September 2020
  • Using Tutors to Combat COVID Learning Loss: New Research Shows That Even Lightly Trained Volunteers Drive Academic Gains

    By Kevin Mahnken | September 30, 2020

    As students seek to cope with the threat of learning losses wreaked by COVID-19 and months-long school closures, some families have already hit upon a solution of sorts: hiring professional tutors.

    The idea — commonsensical for the well-off, but prohibitively expensive for most — has engendered a storm of controversy. If a small portion of comparatively advantaged students receive supplemental learning help while millions of families struggle to even access virtual learning a few days a week, already-significant learning gaps between rich and poor could expand further. With many districts still holding off on in-person reopenings, education commentators are fretting about the inequalities that will result from a turn to private learning coaches and “pandemic pods.”

    But what if the benefits of individual or small-group instruction could be offered to the kids who need it the most? It’s a question that policy experts have asked for years, often in response to research showing incredible learning growth associated with small-scale tutoring initiatives. While individual programs often demonstrate impressive results, however, the cost of bringing them to scale has tended to derail the conversation.


    What If Every Struggling Student Had a Tutor? It Won’t Be Cheap, but It Might Be Worth It

    Now, at the same moment that policymakers are casting about for tools to get students back on track academically, new research points again to the efficacy of tutoring. In a recently circulated working paper examining dozens of experimental studies, a team of economists has found that tutoring offers the potential for transformative academic impacts. While teachers and paraprofessionals were shown to be the strongest instructors, the authors write, even lightly trained volunteers or family members have the potential to help children realize important learning gains.

    Philip Oreopoulos, a public policy professor at the University of Toronto and one of the paper’s authors, told The 74 that he felt “excited … by the consistency of the results.”

    “It really does seem to be the case that under different circumstances, different environments, different states, most studies point in the direction of saying that this is a really good activity to boost student performance,” he said.

    The meta-analysis included results from 96 randomized controlled trials, considered by many to be the gold standard of education research. Programs served children between pre-K and high school, though the vast majority were concentrated on primary schooling. The literature was also weighted more toward initiatives focused on literacy than math.

    Programs differed greatly in terms of curriculum, dosage (how often students received tutoring sessions) and learning environment (whether they were administered during the school day, in community centers after school or at home). Perhaps the most important variable was that of training and qualifications. Instruction could be provided by professional teachers; paraprofessionals, including school employees, fellows or teacher trainees; community volunteers; or parents or other home caregivers.

    The team found that tutoring led by teachers and paraprofessionals was most successful at lifting students’ academic performance. Results overall were stronger for programs that focused on students in elementary school, with an interesting caveat: Reading tutoring was relatively more effective than math tutoring among students in early grades, while the opposite was true for later grades.

    National Bureau of Economic Research

    The programs that seemed to work best were those conducted relatively frequently during the school day, as though they were a class like any other. The authors suggested that their effectiveness might be a product of exposure more than content; outside of school, it’s simply harder to ensure that students will access the tutoring without distractions.

    “Our sense is that having tutoring done in the school, especially during school time, is a way to help ensure that students actually get the tutoring,” Oreopoulos said. “That’s as opposed to having the program be more voluntary, where the students themselves selectively decide whether they want to get this help or not.”

    A final consideration is the ratio of tutors to pupils. One-to-one models like Reading Recovery, a literacy program that uses classroom teachers as tutors, have shown remarkable success even when taken to scale. But Matt Kraft, an economics professor at Brown University and a prominent advocate of tutoring, told The 74 that assigning more than a handful of students to one instructor risked diluting the efficacy of the proposal.

    “There’s a certain point, whether it’s four-to-one [or] five-to-one, where it moves from individualized instruction to group instruction,” Kraft said. “That’s critical, because paras and college students can, with some modicum of training, do individualized instruction well. But that’s very different from the challenges of being a teacher and doing group instruction. When you move down that line, that’s where I think skill matters tremendously.”

