Blog

Your Education Road Map

Politics K-12®

ESSA. Congress. State chiefs. School spending. Elections. Education Week reporters keep watch on education policy and politics in the nation’s capital and in the states. Read more from this blog.

Education

‘Generational Catastrophe’ Coming From COVID-19’s Disruption of Education

By Stephen Sawchuk — August 04, 2020 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

One billion students.

That’s the number of students worldwide whose learning has been disrupted, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, said in a video message released today. It’s the largest disruption in schooling in history, he said, affecting children in more than 160 countries.

Let’s pause to think about that number for a moment: A billion. It’s more than an eighth of the total population of the globe. In monetary terms, a sum so vast it’s hard to spend it in a lifetime. A one with nine trailing zeros: 1,000,000,000. A thousand millions.

This grim milestone is not just symbolically important to mark. It indicates that the coronavirus pandemic stands to wreak havoc on an entire, worldwide generation of young people.

Research on learning in both the United States and in other nations shows that the effects of natural disasters on school closures—probably the closest parallel to the COVID-19 pandemic—tend to be both severe and long-lasting for students. In one study looking at the effects of a devastating earthquake in Pakistan, for example, students closest to the epicenter who lost on average 14 weeks of school remained more than a year behind their peers four years later.

But you need not look that far for examples. Research here on the impact of the 2005 hurricanes Katrina and Rita found that New Orleans students displaced due to the storms suffered academically for years.

There is a glimmer of hope in this research: Good instruction can reverse the damage. Students displaced in New Orleans recovered after several years attending better-performing schools.

Like our fellow countries and nations, what we now have is a choice about how we’re going to respond.

Will we look back in 20 years and be able to trace a huge decline in well-being for this population—say, lower earnings, worse health outcomes, higher rates of unemployment? Or will we have a story about how we faced an enormous physical and moral challenge, and overcame it?

At the federal level, the United States’ response to addressing the disruption can so far be described only as feckless. Rapidly changing guidance and directives from federal and state officials have led to what my colleague Andrew Ujifusa called a “discordant chorus” of conflicting information.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Great Britian has put together a 1 billion pound funding scheme for extra student services, and has earmarked a third of that funding for high-dosage tutoring, one of the few interventions with sound research evidence to back it up. Other countries, like the Netherlands, have also approved funding packages to send flexible additional money to schools to hire tutors, teachers, and coaches.

Later this month, Education Week will publish several stories on using interventions to respond to learning loss—the lastest in its ongoing series, How We Go Back to School, which is aimed at giving superintendents, school board members, and school leaders ideas on how to make the 2020-21 school year work. Our pieces will all pull from the relevant research and the insights of districts who have successfully intervened to boost student learning.

But to be done well, many of these interventions cost some amount of money at a time when districts’ budgets are severely squeezed.

Are our policymakers listening?

The Associated Press contributed.

Photo: Children run past a COVID-19 advert promoting the use of face mask, washing of hands, use of sanitiser and social distance in the township of Soweto outside of Johannesburg, South Africa, in July. —Themba Hadebe/AP)

Related Tags:

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Evaluating Equity to Drive District-Wide Action this School Year
Educational leaders are charged with ensuring all students receive equitable access to a high-quality education. Yet equity is more than an action. It is a lens through which we continuously review instructional practices and student
Content provided by BetterLesson
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attendance Awareness Month: The Research Behind Effective Interventions
More than a year has passed since American schools were abruptly closed to halt the spread of COVID-19. Many children have been out of regular school for most, or even all, of that time. Some
Content provided by AllHere

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP