online, on an untested and unprecedented scale. Student assessments are also moving online, with a lot of trial and error and uncertainty for everyone. Many assessments have simply been cancelled. Importantly, these interruptions will not just be a short-term issue, but can also have long-term consequences for the affected cohorts and are likely to increase inequality.  

Impacts on education: Schools 

Going to school is the best public policy tool available to raise skills. While school time can be fun and can raise social skills and social awareness, from an economic point of view the primary point of being in school is that it increases a child’s ability. Even a relatively short time in school does this; even a relatively short period of missed school will have consequences for skill growth. But can we estimate how much the COVID-19 interruption will affect learning? Not very precisely, as we are in a new world; but we can use other studies to get an order of magnitude.

Two pieces of evidence are useful. Carlsson et al. (2015) consider a situation in which young men in Sweden have differing number of days to prepare for important tests. These differences are conditionally random allowing the authors to estimate a causal effect of schooling on skills. The authors show that even just ten days of extra schooling significantly raises scores on tests of the use of knowledge (‘crystallized intelligence’) by 1% of a standard deviation. As an extremely rough measure of the impact of the current school closures, if we were to simply extrapolate those numbers, twelve weeks less schooling (i.e. 60 school days) implies a loss of 6% of a standard deviation, which is non-trivial. They do not find a significant impact on problem-solving skills (an example of ‘fluid intelligence’). 

A different way into this question comes from Lavy (2015), who estimates the impact on learning of differences in instructional time across countries. Perhaps surprisingly, there are very substantial differences between countries in hours of teaching. For example, Lavy shows that total weekly hours of instruction in mathematics, language and science is 55% higher in Denmark than in Austria. These differences matter, causing significant differences in test score outcomes: one more hour per week over the school year in the main subjects increases test scores by around 6% of a standard deviation. In our case, the loss of perhaps 3-4 hours per week teaching in maths for 12 weeks may be similar in magnitude to the loss of an hour per week for 30 weeks. So, rather bizarrely and surely coincidentally, we end up with an estimated loss of around 6% of a standard deviation again. Leaving the close similarity aside, these studies possibly suggest a likely effect no greater than 10% of a standard deviation but definitely above zero. 

Impacts on education: Families 

Perhaps to the disappointment of some, children have not generally been sent home to play. The idea is that they continue their education at home, in the hope of not missing out too much. 

Families are central to education and are widely agreed to provide major inputs into a child’s learning, as described by Bjorklund and Salvanes (2011). The current global-scale expansion in home schooling might at first thought be seen quite positively, as likely to be effective. But typically, this role is seen as a complement to the input from school. Parents supplement a child’s maths learning by practising counting or highlighting simple maths problems in everyday life; or they illuminate history lessons with trips to important monuments or museums. Being the prime driver of learning, even in conjunction with online materials, is a different question; and while many parents round the world do successfully school their children at home, this seems unlikely to generalise over the whole population. 

So while global home schooling will surely produce some inspirational moments, some angry moments, some fun moments and some frustrated moments, it seems very unlikely that it will on average replace the learning lost from school. But the bigger point is this: there will likely be substantial disparities between families in the extent to which they can help their children learn. Key differences include (Oreopoulos et al. 2006) the amount of time available to devote to teaching, the non-cognitive skills of the parents, resources (for example, not everyone will have the kit to access the best online material), and also the amount of knowledge – it’s hard to help your child learn something that you may not understand yourself. Consequently, this episode will lead to an increase in the inequality of human capital growth for the affected cohorts.


The closure of schools, colleges and universities not only interrupts the teaching for students around the world; the closure also coincides with a key assessment period and many exams have been postponed or cancelled.  

Internal assessments are perhaps thought to be less important and many have been simply cancelled. But their point is to give information about the child’s progress for families and teachers. The loss of this information delays the recognition of both high potential and learning difficulties and can have harmful long-term consequences for the child. Andersen and Nielsen (2019) look at the consequence of a major IT crash in the testing system in Denmark. As a result of this, some children could not take the test.  The authors find that participating in the test increased the score in a reading test two years later by 9% of a standard deviation , with similar effects in mathematics. These effects are largest for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

Importantly, the lockdown of institutions not only affects internal assessments. In the UK, for example, all exams for the main public qualifications – GCSEs and A levels – have been cancelled for the entire cohort. Depending on the duration of the lockdown, we will likely observe similar actions around the world. One potential alternative for the cancelled assessments is to use ‘predicted grades’, but Murphy and Wyness (2020) show that these are often inaccurate, and that among high achieving students, the predicted grades for those from disadvantaged backgrounds are lower than those from more advantaged backgrounds. Another solution is to replace blind exams with teacher assessments. Evidence from various settings show systematic deviations between unblind and blind examinations, where the direction of the bias typically depends on whether the child belongs to a group that usually performs well (Burgess and Greaves 2013, Rangvid 2015). For example, if girls usually perform better in a subject, an unblind evaluation of a boy’s performance is likely to be downward biased. Because such assessments are used as a key qualification to enter higher education, the move to unblind subjective assessments can have potential long-term consequences for the equality of opportunity. 

It is also possible that some students’ careers might benefit from the interruptions. For example, in Norway it has been decided that all 10th grade students will be awarded a high-school degree. And Maurin and McNally (2008) show that the 1968 abandoning of the normal examination procedures in France (following the student riots) led to positive long-term labour market consequences for the affected cohort. 

In higher education many universities and colleges are replacing traditional exams with online assessment tools. This is a new area for both teachers and students, and assessments will likely have larger measurement error than usual. Research shows that employers use educational credentials such as degree classifications and grade point averages to sort applicants (Piopiunik et al. 2020). The increase in the noise of the applicants’ signals will therefore potentially reduce the matching efficiency for new graduates on the labour market, who might experience slower earnings growth and higher job separation rates. This is costly both to the individual and also to society as a whole (Fredriksson et al. 2018).

The careers of this year’s university graduates may be severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. They have experienced major teaching interruptions in the final part of their studies, they are experiencing major interruptions in their assessments, and finally they are likely to graduate at the beginning of a major global recession. Evidence suggests that poor market conditions at labour market entry cause workers to accept lower paid jobs, and that this has permanent effects for the careers of some. Oreopoulos et al. (2012) show that graduates from programmes with high predicted earnings can compensate for their poor starting point through both within- and across-firm earnings gains, but graduates from other programmes have been found to experience permanent earnings losses from graduating in a recession. 

The global lockdown of education institutions is going to cause major (and likely unequal) interruption in students’ learning; disruptions in internal assessments; and the cancellation of public assessments for qualifications or their replacement by an inferior alternative. 

What can be done to mitigate these negative impacts? Schools need resources to rebuild the loss in learning, once they open again. How these resources are used, and how to target the children who were especially hard hit, is an open question. Given the evidence of the importance of assessments for learning, schools should also consider postponing rather than skipping internal assessments. For new graduates, policies should support their entry to the labour market to avoid longer unemployment periods.

Andersen, S C, and H S Nielsen (2019), "Learning from Performance Information", Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory .

Bjorklund, A and K Salvanes (2011), “Education and Family Background: Mechanisms and Policies”, in E Hanushek, S Machin and L Woessmann (eds), Handbook of the Economics of Education, Vol. 3.  

Burgess, S and E Greaves (2013), “Test Scores, Subjective Assessment, and Stereotyping of Ethnic Minorities”, Journal of Labor Economics 31(3): 535–576.

Carlsson, M, G B Dahl, B Öckert and D Rooth (2015), “The Effect of Schooling on Cognitive Skills”, Review of Economics and Statistics 97(3): 533–547

Fredriksson, P, L Hensvik, and O Nordström Skans (2018), "Mismatch of Talent: Evidence on Match Quality, Entry Wages, and Job Mobility", American Economic Review 108(11): 3303-38.

Lavy, V (2015), “Do Differences in Schools' Instruction Time Explain International Achievement Gaps? Evidence from Developed and Developing Countries”, Economic Journal 125. 

Maurin, E and S McNally (2008), "Vive la revolution! Long-term educational returns of 1968 to the angry students", Journal of Labor Economics 26(1): 1-33.

Murphy, R and G Wyness (2020), “Minority Report: the impact of predicted grades on university admissions of disadvantaged groups”, CEPEO Working Paper Series No 20-07 Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunitites, UCL Institute of Education.

Oreopoulos, P, M Page and A Stevens (2006), “Does human capital transfer from parent to child? The intergenerational effects of compulsory schooling”, Journal of Labor Economics 24(4): 729–760.

Oreopoulos, P, T von Wachter, and A Heisz (2012), "The Short- and Long-Term Career Effects of Graduating in a Recession", American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 4(1): 1-29.

Piopiunik, M, G Schwerdt, L Simon and L Woessman (2020), "Skills, signals, and employability: An experimental investigation", European Economic Review 123: 103374.

Rangvid, B S (2015), "Systematic differences across evaluation schemes and educational choice", Economics of Education Review 48: 41-55.

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How is COVID-19 affecting student learning?

Initial findings from fall 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced uncertainty into major aspects of national and global society, including for schools. For example, there is uncertainty about how school closures last spring impacted student achievement, as well as how the rapid conversion of most instruction to an online platform this academic year will continue to affect achievement. Without data on how the virus impacts student learning, making informed decisions about whether and when to return to in-person instruction remains difficult. Even now, education leaders must grapple with seemingly impossible choices that balance health risks associated with in-person learning against the educational needs of children, which may be better served when kids are in their physical schools.

Amidst all this uncertainty, there is growing consensus that school closures in spring 2020 likely had negative effects on student learning. For example, in an earlier post for this blog , we presented our research forecasting the possible impact of school closures on achievement. Based on historical learning trends and prior research on how out-of-school-time affects learning, we estimated that students would potentially begin fall 2020 with roughly 70% of the learning gains in reading relative to a typical school year. In mathematics, students were predicted to show even smaller learning gains from the previous year, returning with less than 50% of typical gains. While these and other similar forecasts presented a grim portrait of the challenges facing students and educators this fall, they were nonetheless projections. The question remained: What would learning trends in actual data from the 2020-21 school year really look like?

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The kindergarten classroom of Emily Williams sits idle, left for over two months after schools closed down on March 12th at Minglewood Elementary School in Clarksville, Tenn., on Thursday, May 14, 2020.Hpt Minglewood Clearing Out 15

The impact of COVID-19 on student achievement and what it may mean for educators

Khila Harris (from left), 15, Eric Harris, 12, and Kaylee Jones, 9, work on their laptops on the first day of school Monday, Aug. 31, 2020, from their home in Memphis.083120 Scsfirstday 13 Msg

Surveys show things are better for students than they were in the spring—or do they?

With fall 2020 data now in hand , we can move beyond forecasting and begin to describe what did happen. While the closures last spring left most schools without assessment data from that time, thousands of schools began testing this fall, making it possible to compare learning gains in a typical, pre-COVID-19 year to those same gains during the COVID-19 pandemic. Using data from nearly 4.4 million students in grades 3-8 who took MAP ® Growth™ reading and math assessments in fall 2020, we examined two primary research questions:

To answer these questions, we compared students’ academic achievement and growth during the COVID-19 pandemic to the achievement and growth patterns observed in 2019. We report student achievement as a percentile rank, which is a normative measure of a student’s achievement in a given grade/subject relative to the MAP Growth national norms (reflecting pre-COVID-19 achievement levels).

To make sure the students who took the tests before and after COVID-19 school closures were demographically similar, all analyses were limited to a sample of 8,000 schools that tested students in both fall 2019 and fall 2020. Compared to all public schools in the nation, schools in the sample had slightly larger total enrollment, a lower percentage of low-income students, and a higher percentage of white students. Since our sample includes both in-person and remote testers in fall 2020, we conducted an initial comparability study of remote and in-person testing in fall 2020. We found consistent psychometric characteristics and trends in test scores for remote and in-person tests for students in grades 3-8, but caution that remote testing conditions may be qualitatively different for K-2 students. For more details on the sample and methodology, please see the technical report accompanying this study.

In some cases, our results tell a more optimistic story than what we feared. In others, the results are as deeply concerning as we expected based on our projections.

Question 1: How did students perform in fall 2020 relative to a typical school year?

When comparing students’ median percentile rank for fall 2020 to those for fall 2019, there is good news to share: Students in grades 3-8 performed similarly in reading to same-grade students in fall 2019. While the reason for the stability of these achievement results cannot be easily pinned down, possible explanations are that students read more on their own, and parents are better equipped to support learning in reading compared to other subjects that require more formal instruction.

The news in math, however, is more worrying. The figure below shows the median percentile rank in math by grade level in fall 2019 and fall 2020. As the figure indicates, the math achievement of students in 2020 was about 5 to 10 percentile points lower compared to same-grade students the prior year.

Figure 1: MAP Growth Percentiles in Math by Grade Level in Fall 2019 and Fall 2020

Figure 1 MAP Growth Percentiles in Math by Grade Level in Fall 2019 and Fall 2020

Source: Author calculations with MAP Growth data. Notes: Each bar represents the median percentile rank in a given grade/term.

Question 2: Have students made learning gains since schools physically closed, and how do these gains compare to gains in a more typical year?

To answer this question, we examined learning gains/losses between winter 2020 (January through early March) and fall 2020 relative to those same gains in a pre-COVID-19 period (between winter 2019 and fall 2019). We did not examine spring-to-fall changes because so few students tested in spring 2020 (after the pandemic began). In almost all grades, the majority of students made some learning gains in both reading and math since the COVID-19 pandemic started, though gains were smaller in math in 2020 relative to the gains students in the same grades made in the winter 2019-fall 2019 period.

Figure 2 shows the distribution of change in reading scores by grade for the winter 2020 to fall 2020 period (light blue) as compared to same-grade students in the pre-pandemic span of winter 2019 to fall 2019 (dark blue). The 2019 and 2020 distributions largely overlapped, suggesting similar amounts of within-student change from one grade to the next.