    ‘The progress can be slower than we’d like’

    After months of separation from their schools and teachers, the vast majority of K-12 students could derive some benefit from either individual or small-group instruction. But that urgent necessity must coexist alongside the reality of a coronavirus resurgence that has pushed school reopenings further into the fall. A halting or scattershot reopening — New York City, the country’s largest school district, has pushed back the beginning of in-person classes to Sept. 21 — would make it almost impossible to convene regular, in-person sessions led by adults with more than cursory training in education.

    Cost also presents a clear obstacle. The massive shock of the COVID recession, which has caused the economy to shrink faster than it has in decades, will impose financial shortfalls on every school district in the country. Even expecting those districts to retain their current staff and programs would be Pollyannaish in the absence of a huge infusion of federal assistance; asking them to hire thousands of new employees would be even less realistic.

    One solution that has recently gained attention is the idea of a national tutoring corps, likely funded by the federal government and drawn from the ranks of college students or the unemployed. Kraft touted the idea long before millions of potential tutors found themselves out of work, arguing that policymakers could work within “the real financial limitations that districts are facing” while still providing vital help to struggling students. Even in the absence of highly experienced or credentialed instructors, he said, strong leadership and program design could generate worthwhile results.


    DiPerna: A National Tutor Corps Could Help Students Learning Online, Ease the Burden on Parents & Create Jobs for Recent College Grads

    “I think we over-focus on who’s the tutor and under-focus on what are the program structures in which tutors are working,” Kraft said. “We can reduce costs — perhaps not for the biggest return possible, but for a very meaningful return — by having more affordable tutoring models with volunteers and college students working for more affordable wages. And then we maintain efficacy by thinking about structure.”

    Another possible answer to the twin dilemmas of health risk and funding would be to pair a tutoring program with proven virtual learning platforms like Khan Academy. In that arrangement, Oreopoulos explained, the tutor’s work would focus more on troubleshooting students’ questions and monitoring the progress of their online lessons, allowing them to interact with more students less frequently.

    Although the research gives encouraging news, the challenges of coordination and scale are significant. Compared with districts’ capacities to act, Oreopoulos said, the need for greater services is “heartbreaking.”

    “The logistics of setting this up on the kind of scale we need to to address the problem is more complicated than we initially realized. To try to set this up and deal with the operational challenges of making it easy for the students to actually receive the help, to ensure safety, to find the right match — the progress can be slower than we’d like.”


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  • High Anxiety: NYC Elementary School Students Return to School Tuesday Amid Confusion and Distrust

    By Zoë Kirsch | September 28, 2020

    New York City elementary schoolers return to classrooms for the first time in six months on Tuesday, amid a fever pitch of anxiety stemming from rising COVID cases in some neighborhoods, lingering questions over the city finding the staff needed to implement hybrid learning, and a call by the principals union on Sunday for the mayor to hand over his control of schools to the state.

    “I don’t think that [the chancellor and the mayor] planned this well at all,” said Marianela Aponte, the PTA president of P.S. 304 in the Bronx. “We’re worried.”

    On Sunday night, less than two days before a reopening already marked by confusion and delay, the executive board of the principals union issued a unanimous “no confidence” vote against Mayor Bill de Blasio and schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, saying the state Education Department should seize the reins of the nation’s largest school district.

    “All summer long, we’ve been running into roadblock after roadblock, with changing guidance, confusing guidance — often no guidance,” Council of School Supervisors and Administrators President Mark Cannizzaro said on Sunday. “School leaders have lost trust and faith in Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza to support them in their immense efforts and provide them with the guidance and staffing they need. Quite simply, we believe the City and DOE need help from the State Education Department, and we hope that the mayor soon realizes why this is necessary.”


    As Mayor Delays NYC School Reopening a Second Time, Parents, Students and Educators Disillusioned and Wary

    The CSA was pushed to the brink by a last-minute agreement Friday between the teachers union and the city allowing teachers whose students are learning remotely to work from home, and giving priority for remote assignments to teachers with family members susceptible to complications from the virus. Some 23 percent of the city’s roughly 75,000-member teacher corps have already been granted a medical accommodation to work from home, and the deal further clouded the question of which teachers would be instructing which group of students, and whether there would be enough to cover both in-person and remote learning.

