Learning Loss and Renewal After the Pandemic

 

ROBIN NEWBERGER: What we want to accomplish with today's discussion is to understand the scope of learning loss among students during the pandemic, what this might mean for future economic opportunity for those who have been affected, and to hear about possible solutions from schools, and perhaps other entities in our communities to help address this problem. I'm very excited to listen to the presenters we have today who are certainly experts on this topic, and whose full bios are included on our website. And these are, in order of presentation, as you see, Eric Hanushek who is the Paul Jean Hanna Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and he's co-author of the 2020 report, "The Economic Impacts of Learning Loss".

We have Megan Kuhfeld, who is a senior research scientist at MWBA, and she's co-author of the recently published, "Learning During Covid-19 Reading and Math Achievement in the 20-21 School Year from NWA." We have Bethany Gross, who is research director at WG Labs, and who over the past year, has studied school districts responses to Covid-19.

And we have Ann Whalen, who leads the policy team at Advance Illinois, and who has a great understanding of the policies and programs being carried out by educational systems in Illinois. So let's start this discussion with Eric Hanushek, who will give us his perspective on the connection between learning loss and Economic Opportunity. Thank you.

ERIC HANUSHEK: Thanks, Robin. I am pleased to be here today. This week, if you looked at the media, there were endless numbers of stories about the growth in jobs and how the recovery was going so strong and giving credit to the administration for a successful economic policy. I'm going to argue that this should not be thought of as a typical recession. And in fact, the cost that we've incurred through the learning losses just swamp the business cycle cost that everybody is so concerned with.

So let me give you a little bit of data on this too. Let me share. I guess it's going to work. Now, nobody doubts that there were significant losses when the schools closed in March of 2020. Universal closures locked out students from their schools. That continued, and throughout the last school year, most of the discussion, in my opinion, has been focused on what I would call the logistics of reopening schools.

This is how far should desks be apart? How is the ventilation? What about masks? Do we have hybrid learning, and so forth? That's left us in a funny position because right now, we don't even the extent of the full harm. Megan Kuhfeld is going to give some estimates, but they're pretty imprecise estimates now of the losses that students suffered from both closures and from the hybrid/remote learning, or sometimes in person learning for some of our schools.

The one thing we do know is that without doubt, the cost of this learning loss in the pandemic have been borne disproportionately by disadvantaged families and disadvantaged students. So that the losses are much larger for those that are least prepared to deal with losses.

Now, I've been a little bit frustrated, I should say, because nobody is interested in talking about the impact of these learning losses in, what I refer to this as the issue that must not be named. What we've seen is that nobody really wants to consider this in any detail. So let me give you what I'm going to do today.

Quickly, I'm going to try to present some estimates of the economic impacts of the learning losses as we know they have existed. I'm going to do that first for the full-closure period, which is a little bit easier, than updating it to today because we have such imperfect information about what happened over the last school year. And then, if we have some time, we'll talk quickly about some policy options, but the rest of the panel will also discuss that.

Now, this talk today builds on a study that I produced with my co-author Luka Guzman in Germany a year ago. And a year ago, in August of 2020, we tried to estimate the cost of the closure period. And we presumed that schools would just refer back and go back to their January 2020 level in last September.

And we know they didn't do that, and that's part of the real cost that we're going to look at today. I'm going to do this in two different ways. First, I'm going to look at the individual returns. And so I'm going to say, what is going to happen to the average student who was locked out of schools, closed out, or who went through some sort of not up to par learning over the last year? I'm trying to give you the estimates of that.

Now, that's possible because we have, for a large number of countries, estimates of how much does learning matter in the labor market. And what this picture that I've given you along the horizontal axis is just different countries in the world. The vertical axis is how much those future earnings of individuals depend upon what they learned in schools.

But what you see is Singapore, it matters a lot, and so in Chile and so forth. But in the US, it's one of the countries that has the highest returns to individual learning. So you can read that the opposite way, also. By having high returns to what people know, that means the cost or the penalties from not knowing things are the largest in the world, or near the largest in the world.

And that's what we're going to concentrate on. Now, in last August, a year prior to this, we estimated that-- probably the best estimate was that the learning loss in roughly a school year equivalent was like a third of a year loss. What that implies, according to the returns on skills in the labor market for the US, is that the average student who was in the cohort, that was in school there were closed last March, is going to lose 3% of their lifetime earnings-- 3% of their lifetime earnings from the closure period.

But we know that that wasn't the whole story. We know that there were a number of school districts that never even went back to in-person learning. We know that the totally remote learning was not as good as in-person learning, and that the hybrids were somewhere in between by most estimates. So we have a little bit of uncertainty, I would say that today, in August of 2021, what we're really looking at is a six to nine percent loss for the average student who is in the cohort affected by K-12 education over this period.

So they're going to expect that much less earnings over their entire lifetime. As I said, these losses are much larger for disadvantaged kids than the 6% to 9%. Now there's another way to look at this, and that is that the US is going to be in a worse position overall. It turns out that the economic growth of nations is quite dependent upon the skills of the labor force of the nation. And what we've done here is essentially lower the future skills for this cohort of students that has gotten worse education, that has suffered the learning losses.

