A national survey has found that the learning loss epidemic needs urgent attention in the United States

A national survey has found that the learning loss epidemic needs urgent attention in the United States

The “educational damage” from the coronavirus pandemic has been “devastating,” according to a recent survey of 26 million K-8 students by researchers at Stanford, Johns Hopkins, Dartmouth and Harvard. The researchers also found that the pandemic has “exacerbated economic and racial inequality in education,” lead authors Tom Kane of Harvard University and Sean Reardon of Stanford wrote in a New York Times article accompanying the release of their findings last week.

Scores for standardized tests similarly showed that American students miss out on gains in math, reading, history, and social studies. But the new findings, which are part of the Education Recovery Scorecard, add important — and troubling — context while also calling for urgent action.

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In a survey of 7,800 communities in 40 states and Washington, D.C., Kane, Reardon, and colleagues found it Between 2019 and 2022, the average “U.S. public school student in grades 3-8 lost the equivalent of half a year of learning in math and a quarter of a year in reading.”

Ancient inequalities in education also played a role: the less affluent and whiter a society was, the more likely it was to suffer a loss from the epidemic. This means that the so-called education gap That policymakers were desperate to shut it down is getting wider.

The impact of school closures

An empty public school playground.

An empty playground at a public school in New York in November 2020 (Wang Ying/Xinhua via Getty)

By the fall of 2020, it had become clear that children did not appear to develop serious or fatal cases of COVID-19. Nor did schools become the sites of mass epidemics that some fear. However, in many districts, particularly those controlled by Democrats, schools remain closed for in-person instruction through 2021.

By late 2022, researchers have found that distance learning has caused apparent learning loss. In a summary summarizing their findings, the authors of the Education Scorecard support the evidence for this association.

“Districts that spent more time on remote education during 2020-21 suffered greater losses,” they wrote.

They found that these losses were particularly evident in communities where parents were working in “essential” positions that kept them away from home, writing: “Distance learning can be particularly difficult when adults are less able to help students, as a result of employment obligations.”

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A young girl is sitting at a desk as she participates in a video call with her teacher via her laptop.  (Getty Images)

A child on a video call with her teacher. (Getty Images)

Kane, Reardon, and colleagues do not blame distance learning for the entire learning loss they recorded. Taking a more nuanced stance, they argue that societal-level factors also played a role.

In communities with high death rates from the coronavirus, the toll on math has been most pronounced. Especially in the early stages of an epidemic, The deaths were concentrated in communities of color With multigenerational families and sparse access to green spaces.

Not surprisingly, children do better if they have broadband internet access. Asian and White households are more likely to have such high-speed connections, Other studies concluded.

Similarly, societies in which adults vote and households respond to the US Census tend to see less learning loss.

On a large scale, institutional trust has also made a difference. Communities where institutions are most trusted by residents, the researchers wrote, “may be more willing to cooperate with their local schools and reduce disruptions to student learning.”

Mistrust can be caused by a variety of factors, including the spread of political misinformation associated with the pandemic and suspicion stemming from deeply ingrained prejudice.

In general, the research has suggested that communities that have some degree of cohesion and institutional participation tend to provide a kind of safety net for children. “Societies with greater social capital, greater civic and volunteer participation, and more interdependence among residents may be better able to maintain social ties between residents and better support schools and families,” the Education Scorecard authors wrote.

What then?

Elementary school students follow their teacher down the hall into the classroom.

Students at Ellis Elementary follow their teacher Megan Westmore to her classroom on August 22, 2022 in Denver. (RJ Sangosti/Denver Post via Getty Images)

Teachers across the country were desperate to get students into intensive tutoring and other forms of therapy. But it may not be enough. The authors of the Realistic Education Recovery Scorecard say more high-quality instruction is needed. And they point to a proposal that may not be particularly popular with students: summer school.

“It seems clear that we need to treat recovery as an ongoing effort,” they wrote. “To fully recover, districts will need to continue making coordinated investments in student learning over the coming years.”

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