    “I’m not confident right now that everyone has the teachers they need,” Cannizzaro said.

    “I’m glad [the principals union] had the courage to do this,” said Farah Despeignes, a Bronx parent and Community Education Council leader who helped organize a rally in her neighborhood on Friday night, and who is orchestrating a protest scheduled to take place Tuesday afternoon.

    Despeignes said that many parents she’s talking to feel frustrated and unheard by city leadership.

    “Generally speaking, parents are feeling it,” she said. “And they want to do something.”

    New York City is one of the country’s few large urban districts to attempt a return to in-person learning. Pre-kindergartners and students with significant disabilities went back to school last Monday, while elementary school students returned to buildings on Tuesday. Middle and high schoolers are scheduled to start on Thursday.

    Students returning to in-person learning will spend one to three days a week in school and the rest of their time at home learning virtually. As of Friday, 48 percent of the city’s 1.1 million students had opted to forgo returning to school buildings at all — up from 37 percent at the end of August — choosing full-time remote instruction instead.


    New Data Reveal COVID-19’s Harsh Toll on Latino Community; 50% of Latino Parents Say They May Not Send Their Children Back to School

    New York City parent Michelle Proscia said that she decided to keep her children at home this fall months ago, back in April. She has three daughters: 17-year-old Angelina, 14-year-old Maggie and 10-year-old Laura. Years ago, when Angelina wasn’t able to get the one-to-one paraprofessional she needed, Proscia lobbied the Department of Education, and the district placed her daughter in a private special needs school in New Jersey.

    Proscia feels lucky to be able to oversee her children’s remote learning during the pandemic. This morning, she was there as they logged into their email and Google Classroom accounts to make sure that they’re ready for the fall. But she worries about parents who don’t have that option.

    “What about the essential workers that don’t have a choice, that have to send their kids to school, and then potentially are not being given accurate information?” she said.

    Proscia’s statement reflects a growing mistrust among families, officials, administrators and teachers about what they’re being told by the DOE.

    Last week, New York City Council issued a subpoena to the department, following up on a request for data on remote learning attendance and access to live instruction that officials first requested in late May.

    The mayor has long said that he will shut down the schools if the city’s virus positivity rate exceeds 3 percent over a seven-day average. Although New York has been able to keep its transmission rate low through coordinated efforts at social distancing and mask-wearing, rising case counts in Queens and Brooklyn have some parents worried. The city’s positivity rate hit 1.93 percent Monday, up from 1.5 percent a week before.

    “You have a lot of teachers that live in those areas,” Despeignes said of the neighborhoods that have seen increases. “People can just go visit someone over the weekend, and they can bring it back. That has always been a concern.”

    New York City schools still face a slew of problems, including a teacher staffing shortage that the principals union estimates at 12,000. Among the criticisms leveled by the union was the contention that city leaders, who have promised an additional 4,500 teachers, pressured some of them to under-report how many teachers their schools still needed.

    State Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, a former teacher and Bronx Democrat who chairs the Assembly’s Education Committee, said he’s believed from the start that the city was barreling toward problems with its hybrid reopening plan.


    Data Exclusive: Scores of New York City Schools Still Unclear Who Will Evaluate Students With COVID Symptoms a Week Before Reopening

    “I have long held the position that the reopening of schools is most likely a mistake on many different levels, and that the only safe thing to do is go to remote learning, at least for the entire semester,” he said.

    Of particular concern, he said, are the teacher staffing issues.

    “How can you just suddenly get another 10,000 people to fill the void of this?” he said. “I don’t think you can. I offer them lots of luck in trying.”