Now, if you look internationally, sort of think of the horizontal axis as test scores-- they were scores on international tests-- the vertical axis here is growth rates over the long run.

 

This is a picture that was drawn for 1960 to 2000. The US is in the middle. It does better than you might expect for a variety of reasons because the economy is more geared to growth than a large number of other economies.

But if you think of what happens now, when the skills of the labor force going into the future are less, we can get estimates of the impact on the economy. So a year prior to this, in August of 2020, we would have said the best estimate is that on average, GDP, gross domestic product, for the US over the remainder of the century will be 1 and 1/2% lower. In other words, we have suffered a 1 and 1/2% loss in GDP. And compare that to some of the estimates of losses to the business cycle that are short run losses in only a year.

But again, that's only part of the loss because in fact, we know that the schools weren't up to par starting last September. And in fact, we don't even know if they're going to be going into the current future year. So at our present estimates, with a fair amount of uncertainty, I would say that we're talking about 3% to 4% lower GDP for the remainder of the century because of the lower learning of our students.

Now to put that into figures that nobody understands, I'll put those in trillions of dollars. That looks like something between $25 and $30 trillion of loss in present value for these lost GDP into the future because of learning loss. Obviously, this is a lot larger than any of the discussions today of either budget plans for the federal government or estimates of the cost of the business cycle of unemployment, the lost jobs, and so forth.

So the one thing that we know also is that if we just returned to where we were before the pandemic, we will not erase these losses. These are permanent losses to this group if we just return to where our schools were before. Now we don't know where students really are. We're already facing a lot of reduced information because we knew that they weren't going to be so well off during the last year, and lots of school systems didn't test their students. Lots of students were home, and we couldn't figure out how exactly to test them. The National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is the nation's totting up of achievement for students, was postponed from this year into the future, into next year.

The only way to get out of this, I think, is to build upon circumstances that we saw. In fact, recession before the pandemic and recession, but before the learning losses, we basically knew that there were some things we should be doing that we weren't doing. One is that we should be using our teaching force more effectively. We've learned from this whole experience that teachers are central and are crucial to the whole learning process. But we ought to use our more effective teachers more intensively and our ineffective teachers less. We knew this beforehand, but now it becomes imperative if we're going to make up for these learning losses.

The other thing is that because students are going to be coming back to classes this fall with a large difference in what they know, where they are, what they learned over the last year, and how far behind they are, that there's going to be a much more difficult problem for teachers to deal with the heterogeneity in their classrooms. We're going to have to individualize learning and instruction a lot more if we're going to move forward because we just can't teach to the average in a class when there is such a wide variation of people.

Making our schools better is the only way that we will make up for these huge learning losses that are just orders of magnitude larger than any of the business cycle losses. They've been largely ignored, and comparisons to prior recessions just miss the reality. This is not a normal recession. This is a school in crisis.

What we witnessed over the last year, and which probably won't stop, is that the COVID experience was taken by teachers unions and the schools as an invitation to bargain more. We had contract changes even during the closure period last spring.

And then we saw the sort of halting restart of schools in Chicago, New York City, San Francisco, LA-- we can a large number of them. The schools in San Francisco basically never opened throughout the whole year for in-person instruction. And we know that that has harmed these kids even more.

The return conditions for next year are still unclear as we have more discussions of the Delta virus and what we can do to deal with that. Again, back to the logistics of schools as opposed to the learning.

Thank you. I'll stop there and go on to the other panelists, who will talk more about these issues.

ROBIN NEWBERGER: Thank you so much, Eric. So we'll have a conversation more about what you were saying. But for the moment, I would like to pass the baton to Megan Kuhfeld. So Megan, what did you find from looking at the results of testing of K-8 students in 2021?

MEGAN KUHFELD: Great. OK. Can you all hear me and see my screen? OK, perfect. So thank you very much for this opportunity to speak with you all. I'm going to be talking today about a study that we recently completed at NWEA using our assessment data to track what was going on in the 2020-2021 school year.

And before I start, I just want to quickly level set on the term learning loss because I think we use it a lot, but we don't always mean the same thing about it. It had historically come from some of the research on summer, where kids were actually making absolute losses where their test scores, when they returned to school, were lower than their test scores when they had tested in the spring prior.

And what we're seeing in my study and many of the other studies that have come out is that what we're really seeing is a relative learning loss. When you're comparing to students from prior years, students are scoring lower this year than previous years. So that doesn't necessarily mean they're doing worse than themselves in the past. It means it's more doing worse than prior years, or kind of a typical year. So I think that's just important to note because the loss often connotates, actually, kids doing worse this year relative to how they did last year.

So the specific study I'm going to be speaking about is using NWEA's MAP Growth assessments. And I'm not sure if everyone is familiar with them, so I just thought I'd quickly overview what they are. These are optional assessments, so they're not, as Eric mentioned, to be the NAEP, the data that the federal government collects across the entire country. They're not the state end of year standardized required assessments.

These are voluntary. They're given across all 50 states, and in this study, we're specifically going to be focusing on public schools, and we have a sample of 5.5 million students. And at the very end, I'll kind of mention some of the limitations of the sample. But it's a very large sample of schools that tested both during the 2018-19 school year as well as during this most recent school year.

And so our first question was really focused on what happened in this current school year. Did students actually learn anything, or were there kind of overall absolute losses? So to do that, what we did was we focused on students who tested during the 2021 school year from the fall winter to spring within each grade level. And then to kind of understand and contextualize those findings, we compared back to the 2018-19 school year and looked at what typical learning gains in that period would be.

And the reason we go back two years, as you can probably guess, is that we're missing, basically, all data from the spring of 2020 when the school closures did occur. So our comparison is going back to two school years and using 2018-19 is kind of a reference point for a typical year.

And so what we see is that these dotted lines here for grade three, five, and seven are the 2018-19 typical gains. So one thing you might notice is that we typically see in the younger grades, kids are making larger gains on average, and the fall to winter is kind of a steeper period.

So when we overlay that with the 202o-21 gains, I think the most important thing to note for reading is that in the fall, we actually didn't see a huge amount of evidence with this assessment that kids were lower in the fall relative to a typical year. Those two lines are pretty much on top of each other by the fall of 2020.

However, when we follow these students all the way to the spring of 2021, we are now seeing those gaps widened compared to a typical year, with the slower growth really being during the spring semester, which may be surprising to many people because that's when schools were starting to reopen in person more universally across the country. But we know that even though schools were in person, a lot of kids still decided to stay remotely. And then for many kids, this kind of flip flopping return from remote to in person was actually very disruptive. So that's our kind of speculation of why the spring showed lower gains than what we had seen in the fall semester.

In math, however, what we saw was that there already was a gap by the fall of 2020, with students performing worse than their historic averages in the fall, and then that gap just continued to widen through the year. So I think my most important takeaways from these findings are students were making learning gains this last year. However, they are not as steep as a typical year. And so there is this widening gap between typical and what we observed. But students did make learning gains throughout the school year on average. That's not to say everyone did, but on average, they were learning gains in our sample.

The second question we were looking at is really this kind of relative comparison between typical and what we observed this year, but specifically in the spring, so kind of giving us the best context, moving forward to the next school year, of where students are. And we did that by looking at the spring achievement in 2021 relative to the spring achievement in 2018 using the NWEA norms, which is a national norming sample of students from prior school years.

And so we were converting our test scores into percentile ranks so that we could kind of put them on kind of a universal scale so that-- and this just as a quick reminder-- a student at the 65th percentile means that they were scoring higher than 65% of students within their grade within kind of a relative cohort.

So what we found, and what we're seeing here in this plot, is within the sample of students, the spring 2018 percentile rank for a given grade level and subject as the circle, and the arrow here pointing down to where the spring of 2021 is. So this is a relative loss of six percentile points compared to students who had been in third grade and 2019.

So the difference between the two groups is six percentile points. And so we are not seeing that for reading and math. So these relative declines, as you can see, are much larger in math and reading, and they're much larger in the early grades. So the elementary grades seem to be showing a larger impact.

And unfortunately, as Eric mentioned, there is a lot of disproportionality in this. And so we saw these bigger relative declines Latinx, Black, and Native American students, particularly in the younger grades, as well as for students in high poverty schools. And what's really alarming about these findings is that we know there were inequities prior to the pandemic in our educational system.

And you can see that between students. Low poverty schools were scoring around the 70th percentile prior to the pandemic, whereas prior to the pandemic, students in high poverty schools were below the national median, so around the 30th percentile. So not only was there a large gap prior to it, but that gap widened during the pandemic. So it's just building on and exacerbating existing inequalities.

So this is one study with one sample. But recently, CRPE released a report that was reviewing studies that were conducted during this fall and winter of 2021. So they weren't able to go all the way to the reports like ours that just were released with spring 2021 data. But the good news is that they were able to find 12 empirical studies. So that gives us kind of a wider reaching population of kids across the US than any one individual study gives us.

And the trends, encouraging for me, were pretty consistent with what we saw across studies. They found larger impacts in math and reading, larger impacts for economically disadvantaged students. And I should say good for me in that the things replicate, not for the students who are being impacted here in some of these really alarming kind of places where we see larger impacts disproportionately affecting students of color,

But on the research side, we're getting a clearer picture now than we could get previously from individual studies. And the CRPE report, I have the link in the bottom. It does a really nice job of talking about some of the limitations of these studies as well, which I will mention briefly. But we kind of are getting a clearer picture of what we know. But we also know that many students did not test last year.

And so given that, we're probably seeing a somewhat rosy picture from these findings compared to reality because the students who were not able to get tested were probably the most disconnected, the most likely to have technology issues. The ones who really just fully disengaged from school are missing in our sample. And so those are the kids that are probably most impacted. And so we have to keep in mind that all of these findings are probably a better case scenario than what we would have observed I we could have tested everyone.