Figure 2: Distribution of Within-student Change from Winter 2019-Fall 2019 vs Winter 2020-Fall 2020 in Reading

Figure 2 Distribution of Within-student Change from Winter 2019-Fall 2019 vs Winter 2020-Fall 2020 in Reading

Source: Author calculations with MAP Growth data. Notes: The dashed line represents zero growth (e.g., winter and fall test scores were equivalent). A positive value indicates that a student scored higher in the fall than their prior winter score; a negative value indicates a student scored lower in the fall than their prior winter score.

Meanwhile, Figure 3 shows the distribution of change for students in different grade levels for the winter 2020 to fall 2020 period in math. In contrast to reading, these results show a downward shift: A smaller proportion of students demonstrated positive math growth in the 2020 period than in the 2019 period for all grades. For example, 79% of students switching from 3 rd to 4 th grade made academic gains between winter 2019 and fall 2019, relative to 57% of students in the same grade range in 2020.

Figure 3: Distribution of Within-student Change from Winter 2019-Fall 2019 vs. Winter 2020-Fall 2020 in Math

Figure 3 Distribution of Within-student Change from Winter 2019-Fall 2019 vs. Winter 2020-Fall 2020 in Math

It was widely speculated that the COVID-19 pandemic would lead to very unequal opportunities for learning depending on whether students had access to technology and parental support during the school closures, which would result in greater heterogeneity in terms of learning gains/losses in 2020. Notably, however, we do not see evidence that within-student change is more spread out this year relative to the pre-pandemic 2019 distribution.

The long-term effects of COVID-19 are still unknown

In some ways, our findings show an optimistic picture: In reading, on average, the achievement percentiles of students in fall 2020 were similar to those of same-grade students in fall 2019, and in almost all grades, most students made some learning gains since the COVID-19 pandemic started. In math, however, the results tell a less rosy story: Student achievement was lower than the pre-COVID-19 performance by same-grade students in fall 2019, and students showed lower growth in math across grades 3 to 8 relative to peers in the previous, more typical year. Schools will need clear local data to understand if these national trends are reflective of their students. Additional resources and supports should be deployed in math specifically to get students back on track.


Megan Kuhfeld

Senior research scientist - nwea.

Jim Soland

Assistant Professor, School of Education and Human Development - University of Virginia

Affiliated research fellow - nwea, beth tarasawa, executive vice president of research - nwea, angela johnson, research scientist - nwea, research assistant professor, curry school of education - university of virginia.

Karyn Lewis

Karyn Lewis

Director, center for school and student progress - nwea.

In this study, we limited our analyses to a consistent set of schools between fall 2019 and fall 2020. However, approximately one in four students who tested within these schools in fall 2019 are no longer in our sample in fall 2020. This is a sizeable increase from the 15% attrition from fall 2018 to fall 2019. One possible explanation is that some students lacked reliable technology. A second is that they disengaged from school due to economic, health, or other factors. More coordinated efforts are required to establish communication with students who are not attending school or disengaging from instruction to get them back on track, especially our most vulnerable students.

Finally, we are only scratching the surface in quantifying the short-term and long-term academic and non-academic impacts of COVID-19. While more students are back in schools now and educators have more experience with remote instruction than when the pandemic forced schools to close in spring 2020, the collective shock we are experiencing is ongoing. We will continue to examine students’ academic progress throughout the 2020-21 school year to understand how recovery and growth unfold amid an ongoing pandemic.

Thankfully, we know much more about the impact the pandemic has had on student learning than we did even a few months ago. However, that knowledge makes clear that there is work to be done to help many students get back on track in math, and that the long-term ramifications of COVID-19 for student learning—especially among underserved communities—remain unknown.

Brown Center Chalkboard

The Brown Center Chalkboard launched in January 2013 as a weekly series of new analyses of policy, research, and practice relevant to U.S. education.

In July 2015, the Chalkboard was re-launched as a Brookings blog in order to offer more frequent, timely, and diverse content. Contributors to both the original paper series and current blog are committed to bringing evidence to bear on the debates around education policy in America.

Read papers in the original Brown Center Chalkboard series »

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Education in the time of COVID-19

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The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has caused an unprecedented crisis in all areas. In the field of education, this emergency has led to the massive closure of face-to-face activities of educational institutions in more than 190 countries in order to prevent the spread of the virus and mitigate its impact. The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) has argued that even before the pandemic hit, the social situation in the region was deteriorating, owing to rising rates of poverty and extreme poverty, the persistence of inequalities and growing social discontent. In this context, the crisis will have a profoundly negative impact on the various social sectors, particularly health and education, as well as on employment and poverty. Meanwhile, UNESCO has identified major gaps in educational outcomes, which are related to the unequal distribution of teachers in general, and of the best qualified teachers in particular, to the detriment of lower-income countries and regions and of rural areas, where indigenous and migrant populations tend to be concentrated. In the sphere of education, many of the measures that the region’s countries have adopted in response to the crisis are related to the suspension of face-to-face classes at all levels, which has given rise to three main areas of action: the deployment of distance learning modalities through a variety of formats and platforms (with or without the use of technology); the support and mobilization of education personnel and communities; and concern for the health and overall well-being of students. The aim of this document is to shed light on various consequences that these measures will have on educational communities in the short and medium term, and to offer key recommendations on how to manage those consequences in the best possible manner, drawing attention to opportunities for learning and innovation in the post-pandemic education system.

Table of contents

I. Educational measures during the COVID-19 crisis .-- II. Continuing education and the impact on the curriculum .-- III. Countries’ readiness for continuing education online: widening of the digital divide .-- IV. Tailoring assessment methods .-- V. The need to provide support to teachers and school management .-- VI. Psychological and socio-emotional impact on the education community .-- VII. Prioritization of vulnerable groups .-- VIII. Conclusions.

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The Impact of COVID-19 on Education

The Pandemic of COVID-19 is changing the entire world, and the domain of education is not an exception. After the latest school closings, millions of students in the US and other countries have to stay at home. It means that the impact of online education becomes much more significant. In this article, we will discuss the effects of the current crisis on education.  

essay about covid 19 affects education

It Won’t Go Easy and Cheap

In times of crisis, the most significant flaws of any system become recognizable. COVID-19 showed which educational systems were flexible and prepared for emergencies and which were not. In the majority of countries, people cannot gather in groups for any purpose, including classes. Lots of educational facilities are closed. Universities lose big money because of the need to adapt to new conditions. For students, the situation is also unpleasant because their classes are not removed but replaced by online education. For lots of such people, it is even more difficult than traditional classes.  

Video Platforms and Online Education

All classes are transferred to remote format, while digital platforms, such as Zoom and Skype, become essential aspects of education. They are useful for the majority of academic activities:

Unfortunately, not all academic activities can be arranged with the help of video platforms. Educators still have to evaluate the knowledge of their students. 

essay about covid 19 affects education

Emphasis on Written Tasks

More attention is paid to written assignments because they become teachers’ best way to make sure that the students have learned the material. If you are a student, you are definitely familiar with diverse reflection essays and discussions in which you should show your understanding of course materials. In the conditions of the pandemic, the number of such assignments has increased dramatically. One can even state that writing has become the basic activity of the American educational system.

Surely, coping with immense loads of essays may be rather challenging for students. Not all of them are good at writing because such an activity requires talent and inspiration. More and more American students start searching for cheap essays on the Internet, thus, looking for an essay writing service that will help them with the most challenging assignments. Fortunately for them, finding such a service is not as difficult as it may seem. Quite a similar situation with essay assignments and the companies that help students is peculiar to the UK.

Online Tests

Apart from writing multiple essay assignments, education in the conditions of lockdown largely relies on online tests. Students in a wide range of countries, including the US and the UK, have to complete test assignments with fixed deadlines to prove their knowledge of the studied material. Believe me, sometimes, such tasks can be very challenging, and students may need assistance even no less than in cases of working on a paper. Limited deadlines and tricky questions can become a stressful experience even to the most diligent learners. Frequently, such students complain about the discussed custom of their educators.  

Surprisingly, Opportunities

There exists an opinion that the pandemic of COVID-19 creates new opportunities for the development of global systems of education. As you probably know, tough times tend to unite people. The crisis related to COVID-19 makes diverse international organizations launch the cooperation between systems of education. It goes about various webinars, online conferences, and exchange of experience. Potentially, it may lead to the situation when American educational system problems will be removed through international cooperation.  

The pandemic of COVID-19 has a significant impact on the system of education. Restrictions on public gatherings make educational facilities transfer their classes to the digital domain, where they are conducted with the help of Zoom and similar applications. Educators assign essays and online tests to evaluate the knowledge of their students. For lots of learners, this format of education is even more difficult than a traditional one. If you are an optimist, there is still an opportunity to find something positive in the current situation. The crisis spurs international cooperation and offers hope that collective efforts will help to solve problems of specific educational systems. 

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Report | Coronavirus

COVID-19 and student performance, equity, and U.S. education policy : Lessons from pre-pandemic research to inform relief, recovery, and rebuilding

Report • By Emma García and Elaine Weiss • September 10, 2020

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Pandemic-relevant research offers key lessons as the education system responds to the coronavirus crisis:

What we know about the pandemic’s consequences for education so far helps us plan next steps:

Informed by our learning, here is a three-pronged plan for addressing the adverse impacts of COVID-19 on education and rebuilding stronger:


The COVID-19 pandemic is overwhelming the functioning and outcomes of education systems—some of which were already stressed in many respects. This is true across the world and affects all children, though to differing degrees depending on multiple factors—including the country/region where they live, as well as their ages, family backgrounds, and degree of access to some “substitute” educational opportunities during the pandemic. In early spring as the pandemic was hitting its first peak, the virus consigned nearly all of over 55 million U.S. school children under the age of 18 to staying in their homes, with 1.4 billion out of school or child care across the globe (NCES 2019a; U.S. Census Bureau 2019; Cluver et al. 2020). Not only did these children lack daily access to school and the basic supports schools provide for many students, but they also lost out on group activities, team sports, and recreational options such as pools and playgrounds.

( COVID-19 & Education Webinar : Join us Wednesday for a discussion on this report, including opening remarks from Randi Weingarten, the president of the 1.7 million-member American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, about the state of COVID-19 and education and what needs to be done now to support educators and mitigate the damage to student performance, especially the most vulnerable children. Register here. )

The shutdown of schools, compounded by the associated public health and economic crises, poses major challenges to our students and their teachers. Our public education system was not built, nor prepared, to cope with a situation like this—we lack the structures to sustain effective teaching and learning during the shutdown and to provide the safety net supports that many children receive in school. While we do not know the exact impacts, we do know that children’s academic performance is deteriorating during the pandemic, along with their progress on other developmental skills. We also know that, given the various ways in which the crisis has widened existing socioeconomic disparities and how these disparities affect learning and educational outcomes, educational inequities are growing (Rothstein 2004; Putnam 2015; Reardon 2011; García and Weiss 2017). As a consequence, many of the children who struggle the hardest to learn effectively and thrive in school under normal circumstances are now finding it difficult, even impossible in some cases, to receive effective instruction, and they are experiencing interruptions in their learning that will need to be made up for.

The 2020–2021 school year is now underway, and with many schools remaining physically closed as the 2020–2021 year begins, there is more we need to understand and think through if we are to meet the crisis head-on. If students are to not see their temporary interruptions become sustained and are to regain lost ground, if teachers are to do their jobs effectively during and after the pandemic, and if our education system is to deliver on its excellence and equity goals during the next phases of this pandemic, it will be critical to identify which students are struggling most and how much learning and development they have lost out on, which factors are impeding their learning, what problems are preventing teachers from teaching these children, and, very critically, which investments must be made to address these challenges. For each child, this diagnostic assessment will deliver a unique answer, and the system will have to meet the child where he or she is. A strengthened system based on meeting children where they are and providing them with what they need will be key to lifting up children.

This report briefly reviews the relevant literature on educational settings that have features in common with how education is occurring during the crisis and emerging evidence on opportunity gaps during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to propose a three-pronged plan. The plan covers the three Rs: (immediate) relief for schools, (short-term) recovery, and (long-term) rebuilding for schools and the education system as a whole.

Children are not in their schools: What should we expect the consequences to be?

The current downturn is unique, and in most ways it is much more severe than any we have experienced in recent history. Almost overnight, the pandemic forced the cancellation of the traditional learning that takes place in school settings. It imposed substantial alterations in the “inputs” used to produce education—typically all the individual, family, teacher, school, etc., characteristics or determinants that affect “outcomes” like test scores and graduation rates. The pandemic has affected inputs at home too, as families and communities juggling health and work crises are less able to provide supports for learning at home. 1 Because there are no direct comparisons to past events or trends, we are without fully valid references for assessing the likely impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on children. There are, however, specific aspects of this crisis that have arisen in other contexts and been studied by education researchers, and we can derive from them some guidance on topics such as the loss of learning time and use of alternative learning modes.

Here we thus summarize research findings on aspects of education that appear most pertinent to the current crisis. We selected this set of studied conditions because they represent situations in which children are out of school in large numbers or using the unusual learning tools that have become typical in recent months. As discussed in the sections below, however, the sudden, severe, and universal nature of this crisis means that the current contexts in which students are currently “absent,” engaged in “remote learning,” or “homeschooled” are very different during the pandemic. However, while these findings are only partially applicable to the situations arising during this pandemic, if we dig into why various modes of learning worked or did not work well, it can help guide how to improve learning as education continues under the pandemic—and how to lift children up once schools recover their normal mode of operation. 2

Decreased learning time has likely impeded student learning

The school lockdowns that started in the spring of 2020 reduced instructional and learning time, which are known to impede student performance, with disparate impacts on different groups of students.

Research on time in school anticipates the consequences of having learning interrupted

International and U.S. data provide a benchmark of what can be considered usual educational progress over a given school year. Here we look at data on reading, math, and science test results of 15-year-old students in countries all over the world from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) run by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD 2009) and data on a cohort of U.S. children who entered kindergarten in 2010 for the 2010–2011 school year from Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–2011 (ECLS-K-2010–2011), run by the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES 2010–2011). From these studies, it has been estimated how much children learn over a school year (to make the estimates of how far the group’s average score on skills were at the end of the year from their skill levels at the beginning of a year comparable across studies, we use standard deviations). On average, students advance in their academic performance by between about 0.3 standard deviations (SD) and 0.5 SD to 0.7 SD per year, depending on their age and subject/skill (OECD 2009; own analysis based on NCES 2010–2011). 3 The 2019–2020 school year was cut by at least one third relative to its normal length, which, assuming linear increments in growth over the year and no major other obstacles, suggests a loss of at least 0.1 SD across the board, and larger in earlier grades. These benchmarks will be helpful as we look at the various ways that students have seen their learning interrupted and disrupted this year, and they will continue to do so in 2020–2021.