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  • 7 Things a National Survey of Librarians Told Us About the State of School Libraries Amid the Pandemic

    By Meghan Gallagher | September 28, 2020

    With a majority of American students now committed to remote online instruction for at least part of the week, many aspects of physical school buildings are being rethought amid this prolonged period of distance instruction. Cafeterias, gyms, auditoriums, maker labs — none can operate as normal amid the ongoing pandemic.

    Much the same is true for libraries. From the physical catalog of books to the layout of this communal learning space and the role of librarians in students’ school days, very little about the library is familiar for students coast to coast.

    To get a better gauge on how library resources will be used for the upcoming school year, the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) conducted a back-to-school survey of more than 1,000 professionals back in August (83 percent of whom are building-level librarians). The results were released earlier this month.

    School librarian professionals representing all 50 states responded, revealing their concerns about their role inside schools, student learning, reprioritized budgets and how they plan to adapt. “School librarians are at the forefront of teaching and learning. We possess the expertise to help students, parents and educators adapt and thrive within our current digital environment while continuing to fulfill our role as educators,” said AASL President Kathy Carroll. She added that “by providing access to an array of well-managed resources, school librarians encourage learners’ innate curiosity, support inquiry and enable academic knowledge to be linked to deeper, personalized learning.”

    Seven noteworthy takeaways from this snapshot of libraries amid coronavirus:

    American Association of School Librarians

    1 Nearly 1 in 4 School Libraries Are Shuttered Right Now

    “The school library is a third space for learning, a space between the classroom and home,” Carroll said. But 24 percent of building librarians said their school libraries would not be open or even used during the fall. (Only 12 percent said their library would be fully open and operational.)

    2 The Libraries That Do Open Will Be Used Very Differently

    Roughly 1 in 6 libraries (17 percent) are being converted to standing classrooms to aid with social distancing, respondents said. A majority (58 percent) said that any activities or gatherings inside the library will be forbidden (29 percent) or that the library will facilitate fewer and smaller meetings that require greater distancing (29 percent).

    Is checking out physical books a thing of the past? Although a majority reported that books will still be circulated after being disinfected, librarians said they do plan to encourage greater use of e-books and online resources than before the pandemic.

    American Association of School Librarians

    3 Majority of Schools Looking to Make Libraries Mobile and Virtual

    Due to limitations in the physical library’s function, respondents said their school was now planning to meet learners outside the four walls, including taking book carts to classrooms for in-class checkouts (50 percent), expanding remote instruction (55 percent) and co-teaching with classroom teachers (38 percent). They also mentioned roles in curbside technology pickups and tech support for teachers.

    American Association of School Librarians

    4 Libraries Say 6 Percent of Their Budget Now Going to Personal Protective Equipment

    Librarians expect to spend 6 percent of the current budget on masks, hand sanitizer, disinfectant and other PPE to ensure health and safety — which is more than what they expect to spend on periodicals, hardware and software.

    5 Despite Pandemic, Majority of Libraries’ Budgets Will Still Go to Physical Books

    The majority of those surveyed responded that they would receive funding for this school year, but 58 percent reported that their budget plans have changed since the last school year. As to how these shifting funds will be distributed, a majority of respondents said spending will mostly go toward physical books (48 percent), e-books (30 percent) and online databases (19 percent). These estimations are followed by non-COVID-related supplies, COVID-related supplies, technology hardware, technology software, print periodicals and, lastly, online periodicals.

    American Association of School Librarians

    6 Meals, Safe Spaces, Socialization: Librarians’ Concerns Go Well Beyond Academics 

    In surveying librarians about their top concerns about students, they pointed to the potential impacts prolonged closures will have on students, such as missing meals, being in unsafe environments, missing out on socialization and falling behind on hitting key milestones.

    As far as their own well-being, librarians indicated concern for their personal safety. On a scale of “0, I don’t believe I am at any greater risk” to “100, I strongly believe that exposure to students will greatly increase my risk of contracting COVID,” the average answer was 77.