A second big limitation of our findings is that we are combining results from students who tested in person as well as students who tested from home. And we've done some initial work to kind of understand whether students who tested from home were kind of engaged and not cheating, and doing other things like that, getting help from parents. But there's still a lot that's unknown about the testing at home. This is such a new thing, and we're still trying to gather data on that.

And then in terms of what we have big gaps in our findings, we know almost nothing about high school students. So the students who are most likely to graduate, go into college soon, we don't really know how they're faring. We don't have as good of data. And we know a lot less about the social emotional impacts. So I was really happy to see Bethany, one of our speakers, just released a report today that does address SEL and mental health. And so hopefully she'll get a chance to talk about that. But historically so far, we've had way more on test data than we've had on SEL or on mental health.

So I think I will stop there. And I'm happy, in the question and answer, to talk any more about our methods and our sample if anyone has further questions. But yeah, thank you very much.

ROBIN NEWBERGER: Thank you, Megan. Yeah. Let's open the question and answer chat, or the question chat, I guess, if that's possible. And I guess just to start out here, I guess I want to ask Eric if you can comment on Megan, and Megan, you can comment on Eric's sort of presentations, and to see how close you are, maybe, and how far apart you are in terms of the scope of the problem.

So I think for me, I think an important common thread that we're hearing is around the very serious impacts for students who are already-- the word is disadvantaged-- but already disadvantaged students, or in disadvantaged schools, or in lower income neighborhoods before the pandemic, and the impacts have been more severe. So that's an important takeaway that I'm getting from both of your presentations.

Eric, do you want to incorporate some of Megan's findings into your thoughts as well?

ERIC HANUSHEK: Sure. I mean, I think Megan laid it out at the end. The most important part of her presentation, to me, was the last part where she said this is a rosy picture, the caveat that in her studies and in all the other state studies that I've seen, there are substantial numbers of kids that are tested. And we're almost certain that those are selectively chosen.

We actually know that in many of the large urban districts of the country, kids just haven't showed up for school. They've been lost, and they haven't been tested, so that they're rosy, on the average, for the whole country, but they're particularly rosy on the impacts on disadvantaged kids. And so the future of these kids is really in jeopardy unless we can do something about improving our schools.

ROBIN NEWBERGER: Thank you. And Megan, do you have any comments in terms of kind of incorporating Eric's presentation into the context of what you were showing with the data?

MEGAN KUHFELD: Yeah. I completely agree with Eric in terms of the limitations. I think that's the thing that keeps us up at night about these findings, is it already looks bad for the students we could observe. So what does it look like for the students we didn't observe?

And I think the one other thing I would add-- I am not an economist, so I cannot comment at all on the projections about GDP and anything like that-- but I do just want to point out that we have a choice here. We have two futures. We have the future where we do nothing, as Eric said, and we see these very large projected impacts. Or we have a future where we try really, really hard to catch students up.

So it is not inevitable that we will have these huge consequences. But it takes collective action, and really supporting schools to make sure we don't see these huge impacts in the future.

ERIC HANUSHEK: But could I just add one thing on that? Part of the discussion is kids are really resilient. They're just going to pop back. But the evidence we have from prior closures around the world and in the US suggest they're not going to pop back unless we, in fact, make the schools better.

And to me, the only way we know how to make the schools better is to have a more effective teaching force. All of the evidence about schools suggests that it's not sort of providing extra learning so much as it is making sure that every kid has a highly effective teacher. And so coming out of this learning recession, I think we have to focus much more on that.

ROBIN NEWBERGER: Yeah. I want to also bring in Bethany and Ann for a minute just on Megan's point about there's less information on high school results. And I'm also thinking of enrollment in community colleges, or filling out financial aid or students with disabilities, or even early childhood. And I invite either of you, or both of you, to kind of just give you a sense of what's happening for students that are outside of the range of testing that Megan's described.

BETHANY: So yeah, I can speak to that a little bit. So I think that what we do know is that it hasn't been a great year for the transition from high school to college, especially for students who come from households with lower access to resources and lower income available to them.

We do know from serving throughout the year with high schoolers that they were operating with sort of a cloud of uncertainty about the future. Most students who said that they were planning to go to college said that they were still planning to do so. But what that college would be, where they would go, what college would look like when they got there felt very uncertain.

And we do know from some qualitative work that students whose families have fewer resources might have been aspiring to a more selective college, but then were starting to change their outlook and their expectations on that due to sort of financial crises at home, or just their willingness to go to college when they didn't know if they would be in person anyway, and to pay all of that and do all of that work.

So last year, community colleges, and college enrollment in general, but community colleges especially, have seen leading into the pandemic a fair amount of decline in their enrollments. They took a really stark drop last year going into the 2020 school year. We still don't quite the data on the 2021 enrollments.

But we do know anecdotally from presidents of universities and community college systems they are very worried about their enrollment. They're worried about their sustainability. And given that these are institutions that are serving large percentages of adult learners and a large chunk of students who come from low income households, losing these institutions could be very damaging.