It is useful as well to examine the research on the length of the school day, which has identified a causal relationship between the amount of (high-quality) instructional time and student performance (Figlio, Holden, and Özek 2018; Goodman 2014; Kidronl and Lindsay 2014; Jin Jez and Wassmer 2013; Marcotte and Hansen 2010). Challenges, though, arise in most evaluations because it is difficult to disentangle the effects of the length of the school day from the effects of starting the school day earlier, or switching to a four-day school week, or to year-round instruction. 4

Figlio, Holden, and Özek (2018) find that extending the school day by an hour to provide literacy instruction increases reading scores by 0.05 SD in elementary schools. Thompson (2019) explains that school days lost due to weather-related cancellations negatively impact performance (citing Marcotte 2007; Marcotte and Hemelt 2008), and that the positive impact of a four-day school week on performance is due to the longer school day, the increased flexibility, and the expanded total learning time over the year. He finds a negative effect (0.03–0.05 SD) of four-day school weeks on performance in Oregon, where weekly instructional time was lower in the districts adopting this model.

Research on summer learning losses and gains show that these vary widely

Another body of research that speaks to potential lost learning time arises from studies of so-called summer learning loss. In earlier research, researchers consistently found that test scores for low-income students would decrease over the summer, while test scores for better-off students would stay constant or increase slightly (Kuhfeld 2019 based on Cooper et al. 1996). 5 (This pattern has also been referred to in some studies as “slide” or “setback”). A limitation of this earlier research, however, was that the samples represented students who were in school in the 1970s and 1980s—and thus were exposed to very different circumstances than their current counterparts. 6

The findings from more recent evidence on summer learning are less consistent. One study reveals a substantial learning loss over the summer of about one to two months in reading and from one to three months of school-year learning in math (Kufheld 2019). Others find that, on average, the change in scores over the summer is near zero—which von Hippel, Workman, and Downey (2018) have renamed “summer slowdown” or “summer stagnation.” Researchers tend to agree, though, on the fact that there is a large variation in summer learning among students, and on the fact that gaps between students of differing socioeconomic status (SES)—specifically high- and low-SES students—widen (Atteberry and McEachin 2020; Kuhfeld 2019; von Hippel, Workman, and Downey 2018). 7

Multiple factors are used to explain the variation in these findings. In addition to differences in the educational resources that families provide children across the year, there are a large number of factors that appear to affect learning and are of particular relevance in the current context when trying to gauge the level of learning that has taken place during the pandemic: these findings on summer learning (loss or gain) reflect the great range of learning styles that students exhibit during the summer, or when schools are not in session, i.e., learning styles and outcome levels vary greatly because students have different innate individual characteristics and their learning and development is shaped by multiple factors and circumstances, in and out of school. This fact will be critically important when schools are back in session in the following two ways. First, when educators measure and assess children’s learning, they will need to consider that there are many ways that children learn and many types of knowledge that they acquire beyond math and reading. In other words, teaching and assessing children needs to be done within a framework that understands that each child may have learned differently and may have learned different things. Second, when designing how to best lift children up to make up for the extended out-of-school sessions and disruptions, it will be critical to create more personalized instruction and extend learning (see the policy section at the end of the report).

Research on chronic absenteeism reinforces the urgency of tending children at risk of becoming disengaged

The literature on student absenteeism also sheds light on the relationship between learning and instructional time. The evidence indicates that the negative relationship between absenteeism and student outcomes becomes more intense the more school days that a student misses. Using data from public schools in Chicago, Allensworth and Evans (2016) noted that each week of absence per semester in ninth grade is associated with a more than 20% decline in the probability of graduating from high school. With respect to performance, the disadvantage associated with absenteeism grows as the number of days missed increases: students who missed 1–2 school days, 3–4 days, 5–10 days, or more than 10 days scored, respectively, 0.10, 0.29, 0.39, and 0.64 SD below students who missed no school on mathematics performance for eighth graders (García and Weiss 2018; see Figure A reproduced below).

As this correlation between days absent and declining test scores indicates, there also seems to be a point after which the disadvantage becomes much larger. Indeed, researchers put a strong emphasis on “chronic absenteeism” as the critical indicator, as students who are chronically absent are at serious risk of falling behind in school, having lower grades and test scores, exhibiting behavioral issues, and, ultimately, dropping out (Balfanz 2017; U.S. Department of Education 2016; Gottfried and Ehrlich 2018). 8 Indeed, the risk of dropping out is of particular concern for students for whom the pandemic may act as the revolving door but one that ushers them away from the school period (IES 2020; Dorn et al. 2020; Stancati, Brody, and Fontdeglòria 2020; Torres 2020). The United Nations has recently defined this as a “generational catastrophe” (United Nations 2020).

A final point to highlight from this body of research is the range of reasons for, and thus strategies needed to reduce, student absenteeism. There are multiple reasons why students miss classes, as well as large differences in the absenteeism rate among both individual students and student subgroups. Those seeking to develop effective policies to reduce absenteeism, especially chronic absenteeism, understand the need to examine the root causes—academic disengagement, socioemotional distress, economic challenges, health problems, and others. Initiatives that have been rigorously evaluated show that it is critical both to identify the specific reason(s) why a student is missing school and to respond with targeted, relevant supports. 9 This point is particularly relevant in the current context, in which so many students are frequently absent for a variety of reasons that may be difficult for teachers and schools to know or address.

The more frequently students miss school, the worse their performance : Performance disadvantage experienced by eighth graders who missed school relative to students with perfect attendance in the last month, by number of days missed (standard deviations)

The data below can be saved or copied directly into Excel.

The data underlying the figure.

Notes: Data reflect performance in the 2015 NAEP mathematics assessment. Estimates are obtained after controlling for race/ethnicity, poverty status, gender, IEP status, and ELL status; for the racial/ethnic composition of the student’s school; and for the share of students in the school who are eligible for FRPL (a proxy for school socioeconomic composition). All estimates are statistically significant at p < 0.01.

Source:  EPI analysis of National Assessment of Educational Progress microdata, 2015. Chart adapted from Figure A in García and Weiss 2018.

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Of course, the various approaches examined by the research on learning time assume two groups of students: those who are missing some learning time in school and those who are not. (In general, they compare “treatment” versus “nontreatment” groups to estimate impacts.) This comparison does not hold during the lockdown. Instead, all students are missing out on in-class instruction, and instead have been attending school remotely via various online arrangements that in some ways resemble homeschooling or online education. As discussed below, the evidence about homeschooling and remote education presents serious limitations, given their very different context, but nonetheless uncovers many issues that we will need to address in post-pandemic education.

Lacking the needed requirements for effectiveness, remote and alternative learning and online instruction during the pandemic has likely affected teaching and learning

The two main tools for education available to children during the lockdowns have been remote and alternative learning and, at least technically, a homeschooling environment. Evidence on these two modes make clear the conditions that would be needed in order for children to effectively learn under these conditions and for teachers to effectively teach under these conditions. As the following subsections show, most of these conditions have been lacking in recent months.

Research on effective online learning indicates it is critical that students have the tools and the experience

Online learning means, first and fundamentally, the shift from face-to-face learning to the use of devices of various sorts to deliver that learning. Successful online learning thus requires that students (and teachers) be familiar and proficient in their uses of those devices for learning. Of course, even more fundamentally, it requires that the devices exist. Here we discuss the needs of students.

We have limited knowledge about how much and for which purposes students have used devices and technology at home up to this point. An estimated 1.5 million K–12 students participated in some online learning in 2010 (Bettinger and Loeb 2017, based on Wicks 2010). 10 Figure B uses PISA data from 2018 for the United States to show that, while students spent extensive time online prior to the pandemic, that time was heavily spent on social activities, browsing or seeking information, playing games, or accessing email. Students spent less time on educational activities, such as school work or communicating with other students or teachers. These findings suggest that over the past few months as children transitioned suddenly to online learning, they did so without necessarily having the practice or experience to learn well online, and that the transition required them to shift their device-use habits from leisure to studying. What we also know is that remote learning demands that children ignore the distractions that are now in front of their faces all the time and to which they, like all of us, are naturally drawn. 11

What activities do 15-year-olds use digital devices for out of school and how often do they use them? : Frequency with which 15-year-olds use digital devices out of school for different activities, 2018

Note: Shares are based on the average use of digital devices out of school for selected activities under each type of activity.

Note: Shares are based on the average use of digital devices out of school for selected activities under each type of activity. “Social networks” includes the use of digital devices out of school for chatting online and for social networks (for example, Facebook); “Surfing” includes browsing the internet for fun videos (e.g., YouTube) and for downloading music, films, games or software from the Internet; “Emailing” includes using email; “Seeking information” includes reading news on the internet and obtaining practical information from the internet; “Games” includes playing one-player games and playing collaborative online games; “School work” references browsing the internet for school work (e.g., for preparing an essay or presentation, following up on lessons, downloading or uploading or browsing material from a school's website, and doing homework on a computer; and “Group communication” includes the use of digital devices out of school for  communication with other students about school work or for communication with teachers and submission of assignments.

Source : EPI analysis using Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) data for the U.S. (OECD 2018).

In addition to assessing quality and time, the literature on the use of devices assumes that all students have access to appropriate digital devices—i.e., it assumes no digital divide. As has been extensively documented, however, that is not the case. For example, García, Weiss, and Engdahl (2020) show that nearly 16% of eighth graders, or one in six who participated in the National Center for Education Statistics’ National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for 2017, do not have a desktop or laptop computer at home on which to follow their classes. And a small fraction of eighth graders, 4.2%, lack home internet, the other essential instrument for remote study. (It’s important to note that the survey questions do not ask about the quality or coverage of the internet access, or the number of computers in the house, and that the information predates the pandemic’s arrival. Devices once available for homework may now be shared with siblings or be used by parents for work. 12 )

A final caveat is that there is still limited evidence on the effectiveness of online education. A critical aspect highlighted by Bettinger and Loeb (2017) is that online courses are difficult, especially for the students who are least prepared. 13 Research on performance of children attending virtual charter schools confirms the importance of self-engagement and parental supervision for success with this mode of education. Also, selection into these schools (students disengaged with  traditional schools enter these schools); worse inputs (teacher-to-student ratios, one-on-one instruction, etc.) than in traditional schools; and other features of these schools translated into negative effects on performance. 14 Later in the report we discuss the requirements for successful online education from the perspective of teachers.

Research on home schooling makes clear that it works well for students under narrow circumstances

According to the NCES, close to 1.7 million students, or about 3.3% of K–12 students, were home-schooled in 2016 (NCES 2018). 15 Parents who home-schooled their children cited the following as the most important reasons for doing so: concerns about the school environment, such as safety, drugs, or negative peer pressure; dissatisfaction with academic instruction at available schools; and a desire to provide religious instruction (Grady 2017).

In terms of its effectiveness, performance of home-schooled students is generally higher than that of their non-home-schooled peers. A review of 14 studies found consistent positive results in 11, mixed results in another study (some positive and some negative results), zero impact in another study, and neutral and negative effects in a final one. The estimate of the effects (based on eight of the 14 studies for which this information was available) ranged from very small (0.05 SD) to extremely large (1.13 SD) (Ray 2017a). Using percentile metrics, home-schooled students scored, on average, at or above the 84th percentile in all subject areas (Ray 2017b). 16

While these findings may look promising, however, it is important to keep in mind two key considerations when interpreting these results. First, many more resources are devoted to home-schooled children, so they would be expected to perform higher, all else equal. Also, higher performance among home-schooled students may be due more to their selection into the category than the “treatment”/type of education they receive. 17

Belfield (2004), for example, suggests that the improved outcomes among students who are home-schooled could be due to flexible instruction (without age-tracking), small “class sizes,” and dedicated parent-teachers who should make home schooling more effective than other forms of education. He also notes that “educational outcomes may be skewed toward those on which the family has competence, and educational progress may be slow if there is no formative assessment or peer-pressure to learn (although home-school parents may exert more pressure or have higher expectations as a result of their supervision).” More recent studies suggest that parameters such as structured or unstructured instruction may also be important drivers of the results (Neuman and Guterman 2016).

These underlying factors could be particularly relevant in the current crisis. Many of the same stark distinctions between effective and ineffective online education and home schooling would apply to the “ emergency remote learning” done at home under a pandemic: students who entered the pandemic better off and those whose parents have been trained in instruction or have a particular ability teach would likely perform better than students whose parents have not been able to develop (or as successful at developing) those skills. In general, parents who were suddenly thrust into the role of home-schoolers had no such preparation; most are taking on that new task while juggling the full range of other home-care responsibilities as well as, in many cases, full-time remote jobs. That said, students whose parents have more formal education likely also have an advantage in this context—as they do in nonpandemic contexts—further compounding the disparities that low-income students are accruing (see, for example, Dinarski 2020; Rothstein 2020; Belfield 2004; Goldstein 2020a). 18

Evidence on online instruction emphasizes that teachers also need training and supports

As the discussion of successful versus unsuccessful remote and online learning reveals, there are multiple requirements needed for online education to work as intended and deliver positive results. Just as the requirements for effective student learning have largely not been met during the pandemic, the same is true for effective online instruction.

First, there was little time to design and develop instructional tools for wide deployment. 19 As a recent analysis of research on the subject details,

Online education, including online teaching and learning, has been studied for decades. Numerous research studies, theories, models, standards, and evaluation criteria focus on quality online learning, online teaching, and online course design. What we know from research is that effective online learning results from careful instructional design and planning, using a systematic model for design and development. The design process and the careful consideration of different design decisions have an impact on the quality of the instruction. And it is this careful design process that will be absent in most cases in these emergency shifts. 20 (Hodges et al. 2020)

Moreover, it is hard to plan and to design effective instruction for the COVID-19 era when teachers and school districts don’t have a framework (or even the right language) to accommodate what they are doing. As Hodges et al. (2020) emphasized when exploring how colleges and universities were coping with the sudden and rapid shift to remote learning (in March 2020), understanding the current circumstances required distinguishing between online or remote learning generally. For our current context, they suggested the term “emergency remote teaching,” which helps signal the uncertainties and unknowns that could affect teachers’ instruction.