    7 Their Top Concern: Not Even Knowing If Students Are Falling Behind

    When ranking concerns for the new school year, many librarians of course expressed concerns about student well-being and safety. But of even greater concern was the idea that they would be unable to identify students falling behind outside core academic subjects and in greater need of nonacademic support. Also of top concern: learners who have not yet reached the required level of research and digital citizenship skills to successfully navigate remote learning.

    Some respondents said they plan to meet students’ needs with video tutorials on research and media literacy topics.


    Klibanoff: Books Can Teach Empathy and Connect Past, Present & Future. That’s Why We’re Helping Teachers Fill Their Classroom Libraries


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  • Survey: Nearly Half of High School Principals Have Helped Students Facing Homelessness During the Pandemic; 4 in 10 Have Aided Students Coping With Deaths in Their Family

    By Linda Jacobson | September 24, 2020

    More than 40 percent of high school principals in a new national survey have assisted students who had a death in their family after the pandemic hit in the spring, and almost half have responded to students facing homelessness or housing instability.

    Those are among the results of a national survey by UCLA of almost 350 high school principals who dealt with a range of emergency situations brought on by the coronavirus.

    About a third assisted families financially, and almost 60 percent helped families navigate health care services.

    “As the weeks wore on, we faced constant reminders that our school provided far more for our families than just education,” said Adam Camacho, principal at San Dieguito High School Academy in Encinitas, California. “Our families rely on our school for not only academic instruction, but food, student social-emotional support and basic human connection.”

    John Rogers, who conducted the survey and leads the university’s Institute for Democracy, Education and Access, said in a statement that the findings “reveal exceptional efforts by school principals across the country, but also make clear that the inequities confronting schools amid the pandemic map directly onto the pre-existing social inequalities that unfairly affect our most vulnerable students.”

    The findings reinforce what other research has shown about schools’ lack of preparedness for remote instruction. More than 40 percent of school leaders said English learners didn’t have access to online or print materials in their home languages.

    Schools serving poor students were also far more likely than those with less poverty to have a shortage of devices for students when the closures began — 34 percent, compared with 4 percent. But principals in high-poverty schools were more likely than others to report solving problems related to technology, such as repairing devices and providing hotspots.

    The percentage of high school principals who spent more than an hour a week distributing devices to students. (John Rogers and Michael Ishimoto, UCLA)

    At Johnson Junior High School in Cheyenne, Wyoming, 457 of the school’s 788 students had no internet or devices in the spring and had to rely on paper packets, Principal Brian Cox told The 74. Now the district is distributing devices to all students, but a $25-per-device insurance fee remains a barrier for many families, he said, adding that the state hasn’t chimed in on whether the district can use Title I funds to cover the $18,000 total.

    “In the absence of finding these funds, students will be no better off than they were last March,” he said. “With … many families struggling from economic hardships prior to COVID-19, we are now experiencing higher demands on our resources in order to get our kids to school and keep them in school.”

    The percentage of principals describing how services for students, such as occupational therapy and counseling, were affected by school closures. (John Rogers and Michael Ishimoto, UCLA)

    Almost half of the principals surveyed said they lost touch with at least 10 percent of their students during remote instruction in the spring. And with the new school year now underway, Rogers said principals have conducted home visits in their neighborhoods, placed social media ads and made weekly phone calls to try to find students who have not yet connected.

    Camacho said his school is now open for some students with special needs, but the rest are still learning remotely and “wavering between depression and attempts to adapt to the current situation.” Educators have noticed a “spike” in hospitalizations for eating disorders among students. “Some students are doing OK with the increased isolation, but others are really suffering.”

    In California, half of the high school principals surveyed said their teachers were also visiting homes to check on students who were not yet participating virtually.

    Other findings of the survey include:

    • Two-thirds of the principals responded that they had students fall behind on assignments after the shift to remote learning.
    • More than three-fourths of principals reported connecting students to mental health providers.
    • At least two-thirds of principals said their schools handed out meals to family members of students who were not enrolled in their schools.


