Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education in the United States

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A elementary school teacher in Iowa delivers a lesson to her students virtually. Virtual Class Room.jpg
A elementary school teacher in Iowa delivers a lesson to her students virtually.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools in the U.S. began closing down in March 2020. This was a historic and unprecedented upheaval of the U.S. schooling system, that forced schools to a near shut-down. At the very peak of school closures, they affected 55.1 million students in 124,000 public and private U.S. schools. [1] The effects of widespread school shut-downs were felt nationwide-- and aggravated several social inequalities in gender, technology, educational achievement, and mental health.

Contents

Initial closure of schools

At the state-wide level, several states either ordered or recommended for schools to be closed. State-wide ordinances for school closures began on March 16, 2020, and by March 24, 2020, all states had closed schools until further notice. [2] In the interest of public health, school closures for the COVID-19 pandemic were used to curb transmission of the disease and encourage social distancing, much like in the past with Swine Flu and MRSA outbreaks.

Disruption of school feeding programs

A major concern regarding the shut down of in-person learning in the U.S. was the disruption of school feeding programs. It is estimated that 29.4 million children daily receive their meals through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). [3] Food insecurity can have very serious effects on children's outcomes: short-term effects may be fatigue and low immune while long-term effects may be emotional, physical, and psychological harms. [4] Given that such a large volume of students depend on subsidized meals provided through the NSLP, several individual school districts and state legislatures initially moved to respond accordingly to distribute meals even after the closing of schools. The Department of Education in South Carolina announced in March 2020 that they would be instituting "Grab-n-Go" meal sites throughout the states that would be open five days a week. [4]

On a nationwide scale, during Summer 2020, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced an extension of meal waivers that would allow students to receive meals throughout the summer. On October 9, 2020, the USDA announced that meal waiver programs would be extended until the end of the 2020–2021 school year [5] and, on March 9, 2021, the USDA announced that they intended to keep the program in effect until September 30, 2021. [6]

An empty classroom at Austin Community College. Austin Community College Highland Mall Campus 4.jpg
An empty classroom at Austin Community College.

However, even amid the widespread implementation of meal waivers, certain school districts have identified problems with getting students and families to access food resources. In Arizona, the Tuscan Independent School District, which would serve 35,000 meals a day in a normal year, has experienced a 90% decrease in meal consumption. [7] The School Nutrition Association also concluded that they were serving about 80% fewer meals than they would normally. [8] Potential reasons for this drop in school meal usage are lack of parental availability (as they cannot visit food sites due to work conflicts) or public health concerns.  

Effects on post-secondary education

A classroom with socially distanced desks. School Classroom seating arrangements during the time of covid 19 UAE.jpg
A classroom with socially distanced desks.

Universities were among the first institutions in the United States to transition to online learning. Enrollment for community colleges in the Fall 2020 semester dropped by 10% from the past year, with the sharpest declines occurring among first-generation students and students of color. [9] Fall 2020 enrollment losses in undergraduate institutions were also more pronounced for men than women, with men experiencing an overall 5.1% decrease in enrollment compared to a 7% decrease for women. [10]

Implementation of hybrid and virtual learning

Two students learn on a digital device. Tabletunterricht 01.jpg
Two students learn on a digital device.

The overwhelming majority of schools shifted to online instruction starting in March 2020, implementing either completely virtual or hybrid learning. This has presented several challenges for both educators, students, and their families due to unequal access to education and inadequate home learning environments. Several online surveys conducted in March during the beginning of the pandemic showed that teachers had several students not logging in to complete assignments. [11] In comparison to in-person learning models, teachers are teaching less new material to students and taking a longer time to cover material, a trend that is especially evident in high poverty schools.

Online teacher instruction

Research regarding online teacher instruction has shown that it is only effective if students have consistent access to the internet, electronic devices, and teachers have received targeted training and support for online instruction. [12] Unfortunately, this has not been the reality during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many teachers were not well-trained or prepared to solely transition to virtual learning. In a study conducted by the Economic Policy Institute, it was found that about 1/3 of teachers reported not receiving any training in the past 12 months on how to use computers for educational instruction. In a follow-up analysis of this finding, of those who did receive technology training, about 1/3 did not find it useful. [13] Another study showed that at the beginning of the pandemic, teachers felt like they had an above-average workload trying to adapt to online instruction. [14]

Student access to technology

Inequities in digital technologies were known and present before the spread of COVID-19, but they have been exacerbated now that remote learning has assumed a more prominent role as parents are facilitating the education of their children. [15] According to the U.S. Census American Community Survey in 2018, one out of every four children do not have full access to digital technology at home. [15]

This lack of technology is not felt equally across all students: certain population are more likely to lack technology access than other. On a regional level there are grand differences in technology access depending on the state. Mississippi and Arkansas have over 40% of students without full technology, compared to Massachusetts and New Hampshire with less than 16%. [16] Numerous sources also found that students, especially those in rural and low-income areas, struggle to maintain consistent access to the technology needed for virtual learning. School-aged children below the federal poverty line at 26% less likely to have access to both internet and a computer than students above the federal poverty threshold. [17] Other populations at risk for having less access to technology are students of colors, and especially Native students, of which only 50% are reported to have full access to technology. [15] This means that a considerable number of students lack access to technology, which presented a problem as education shifted to an overwhelming virtual mode of delivery.