ANN WHALEN: And I think, just to add the Illinois context here, at least National Student Clearinghouse data shows that in Illinois, community college enrollment was down 13% between spring of '21 back to spring '20. [INAUDIBLE] We found that overall, our post-secondary enrollment within Illinois was down 5%. And this was actually the first year in which all high school students were required to participate and fill out the FAFSA. So I think while relatively speaking, Illinois did well in completing the student aid application, I think it wasn't where we hoped it would be given that it was a new graduation requirement for the state.

So I think the Illinois context is also troubling when you think about what that means for our workforce, what we think that means for smooth transition and persistence and completion into the secondary. And I think we're going to talk about this more, but then what that means for interventions and solutions moving forward within that context.

I would also just flag, on the other end of the spectrum, the pre-K, the prekindergarten and the kindergarten enrollment was also very much down. I know there's been a lot of national dialogue on this. But at least in Illinois, it was down about 7.8%. And we don't have a good sense of what's going to happen this fall. We don't know if these kids are redshirted, if they're going to come back to the system, their preparation in coming back to the system.

And I think are the fragmentation and the basic implosion of our early childhood supports is going to have another set of ramifications on this cohort of kids going into K-12. So I wanted to flag that from that early childhood lens as well.

ROBIN NEWBERGER: And just before we transition to Bethany, what's your crystal ball? What's going to be happening this fall? what? Kind of classroom setup do you imagine is going to be happening?

ANN WHALEN: Was that for me? My crystal ball?

ROBIN NEWBERGER: Yeah. I mean, just do you have a crystal ball? There's so much talk now of circumstances changing as we're getting together today. So do you have a sense of any kind of projection for what the learning environment will look like coming the fall?

ANN WHALEN: So I think Eric mentioned this earlier, but I think the Delta variant of the virus is definitely throwing everybody for a loop even as we speak right now. I was talking to a district leader yesterday who said my plan yesterday was this. My plan today is Z. My plan tomorrow is going to be who knows what? So I think everybody's, similar to where we were last summer, on the fly.

But at least as a state, our Illinois State Board of Education did pass a resolution calling for all schools to offer in-person education this year. So I think there's a definite push to offer in-person instruction this year, obviously creating exceptions for those families who don't feel safe or have children with underlying conditions to work remotely. But I think we know from the research, and we're seeing from this early data, that in person did matter for most kids.

On top of that, thought, we know that people are investing in those really important safety precautions. So we're now requiring masking in all our schools. The Governor came out with that recently. I think we're all looking at the CDC guidance of how do you create that safe environment with distancing and that triple layer protection with air ventilation, masking, and distancing for people to provide a safe environment for kids.

And I know, particularly with our federal leadership, there's definitely those resources coming to help make that possible. So again, we're going to talk about this in a little bit, but as a state, we got billions of dollars to help both with the immediate recovery from COVID, so creating a safe back to in-person instruction this school year, as well as some of that build back better environment. But I think my crystal ball would say it's going to vary district by district, school by school, sadly, within the state.

ROBIN NEWBERGER: Thank you for venturing into that. Thank you. All right. So Bethany, let's transition to you. I think it's a perfect kind of segue. So you have been studying programs and strategies that school districts have applied in the course of this past year. So what do we know about what's been helping in terms of learning renewal?

BETHANY: Thanks, Robin. So first of all, I just want to say I actually really like the reference to renewal that you've used in this webinar and in this discussion because I think it really evokes the sentiment that we heard a lot when we were visiting schools and talking with administrators throughout the year, which I was fortunate enough to be able to do throughout the year.

And it evokes this notion that we actually don't want to come out of this and just kind of restore what broke during the pandemic. It's the idea that we want to take this moment and put everybody on a new path, and a path that will kind of both recover what was lost, but also situate the system to be able to respond to the historic gaps that have always existed here, the historic under performance that has been seen throughout the system.

And there are many administrators and leaders and parents and even students that I've talked to who all see little shoots from this year's experience that they hope are going to be able to grow going on.

So I'm going to tackle your question a little bit backwards. I'm going to first sort of talk about the mandate that the administrators and everybody kind of looking forward seems to be holding going into the next year. I'll talk a little bit, then, about the shoots that emerged over the last year, even as everybody kind of struggled through a very difficult year, and then kind of shift a little bit to the policy. And you'll see a lot of echoes of what Eric presented earlier in the policy recommendations and throughout all of this. So I think there's some really useful connections across all of the presenters so far.

So first of all, the mandate. So first and foremost, everybody wants to get students back in the building safely. And this will be no small feat. I know that there's a lot of consternation about how much was spent on logistics and just operational needs last year. But right now, only 30% of 12- to 15-year-olds are vaccinated. Only 41% of 16- to 17-year-olds are vaccinated, and we still don't have a vaccine for the littlest students. So this will be a complicated matter, and a lot of attention is being paid to it.

