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Covid-19 Education Research for Recovery

Kathleen Lynch, Monica Lee, Susanna Loeb.

The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on preschool children’s school readiness skills remains understudied. This research investigates whether exposure to in-person (versus virtual) Head Start preschool predicted children’s early numeracy, literacy, and executive function outcomes during a pandemic-affected school year, using a novel virtual assessment methodology. Study children (N = 336; mean age = 51 months; 46% Hispanic; 36% Black Non-Hispanic; 52% female) experienced low in-person preschool exposure compared to national pre-pandemic norms. However, study children experienced gains during the pandemic-affected year of 0.08 SD in executive function, 0.34 SD in print knowledge, and 0.49-0.75 in early numeracy skills. For two of the three early numeracy domains measured, spring test score outcomes were stronger among children who attended more in-person preschool.

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George Bulman, Robert Fairlie.

Although enrollment at California’s four-year public universities mostly remained unchanged by the pandemic, the effects were substantial for students at California Community Colleges, the largest higher education system in the country. This paper provides a detailed analysis of how the pandemic impacted the enrollment patterns, fields of study, and academic outcomes of these students through the first four semesters after it started. Consistent with national trends, enrollment dropped precipitously during the pandemic – the total number of enrolled students fell by 11 percent from fall 2019 to fall 2020 and by another 7 percent from fall 2020 to fall 2021. The California Community College system lost nearly 300,000 students over this period. Our analysis reveals that enrollment reductions were largest among African-American and Latinx students, and were larger among continuing students than first-time students. We find no evidence that having a large online presence prior to the pandemic protected colleges from these negative effects. Enrollment changes were substantial across a wide range of fields and were large for both vocational courses and academic courses that can be transferred to four-year institutions. In terms of course performance, changes in completion rates, withdrawal rates, and grades primarily occurred in the spring of 2020. These findings of the effects of the pandemic at community colleges have implications for policy, impending budgetary pressures, and future research.

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Kenneth A. Shores, Matthew P. Steinberg.

We synthesize and critique federal fiscal policy during the Great Recession and Covid-19 pandemic. First, the amount of aid during both crises was inadequate to meet policy goals. Second, the mechanisms used to distribute funds was disconnected from policy goals and provided different levels of aid to districts with equivalent levels of economic disadvantage. Third, data tools are missing making it difficult to understand whether funds were used to meet policy goals. Details for these results are provided along with policy recommendations.

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Joshua Bleiberg, Matthew A. Kraft.

The COVID-19 pandemic upended the U.S. education system and the economy in ways that dramatically affected the jobs of K-12 educators. However, data limitations have led to considerable uncertainty and conflicting reports about the nature of staffing challenges in schools. We draw on education employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and State Education Agencies (SEA) to describe patterns in K-12 education employment and to highlight the limitations of available data. Data from the BLS suggest overall employment in the K-12 labor market declined by 9.3 percent at the onset of the pandemic and remains well below pre-pandemic levels. SEA data suggest that teachers have not (yet) left the profession in mass as many predicted, but that turnover decreased in the summer of 2020. We explore possible explanations for these patterns including (1) weak hiring through the summer of 2020 and (2) high attrition among K-12 instructional support staff. State vacancy data also suggest that schools are facing substantial challenges filling open positions during the 2021-22 academic year. Our analyses illustrate the imperative to build more timely, detailed, and nationally representative data systems on the K-12 education labor market to better inform policy.  

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Gema Zamarro, Andrew Camp, Dillon Fuchsman, Josh B. McGee.

The 2020-2021 academic year was a trying year for teachers. We use a nationally representative sample of teachers from the RAND American Teacher Panel to document that teachers’ stated consideration of leaving the profession increased during the pandemic. We also study factors associated with teachers’ consideration of leaving the profession and high levels of job burnout during the pandemic. Approaching retirement age (being 55 or older), having to change instruction modes, health concerns, and high levels of job burnout all appear to be important predictors of the probability of considering leaving or retiring from teaching. Hybrid teaching increased consideration of leaving the profession because of COVID. Health concerns and switching instruction modes are all associated with higher levels of concern about job burnout. Interestingly, those approaching retirement ages do not present higher levels of concern about job burnout than younger teachers. Although increased consideration of leaving and concern about burnout do not yet appear to have materialized into higher attrition rates so far, higher levels of job dissatisfaction could affect teacher effectiveness and could harm student academic progress.