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  • Amid the Pandemic, Louisiana Educators Are Fighting Through the Fallout From a Hurricane. Lake Charles’s Devastation, By the Numbers

    By Beth Hawkins | September 17, 2020

    Even as Hurricane Sally made its excruciatingly slow way up the Gulf Coast, Louisiana lawmakers met to consider the damage inflicted by Hurricane Laura — the strongest storm to come ashore in the United States since 1856— on schools in and around the city of Lake Charles.

    The 33,000-student district had spent the summer purchasing technology to hand out to families who chose to return to classes virtually, preparing school buildings for a resumption of in-person learning and stockpiling food for continued meal deliveries. But on Aug. 24, which was to have been the first day back, Laura slammed ashore, forcing the district to announce an indefinite closure. All those preparations washed away.

    “There’s nothing that smells like a mildewed building and rotting food that’s been sitting on the ground for 10 days,” Karl Bruchhaus, superintendent of Calcasieu Parish Public Schools, which includes Lake Charles, told members of the state Senate Education Committee. Bruchhaus detailed the devastation with a series of astounding numbers:

    74 of 76 schools damaged

    15 schools without roofs

    124 of 350 school buses operable

    0 schools with internet

    48 percent of families still sheltered outside the parish

    12 percent in the parish but unable to return home

    95 percent of the parish without power

    97 percent of 11,000 families surveyed want to return to school as soon as possible

    22 percent planning on distance learning only — before Laura wiped out internet at home


    On Hurricane Katrina’s 15th Anniversary, 5 New Orleans Educators Tap Lessons From the Storm to Confront COVID-19

    72 percent of 2,351 teachers surveyed ready to teach online

    55 percent of teachers with extensive damage to their homes

    64 percent of teachers brought their laptops home when schools closed

    $300 million estimated cost of rebuilding schools

    100 hygienists assessing mildew and other health threats

    $600,000 worth of food for students saved in freezers at the district’s central facility, one of a few with a generator

    5 to 7: number of schools Bruchhaus hopes to reopen each week beginning the week of Sept. 28.


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  • Third Annual Reagan Institute Event to Spotlight DeVos, State Chiefs at a Time of Strained Relations

    By Linda Jacobson | September 16, 2020

    Maybe it’s good news that this year’s Reagan Institute Summit on Education is virtual after all.

    One could imagine the tension if Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who chose to visit a Michigan Catholic school this week to promote in-person learning, and some of the nation’s state superintendents, who have strongly opposed the secretary’s efforts to direct more federal relief funds to such schools, gathered in the same room.

    DeVos, who has been losing in the federal courts on that matter, will likely keep her keynote remarks focused on the argument that parents should have the funds to send their children to any school they choose — public or private — especially during the pandemic. The topic is also bound to come up when South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott addresses participants on the federal role in education. Scott is a co-sponsor of school choice legislation that DeVos has promoted and that Republicans in Congress have pushed as part of negotiations over another pandemic relief bill.

    Three current state superintendents — Wyoming’s Jillian Balow, the District of Columbia’s Hanseul Kang and Mississippi’s Carey Wright — will be on a panel at the event, which was originally scheduled to be held in person in June. Those chiefs, and several others, will participate virtually.

    The negotiations in Congress, however, haven’t gone the way state and district leaders had hoped. Just last week, the Senate failed to agree on another relief package that would have provided about $70 billion for schools. Two-thirds of that amount would have been directed toward districts that reopen for in-person learning.

    An earlier pandemic relief package passed in March was “money … to manage a crisis,” said Balow. “States used that money very, very wisely to just manage and recover.”

    But she added that now, states need funding to continue improving distance learning and curriculum models that allow students to work at their own pace. “The notion of not having funding to propel us forward means that some districts may be a little bit stifled in terms of being able to really … leverage this moment.”

    Balow said DeVos could also address new Title IX regulations, which attorney generals in 17 states and D.C. unsuccessfully attempted to block in court, as well as her letter to chiefs Sept. 3 stating that they shouldn’t expect waivers from standardized tests this school year. Chiefs tend to be in greater agreement with her over that issue.