Second, weak systems of support, including lack of professional development on how to integrate computers into instruction, have left teachers less than optimally equipped to teach during the pandemic. 21

Slightly over two in three public school teachers report having participated in professional development activities on the use of computers for instruction in the past 12 months, as shown in Figure C , based on García and Weiss 2019 using data from the 2011–2012 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS). 22 But those who participated in these activities were not broadly satisfied with them. Among these teachers, one in four found the activity very useful, with about one in three finding it either not useful or just somewhat useful. And teachers who participate in such activities have to surmount barriers to do so, as access to work time and supports to participate in professional development are very limited. Among all teachers, only half have released time from teaching to participate in professional development (50.9 percent), and less than a third are reimbursed for conferences or workshop fees (28.2 percent). 23

Few teachers are well-trained in using computers for instruction

Shares of teachers who said they had training in the past 12 months on the use of computers for instruction, shares of teachers reporting usefulness of training they received in using computers for instruction.

Notes: Data are for teachers in public noncharter schools. The bottom figure shows shares of teachers who answered “very useful,” “useful,” “somewhat useful,” or “not useful” when asked, for the specific professional development activity, “Overall, how useful were these activities to you?”

Source : 2011–2012 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) microdata from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Adapted from García and Weiss 2019.

The limited training pre-pandemic is compounded by the limited technical support during the pandemic. Most K–12 teachers did not contemplate online instruction until being forced to do so by the pandemic. As a result, teachers have had to come up with a variety of options on the fly, from assigning daily or weekly coursework that students turn in online to full classes conducted via Zoom and a range of approaches in between. We can expect that some of these online strategies launched during the COVID-19 crisis did not lead to optimal outcomes.

Third, inadequate systems for tracking attendance online leave teachers in the dark on a key “input” of education: student learning time. Even the most well-trained teacher when it comes to online instruction won’t be effective if his or her students are not online and following instruction. At the most basic level, schools are trying to assess how broadly and consistently students are interacting with teachers and receiving instruction. One ambitious effort has been in Southern Florida, where districts rigorously track attendance and contact parents when students are absent. Quickly recognizing that relying on student log-ins failed to capture much of the activity taking place, districts in Palm Beach County and the Florida Keys ask teachers to log student participation in online forums and completion of assigned work. In general, schools in this system are seeing attendance that is only modestly lower than normal, with the biggest drop-offs among the youngest and oldest students (who, respectively, need parents’ help to get online and are least motivated to take part). However, while the system helps monitor potential race- and class-based disparities in attendance, concerns remain (Bakeman 2020). Attesting the importance of attendance, some school districts that have chosen online instruction for the beginning of the 2020–2021 school year are making registering attendance compulsory through their platforms. 24

Fourth, the emotional bonds critical to any kind of learning are just as important for remote learning or home schooling but hard to attain in the current crisis. Even more so than college professors, K–12 teachers also need to retain emotional bonds with their students, especially younger ones, that can be extremely difficult to attain remotely. Many of these teachers are also parents and so must juggle their children’s activities, such as helping their children with homework, with their own job responsibilities. And teachers working with particularly vulnerable students face additional challenges as some of these students lack access to computers to work or even enough internet bandwidth (see barriers to access described below).

The “whole-child” development that occurs at school was also interrupted during the pandemic

For children, going to school is not just about learning reading and math: it’s also about developing the social and emotional skills critical to succeeding in life. School closures eliminated some of these critically important aspects of school beyond academic activity, such as the development that occurs through personal relationships among students and between students and teachers, after-school activities that support children’s mental and emotional well-being and skills development, and a sense of routine. In addition to the cessation of their normal activities at school, during the pandemic, children have lost in-person contact with relatives and friends and have witnessed many sobering daily life realities, from parents who may be unsure where the next meal or rent payment will come from or who are working risky jobs in order to make ends meet, to family members fearing that loved ones are in danger of serious illness or even death. Overall, the crisis has helped highlight the importance of other skills that are often overlooked in the school context, but that should be nurtured as part of going to school and that will merit more attention in the aftermath of the pandemic.

A range of skills often referred to as socioemotional or noncognitive skills—including creativity, tolerance, persistence, empathy, resilience, self-control, and time management—have long been neglected in education policy, which has tended to follow the so-called cognitive hypothesis (Tough 2012; Ravitch 2011, 2020; Rothstein, Jacobsen, and Wilder 2008). 25 These noncognitive skills are deemed lower priorities in academic contexts—including skills that children typically lagging behind could have an edge in—and their integration in the usual components of learning and teaching is far from standard. As a result, when decisions about curriculum, standards, and evaluation are made, socioemotional skills tend to be the last on the priority list and the first on the chopping block, while testing highly on math and reading—skills that tend to be correlated with having more educated parents and higher household incomes—is richly rewarded in school, furthering “deficit” narratives (faulty messages about who can and cannot succeed in school, and about what succeeding in school means).

For sure, parents and teachers have long been attuned to the broad range of life skills that their students need to develop, but this crisis has sharpened that focus. The sudden need for children across the board to adapt to uncertain and rapidly changing circumstances and to cope with new levels of trauma make it all the more urgent to address this disparity between what parents and teachers understand about the breadth of skills critical to child development and systems that focus on testing a narrow set of cognitive skills. For example, resilience—the ability to adapt to and thrive in different situations—along with persistence and self-control have gained new recognition as important life skills during these months of the pandemic. Children transitioned to online learning overnight and have had to follow classes without the direct supervision of the teacher or the interactions with other students, which requires a higher than usual degree of self-control and persistence. Creativity is another skill that likely is serving children well during this crisis: Students who find new ways to keep themselves engaged and to make forced isolation productive are benefiting, while their peers who are easily bored are losing ground.

As we slowly move forward during the pandemic and we return to “normal,” it is going to be more important than ever that we do not let this recognition of whole-child development fall away and revert to a narrow focus on academics. Doing so would cause harm on several fronts. First, it would ignore and potentially exacerbate the trauma that many children are experiencing. Second, it would put low-income students even further behind—both by weighing heavily the areas of learning that they have been least able to access and by failing to recognize the natural variation in students’ strengths across a broader range of skills, or “patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behavior” (Borghans et al. 2008). And finally it would miss a unique opportunity to better balance what schools can do. Noncognitive skills are demonstrably as important as other cognitive skills when it comes to ensuring that children will thrive both in school and later in life. Moreover, since academic and socioemotional skills develop in tandem, and in recognition of the added challenges during the pandemic, it will be more critical to approach skills development holistically and make teaching and nurturing the whole child central, rather than marginal (see García 2014 and García and Weiss 2016 for a summary of this literature).

Recessions, natural disasters, and pandemics disrupt learning the most when there is no contingency planning

As noted above, prior research on circumstances somewhat similar to the shutdown during the pandemic is important to review—findings from this research may not be directly applicable due to substantial differences in the circumstances, but understanding the mechanisms through which learning occurs under these circumstances, as well as how to be prepared for the upheaval, is critical to informing our way out of this current crisis and our readiness for future ones. This is particularly the case regarding evidence from the research on “education in emergencies,” which examines the provision of education in emergency and post-emergency situations due to pandemics, other natural disasters, and conflicts and wars, generally in poor countries around the world. 26 The practical recommendations from this field have been largely ignored in the education policy arena until now, because they have not seemed to apply in the rich countries. 27 However, there are some exceptions overall and for the United States in particular, including cases of natural disasters such as Hurricanes Katrina and Maria.

The following lessons can be extracted from this research: Emergencies lead to undeniably negative impacts on educational processes and outcomes; the most disadvantaged population subgroups experience the largest, and most lasting, negative consequences; and contingency plans—absent during the ongoing pandemic—are of critical importance. Providing education, often made available because of these plans, leads to positive outcomes to children and societies. Moreover, emergencies tend to strain existing resources, adding additional challenges.

We summarize here a few key findings. For example, by the end of the school year following the devastation that Hurricanes Katrina (August 2005) and Rita (September 2005) brought to New Orleans, the performance of students who were displaced dropped by 0.07 to 0.22 standard deviations relative to what their performance would have been without the hurricanes (this range includes an average across subjects and grades calculated by Pane et al. [2008] and estimates by Sacerdote [2012] on math and reading). Principals reported that students who were displaced were judged more likely than students in the control groups to engage in negative behaviors, such as fighting, violating school rules, arguing, bullying, playing in isolation, and eating in isolation, and more likely to need mental health counseling; they were also judged less likely to engage in positive behaviors, such as participating in before- or after-school clubs or activities, school-sponsored social events outside the school day, or sports teams (Pane et al. 2008). Sacerdote (2012) also found longer-run effects, including rates of college attendance that were one to four percentage points lower relative to trends measured in cohorts not affected by the natural disasters. 28 Importantly, Özek (2020) finds that some of the negative effects of disasters on students mostly vanish after the first year when there is an “adequate compensatory allocation of resources.” Among the resources he cites as critical to compensating the negative effects of emergencies on learning are teachers—specifically ensuring that the most effective teachers are working with the most vulnerable students. Although, as noted, Özek (2020) found that first-year effects tend to decline, effects persist in the second year in high-poverty schools and in low-performing schools.

Natural disasters and recessions also create economic shocks. Research exploring the consequences of recessions such as the Great Recession sheds light on ways today’s economic crisis is likely affecting children’s education. For example, Irons (2009) discusses the ways that “unemployment and income losses can reduce educational achievement by threatening early childhood nutrition; reducing families’ abilities to provide a supportive learning environment (including adequate health care, summer activities, and stable housing); and by forcing a delay or abandonment of college plans.” Shafiq (2010) also discusses potential negative effects from economic shocks, such as long hours worked by parents, which “reduces the time that parents can devote to assisting their child with homework, reading, and other educational activities.”

Economic shocks in turn lead to cuts in education budgets. Jackson, Wigger, and Xiong (2018) show that spending cuts enacted during the last recession had detrimental effects on education outcomes: the per-pupil spending cuts that states made during the Great Recession (by roughly 7% overall, by over 10% in seven states, and by more than 20% in two states) reduced college enrollment and test scores, particularly for children in poor neighborhoods, and the impacts of these cuts were greater for Black and white students than for Latino students. Jackson, Wigger, and Xiong (2018) estimated that the impacts of such large-scale and persistent education budget cuts are very significant: a $1,000 reduction in per-pupil spending led to a reduction in test scores of about 0.045 standard deviations and a roughly 3 percentage point decline in the share of high school students who go to college. Often, recovery after a shock never fully happens, as explored in more detail later in our report.

The education-in-emergencies research underscores that “contingency plans” are critical to dealing with emergency and post-emergency situations. Specifically during crises arising from war, conflicts, natural disasters, and pandemics, children are displaced often as homes, neighborhoods, and schools are destroyed—and this may threaten survival or inflict some level of trauma upon children. 29 A certain level of preparedness is critical in order to provide an effective response at the onset of a crisis, and to “prepare, cope, and recover” (UN IASC 2007, 2015; Anderson 2020; Azzi-Hucktigran and Shmis 2020).

Although it is expected that countries and their education agencies have a plan to deal with short-run disruptions (i.e., snow days, flu season, etc.), such expectations are uncommon when it comes to contingency plans for larger, longer emergencies. Most information including guidance on planning for education in emergencies comes from several international organizations involved in major, longer-term emergencies. One exception is a reference in a White House publication reviewing assistance provided after Katrina; these words should be heeded in the aftermath of this pandemic:

Individual local and state plans, as well as relatively new plans created by the federal government since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, failed to adequately account for widespread or simultaneous catastrophes.…The President made clear that we must do better in the future. The objective of this report is to identify and establish a roadmap on how to do that, and lay the groundwork for transforming how this Nation—from every level of government to the private sector to individual citizens and communities—pursues a real and lasting vision of preparedness. To get there will require significant change to the status quo, to include adjustments to policy, structure, and mindset. (The White House 2006)

As has been evident in the past few months, there was no national education plan in place to deal with medium-run or long-run emergencies for the scale of COVID-19. Existing plans (as indicated, outlined by international organizations) offer “contingency planning tools” to ensure appropriate arrangements are made to analyze the impact of potential crises and to respond in a timely and effective way. The strategies suggested are characterized as flexible learning approaches, which reflect the reality that the circumstances and needs vary widely. Continued provision of education is expected to support both learning and the psychosocial well-being of both students and educators (Anderson 2020). Some strategies aim at promoting cognitive, emotional, and social development through structured, meaningful, and creative activities in a school setting or in informal learning spaces that replace the unavailable traditional schools. In other words, these programs are designed to provide support similar to that provided by good school systems on a regular basis. 30

Clearly, there are potentially relevant aspects of research on emergency education that, where emergency education resembles the COVID-19 situation, could help policymakers identify what needs to be done immediately and going forward to help schools and students recover. Before we discuss these, we devote much of the next section to assessing how this crisis is expected to have worsened impacts on vulnerable subgroups, and to exacerbate inequities overall.

How is COVID-19 exacerbating opportunity gaps (and what steps are schools taking in response)?

The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated the well-documented opportunity and enrichment gaps that put low-income students at a disadvantage relative to their better-off peers. By opportunity and enrichment gaps, we mean gaps in access to the conditions or resources that enhance learning and development between low-income students and their higher-income peers (with low-income students less likely than their better-off peers to access these conditions and resources). Before we delve into the details, it is important to state that this should not come as a surprise. The baseline operating status of the education system in the United States before the pandemic had severe problems with regard to equity. Put simply, as a nation, we have structured the education system to deliver the disparate outcomes that it delivers, i.e., outcomes that differ by social class, minority status, and other student characteristics: “It’s not a coincidence or accident” (ASI 2020). 31 Here we briefly describe a few of the gaps that are most directly relevant to students’ abilities to learn during the pandemic: basic needs, economic relief, and support for families and health. We also discuss how the pandemic has exacerbated the limitations of standardized assessments, especially when used to measure performance gaps in education.

