Covid-19’s impact on education could be long-lasting


While much media coverage of the coronavirus pandemic has focused on its impact on the global economy, which was serious, there is a potentially more insidious long-term consequence: the educational impact on a generation of American children, and especially Black, Latinx and Native American students. Covid-19 has taken a toll on both their learning and mental health.
A recently released study by the Northwest Evaluation Association found some hopeful signs. There was demonstrable “academic rebounding” during the 2021-22 school year in reading and math, particularly among younger students. Measuring average performance, however, hides the fact that younger Black, Latinx and Native American children did not do as well as their white and Asian-American peers.
A major reason for the learning decline and larger racial gap appears to be extended remote learning during the pandemic. Low-income students and those three non-white groups were already scoring behind white and Asian students because of disparities that begin early in childhood, and the pandemic exacerbated those learning gaps. During the pandemic, in higher-poverty schools with larger minority populations, students tended to spend more time learning at home, in front of computer screens, and as a result they lost the equivalent of 22 weeks of instruction.
Demographic differences in student performance are most noticeable in the elementary grades, which suggests that as these children grow older, the larger learning gap will extend into middle school and high school. It could take three to five years for all children to reach earlier performance levels if they receive needed supported, but emergency federal Covid allocations expire long before then. School districts are required to spend the last of their coronavirus funds by September 2024.
According to a report by McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm, on the global impact of Covid on education, lower levels of learning translate into lower future earnings. As of January 2022, over 25 percent of the world’s students attended school systems that were still not fully open. The most affected regions were Latin America, the Caribbean and South Asia. In the United States, students in majority-Black schools were found to be six months behind in mathematics and reading at the start of the 2021-22 school year, while students in primarily white schools were only two months behind. McKinsey estimates that by 2040, the economic impact of Covid-related learning disadvantage could translate to losses of $1.6 trillion worldwide annually.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on mental health concerns among U.S. high school students during the pandemic. Over a third of high school students — 37 percent — reported that they experienced poor mental health. Some 44 percent reported that they persistently felt sad or hopeless, and 55 percent reported that they had experienced emotional abuse from a parent or other adult in the home, including being sworn at, insulted or put down. Eleven percent of high school students reported that they had suffered physical abuse as well. The CDC report did not differentiate based on race and ethnicity, but McKinsey found that parents of Black and Latinx students reported higher rates of concern about the mental health of their children.
While Senate Democrats are celebrating the current version of their budget reconciliation bill as a major victory, it does not include the $400 billion for early education in the original Build Back Better proposal, which would have created vitally needed universal child care and pre-kindergarten. The education proposal was approved in the House version of the bill, but blocked in the Senate by Republican opposition and conservative Democrats.

Dr. Alan Singer is a professor of teaching, learning and technology and the director of social studies education programs at Hofstra University. He is a former New York City high school social studies teacher and editor of Social Science Docket, a joint publication of the New York and New Jersey Councils for the Social Studies. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/AlanJSinger1.