    Three governors — Larry Hogan of Maryland, Jared Polis of Colorado and Bill Lee of Tennessee — will also answer questions about education in their states, likely focusing on issues surrounding reopening schools. Polis may discuss a tobacco tax measure on his state’s November ballot that would pay for universal pre-K — one of his major policy goals. And three former governors will discuss what they did during their administrations to improve early learning programs.

    Merrit Jones, senior adviser at Student Voice, which focuses on ensuring that students’ perspectives play a role in education policy, will moderate a panel of museum leaders on how their institutions can fill the gaps in learning for students, particularly around civics education. She said she might discuss “how state leaders have risen in the absence of federal leadership around COVID.” Students involved in some of the organization’s programs will also participate.

    Another session will feature former education secretary Arne Duncan, who has been commenting on districts’ reopening efforts lately and is now helping to lead the Los Angeles Unified School District’s massive COVID-19 testing effort. Duncan will join Margaret Spellings, another former education secretary, and others to discuss how organizations such as PBS are adapting for the future.

    Read the rest of Thursday’s agenda here.


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  • New Report Estimates School Closures’ Long-Term Impact on the U.S. Economy at More Than $14 Trillion

    By Linda Jacobson | September 13, 2020

    This year’s school closures won’t just result in the loss of students’ academic skills; it could negatively impact the economy for the rest of the 21st century, new research predicts.

    In the U.S., for example, the closures could ultimately amount to a loss of almost $14.2 trillion over the next 80 years, according to the study, released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an international group with 37 member countries that promotes economic growth policies. Another three months of learning losses could stretch that figure to almost $28 trillion.

    The authors suggest, however, that schools could recoup some of those losses by “individualizing the instruction,” in which students work at their own speed to master academic goals.

    “Unless schools get better, the current students will be significantly harmed. Moreover, the harm will disproportionately fall on disadvantaged students,” wrote economists Eric Hanushek of Stanford University and Ludger Woessmann of the University of Munich. They added that “permanent learning losses are not inevitable if countries improve the learning gains of their students in the future.”

    The new research was featured this week in another OECD paper and a webinar using existing data from international studies to analyze the impact of the pandemic on key educational indicators.

    The potential long-term damage to the economy is “why it is important for education systems to get back on track as quickly as they can,” Andreas Schleicher, OECD’s director for education and skills, said during the online event. Schleicher notes that even if school performance were to immediately return to pre-pandemic levels, countries would continue to see economic declines. That’s because “learning loss will lead to skill loss, and the skills people have relate to their productivity,” he wrote.

    Drawing from surveys and data gathered before the appearance of COVID-19, Schleicher puts issues such as education spending and students’ use of technology in the context of what schools have experienced since March.

    He notes the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act, enacted in March, as one example of what countries have done to prevent deep, short-term cuts. But he also notes that the effects of the pandemic on education spending could be long-lasting.

    “Forecasts predict that the pandemic will lead to slower growth in government spending in the coming year,” he wrote, “and that if the share of government spending devoted to education were to remain unchanged, education spending would continue to grow but at significantly lower rates than before the pandemic.”

    Using OECD’s 2018 Teaching and Learning International Survey, the paper also demonstrates the degree to which online platforms and resources influenced how students and teachers performed prior to the pandemic.

    “Digital technology became the lifeline of technology,” Schleicher said during the webinar. “Suddenly, teachers’ and students’ technological skills became critically important.”

    The image displays how often students were using instructional technology before school closures. (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development)

    The data show that the U.S. was better positioned than some countries, such as Finland, France and the Czech Republic, to make the transition to remote learning, but not as prepared as Denmark, New Zealand and Australia.

    Average class sizes before school closures in March are also likely to determine how quickly schools are able to accommodate in-person learning again. At the primary level, average class sizes in the U.S. line up with the OECD average of 21; Chile had the highest class sizes before the pandemic, with 31, and Costa Rica had the lowest, with 16.