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Jennifer Darling-Aduana, Henry T. Woodyard, Tim R. Sass, Sarah S. Barry.

The COVID-19 pandemic initially resulted in an unanticipated and near-universal shift from in-person to virtual instruction in spring 2020. During the 2020-21 school year, schools began to re-open and families were faced with decisions regarding the instructional mode for their children. We leverage administrative, survey, and virtual-learning data to examine the determinants of family learning-mode choice and the effects of virtual education on student engagement and academic achievement. Family preference for virtual (versus face-to-face) instruction was most highly associated with school-level infection rates and appeared relatively uniform within schools. We find that students who were assigned a higher proportion of instructional days in virtual mode experienced higher rates of attendance, but also negative student achievement growth compared to students who were assigned a higher proportion of instructional days in face-to-face mode. Students belonging to marginalized groups experienced more positive associations with attendance but were also more likely to experience lower student achievement growth when assigned a greater proportion of instructional days in virtual mode. Insights from this study can be used to better understand family preference as well as to target and refine virtual learning in a post-COVID-19 society.

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Jeanne Lafortune, Todd Pugatch, José Tessada, Diego Ubfal.

We study the short-run effects of a gamified online entrepreneurship training offered to high school students in Rwanda during the COVID-19 pandemic. Using a randomized controlled trial, we estimate sizeable effects of the 6-week training on entrepreneurial activity. One month after the training, participants in schools offered the training were much more likely to own a business than participants in control schools. The training induced students to participate more actively in their school's business club, to undertake more business-oriented actions, to improve their business practices, and to interact more with other youth and family members about their business ideas. We hypothesize that the training might have motivated treated students to sustain their business activities during the COVID-19 crisis.

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Kelli A. Bird, Benjamin L. Castleman, Gabrielle Lohner.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to an abrupt shift from in-person to virtual instruction in Spring 2020. We use two complementary difference-in differences frameworks, one that leverages within-instructor-by-course variation on whether students started their Spring 2020 courses in person or online and another that incorporates student fixed effects. We estimate the impact of this shift on the academic performance of Virginia’s community college students. With both approaches, we find modest negative impacts (three to six percent) on course completion. Our results suggest that faculty experience teaching a given course online does not mitigate the negative effects. In an exploratory analysis, we find minimal long-term impacts of the switch to online instruction.

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Megan Kuhfeld, James Soland, Karyn Lewis.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a seismic and on-going disruption to K-12 schooling. Using test scores from 5.4 million U.S. students in grades 3-8, we tracked changes in math and reading achievement across the first two years of the pandemic. Average fall 2021 math test scores in grades 3-8 were .20-27 standard deviations (SDs) lower relative to same-grade peers in fall 2019, while reading test scores decreased by .09-.18 SDs. Achievement gaps between students in low-poverty and high-poverty elementary schools grew by .10-.20 SDs, primarily during the 2020-21 school year. Observed declines are more substantial than during other recent school disruptions, such as those due to natural disasters.

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Katharina Werner, Ludger Woessmann.

If school closures and social-distancing experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic impeded children’s skill development, they may leave a lasting legacy in human capital. To understand the pandemic’s effects on school children, this paper combines a review of the emerging international literature with new evidence from German longitudinal time-use surveys. Based on the conceptual framework of an education production function, we cover evidence on child, parent, and school inputs and students’ cognitive and socio-emotional development. The German panel evidence shows that children’s learning time decreased severely during the first school closures, particularly for low-achieving students, and increased only slightly one year later. In a value-added model, learning time increases with daily online class instruction, but not with other school activities. The review shows substantial losses in cognitive skills on achievement tests, particularly for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Socio-emotional wellbeing also declined in the short run. Structural models and reduced-form projections suggest that unless remediated, the school closures will persistently reduce skill development, lifetime income, and economic growth and increase inequality.

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