The second mandate folks have identified is really to get student learning back on pace. The term that's being used quite a lot is this notion of acceleration. It's the idea that what we can't do is just like back pedal and just try to remediate, remediate, remediate, because that actually hasn't been a very effective strategy in the past.

What folks really feel strongly about is that we need to continue students with grade level instruction and flood them with a lot of support and scaffolds and extra assistance to move them forward, move them more quickly through curriculum.

And I will say that everybody knows that they're doing this in a state of massive under information. Superintendents don't fully know where students are, who's coming back, when they'll come back, where they are in their learning, necessarily. Some systems kind of have more information on this. But a lot still have a lot of big open questions about that.

The third mandate is to really restore the trust and morale of staff. Fortunately we didn't see a big exit of teachers in the last year. But there are some worrying signs in some surveys that were conducted by Rand this winter, with one in one in four teachers saying that they didn't think that they would continue teaching after the 2021 school year, and half of African-American teachers saying that they didn't think that they would come back after the 2021 school year. These were all surveys that were completed in the height of our winter recession when we were all feeling very badly. But I think that those are worrying signs.

But exit or not, the fatigue and burnout is massive among teachers, and that will need to be addressed intentionally and with some clear direction.

Fourth is that they really feel like school systems to attend to what felt like a really dramatic expansion of the mental health and well-being challenges of students. Superintendents across the system, they acknowledge that this has hit girls quite a bit more than boys. Trans and non-binary children have seen really dramatic increases in their mental health challenges. Students of color, all seeing a particular spike in challenges. But everybody really is talking about this as a broad and universal need that they'll need to address. And they'll need to do this when they're-- frankly, school systems are not resourced to handle and address mental health and well-being challenges at the scale.

And then lastly, and I think this speaks to what Eric brought up earlier, is that superintendents and principals and teachers alike are all saying, we need to really reimagine learning to be more individualized and personalized. It stands to reason, when you think of the rapid expansion of remote and hybrid learning, the disparate impacts of the pandemic across students, the needs around well-being and mental health-- all of this sort of points to sort of reorienting the system around a more individualized and more personalized system.

And reorienting the system is really what folks need. This isn't just, we're going to do personalized learning in this classroom. This whole system needs to be rebuilt for this.

So that's what they see as the mandate. Now the things that happened over the last year that could be like little springboards for all of this. And I say tentative springboards because we need to take big leaps to get to that sort of fifth mandate.

One is technology expansion. The expansion of technology was really remarkable. I mean, it needed to happen, but it happened at a pace and on a scale that would not have happened without the pandemic. I can assure you I have looked at technology in schools for a long, long time. 30% of school districts adopted a new LMS last year. That's just a huge expansion.

There is now a new focus on curriculum learning, curriculum especially. No teacher was able to just pull the lesson plans off the shelf and deliver them last year. Everybody kind of had to revisit the curriculum and had to refocus on it. And this has created a lot of new conversations and new collaborations around curriculum, what matters, how it should be delivered, and how do we deliver it in ways that can be more flexible and accommodating because they had to be last year.

On the topic of flexibility, last year, everybody got a lot more used to flexibility. And that is really a kind of cornerstone and keystone piece of individualizing. We really needed to open up schedules a bit. We needed to use time differently. We needed to use staff and people and assign and situate students and teachers differently in schools. And people had the experience of doing that and seeing some benefits from it.

The fourth thing is expanded school and community partnerships. This really took hold last spring. We saw this in a massive expansion and distribution of resources out to families during the pandemic. This is something that has been long sought but rarely materialized.

And then finally, funding. And I know Ann's going to talk about this a lot, but there is a lot of money right now to support the individualizing. And that is, I think, going to be of great value.

Prescription-wise and policy-wise, it's tricky. Of course, we need broadband. But also, all of these systems changes really mean changes in how funding is distributed, training and credentialing of teachers, certifying non-teacher educators, accountability. I mean, all of this needs to come to pass to kind of make this a system that's built to do this work.

ROBIN NEWBERGER: Bethany, thank you so much. I think that's a great segue to Ann to jump in on the funding question. And just give us a context, Ann, so the activities that Bethany has just described to us. How does that fit in with the context of what's happening in Illinois right now?

ANN WHALEN: Thanks. Sorry. I apologize. I am trying to share the presentation. Give me one second.

ROBIN NEWBERGER: Yep. We can see it. Great.

ANN WHALEN: OK. So I'm going to try my best to share the Illinois context for this conversation. So first just want to anchor us in what our education system looks like. So in Illinois, we have roughly 1.9 million students. 49% of them come from low income households, and the majority are non-white. We also have over 850 districts. So when you think of a local control state, we have 852 school boards, 852 local superintendents making decisions about how to support schools, how to support students and families. So just wanted to make sure we're anchored in that kind of ecosystem of education.

I'm going to talk to the three big pots of federal stimulus dollars. So those are the CARES dollars, the CRRSA dollars, as well as the American Rescue Plan, or the ARP dollars, as well as flag some of the executive orders that came down from the Biden administration. And these are obviously the national amounts that went out.

