COVID Brief: School Closures and Learning Loss Connected Worldwide, New Report Shows

A weekly roundup of headlines about how the pandemic is shaping schools and education policy, vetted by AEI Visiting Fellow John Bailey.

Help fund stories like this. Donate now!

This is our biweekly briefing on the pandemic, vetted by John Bailey. See the full archive.

This Week’s Top Story

Worldwide, Learning Loss and Pandemic School Closures Were Directly Connected

  • Via Jeff Murray at Fordham, based on a new working paper from Harry Patrinos at the World Bank 
  • “Patrinos looks at 11 factors potentially increasing or mitigating learning loss, which is defined using test score data via country-specific instruments that were standardized for comparison.”
  • “There is a clear link between school closure duration and learning loss. Closures as part of government-imposed lockdowns averaged 21 weeks’ duration and resulted in an average learning loss of 0.23 standard deviations across the countries studied (representing two-thirds of the world’s population). Testing for mitigating factors or other means to explain learning loss produced no significant findings, meaning that school closures appear to be directly responsible for student learning loss.”
  • “Patrinos finds that each additional week of school closure increased learning loss by a further 1% of a standard deviation.”
  • “In short: The longer schools stayed closed, the less students learned, no matter what else was done to blunt the losses.”

The Big Three

More than 70% of Household COVID Spread Started With a Child 

  • Via CIDRAP: “A study published [June 1]  in JAMA Network Open suggests that 70.4% of nearly 850,000 U.S. household COVID-19 transmissions originated with a child.”
  • “Of all household transmissions, 70.4% began with a child, with the proportion fluctuating weekly between 36.9% and 87.5%.”
  • “Once U.S. schools reopened in fall 2020, children contributed more to inferred within-household transmission when they were in school, and less during summer and winter breaks, a pattern consistent for two consecutive school years.”

Schools Received Billions in Stimulus Funds. It May Not Be Doing Enough

  • Via The New York Times: “While most schools have since deployed various forms of interventions and some have spent more on academic recovery than others, there are ample signs that the money has not been spent in a way that has substantially helped all of the nation’s students lagging behind.”
  • “Robin Lake, the director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, said the impact of the funding has been a ‘bit of a black box,’ and she expected to see different recovery rates across districts.”
  • “Early reports show that schools have had difficulty setting up academic recovery programs.”

The Programs Most Likely to Go Away When Stimulus Funding Ends

  • Via EdWeek
  • “Areas high on the list for reduction are much more classroom-focused: summer learning programs (30%), computing devices, such as Chromebooks (29%) and tutoring (26%).”
  • “Relatively large districts, meaning those with 10,000 or more students, are relatively likely to scale back tutoring (33% said they would), as were those with enrollments of between 2,500 and 9,999 students (34%), as opposed to those from systems with fewer than 2,500 students (20%).”
  • “The survey also reveals that K-12 officials from suburban districts are much less likely to scale back stimulus-funded programs focused on student mental health/wellness resources (9% indicated they would) compared to those from districts in rural areas or towns (20%) and urban areas (28%).”
  • “Relatively few of those surveyed see core academic subjects as likely to receive cuts, such as elementary English/language arts (just 17%), science (13%), elementary math (12%) and social-studies (11%).”

Federal Updates

Institute for Education Statistics: Director Mark Schneider on education research and the future of schools.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Dr. Deborah L. Birx: “Now that the COVID-19 national public health emergency is over, it’s time to fix the CDC.”

Debt Ceiling: Education spared from severe cuts with the signing of debt ceiling deal.

Education Department: New Office of Educational Technology and Digital Promise report: U.S. Department of Education Shares Insights and Recommendations for Artificial Intelligence.

City & State News

California: Thousands of California families are still homeschooling their children. What’s keeping them from the classroom?

Colorado: The state Board of Education voted unanimously to select Susana Cordova as the sole finalist for the position of commissioner of education.

Missouri: Pandemic led to drop in special education services for young kids in Missouri and nationwide.

New Jersey: 10,000 Newark public school students need summer school this year, district says.

Pennsylvania: Teachers are leaving their jobs at an accelerating rate in Pennsylvania, new study finds.

COVID-19 Research

Pfizer Vaccine Tracking Confirms Safety in Kids, With Myocarditis, Pericarditis Rare

  • Via CIDRAP: “Monitoring of Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine safety among more than 3 million U.S. children aged 5 to 17 years flagged just 2 of 20 health outcomes among 12- to 17-year-olds — myocarditis and pericarditis, which were rare.”
  • “ ‘Myocarditis or pericarditis is a rare event, with an average incidence of 39.4 cases per million doses administered in children aged 5 to 17 years within seven days after BNT162b2 [Pfizer] COVID-19 vaccination,’ the authors wrote. Previous studies have noted that the incidence of the two conditions is much higher after COVID-19 infection.”

COVID-19 Catch Up

  • Via Katelyn Jetelina: “SARS-CoV-2 is nosediving across all metrics in all regions of the U.S.: hospitalizations, deaths, emergency room departments, and wastewater. Wastewater is still higher than in 2020 and 2021, though.”
  • “We’ve been hitting new lows in death counts, too. In fact, excess deaths are hovering at only ~1% above pre-pandemic rates (at the height of the pandemic we were at 47%). In other words, things are looking good right now.”
  • “Up until now, the CDC recommended that we ‘improve ventilation’ to reduce transmission. But by how much? Well, for the first time, CDC set minimum ventilation targets for indoor spaces: five air changes per hour. This may sound like boring news, but it’s huge for public health. Not just for viruses but health overall. While this standard isn’t mandatory, you should follow up with your business, school, place of worship, etc., to ensure it’s being met now.”

Viewpoints and Analyses

Moving from “Reform” to “Rethinking”

  • Via Rick Hess: “The COVID-19 pandemic stressed and stretched schooling in unprecedented ways. Routines that had been in place for generations came to a crashing halt.”
  • “During the pandemic, new routines took hold. Parents expressed frustration and an appetite for new options. The visibility into the curriculum and students’ work that came with remote learning led many parents to become newly engaged. … The pandemic fueled an explosion in homeschooling, greater familiarity with virtual learning and unprecedented declines in district enrollments.”
  • “From my research and work with educators, I’ve learned that leaders who want to … meet this moment as open-minded ‘rethinkers’ rather than self-assured reformers, should take to heart five habits.”
    • Ask why … a lot!
    • Be precise and specific.
    • Be deliberate.
    • Know that new problems may call for new solutions.
    • Reject change for change’s sake.

5 Steps Districts Can Take to Prepare for a Big Financial Reckoning: 

  • Noah Wepman, the former chief financial officer for the District of Columbia Public Schools, shares five things districts should consider doing to keep students and their successes at the center of discussions about budget reductions:
    • Inventory district-funded programs, then examine student data.
    • Engage in strategic abandonment discussions.
    • Set your district’s priorities and create (or update) your five-year financial plan.
    • Budget for equity.
    • Innovate and experiment with new school models or staffing approaches.

The Pandemic Is Over, But the Education Emergency Continues

  • Via Bruno Manno
  • “There is a divide between the reality of student learning loss and parents’ perceptions of learning loss.”
  • “Learning loss is related not only to what happened in schools, but also to what happened in communities.”
  • “Learning loss will become permanent unless learning time — student time on task — is increased.”

…And on a Lighter Note

For even more COVID policy and education news, subscribe to John Bailey’s briefing via Substack.

Disclosure: John Bailey is an adviser to the Walton Family Foundation, which provides financial support to The 74.

Help fund stories like this. Donate now!

Republish This Article

We want our stories to be shared as widely as possible — for free.

Please view The 74's republishing terms.

On The 74 Today