Teachers Struggled to Stem ‘Learning Loss’ During Pandemic, GAO Finds

By Evie Blad — May 12, 2022 1 min read
Computer laptop on wooden desk with wireless and application programming and social media icons. Internet networking and wireless technology
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Federal investigators have confirmed what educators already knew: Few strategies worked to address concerns about students losing academic ground during the school interruptions sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As schools and districts struggled to operate amid uncertainty and difficult circumstances, students were, not unexpectedly, profoundly affected,” the Government Accountability Office said in a report issued Tuesday.

To comply with requirements created by the CARES Act, a federal COVID-19 relief bill, the agency, which reports to Congress, partnered with the Gallup polling organization to conduct a nationally representative survey of 2,900 K-12 teachers about their experiences during the 2020-21 school year. Investigators also held virtual discussion groups with educators, administrators, and parents.

Educators reported challenges in helping students overcome hurdles during the pandemic—what the report calls “learning loss"—whether they taught online, in-person, or in a hybrid of the two modes, the report said. Even those operating in person dealt with issues like quarantines and concerns about student and staff morale.

Among the key findings:

  • Remote teachers reported concerns with comprehension. 60 percent of teachers doing remote instruction reported that their students “had more difficulty understanding lessons than in a typical school year.”
  • Conditions at home made learning difficult for remote students. “There’s three people in a two bedroom apartment of less than a thousand square feet all trying to be on different Zooms at the same time and have class and that creates all kinds of issues,” one parent told the GAO.
  • Barriers extended beyond struggles with online learning. Absences, disruptive behaviors, emotional distress, lack of adequate nutrition, and unreliable internet access were among factors educators identified as “obstacles to learning.”
  • Student emotions were a concern for all teachers. Sixty-one percent of teachers the GAO surveyed said they “had more students who experienced emotional distress than in a typical year.”
  • Live instruction wins out. Eighty-five percent of in-person teachers said live instruction helped students. In a separate question, fewer than 40 percent of respondents thought asynchronous learning, in which students learn content on their own, “helped the majority of their students.”

Read the full GAO report here.


Special Education K-12 Essentials Forum Innovative Approaches to Special Education
Join this free virtual event to explore innovations in the evolving landscape of special education.
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.
Curriculum Webinar
STEM Fusion: Empowering K-12 Education through Interdisciplinary Integration
Join our webinar to learn how integrating STEM with other subjects can revolutionize K-12 education & prepare students for the future.
Content provided by Project Lead The Way
School & District Management Webinar How Pensions Work: Why It Matters for K-12 Education
Panelists explain the fundamentals of teacher pension finances — how they are paid for, what drives their costs, and their impact on K-12 education.

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

Teaching Opinion How to Be a Better Teacher in 6 Words or Less
The best advice about teaching sometimes can be whittled down to a few simple words.
2 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
Teaching Opinion What Students Want From Their Teachers, in Their Own Words
Teachers should try to connect with their students so they know the teacher has their back.
5 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
Teaching What the Research Says Team Teaching: A Boost to Teacher Retention
A study of Mesa, Ariz., teachers finds the collaborative approach boosts career satisfaction and effectiveness.
4 min read
Teachers and administrator talking outside school building.
E+ / Getty
Teaching Opinion 5 Simple Teacher Moves With Big-Time Payoffs
Giving students time to reflect on their work is like clicking "save." If teachers don't do it, learning can get lost.
11 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."