There are two important caveats to this discussion. First, any recent statistics are preliminary (and likely quite conservative). Second, there are, of course, other gaps that we are not able include here—for example, in wealth through homeownership or toxic stress linked to structural racism (Lerner 2020; Morsy and Rothstein 2019)—but that are interacting with and compounding those factors that we are able to examine. As leading education and civil rights organizations summarizing the breadth of the opportunities and enrichment gaps note, “the transition to educating students in their homes or shelters has exposed and exacerbated inequities in education, food security, and housing that have long existed” (AFT, LDF, and Leadership Conference 2020). We add health and mental health to that list, and we emphasize the critical role schools play as part of the social safety net and as the first responders to children’s basic needs (Kirk 2019; Weiss and Reville 2019; ASI 2020).

The pandemic has exacerbated opportunity gaps associated with uneven access to food and nutrition, shelter, health insurance, and financial relief measures

The disruption caused by the pandemic and the interruption of the normal operation of schools continue to pose barriers to meeting the most basic of children’s needs (access to food and nutrition and shelter). Families’ resources also have been largely impacted by the economic downturn that followed the disruption. There is overwhelming evidence that low-income children and their families have much less access to nutrition and shelter, that children of color and children from immigrant families are disproportionately affected, and that this lack of access has palpable consequences for their development. It is no secret that the inequities are built into our economic and policy setups, and that these inequities affect children’s development as well. The school shutdowns and economic crisis caused by the pandemic are exposing and exacerbating these challenges.

Evidence on expanded opportunity gaps due to lack of access to food and nutrition

In 2013, as the United States was still recovering from the recession of 2007–2008, half of all public-school students were eligible for free or reduced-price school meals (SEF 2015; Carnoy and García 2017). In other words, years into the economic recovery, a record share of one in two public-school students lived in a household that was unable, absent government support, to consistently feed them. With millions of adults newly out of work due to the economic shock of the coronavirus pandemic—and federal relief insufficient, slow, and difficult to access—many more children are now in food-insecure homes (i.e., they have limited or uncertain access to adequate food, as measured by responses to survey questions about access to food).

Using data from the new Household Pulse Survey (HHPS) from the U.S. Census Bureau, 29.8% of respondents with children were food insecure (Schanzenbach and Tomeh 2020). Bauer (2020) estimates that there were almost 14 million children living in a household characterized by child food insecurity during the week of June 19–23, 2020, “5.6 times as many as in all of 2018 (2.5 million) and 2.7 times as many as during peak of the Great Recession in 2008 (5.1 million).” 32

The data about food insecurity is backed up by news reports showing record levels of visits to food banks during the early part of the pandemic and the shortage of resources to meet the demand for food. According to Feeding America, one in seven Americans relied on food pantries before the pandemic, with demand doubling or tripling in many places in the first weeks of the crisis. By late April, less than two months into the pandemic, food pantries in Chicago and Houston were almost out of staples, and one third of New York City’s food banks had closed due to lack of supplies, donations, and/or volunteers (Conlin, Baertlein, and Walljasper 2020).

Schools continuously tried to fill the void to the extent they could, with buildings that were closed for instruction reopening as places to collect, prepare, and distribute meals. Some schools were serving breakfast or dinner or are giving out weekend meal “packs” for students, and many provide meals for older and younger siblings as well. For example, schools in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, served an average of 8,000 meals—three per day—for the first 39 days of the pandemic, hitting the one million mark on May 12. District Superintendent George Arlotto said of the importance of supporting his students, “We know if we’re not serving meals they might not be getting fed, at least certainly not three meals a day” (Streicher 2020).

However, difficulty matching meals to parents’ schedules and lack of sufficient transportation to deliver meals limited many districts’ ability to serve the students they normally serve. Across the Denver metro region, district capacity during the first month of school closure starting in March spanned a wide range, serving just 12% of students in the largest and lowest-income district, Denver; 16% in Jeffco; 34% in Aurora; and 57% in the Adams 12 Five Star Schools district (Meltzer, Robles, and LaMarr LeMee 2020).

Across the country overall, the networks set up to provide meals left out a large proportion of children. “Only 61.0% of parents whose families received free or reduced-price meals during the school year reported receiving school meal assistance during closures,” noted Waxman, Gupta, and Karpman (2020), who also found that 17.2% of parents living with children under age 19 reported receiving charitable food in May 2020.

Evidence on expanded opportunity gaps due to lack of access to shelter

In addition to children who are especially vulnerable during the pandemic because they rely on schools for basic food and nutrition are children who are homeless. Data show that before the pandemic began, large numbers of students in districts across the country were homeless. 33 For this numerous group of students, getting an education remotely is unthinkable. With millions of adults newly out of work due the economic shock of the coronavirus pandemic—and eviction bans expired or expiring in localities around the country—unstable housing is putting the challenges of educating homeless students into starker relief. Some school districts are paying attention to the needs of their homeless students. In San Jose, California, for example, some schools are expected to be open for counseling and in-person instruction for homeless and special needs students (Lambert, Burke, and Tadayon 2020). The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH 2020) has issued some general guidelines as to how school districts can work with local public health officials and community partners to identify temporary, safe, and stable shelter options for families or youth experiencing homelessness who must quarantine. The agency also provides guidance on ensuring homeless children’s access to remote education while schools are closed.

Evidence on expanded opportunity gaps due to unstable employment and lack of access to financial relief and health insurance

Loss of work has hit families across the board, as initial unemployment shocks in the travel and entertainment industries expanded to shut down restaurants, retail, and even some of the health care sector shortly after the pandemic started. While some of those jobs have returned, we still have extremely elevated rates of unemployment and loss of health insurance. And low-income parents are in particularly tough situations because of the low-paying and unstable nature of their jobs. Those who lost already-precarious non-standard jobs (like “gig” work and other independent contracting work) don’t qualify for unemployment insurance (and many had trouble accessing emergency unemployment benefits because of outdated state systems). Further, many workers around the country who had job-related health insurance lost it just when they needed it most (Cooper and Worker 2020; Bivens and Zipperer 2020). While Congress passed relief measures earlier in the pandemic, some key components of relief—such as the extended unemployment benefits—have expired, and further measures are at this writing stalled in Congress (Gould 2020a; Shierholz 2020). Not granting the needed economic relief and not granting more support for families is going to add to the challenges of parents who have dual responsibilities of supervising children’s learning and putting food on the table and providing them with health protection.

Evidence on expanded opportunity gaps due to health challenges for families

The pandemic obviously also raises the possibility that children’s families and children themselves are grappling with illness and even death. Research shows that the health risks are higher for workers in low-paying professions than for workers in high-paying professions because the former are much less likely to be able to work remotely (Gould and Shierholz 2020). Moreover, essential workers—such as warehouse stockers, home health aides, and delivery and trash truck drivers—now risk contracting COVID-19 while still struggling to survive on low wages. 34

Thus it is not surprising that this crisis has also resulted in an increase in the number of children who face the serious illness or death of a relative. It seems likely that a large share of low-income students and Black and Hispanic students now resuming schooling have suffered major trauma. With Black students losing family members in disproportionate numbers, the pandemic is exacting a particular toll on these communities (Harper 2020). For example, in Georgia, where African Americans make up just 30% of the state’s population, they represent over 80% of COVID-19-related hospitalizations and more than 50% of deaths (Weiner 2020). When New York City was the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States, the heavily white borough of Manhattan had a hospitalization rate of 3.31% and a death rate of 1.22%—the city’s lowest—despite having the oldest residents of any of the city’s five boroughs, while the heavily low-income, African American borough of the Bronx had the highest rates, 2.24% and 6.34%, roughly double those of Manhattan (Wadhera et al. 2020). 35

Evidence on expanded opportunity gaps due to health challenges for students

These same groups of students—Black and Hispanic students, and low-income students— suffer academically due to physical and mental health problems that are less likely to be addressed in a timely and consistent manner (Ghandour et al. 2018; Menas 2019; Morsy and Rothstein 2019). Many rely on school-based health clinics, a critical resource that is no longer available in schools where teaching is not occurring on site. Earlier in the pandemic when access to doctors’ offices was severely limited (with many serving only urgent cases) and hospitals were overwhelmed (and perceived as unsafe), problems from toothaches and ear infections to emotional breakdowns went untreated and, in many cases, became much worse. When the state of Florida shut down in late March, for example, it banned all nonemergency medical and dental services, leading to questions as to whether even check-ups conducted prior to procedures were permitted (Boca News Now 2020). 36

With both physical and mental health on the line for stressed-out students, school districts are trying to leverage newly available resources to compensate. These include additional Medicaid resources provided in the first federal COVID-19 relief legislation, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. That act temporarily increases the federal Medicaid match to states that agree to maintain current eligibility standards and cost-sharing requirements and limit disenrollment. Relaxed guidelines enable states to use some of that money for telehealth services without additional authorization, so students can see doctors remotely as needed. The federal CARES Act that was enacted in March provides $13.2 billion for K–12 schools as part of Title I funding, and it includes several aspects of student health in allowable uses. The Los Angeles Unified School District has used some of that funding to launch a mental health hotline for students. Superintendent Austi Beutner notes, “Their world has been turned upside down and we need to make sure students have the support they need [during this crisis]” (Jordan 2020a).

All of the above challenges, of course, mean more stress. And for children who were already living in cramped and less-than-ideal situations, having all family members in the house makes the regular challenges of daily life much greater. Increased incidences of abuse due to confinement, stress, and lack of access to outside support further affirm the urgency of addressing the stressors that are affecting families and, in turn, their children’s development and ability to learn (Stratford 2020; Greeley 2020; Tolerance Trauma 2020).

The pandemic has exacerbated opportunity gaps in teaching and learning

It is in these challenging contexts of economic insecurity and housing instability that students (and teachers) were suddenly transitioning to remote learning, adding another class- and race-based disparity in education opportunity: the “digital divide.” The “digital divide” refers to the fact that some children do not have access to the devices or internet services needed to operate online—and there is a double digital divide that arises from the fact that low-income children and Black and Hispanic children are more likely to lack this access (García, Weiss, and Engdahl 2020; Tinubu Ali and Herrera 2020). Research on the digital divide counters the idea that all children can access online instruction and the education system shifted to online education. Given the resurgence of COVID-19 cases over the summer and the growing number of school districts announcing plans to begin the 2020–2021 school year totally remotely, the divide would only continue in the imminent future. Some low-income families are struggling to obtain a computer or other device for each child, with a share of families lacking an internet connection enabling children to do assigned work online or a quiet space to do solo work (let alone attend the Zoom calls that classrooms are now conducting; see Hodges et al. 2020).

Our analysis of data from the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that digital devices are not universally available or used at home for school-related purposes. Our findings are presented in Figure D . Specifically, 84.4% of eighth graders overall, and 76.3% of poor eighth graders have a laptop or computer, which means that about 16% of eighth graders and 25% of poor eighth graders have no desktop or laptop at home. In addition, only about half of eighth graders had experience using the internet at home frequently for homework, with a much larger share of non-poor students (56.1%) than poor students (46.4%) accustomed to using the home internet frequently for homework (a gap of 10 percentage points). (We define poor students as students who are eligible for the federal free or reduced-price lunch programs, and non-poor students as students who are ineligible for those programs.) 37

Not all students are set up for online learning, and students who are poor have less access to key tools : Share of eighth-graders with access to online learning, by income level and tool, 2017

Notes:  Poor students are students eligible for the federal free or reduced-price lunch programs. Non-poor students are students who are ineligible for those programs. Frequent use of internet at home for homework means every day or almost every day. Students’ teachers were either “already proficient” in, “have not” received training in, or “had received training” in “software applications” and “integrating computers into instruction” in the last two years.

Source:  2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), eighth-grade reading sample microdata from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. Chart adapted from Figure D in García, Weiss, and Engdahl 2020.

Our analysis of 2017 NAEP data also shows that teachers are not universally prepared to teach online, as also shown in Figure D. Just about a third (32.5%) of eighth graders overall have teachers who consider themselves proficient in using software applications, and only a fifth (19.3%) have teachers who consider themselves proficient in integrating computers into instruction. The shares of students overall with teachers who don’t consider themselves proficient but who have received some training in applications and in computer use in instruction are higher (43.4% and 69.2% respectively). Yet that still leaves nearly a quarter (100% minus 43.4% minus 32.5%, or 24.1%) of eighth graders with teachers who are neither proficient in nor trained in software applications, and close to one in eight (100% minus 69.2% minus 19.3%, or 11.5%) with teachers who are neither proficient in nor trained in how to integrate computers into instruction.

A Southern Education Foundation report on class- and race-based disparities during the COVID-19 crisis finds similar disparities in access to the resources needed for online learning. It notes that nearly one in five African American children and a slightly greater share of children in low-income households have no access to the internet at home (Tinubu Ali and Herrera 2020). These disparities mirror those reported by superintendents who responded to a survey by AASA, the School Superintendents Association, in late March as schools across the country were closing down (Rogers and Ellerson Ng 2020). 38 Numerous news outlets reporting on the digital divide have also noted these disparities by race and ethnicity (for example, see Kamenetz 2020b). School shutdowns and associated internet- and device-access challenges have been occurring at a time when many of the public libraries that have been a resource for families without computers or home internet access are closed due to the pandemic.

School districts are trying hard to take these challenges into consideration and to make up for the large disparities they know their students face. Some, like Montgomery County, Maryland, are sending home Chromebooks and tablets, prioritizing students who are eligible for free- and reduced-price lunches or are known not to have devices at home (St. George 2020). Others, like New York City, are lending iPads to students who need them (NYC Department of Education 2020). All of this takes time, however, and many districts lack the resources. (Montgomery County provided paper packets to students for the first few weeks of closures, until it could distribute the Chromebooks.) Some districts are making online work optional, as a way to not further disadvantage students who physically cannot do it, but of course that can weaken schools’ capacity to continue to instruct.

