Along with collaborators from Dartmouth, the CALDER Center at the American Institutes for Research, and the nonprofit testing group NWEA, Harvard economist Tom Kane released a paper this May incorporating pre- and post-pandemic testing data from over 2 million students in 49 states. Its conclusion: Remote instruction was a “primary driver of widening achievement gaps” over the last several years, with schools serving poor and non-white students suffering some of the greatest setbacks.
Overall, Kane and his co-authors found, high-poverty schools were more likely than others in the same district to stay remote throughout the 2020-21 school year; among all schools that stayed remote for longer, students at high-poverty schools showed much worse declines in math scores. And they calculated that some school districts would have to spend every dollar of their federal COVID relief money on academic recovery efforts to have any hope of making up the lost ground.
As Kane observed in a May essay for the Atlantic, local education authorities are required to use only 20 percent of those funds on pandemic-specific remediation. And there is sufficient reason to doubt that even the most promising educational interventions, such as personalized tutoring, can be delivered at the necessary scale to reverse the damage inflicted by COVID. Even the Biden administration’s recently announced campaign to recruit 250,000 new tutors and mentors is at least several months away from being fully realized.
In a 74 Interview with Kevin Mahnken, Thomas Kane says of his research: “Right now, there’s no package of efforts that I’d be confident would be enough to close the gap.”