I know no one is going to be able to read this chart. But the point of this chart is just to show there was a lot of money and a lot of different buckets of dollars that can be used for education, first through post-secondary, including workforce training. So when we're thinking about resources that are out there, there's a significant amount that is out there for Illinois communities, schools, and programs to take advantage of and access in this moment. And I'm happy to share any of these, the links to this information if people are interested in the future.

I'm going to focus most of my conversation on what's happening with the K-12 education dollars within the state of Illinois. This is roughly $8 billion that has been flowing for the past roughly year and a half, and it's available through September 30 of 2024, depending on which stream of funding you're looking at. But it's available for K-12.

The vast majority of that, 90% of that goes directly to districts. So again, as I mentioned, we have over 852 districts. So the vast majority of these funds are being decided separately by 852 school leaders and leadership teams to meet the local needs of the community. But there's a real opportunity to leverage evidence-based best practices in those conversations.

About 10% is being held at the state level, and those can be used to invest in state initiatives and programs to support learning renewal either in a targeted fashion or in a statewide fashion. In Illinois, we're actually trying to take advantage of both. Within the most recent federal stimulus package, so the ARP funds, there was some targeted use of those funds. So you'll see that some of it had to be used for specifically summer enrichment or after school or learning loss at the state level. 20% had to be used for learning loss at the district level.

But what that means is relatively loose and flexible, and the rest of the dollars are actually extremely flexible when you think about how they can be invested in meeting the best needs of students and families. And again, to put this into context, if you're just thinking about Chicago Public Schools, this is about $2.8 billion from these three pots of funds for Chicago Public Schools. That's about $8,000 on average per pupil.

As part of the work in thinking about how Illinois should respond to this moment, and really think about that equity lens and the evidence-based lens of what kind of interventions should look like, the Governor's P20 Council-- which is a council made up of education and workforce stakeholders ranging from state agencies to advocacy groups to employers to districts to civil rights groups-- came together and said, we're actually going to put a roadmap of what learning renewal should look like in our state. And that varies from beginning with helping enroll and re-engage those students who had not been part of the system for the past 18 months all the way to what is that transition and workforce support that needs to look like within our state.

So we came out with the blueprint last February, which was after a few months of coming together and looking at the evidence base, looking at the resources, and the research behind what worked in the past, knowing that this is really a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. So we can't necessarily think history is our future, but we can use it to inform what it looks like to target some of these supports.

And we came out with a P20 Council Resource Guide. So we can't direct how districts spend their funds, when you think of the 90% of that $8 billion. But we can put some best practices out there and ensure that districts who may not have a network of other districts they're leaning on, or may not have access to the research, or just don't have the time to look through this and wade through everything that we're learning as an ecosystem-- we try to make it into a usable fashion where people can go through and say, if my district really wants to focus on that individualized learning, what are some best practices or evidence base to look at?

So this is intended for district leaders to come in and be able to find some programs and support and initiatives to help target some of their funds both immediately, but also in that recovery and that build back better. And you're going to start hearing that more and more the state. As kind of the panel's already talked about before, we don't want to go back to the status quo because we know that system wasn't serving all students. And in fact, we do have pretty significant inequities across race, across income, across home language. So our focus as a state needs to be to build back better and use this opportunity to do those really vital system changes.

And you'll see that we came up, with as part of that resource guide, about 12 different priority areas that we're really suggesting that districts lean into. And that ranges from that individualized student profile that supports individualized learning to thinking about trauma-informed practices and culturally responsive schools to how do we leverage time better. So again, this is just putting ideas and evidence-based practices in front of districts so they can select what works best for their community in partnership with their community stakeholders.

But as a state with that 10% set aside, we really said, OK, what's the best way, and how do we want to use that funds to help us build back better as a state. So we identified about five different buckets. There are a few more, but these are the big ones about what that learning renewal looks like, and where we were going to invest the most to help our communities.

The first one is high impact tutoring. This actually came out of research that was recently done in Chicago that looked at the value and that impact of that not just passive after school support, but really intensive, high impact tuning throughout the course of the year. So there's a very specific framework about how that will be used. But this is about $37 million that will be invested by the state.

We've talked a lot about not having enough information about where students are right now. So we're investing in interim assessments so that districts have a better sense about where their students are entering this fall or where they are in the winter. The NWEA study talked about the MAP as an example of what one of those are just so we have better information to inform instruction and for interventions and resources and supports.

Next is bridge and transition supports to help, really, students from that Pre-K to K, from eighth grade to high school, or from secondary to post-secondary to ensure that they're making those vital transitions and having that counseling support, that onboarding support to make sure that they show up and are successful and are able to persist.

Next is the social emotional learning-- so that's what SEL stands for, sorry-- around what we know was lost and the mental health impacts of this past 18 months. So really providing universal training for educators within the state, creating hubs, creating a network of mental health experts and practitioners to support our schools, as well as providing additional resources to help more social workers and counselors get into our schools.