Tinubu Ali and Herrera (2020) also report on dozens of innovative strategies districts have employed to overcome some of these disparities. These strategies include deploying roving school buses that add Wi-Fi coverage in South Carolina, the purchase of thousands of additional hotspots in Texas, and two months of free internet in Caldo Parish in Louisiana thanks to a partnership between Comcast and the local NAACP. (Comcast is also providing free access in Montgomery County, Maryland.) In Tennessee, Staples is printing and distributing printed materials free of charge to students who cannot afford the cost, and public schools in Jackson, Mississippi, are developing a package of learning materials that are paper-based or online and shared via the state’s educational programming television channels. South Carolina’s public television network is providing free virtual professional development sessions on home learning and technology best practices. In Miami-Dade, one of the most diverse school districts in the country, instructions for families are provided in English, Spanish, and Creole.

The pandemic has exacerbated the limitations of standardized tests

Digital divides and disparities in parental resources are fueling the growth of opportunity gaps that likely will make it harder for disadvantaged students to engage with their schoolwork and easier for these students to lose interest in school. If so, the pandemic will also widen performance gaps between disadvantaged students and their better-off peers and increase graduation and school dropout rates among disadvantaged students, particularly if districts don’t adjust practices to reconnect with these students.

Thus, one practice that may need adjusting or revisiting is testing. During the pandemic, traditional assessments—which have limited value even in normal contexts—are much less useful in capturing what students know and have learned. These assessments could feel “overwhelming or condemning to children” at a time when it is necessary to create opportunities for students to show what they know and to demonstrate where they are, and for teachers to adjust instruction to students’ current development in order to advance their development and potential (RESEARCHED 2020, NPE 2020). As set forth above, students have very uneven access to the online resources they need to take tests, let alone complete them effectively. Similarly, students have uneven access to the special instruction and supervised practice that help students pass these tests—with lower income students and Black and Hispanic students less likely to have access than their higher income and white peers. This means that standardized testing during the pandemic will deliver results that are, by design, going to be even more closely correlated with life circumstances than is true during periods of regular classroom instruction. Compounding all of the barriers to meaningful and equitable monitoring and testing during the pandemic, teachers in remote settings lack the tools that they have when they are in their classrooms to interpret test results. In other words, in a classroom, teachers are more able to distinguish between a low score likely due to the student’s lack of understanding of the material versus a low score due to the student’s frequent absences, emotional distress, or other factors. As a result, teachers working remotely are hard-pressed to respond to a test score with an appropriate strategy to support the student.

For all of these reasons, traditional standardized tests have limited value in this context and may do more harm than good. 39 Rather, school districts should be using tests that are designed to assess where students are across a range of areas and to help teachers meet students there. These tests include diagnostic tests, formative tests, SEL assessments, and assessments that can be performed remotely such as project-based assessments and capstone projects. 40 These types of tests will be critical to helping students and teachers alike start to dig out of the academic hole dug by the COVID-19 shovel.

Going forward: Translating what we have learned into a plan for the “three Rs” of relief, recovery, and rebuilding

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, we have made choices about how to sustain, or provide relief to, the education system. We have also had the opportunity to consider how best to proceed as we start to recover, and how to rebuild the system by taking more decisive action on substantial, long-needed changes. Indeed, how well we rebuild the education system will determine how well we address the impacts the pandemic has had on our human capital and how prepared we are for shocks of this nature in the future.

As noted above, students have seen their normal learning and development interrupted and disrupted. Inevitably, this will lead to lost ground during the pandemic, with disadvantaged students particularly vulnerable given the way that the pandemic has compounded large existing opportunity gaps. We propose a set of targeted education interventions and comprehensive services to lift up disadvantaged children and reduce inequities as we move out from this pandemic. This plan tackles today’s three Rs — relief, recovery, and rebuilding —with a phased three-stage process that must be properly funded at each stage.

Specifically, this three-pronged plan requires making the necessary investments to 1) put school systems on a solid footing to provide effective remote instruction and supports at scale as the crisis continues to play out (the “relief” phase); 2) make new investments to help schools and students compensate for lost time and ground during the period of quarantine (during the “recovery” phase); and 3) lay the foundations for a shift toward an education system that understands the complexity of education production and its multiple components, untaps children’s talents, works equally for all students, and reflects the value we place on education as a society (in the “rebuilding” phase). This plan will require substantial amounts of resources and strong collaboration and effort.

If the Great Recession is any indicator, competition for resources will be fierce. In fact, early indicators are that this public health crisis will pose enormous challenges for states and local governments, those responsible for over 90% of the school systems’ revenue. 41 Moreover, we entered this crisis in a more difficult position than in the Great Recession (based on a comparison with what we learned from the 2009 federal stimulus, and from the fact that about half of the states as of 2016 had yet to return to the level of per-student spending that they had attained prior to the Great Recession). 42

With state budgets at historic crisis levels and the economy continuing to struggle, 43 the prevailing narrative will likely be an even more severe version of “we can’t afford that” than what we experienced in the aftermath of the Great Recession. It will therefore be more important than ever to meet that assertion with the fact that “we can’t afford not to.” All of the evidence we have amassed demonstrates that not spending costs far more, and delivers far less, in the long run, than making the needed investments. 44

Underlying the fiscal barriers to making the needed investments in education is a lack of leadership at the federal level that makes it very difficult for states to do what is needed. So far, there has been insufficient, scattered attention to education from policymakers, but even that has had a marked political tone that fails to acknowledge challenges or provide required resources. 45

Relief: Give schools urgent resources so that they can provide effective remote instruction and supports at scale during the pandemic

During the pandemic, schools have been challenged with not only fulfilling their main roles of educating our children but also serving as a key part of the safety net: Specifically, to some degree, schools have provided not just remote education but also supports like meals, health services, counseling, and, in some cases, housing. Given the fact the schools are not universally going to be resuming standard operating procedures in the foreseeable future, policies must be enacted to enable all schools to provide effective remote instruction and supports consistently, and at scale.

While states and school districts are critical players in the relief stage, most of the calls for action involve the federal government because states and school districts are not only overstrained but also facing imminent budget cuts caused by the pandemic, with an inability to incur deficit spending.

Congress must resume consideration of additional relief measures and pay more attention to schools and associated public supports, including child care, social services, food and nutrition supports, and physical and mental health care—devoting substantially larger shares of, and sufficient, funding to these needs. At a minimum:

In the “relief” phase, schools must also have the resources they need to safely operate with partial on-site instruction if the health protocols allow for doing so.

Recovery: Provide extra investments to help students and schools make up lost ground as they return to in-school operations

When schools resume their operations back in the classroom, it will be critical to fully understand which students have been engaged and to what degree, how much they have learned, and where they have fallen behind. But for meaningful teaching and learning to take place, educators must first be able to assess their students’ well-being and readiness to learn. Once they achieve that, educators will need sufficient, appropriate resources and tools to enable students to catch up and continue their development.

Rebuilding: Redesign the system to focus on nurturing the whole child and on equal provision of opportunities

Major crises provide unique opportunities to rethink the status quo. In the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis, policymakers must seize the opportunity to address structural problems in the educational system and invest new and different approaches. This should be a pathway toward establishing a system that ensures we meet the student, teacher, and school needs that we have been neglecting and make delivering excellence and equity in education the norm. Delivering equity in education requires addressing the major disparities in student outcomes by race and social class that arise in a system designed to deliver disparities in educational opportunities. The bottom line is, we must seize this moment to redesign the system to deliver the excellence and equity needed for every child to be able to thrive. 58

Despite the fact that we do not know exactly how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting children’s needs and academic performance, we know enough from existing research on learning during somewhat comparable educational experiences, and from news and observations of how education is being produced during the crisis, to assess the likely consequences on educational outcomes both overall and for relatively disadvantaged subgroups.

We reviewed the research on what to expect when children experience a substantial loss of learning time, when schools make a sudden shift to remote learning and home schooling without meeting the conditions for their effectiveness, and when circumstances lead to a massive increase in stress and disruption for children and their families. We also reviewed evidence that has emerged during the crisis on the multiple challenges that children, their teachers, schools, families, and communities face, all of which exacerbate opportunity gaps. Indeed, the evidence points to disparities in opportunities that exacerbate existing inequities and place major stress on low-income students and their teachers, in particular. Due to the digital divide and many other factors, these children are most likely to lose more substantial learning time. And their families are also most likely to experience compounded stresses—such as job loss, the loss of health care, the lack of paid sick leave, the lack of child care, and the need to work on site in “essential” jobs that put them at health risks: all these factors make it much harder for these families to attend to children who are suddenly home schooling and struggling with ad-hoc efforts at remote learning.

Together, the lessons learned point to the need to enact an agenda that lifts up children and reduces educational inequities after the interruption to schooling due to the coronavirus is over. The agenda must also rebuild the system so that lifting up children and reducing inequities in education become the new norm. To accomplish this, we outline a three-stage response. The first stage is immediate relief for students and educators so they can function better in the early 2020–2021 school year as remote learning continues in some form for many children. The second stage is significant short-term investments during the recovery that will enable students whose education was interrupted by the coronavirus crisis to catch up and continue their development. The third stage is longer-term reforms to rebuild the education system so that the challenges documented here are corrected and the system finally delivers an excellent, equitable education to all children.

In the rebuilding phase, it is essential to establish an education system that embraces a whole-child approach, addresses the impacts of poverty and inequality on students’ capacity to learn and on teachers’ abilities to do their jobs, offers a flexible set of wraparound supports to mitigate the impacts of the inequities that are built into the system, values education and educators, and creates viable contingency plans for future crises.

In closing, the ultimate consequences of the pandemic for K–12 education in the United States will indeed be a function of the quality, intensity, and comprehensiveness of our response to counter the pandemic’s negative lasting effects. Indeed, our call for relief, recovery, and reform has a historical precedent. As Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, recently noted:

During the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt affirmed the need for relief, recovery, and reform—in that order. Today, we must follow these same steps—beyond reform to a broader, deeper reimagination of our society. (Darren Walker 2020).

This societal reimagination certainly encompasses a reimagination of our education system. With the right vision, we can actually ensure that public education plays a critical role in restoring the human and social capital in our country and in readying us for the next challenges, big or small, that we may confront in the future. Our children and our future depend on it.

About the authors

Emma García  is an education economist at the Economic Policy Institute, where she specializes in the economics of education and education policy. Her research focuses on the production of education (cognitive and noncognitive skills), evaluation of educational interventions (early childhood, K–12, and higher education), equity, returns to education, teacher labor markets, and cost analysis in education. She has held research positions at the Center for Benefit-Cost Studies of Education, the Campaign for Educational Equity, the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education, and the Community College Research Center; consulted for MDRC, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the National Institute for Early Education Research; and served as an adjunct faculty member at the McCourt School of Public Policy, Georgetown University. She received her Ph.D. in economics and education from Columbia University’s Teachers College.

Elaine Weiss  is the lead policy analyst for income security at the National Academy of Social Insurance, where she spearheads projects on Social Security, unemployment insurance, and workers’ compensation. Prior to her work at the academy, Weiss was the national coordinator for the Broader Bolder Approach (BBA) to Education, a campaign launched by the Economic Policy Institute, from 2011 to 2017. BBA promoted a comprehensive, evidence-based set of policies to allow all children to thrive in school and life. Weiss has co-authored and authored EPI and BBA reports on early achievement gaps and the flaws in market-oriented education reforms. She is co-author of  Broader, Bolder, Better , a book with former Massachusetts Secretary of Education Paul Reville published by Harvard Education Press . Weiss came to BBA from the Pew Charitable Trusts, where she served as project manager for Pew’s Partnership for America’s Economic Success campaign. She has a Ph.D. in public policy from the George Washington University Trachtenberg School and a J.D. from Harvard Law School.


The authors are grateful to EPI Publications Director Lora Engdahl for having edited this report, as well as for co-authoring one of the pieces this report builds on, and for her suggestions on news reports that provide useful context. To the last point, we also acknowledge the extensive work on the repercussions of COVID-19 for education conducted by many of our colleagues, of which we are only able to cite a fraction. We appreciate EPI Vice President John Schmitt’s supervision and support of this project, EPI Research Assistant Melat Kassa for her assistance with the tables and figures, and EPI’s communications staff for their assistance with the production and dissemination of this study.

1. For references on production of education, see Coleman et al. 1966; Hanushek 1979; Todd and Wolpin 2003.

2. Note, too, that we do not offer an in-depth review of these very extensive bodies of work, but rather use them to better understand what it is at play and to frame what we should anticipate the next-phase and post-pandemic outcomes to look like.

3. Students in grades kindergarten and first, for example, experienced larger gains as measured by the ECLS-K assessments in math and reading between the fall and the spring of those years. For example, our descriptive analysis of the ECLS-K 2010–2011 data suggests that students gain an average of 0.7 SD in kindergarten. For a discussion on spring to spring gains by grades (average of 0.45 SD across grades), see Bloom et al. 2008.

4. These kinds of challenges and trade-offs may also be relevant to the decisions schools will need to make for 2020–2021. For example, von Hippel (2020), when discussing school instruction that spans 12 months, explains that although year-round calendars increase summer learning, in most cases they reduce learning at other times of year, so that the total amount learned over a 12-month period is no greater under a year-round calendar than under a nine-month calendar.

5. Assessing a seminal study by Alexander, Entwisle, and Olson (2007), based on a sample of Baltimore students who were tracked from first grade in 1982 to age 22, Kuhfel explains that most of the test-score gap by socioeconomic status (SES) in ninth grade was explained by “differing summer experiences in the early elementary years.”

6. The more recent research also discusses several technical challenges that would require some concern about the findings. For example, there were characteristics of the tests used to assess skills before and after the summer that made them not comparable, or that made the tests more difficult in the fall than in the spring; very small samples in particular contexts; and other caveats. See von Hippel and Hamrock (2019) and von Hippel, Workman, and Downey (2018).