    “Countries with smaller class sizes may find it easier to comply with new restrictions on social distancing provided they have the space to accommodate the number of students safely,” Schleicher wrote.

    During the webinar, Schleicher also offered lessons for the U.S. based on recent OECD studies and test results.

    “The U.S is lucky that it has a lot of money in education, but I don’t think it’s using its resources very wisely,” he said, adding that there’s more funding going toward an “industrial structure” and district bureaucracy than quality classroom instruction. One chart in his presentation, for example, showed that the U.S. ranks last in teacher salaries compared with 29 other countries.

    Much of the education spending in the U.S., he added, still goes toward “wealthy students.”

    “Align the resources with needs,” he said. “Where you can actually make most of the difference is [with] the students who need it most.”

    In their paper, Hanushek and Woessmann also recommend that school systems work simultaneously on improving distance learning and reopening schools.

    “Comprehensive measures must be taken to ensure that learning takes place everywhere again,” they wrote. “It is possible and important to build upon the new organization of schools to ensure that the schools are actually superior to the pre-COVID schools.”


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  • WATCH: In New Animated Video Created for Kids, Dr. Fauci Helps Students Understand Coronavirus and Safety — and Plays a Memorable Round of ‘Fauc or Slouch’

    By Meghan Gallagher | September 8, 2020

    Talking to children about COVID-19 may have just gotten a little easier.

    In the latest kid-friendly pandemic video published by BrainPOP, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, explains to students of all ages the role they can play in controlling the spread of coronavirus.

    Over the past several months, BrainPOP, a group of education websites that produce videos, quizzes and other materials to help translate challenging topics for students in grades K-12, has uploaded an array of pandemic-related projects. From defining “flattening the curve” to detailing how soap works, the animated shorts aim to help define and contextualize the crisis that kids keep hearing about on the evening news — and that is keeping so many of them from returning to class.

    The new 11-minute video recaps Dr. Fauci’s background as a public health official before he takes the stage to review key safety practices that all Americans should be following and discuss the science of vaccines.

    A few key highlights:

    • How coronavirus affects younger patients: Children can get infected and infect others, but the symptoms — if there are any at all — are usually minor compared to those experienced by older people. That is why, he explains, “teachers and your health officials are going to try as best as possible to protect you from getting infected.”
    • How COVID-19 spreads: Children can help mitigate the spread by not touching their faces, washing their hands as often as possible, practicing physical distancing and, if they’re old enough, wearing a mask.
    • How kids can influence their parents’ decisions: “Parents listen to their children,” Dr. Fauci says. Children should encourage them to wear masks, practice distancing and stay away from large crowds.
    • Science of vaccines: Dr. Fauci details how a coronavirus vaccine will work, explaining that it mimics antibodies to attack the virus without getting you sick.
    • When can we get one?: When a vaccine comes along, which he said will probably be by the end of the year, we should all get it to protect each other and end the pandemic.
    • Trusting in science: Dr. Fauci underscores the importance of turning to scientific truth to guide our actions.

    Dr. Fauci isn’t all science. Near the end of the video, the public health leader also offers a message of hope, noting the “resiliency of the American spirit or the spirit of all mankind,” and plays along in a round of “Fauc or Slouch” in which he’s quizzed on his New York City roots and knowledge of fly-fishing.

    “BrainPOP has always focused on teachable moments,” said the company’s founder and executive chairman, Dr. Avraham Kadar, in a statement tied to the video’s release. “Twenty years ago, we began by tackling complex health and science concepts ‘at eye level,’ and we continue to take this approach with every topic we cover across the curriculum.”

    Students and educators can access (mostly free) K-8 resources like lesson plans, coding games and more informational videos on Animated videos can also be found on their YouTube channel.

    Here are some of the other recent animations explaining elements of the pandemic:

    Flattening the Curve: 

    How to Prepare for the 2020 School Year:

    How to Stop the Spread:

    How Soap Works:

    Social Distancing: A Kid-Friendly Explanation:


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