Harvard conducted a comprehensive study of pandemic learning loss. Here’s what it shows.

Communities that experienced longer school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic saw the greatest amount of student learning loss, with negative outcomes disproportionately falling on Black and low-income students. That’s according to the most comprehensive study of pandemic learning loss conducted in the United States to date.

Researchers from the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University examined data from 10,000 elementary and middle schools consisting of over 2 million students from across the U.S. One of the team’s researchers, Thomas Kane, recently sat down with Vox’s daily news podcast Today, Explained to discuss the findings.

“…[I]n places where schools remained remote for more than half of 2021, there were much larger losses, especially for students attending high-poverty schools,” Kane said.

“In the areas where students remained in-person for 2021, students lost ground. But there was no widening of gaps between Black and white students, between high-poverty and low-poverty schools. Everybody lost about the same amount. But in areas that went remote for more than half of 2021, achievement gaps widened pretty dramatically between high-poverty and low-poverty schools, between Blacks.”

School closures galvanized parents and political activists during the pandemic. School closures became a cudgel for conservatives and played a role in major political races in San Francisco and Virginia. 

The most important part of the new study, however, is about the future, not the past. Kane and the researchers have ideas about how we can help the most impacted students catch up. He recommends extending the school year for the next couple of years. The planning for that would need to begin now, but Kane fears it won’t happen.

“My sense — my fear — though, is people are underestimating the scale of the effort that’s going to be required to help students catch up.”

Listen to the entire episode here