7. Atteberry and McEachin (2020) find that slightly over half of the students lose nearly all their school-year progress but the rest of the students actually maintain their school-year learning. Kuhfeld (2019) similarly finds that the summer loss is not generalized, but points to a larger loss overall, with around 60–80% of students losing ground in the elementary school grades (and an even larger share with respect to math). Kuhfeld (2019) also finds that the slide is larger in higher grades than in lower grades, and that performance gaps between minority and nonminority students did not increase, but gaps between students in high-poverty versus low-poverty schools increased significantly but by a small amount (at most, students in high-poverty schools lost one week of learning). The two studies (Atteberry and McEachin 2020 and Kuhfeld 2019) use the NWEA’s MAP Growth reading and math assessments. von Hippel, Workman, and Downey (2018) estimate that during the summer, performance gaps by socioeconomic status slightly increase for children in their first years in school. Our own exploratory analysis of the ECLS-K 2010–2011 data coincides with finding most students experience gains during the summers (both in math and reading), and that the performance gaps widen between low- and high-income children (using household income as a proxy for socioeconomic status). See also Quinn et al. 2016.

8. Definitions of chronic absenteeism vary by study, school district, etc. They typically are based on the number of days or a share of days missed over an entire school year, and they are only available on a yearly basis. For example, the U.S. Department of Education (2016) defines chronically absent students as those who “miss at least 15 days of school in a year.” Elsewhere, chronic absenteeism is frequently defined as missing 10% or more of the total number of days the student is enrolled in school or missing a month or more of school in the previous year (Ehrlich et al. 2013; Balfanz and Byrnes 2012).

9. Some examples are J-PAL 2017, Jordan 2019, and Balu 2019.

10. This 1.5 million figure is of course not completely illustrative today because overall enrollment numbers are expected to have grown since 2010. As a related reference, the National Center for Education Statistics estimates that there were 656 virtual schools in the U.S. in 2017–2018, enrolling about 279,000 students (0.55 percent of total enrollment) (NCES 2019b).

11. The literature on use of devices for education covers a lot of ground: findings tend to be a function of the type of technology/device used, the intensity, the developmental period/age, etc. (Crone and Konijn 2018; Walsh et al. 2018, see a summary in García 2018). To illustrate a few of these associations, researchers have found that time spent using a mobile phone and watching TV and sending text messages is correlated with lower achievement, slower reading times, and more intuitive but less analytic thinking, and it is also correlated with a faster but less accurate performance in a test of selective attention capacity and skills, as well as in processing-speed ability (Evans-Schmidt and Vandewater 2008; Lepp, Barkley, and Karpinski 2014; Fox, Rosen, and Crawford 2009; Barr et al. 2015; Abramson et al. 2009). Video-gaming can positively influence visual attention and spatial skills (attention capacity, quicker attention deployment, and faster processing,  according to Evans-Schmidt and Vandewater 2008). More frequent use of social media is negatively correlated with grade point averages (GPA), academic performance, and hours per week spent studying (Junco 2012; Karpinski et al. 2012; Kirschner and Karpinski 2010). Texting, using Facebook (and accessing Facebook while studying), and conducting internet searches unrelated to academic activity concurrent with homework completion all negatively correlate with GPA (Junco and Cotten 2012; Rosen, Carrier, and Cheever 2013; Wilmer, Sherman and Chein 2017). Media use (including social media) positively correlates with social and emotional learning (SEL) development, relationships with peers, and engagement, but also with addiction, bullying, mood and self-esteem problems, and time not sleeping/exercising/studying, some due to the trade-offs between time spent on some of these activities (Crone and Konijn 2018; Lemola et al. 2015; American Academy of Pediatrics 2011). The evidence also points out that if the content watched is high-quality educational programming, and does not displace other cognitively enriching experiences, screen time is positively correlated with achievement, engagement, and attitudes toward learning (Evans-Schmidt and Vandewater 2008). Concerns with excessive screen time have been well covered in the media during the months of the pandemic. See for example Kamenetz 2020a; Cheng and Wilkinson 2020.

12. Some information for households with children during the pandemic has been released by the U.S. Census Bureau through the Household Pulse Survey Tables for a target population of adults 18 years and older. See U.S. Census Bureau 2020a.

13. They say: “These students’ learning and persistence outcomes are worse when they take online courses than they would have been had these same students taken in-person courses.” See Zhao 2020 for some discussion of the challenges around online learning. NCES has used this period to build a repository of this research, which is discussed in Soldner 2020.

14. One in three online charter schools reported that all of their courses were self-paced. On average, online charter schools provide less simultaneous learning and teaching in a week than conventional schools would have in a day and less one-on-one instruction, with larger student-to-teacher ratios. Principals in these schools reported that the greatest challenge was student engagement (a challenge cited almost three times as often as any other issue) (Gill et al. 2015). Based on national data, across all tested students in online charters, the typical annual academic losses are -0.25 SD for math and -0.10 SD for reading (Woodworth et al. 2015). See Bueno 2020 for a more updated study of full-time virtual school attendance in Georgia, which shows negative effects ranging from -0.1 to -0.4 SD on performance.

15. This share has been relatively stable since 2007.

16. Subjects tested include reading, language l, mathematics (with computation), science, social studies, core (with computation), and composite (with computation).

17. As researchers note, the evidence is limited by the inability to use experimental or even quasi-experimental methods, precluding them from drawing conclusions as to causality (Belfield 2004; Cheng and Donnelly 2019; Lubienski, Pukett, and Brewer 2013). Belfield (2004) explains the three empirical issues that arise when comparing outcomes from home schooling against public schooling: 1) the common concern over the endogeneity of school choice, that is different types of families choose the type of school that their children attend, and little can be inferred about the impacts of schools for students who do not attend them; 2) the need to distinguish the absolute performance of home-schoolers from the treatment effect of home schooling—“Given the above-median resources of many home-schooling families, academic performance should be high even if home schooling itself is not differentially effective. Full controls for family background are needed, however, to identify a treatment effect”; 3) “home-schoolers can often choose which tests to take and when to take them (and have parents administer them), introducing other biases.”

18. Bacher-Hicks, Goodman, and Mulhern (2020) examine the search for online learning platforms used by schools and supplemental resources on Google. They find that the search intensity had roughly doubled relative to baseline. (They also find that the intensity rose twice as much in areas with above-median SES as in areas with below-median SES, where SES is measures by household income, parental education, and computer and internet access.

19. This lack of time for planning has in a way continued during the summer. As the news reports have broadly shown, many schools were going to reopen but they had to cancel at the last minute, which probably meant that the plans in place were no longer aligned with students’ and teachers’ needs. In other cases, the uncertainty about resources available (as discussed later in the report) led to a squandered opportunity to plan accordingly.

20. The authors point to the nine factors that determine the quality of online teaching and learning, including modality, pacing, student-instructor ratio, pedagogy (type), role of online assessments, students’ online roles, instructors’ online roles, online communication synchrony, and source of feedback. While all may not apply as strongly in K–12 education, the range of considerations highlights the challenges public school teachers will face in attempting to make remote instruction effective.

21. More broadly, these aspects about online instruction also touch upon the relevance of teacher professional development, the importance of establishing learning communities for teachers, and teachers’ access to a sound system of supports (Darling-Hammond et al. 2017; Kraft, Blazar, and Hogan 2018; García and Weiss 2019). Among other advantages, learning communities allow teachers to acquire new skills, update their knowledge, and strengthen their practice and effectiveness in the classroom, all critically important factors for education quality and also for the stability of the teaching workforce (García and Weiss 2019).

22. As we explained in our study, the professional development module that delivered data for the 2011–2012 SASS is rotating and was not included in the most recent data set available when we were conducting our study (2015–2016), but it will be in the next cycle, 2017–2018.

23. Teachers also reported having very little input on which activities to undertake for their professional development. Only 11.1 percent of teachers have a great deal of influence determining the content of in-service professional development programs. As we noted in García and Weiss 2019, this disregard for teachers’ input is quite troubling, given national and international surveys and testimonies showing that teachers want to play a more direct role in selecting the types and content of professional development opportunities offered to them (see Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation 2014; Loewus 2019; OECD 2019; Kirk 2019; Schwartz 2019).

24. For example, in Washington, D.C., the school district has indicated attendance is compulsory for students ages 5–17. Schools will use daily attendance as an indicator of student engagement in learning together with information on completing assignments and participation in live classes (District of Columbia Office of the Mayor 2020).

25. This sharply academic focus narrowed with the 2001 passage of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which replaced the earlier version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The 2015 passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act attempted to dial back that pressure (see CASEL 2020; Kostyo, Cardichon, and Darling-Hammond 2018). Useful references on these issues and some others discussed below are Bloom 1964; Borghans et al. 2008; Duckworth and Yeager 2015; Levin 2012; Jones et al. 2016; Jones et al. 2019; Shonkoff and Phillips 2000; Lippman et al. 2015; Petway, Brenneman, and Kyllonen 2016; UNESCO’s Incheon Declaration for Education 2030 (UNESCO et al. 2016); and our own work on these issues: García 2014; García and Weiss 2016.

26. For those interested in this approach, Tirivayi et al. (2020) offer a comprehensive examination of past public policy responses to emergency crises.

27. Technically, this is known as lack of external validity. This research documents that approximately 50 million primary- and lower-secondary-age children are out of school in conflict-affected countries around the world (Save the Children 2013). Natural disasters, which also displace large numbers of students, are four times as prevalent today as they were in the 1980s, likely due to the growing impacts of climate change, and that number is predicted to increase exponentially in the next 20 years (Oxfam International 2007; Save the Children 2008; USAID 2014).

28. Further, research has explored the effects on the communities to which children and their families migrate (known as spillover effects from emergency migrants on the host communities), as well as some of the factors that explain them. Hurricane Maria in September 2017 caused a large influx of students from Puerto Rico to Florida’s public schools—about 12,000 students between October 2017 and May 2018. Studies found immediate negative effects on the performance outcomes of host students (students in the schools accepting new students from the disaster area) following hurricane Maria. Studies also found immediate negative effects on the performance outcomes of host students following Hurricane Katrina in September 2005, though they found zero effects on Florida’s public schools following the Haitian migrant influx after the earthquake in January 2010 and two years after it (Özek 2020; Imberman, Kugler, and Sacerdote 2012; Figlio and Özek 2019). Özek (2020) found significant adverse effects of hurricane migrants on the educational outcomes of existing students in the first year. Specifically, he found that a 5-percentage-point increase in the share of hurricane migrants reduced test scores in math and in English language arts (ELA) by an amount equivalent to one to two months of instruction, increased the likelihood of being involved in a disciplinary incident by 15–20% (of the dependent variable mean) in middle and high school, and increased the likelihood of existing students leaving their schools before the start of the 2018–2019 school year by roughly 7% (with larger increases among white and African American students). Effects were mainly concentrated among higher-performing students, especially in disadvantaged school settings.

29. Historically, there is strong agreement that in these circumstances, having access to education (versus not having access) leads “to a range of positive outcomes including child protection and well-being, economic development, peace building, and reconstruction” (Burde et al. 2017).

30. Other contingency planning strategies involve providing psychosocial programs or supplemental educational activities that protect children from harm. The strategies avoid unstructured days where traumatizing memories linger, fears thrive, and violence is always possible (Sommers 1999). Some education content, for example in refugee contexts, may be designed to mitigate conflict, and peace education programs show promise in changing attitudes and behaviors toward members of those perceived as the “other” (Burde et al. 2017). As Anderson (2020) indicates, “it is not only the mechanism and approach that is used but also the quality and methods of teaching that are critical to understand.” Different mechanisms for delivering education include radio, podcast, or television broadcasts; online programs or virtual peer learning circles; and even the provision of kits with basic materials (pencils, exercise books, erasers, etc.). Another critical element is to ensure that children have access to the instructional mechanisms used.

31. A recent publication by The Century Foundation notes “the significant variation in both per-pupil spending and student outcomes across the country” and estimates that the U.S. needs to spend an additional $150 billion to ensure that all students “achieve national average outcomes” (TCF 2020). For research about the important role that opportunity gaps and family income play in education performance, see Coleman et al. 1966; Reardon 2011; García and Weiss 2017; Putnam 2015; Rothstein 2004; and Weiss and Reville 2019.

32. Food insecurity is a different measure than poverty. The former, in the Bauer article, refers to the share of households reporting to the U.S. Census Bureau that it was sometimes or often the case that the children in the household “were not eating enough because we just couldn’t afford enough food.” But poverty rates are also an instructive measure during this crisis. Using an unlikely scenario of an unemployment rate of 30% this year due to COVD-19, Parolin and Wimer (2020) estimate that poverty rates in the United States could reach their highest levels in 50 years. Specifically, they estimate that if unemployment rates stay at 30% throughout the year, the supplemental poverty measure (SPM) rate for children would rise by more than 7 percentage points, from 13.6% to 20.9% (the SPM created by the U.S. Census Bureau is a measure of poverty that some researchers consider more accurate than the official poverty measure because it takes into account income from such benefits as food stamps and housing assistance).

33. A total of 1.5 million students surveyed in the 2017–2018 school year had experienced homelessness at some point during the last three school years (USICH 2020).

34. Even if they don’t lose their jobs, some workers and virtually all essential workers don’t have access to work remotely (following the traditional racial/SES inequities). The inability to work remotely means that keeping their jobs and thus their access to health insurance disproportionately exposes them to the virus (Gould and Shierholz 2020; Bivens and Zipperer 2020) and makes it nearly impossible for them to supervise their children and assist them in their education needs.

35. For updated information, nationally and for various subgroups, see the CDC COVID Data Tracker (CDC 2020c).

36. This is a problem both for students in dense urban areas, where normally strong hospital systems have been overwhelmed at times during the pandemic, and in rural areas, where already gutted systems have lacked the capacity to deal with the onslaught of cases. See, for example, the description of New York City’s hospitals when that city was hit hard early in the pandemic in Arnold 2020 as well as Sandoval 2020’s more recent account of a small rural hospital on the Texas–Mexico border.

37. Specifically, in our studies, poor students are students eligible for the federal free or reduced-price lunch programs under federal guidelines that deliver such meals based on family income falling below a certain threshold. Non-poor students are students who are ineligible for those programs. For a recent discussion, see Cookson 2020.