And then finally, the digital divide. We have done an amazing job within the state helping close the device gap. We still have a pretty significant connectivity gap as well as professional development gaps, so making sure that we're continuing to resource that adequately as we investigate what it looks like to build back better.

And then finally, just in terms of timeline-- and this is what I do want to flag for this group--is all of this is still plans and will be part of a continuous improvement process. So while the state application is in, they are live documents. They can be changed in amendments. So as we learn what's working, or truthfully, what's not, we as a state have got to be able to pivot and make amendments and figure out how to use these dollars, as well as our state dollars, better.

Districts are in the process right now of putting together their spending plans for the ARP funds. Some districts plan to do that right away. Some are going to take a little longer to figure it out, It's on a case by case basis. But at the same time, as soon as they start receiving these dollars, they need a plan for how they're going to provide a safe return to in-person instruction.

So these are two places in which local stakeholders' voices are really needed to help inform what that looks like and what that means for this community. So that means kind of that internship opportunities, those apprenticeship opportunities to help some of our high school students find relevance in education and going back to school. Or it means that partnership with the after school programs, and making sure they're available and meeting the needs of the community.

So I want to just flag that this is not just a conversation that ends as we start the school year, but how these funds are used what these intervention programs look like is really going to be a multi-year, build back better discussion as a state and as a local community.

ROBIN NEWBERGER: Ann, I think I'm going to jump in just because I think we're at the top of our hour. And clearly, there's much more to be said here than I built in the time for. So I want to just sort of emphasize, I guess go back to what Ann and Bethany were also talking about with community partnerships-- because I think that's a little bit of where I was thinking about the Federal Reserve's sort of angle on this as well-- to understand what is the role of community entities and community institutions in this whole conversation as well.

And I guess, just to sort of recap, I'm hearing there are relationships that you're talking about with community that are on the social emotional learning and reinforcement in health, and that's part of the community partnership. And maybe part of the community that partnership is also around internships and workforce transitions. And that's something that maybe the Federal Reserve is also kind of able to think about our role going forward as well.

So I hope I'm stating that clearly. I guess I would let anybody who knows more about that to jump in for, I guess, 30 seconds if there's anything else that you want to say about these community partnerships. All right?

BETHANY: I would just add that also, in the delivery of learning, I think we saw some experiments with pods and small community-based learning communities. And I think there are districts who are thinking really interesting models of how to engage the community in, actually, the delivery of instruction.

ERIC HANUSHEK: If I could make one final comment, I was struck by Ann's discussion, and also talking about community involvement and so forth. The heart of learning is the teachers and the leadership in the schools. And virtually none of this spending that was talked about was about teaching and learning. It was about providing a bigger shell around the current teachers and leaders without addressing the issues of how to make them more effective, as if we can provide more support services. And I think that that's just a mistake.

ANN WHALEN: Well, maybe I didn't call it out as clearly as I should have. But I do think in those buckets, a significant portion is associated with professional development. In Illinois, we have focused in on those high priority learning standards, set up a system of professional supports and targeted resources to do that. I mean, obviously, there's a lot more to do in that space, and we need to continue to focus our investment in the educator pipeline, both in getting quality talent within the system, but also, then, supporting those who are in the classroom already and helping develop leadership opportunities. But we do have a number of investments going into that space.

ROBIN NEWBERGER: So we've been granted another couple of minutes if anybody else also just has a final piece that they want to comment with.

ANN WHALEN: I would just want to make sure we-- I think it's been an undertone of this conversation, but I just want to call out is that we need to understand what's happening right now in implementation and what's happening in the classroom. So we, as a state, need a learning and research agenda that involves both the school community as well as what's happening with our partners.

So that's just something I'll hold up. And having these forums where we're asking what the impact has been, how can we help, what are we learning, what else do we need to know really helps us get better and is driving some of that continuous improvement cycle.

And I just wanted to thank you for this opportunity, but to encourage you to continue asking these questions as we're moving forward, and next year and two years from now and five years from now, because I don't think this is going to be a one and done. I think it's going to take time to reinvest and have that renewal process really begin to understand what worked and what didn't.

ROBIN NEWBERGER: Yeah. I appreciate that Eric, did you want to say anything? OK.

So I just want to thank everybody so much for taking the time today. And I know that this is a much richer, longer, bigger conversation, Ann, to your point. And to me, my big takeaway is also of really trying to understand and appreciate how inequality and inequity may be being sort of perpetuated and deepened in this learning loss problem.

And again, I think as somebody said, not through any kind of intention, but it's through, potentially, the lack of intention or the lack of driven resources to address it. That's really what I heard a lot of today, and what I really hope that we understand coming out of this conversation.

So I really want to thank all of the presenters today. Thank you for speaking quickly and presenting a lot of information for us. Thank you for taking the time to share your research and your knowledge. I'm sure the virtual audience is applauding your comments. And we will continue to talk and think about these issues. So thank you all very much, and thank you, everybody, for tuning in. Bye bye.

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Last Updated: 08/13/21

Learning Loss and Renewal After the Pandemic

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