38. While 25% of superintendents reported that almost all of their students (91–100%) had internet access at home and 26% reported that almost all of their students had devices to connect to the internet at home, substantial shares of superintendents reported gaps in that access: 23% estimated that just 81–90% had access to internet and devices; 16–17% estimated that 71–80% had access to internet and devices; 11% estimated that just 61–70% had access to internet and devices; 10% said the share with access to internet and devices was 50% or less; and 14% said the share with access to internet and devices was 50% or less (Rogers and Ellerson Ng 2020).

39. As early as March, Texas waived requirements that students take its standardized state STAAR test due to the closure of schools (Swaby 2020), and Massachusetts did the same in April (Lisinski 2020). See also Brookings Institution 2020; Darling-Hammond and Kini 2020; NEPC 2020; Ravitch 2020.

40. AFT 2020d. Capstone projects are end-of-year term projects that students can complete to bring the school year to a close in lieu of statewide standardized assessments (see Weingarten 2020). For some examples of these projects, see Dickinson 2020.

41. U.S. Census Bureau (2020b). McNichol and Leachman (2020) estimate “$555 billion in shortfalls over state fiscal years 2020–2022.” Bivens (2020) reviews estimates of a revenue shortfall for state and local governments of nearly $1 trillion.

42. See Baker and DiCarlo 2020; Leachman and Figueroa 2019; Partelow, Yin, and Sargrad 2020.

43. Since March 2020, the House of Representatives and the Senate have passed four coronavirus relief packages totaling over $3 trillion. The most current proposed measures are the HEROES and HEALS Acts (Lee 2020a, b; Progressive Caucus Action Fund 2020). For a discussion on the relatively small amounts that public schools and education have received, see Jordan 2020b; Reber and Gordon 2020. See also Snell 2020.

44. An obvious lesson learned from the COVID-19 crisis is that schools and related sectors like early childhood education and child care are undervalued relative to their key contributions to the societal good. Schools are “essential to the operation of the country… It is impossible to restart the economy without the schools, they go together” and are “a critical part of the social safety net for children” (ASI 2020). Education and also health and social services are “forms of investment, not consumption; necessities, not luxuries” (Folbre 2016). Just as we have learned that many formerly invisible workers are “essential” to the daily functioning of our economy, we must treat education as the essential service it is and support it as such.

45. Blad 2020; Broadwater 2020; Calargo 2020; Ferris 2020; Ferguson 2020; Strauss 2020; Valant 2020.

46. See Tinubu Ali and Herrera 2020; Cohodes 2020.

47. One potential silver lining of the coronavirus pandemic is that it brings attention to a longstanding issue in education: the inadequate systems of professional development for teachers (see García and Weiss 2019). As practitioners, researchers, and policymakers collaborate more closely on professional development offerings that will help teachers teach during the pandemic, that model can inform a broader look at the systems of professional supports available to teachers and prompt more research on what constitutes optimal professional development—i.e., what professional development offerings need to cover, how the offerings should be delivered and where and for how long, and how teachers are connected to the opportunities. As we showed in García and Weiss 2019, teachers want these supports but too often are offered one-size-fits-all programs when there is no single optimal combination valid for all teachers at all times and in all settings. Also shown in García and Weiss 2019, enhanced professional development would play a role in keeping teachers in the classroom and attracting new professionals into teaching.

48. See for example U.S. Senate 2020 for an overview of the proposed Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act.

49. See CDC 2020a, 2020b; AASA 2020; UNESCO et al. 2020; NEA 2020; AFT 2020a; National Superintendents Roundtable 2020. There are still many things that scientists and public health experts do not know about the prevalence, transmission, and long-term consequences of contracting COVID-19 among children and adolescents. Likewise, there is no universally agreed on threshold of incidence of the disease under which activities can safely resume. While these questions are beyond the scope of this report and our areas of expertise, they are critical factors weighing on the reopening of our schools. Several studies point to lower prevalence of infection among children than on average but also to the need to assess whether the incidence of the disease among children can be influenced by selective testing, how prevalence of the virus among children compares with prevalence among their parents (i.e., whether the rate of infection of parents is different from their children’s), how these have changed over time (i.e., whether the immunity lasts longer for children or for parents, etc.), etc. (Idele et al. 2020; Pollán et al. 2020; Heald-Sargent et al. 2020). The American Academy of Pediatrics (2020) is requesting that schools reopen. See Goldstein 2020b.

50. While there is no precise estimate of how much following these guidelines would cost, the School Superintendents Association estimates that the average school district will need an additional $1.78 million to meet the COVID-19-related expenses of reopening schools (AASA 2020). The National Academy of Sciences estimates the cost of health-related supplies at $1.8 million for a school district serving 3,200 students (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2020). The Council of Chief State School Officers explains that the costs associated with opening schools safely under appropriate health and safety protocols would add up to about $30 billion across all schools (CCSSO 2020). The American Federation of Teachers culls from a number of sources to estimate that a total of $116.5 billion is needed for all measures, $35 billion of which would be needed for additional instructional staff to support adequate social distancing (AFT 2020b, 2020c). See also DiNapoli Jr. 2020 and Berman 2020. The cost of reopening schools is an unsettled issue.

51. See ASI 2020; CPCC, The Education Trust, NEA 2020; Duflo 2020; Brookings Institution 2020.

52. See Gordon 2013; RESEARCHED 2020.

53. AFT 2020d; Weingarten 2020; Dickinson 2020.

54. See García and Weiss 2020; Will 2020; Page 2020; Hamilton, Kaufman, and Diliberti 2020; NIRS 2020. For early retirements of teachers and principals, see Will 2020 and Page 2020. For challenges imposed by remote instruction, see Greif Green and Bettini 2020; Prothero 2020. In terms of recessions, public education job losses following the Great Recession exceeded 316,000 between September 2008 and September 2011 (BLS 2020). The job losses in April 2020 alone were already greater than in all of the Great Recession: 468,800 jobs were lost just a month after the pandemic started (Gould 2020b; see BLS 2020 for a still deeper decrease in May and a slight recovery in June and July). An estimate of the consequences of a 15% reduction in state education funding says that it could lead to the loss of more than 300,000 teaching positions (or 8.4%; see Griffith 2020).

55. See Darling-Hammond et al. 2020; Shonkoff and Phillips 2000; García and Weiss 2016; Walker, Tim 2020; Weiss and Reville 2019; Zhao 2020; Clark et al. 2020; Goldstein 2020a.

56. See Mishel and Rothstein 2003 and Schanzenbach 2020 for a recent review of the influence of class size on achievement. Note that this literature was not reviewed in the literature review section of this report because class size has generally not been a feature of the pandemic. However, in the literature, smaller classes are an implicit recommendation from various subfields. For evidence on summer programs, see McCombs et al. 2019. For evidence on tutoring effectiveness, see Nickow, Oreopoulos, and Quan 2020. On personalized learning, see Kim 2019.

57. Ferguson et al. 2020; García 2020; Hamilton, Kaufman, and Diliberti 2020.

58. Oakes, Maier, and Daniel 2017; Gonzalez 2018; Weiss and Reville 2019; Darling-Hammond et al. 2020; Starr 2020.

59. Darling-Hammond et al. (2020) discuss this framework as informed by evidence from the science of learning and development. See the different principles of practice in their Figure 1.

60. Weiss and Reville 2019; Shonkoff and Williams 2020.

61. EPI’s series of reports on the teacher shortage documents the factors that lead teachers to quit (and likely discourage people from entering the profession). See Economic Policy Institute 2020. See Allegretto and Mishel 2019 for estimates of the teacher pay penalty (how much less teachers earn in wages and benefits than comparable college-educated workers in other professions).

62. See García 2015 and García and Weiss 2017, among others.

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Impact of Coronavirus on Child Education

Online learning often means that the parents themselves are well educated to assist with the lessons and have enough time. Moreover, it will make it more burdensome for parents who are also affected by COVID-19 to provide equipment for online learning. Face-to-face learning will resume on 8 March 2021. All primary school students will resume the school term on 20 January 2021 with face-to-face learning. Impact on Child Education The education of nearly 1.6 billion pupils in 190 countries has so far been impacted, according to UNESCO that is 90 percent of school-age children in the world. Students in Form 1, 4, 5 and 6, and vocational college will also resume face-to-face learning on 20 January 2021. But for those who not capable to set up all the things, may affect the education of the children. Online learning the medium of the Internet became vital in delivering knowledge and info for the learners either browsing the official website of the school or others learning platform.


In 2019, the whole country was shocked by the outbreak of coronavirus disease 19. However, this virus was confirmed to have reached Malaysia in January 2020. This virus had been detected in Johor, but the reported cases remained low. In February 2020, there was the largest cluster was detected linked to a Tablighi Jamaat religious gathering held in Sri Petaling, Kuala Lumpur. The Movement Control Order (MCO) was implemented by the government as a measure to prevent infectious diseases. During the MCO, all government and private premises are not allowed to operate except those involved with important national services such as water, electricity, energy, telecommunications, postal, transportation, irrigation, oil, gas, fuel, lubricant, broadcasting, finance, banking, health, pharmacy, fire, prison, ports, airports, security, defence, cleaning, retail and food supplies. Malaysians also are barred from leaving the country and restrictions on the entry of non- Malaysians into Malaysia. Malaysians who returning from abroad must undergo a 14-day compulsory quarantine at the designated quarantine station.

Therefore, many parties are affected by this virus especially the education and economic divisions. This situation is worrying and could affect the country’s growth to achieve better success. The government has set to close day schools and universities as well as other studies for the spread of the virus which is expected to continue to spread to society. Instructions were issued in March 2020 via an announcement on tv and social media. Although governments are trying to promote online learning, to be able to access the resources of the school, and a quiet space to study, it relies on a good computer and a stable internet connection. Online learning often means that the parents themselves are well educated to assist with the lessons and have enough time.

Parents are also worried about the safety of their children when they are not in school due to lack of care because most nurseries are instructed to close, and parents should continue to work even at home.

School Closures

Ujian Penilaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) for standard six and Pentaksiran Tingkatan Tiga (PT3) for form three students have been cancelled for 2020 due to Covid-19 pandemic. Major school examinations including the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) and Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM) would be postponed to 2021. Schools and universities are closed from March 18 and reopen back on 15 July only for form 1 to 4 Student and primary 5 to 6. Then, the great increasing number of cases made the school being close back on 8 November and predicted will be open on 18 December. On 18 December, the cases did not show any positive news. This lead to the continuing of school closure. The closure does not focus only to affected area only but to whole nationwide. The latest update, school will be open on 20 January by stages. All primary school students will resume the school term on 20 January 2021 with face-to-face learning. Students in Form 1, 4, 5 and 6, and vocational college will also resume face-to-face learning on 20 January 2021. Form 2 and 3 students will resume the school term with home-based learning on 20 January 2021. Face-to-face learning will resume on 8 March 2021. This term also applies for private and international school. This decision will be affected due to the latest cases. This action is taken due to ensure the spreading of corona virus meet the end.

Online Learning

The medium of the Internet became vital in delivering knowledge and info for the learners either browsing the official website of the school or others learning platform. The growth of technologies helps the students to access Internet easily. By using only smartphones and laptops, students able to collect data and info about their studies anywhere and anytime. The flexibility, accessibility and convenience of the online learning are the main reasons why schools and teachers approach this method to present their subject learning to student in the middle of the pandemic.

essay about covid 19 affects education

Teachers had to adapt as well to fresh pedagogical principles and teaching delivery modes, which they may have not been prepared for. Especially in preparing learning material in attracting the students to stay interact actively with the teacher. Lots of learning material is representing in shape of interactive games and video as to keep the learning process less bored and pack with knowledge. Students able to easily replay the videos as a revision during their self-study sessions and may bring big helps in solving their school task. The online learning eases the students in finding new materials regards their subject with go through countless book in the library as with simple click and search, the information need is obtaining in a split of second.

As more advantages appear to our eyes regard learning through online, the mass public became more aware the risk of delivering study through online platform. The students lean to be bored and have higher chance not properly understand the subject thoroughly as no physical contact or face-to-face classes is present. In Malaysia, the limitation of the network connectivity and has no accessibility to use digital tools such as laptop have hinder the students with low cost household and students live at rural area to use the online learning platform. As the time ticking, teachers became more creative and innovative to fulfil the students. More method or idea are push forward to accommodate for students, who less fortunate with connectivity of network and study surrounding. Such as the idea of having the parents pick up homework and study material at school once a week for their children become more common at rural area.

Impact on Child Education

The education of nearly 1.6 billion pupils in 190 countries has so far been impacted, according to UNESCO, that is 90 percent of school-age children in the world. And there are still no concrete proposals for the opening of schools for about half of these children at the time of writing.

Firstly, the child’s intellectual development will be affected. It can have a lasting effect on relatively short periods outside ofschool. However, during this COVID-19 crisis, it is not just the lost opportunities for learning that need to be considered. The more important problem is that many kids will continue to forget what they already know when schools are closed for long stretches, a decline that will be far harder to fix and recall. Some students may be missed and also lack the opportunity for intellectual and social activities such as curriculum, camping, extra classes, etc. The daily reinforcement of what they have learned at school and all these opportunities to improve their general awareness and understanding of the world will be missed by children.

Although governments are trying to promote online learning and home-schooling, to be able to access the resources of the school, and a quiet space to study, it relies on a good computer and a stable internet connection. But for those who not capable to set up all the things, may affect the education of the children. Moreover, it will make it more burdensome for parents who are also affected by COVID-19 to provide equipment for online learning.

Children are likely to feel anxiety and fear and that may include forms of fear that are somewhat close to those faced by adults, such as fear of dying, fear of dying with their family, or fear of obtaining medical attention. So, if schools are closed in the long term, these children have fewer chances to be with their peers and get the social help that is necessary for good mental well-being. Some children that have a family issue can make them more stressed at home compared in school.


The new norms need to be practiced as a routine in our daily lives. Although many parties have been affected by this COVID-19, we who can think wisely should continue to be vigilant and continue to fight against this COVID-19 crisis. It has no disruptive consequences, including for education, have predetermined effects. It will be the essence of our collective and systematic reactions to these issues will determine how they are influencing us. All the people need to think the alternative how to live in the new norm nowadays.

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