A teacher deliver a lesson over Zoom. Onlineteacher.jpg
A teacher deliver a lesson over Zoom.

Some students also rely on free internet and technology provided in school, which would not be an option for these students under in-person school closures. [18]

Special student populations

There are an estimated 6.7 million students in the United States that receive Special Education Services under the Individuals With Disabilities Act, which requires school districts to provide free and appropriate education to students with special needs. [19] During the COVID-19 pandemic, several school districts struggled to create virtual programming for their special needs students, who were often at an increased risk of learning loss. Even with proper resources, special needs students can often not receive the same level of education at home, due to a lack of career/technical education, physical therapy, and medical care. [20] A shift to virtual learning situates parents as the primary implementer of their child's educations, which can be hard on families who do not have the knowledge or infrastructure to take this on. [19] In several cases, parents cannot replace the skills and expertise of special education teachers, which impacts a student's development (particularly those with Down Syndrome and Specific Learning Disabilities). [21]

The disruption in daily school routines may have severe ramifications on students with conditions like autism, which thrive on routine and regular schedules. Additionally, students with Autism are more likely to have anxiety and are losing key social and learning opportunities that are helpful for their development. [22]

Recommendations for providing adequate care to students with special needs include utilizing Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA) provided by a nonpublic agency (NPA) who will be able to support students both academically and behaviorally. [19] A collaboration between schools and NPAs has been shown to yield outcomes regarding attempts to limit regression in student's skills. [19]

Modified grading scales

Although school districts across the country varied in their implementation of grading scales during the pandemic, nearly every district choose to amend how students were evaluated. Universal pass/fail, optional pass/fail, and no grading systems were all adapted during the Spring 2020 semester.

In California, the California Department of Education (CDE) set out guidelines on how districts should approach grading. These guidelines included letting students keep their pre-pandemic grade, assigning students automatic credit among completion of a course (as opposed to letter or numerical grades), and allowing students to opt-out of a course until they feel adept to complete it. [23] Most school districts in California followed CDE's guidelines, with the LA school district choosing to adopt a no-fail policy. School districts across the country followed in implementing similarly modified grading scales, with DC Public Schools and Chicago Public Schools choosing to give students letter-grades based on their pre-pandemic assessments, although students are allowed to improve their grades.

Overall, school districts are encouraged to approach grading holistically and equitably. However, several people have pointed out that this "do no harm" approach does not address the existing problems with grading systems before COVID-19. [23]

Burden of childcare

Schools provide essential childcare for parents who work at no cost. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to shut down for in-person learning, many families lost free childcare, which many depended on to be able to work. [9] As a result, many parents, primarily mothers, left the workforce, creating a gendered departure from traditional working conditions. During the immediate onset of the pandemic, unemployment rates for women jumped drastically- from 4.4% in March 2020 to 16.5% in April 2020. According to McKinsey and Oxford economics, 29% of women with children under 10 were considering leaving the workforce during 2020 compared to only 13% of men. The same study also predicted that it would take until 2024 for women's employment in the U.S. to return to pre-pandemic levels. Men's level of employment will return to pre-pandemic level one year earlier in 2023. [24]

Parent involvement is an important factor for student achievement in both traditional and online school settings. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic parents have often struggled with increased responsibilities and uncertainties in their student's education. According to a study conducted by the American Journal of Qualitative Research, the biggest concern for parents navigating virtual learning with their children was balancing responsibilities to address the needs of their student learners while also keeping up with their job. [25] Other parent concerns were centered around accessibility (both in regards to technology and students with disabilities), lack of student motivation, and learning outcomes. Specific challenges that affected parent's abilities to be involved in virtual learning are economic resources and lack of proper infrastructures, like technology and internet access, and subsequently the knowledge to use technological resources. The degree that these challenges were felt by parents depended on several factors, such as the age of children, number of children, and family socioeconomic status. [26]

School re-openings

In June 2020, the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommended that schools re-open as soon as possible to preserve education and socialization while limiting the growing presence of educational inequalities. [27]

Teachers on a zoom call. French Hill hosts AR teachers on zoom call.jpg
Teachers on a zoom call.

Teacher concerns

While most children are at low risk for serious and long-term consequences of COVID-19, many teachers and educators are a part of higher-risk health groups that may expose them to severe consequences and side effects of COVID-19. [20] 28% of public school teachers are over fifty, which would designate them as an at-risk group. [20] Educators have also expressed doubts that the proper social distancing techniques will be difficult to execute in a school environment, as many schools can have a high volume of students with not enough classrooms or space to adjust them. Poor-quality school buildings with bad air quality, not enough bathroom facilities, and inadequate cleaning techniques also pose a challenge in the journey to school reopenings. [20]

COVID-19 learning gap

Students using laptops prior to the pandemic. Students-using-laptop.jpg
Students using laptops prior to the pandemic.

The shift to online learning had several effects on how students learned during the Spring 2020 and Fall 2020 semesters. Several studies have shown that online learning is less effective than in-person learning. [28] Because of this, parents, educators, and policymakers have grown increasingly concerned about a potential learning gap that may arise following the year-long period of online instruction. There were also several concerns regarding the interruption of learning when initial shut-downs were occurring and the subsequent transition to online platforms that resulted in days of instruction being lost. According to Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes, averages for days of instruction lost for the Spring 2020 semester ranged from 57 to 183 days in Reading and 136 to 232 days in Math. [29]

Several experts have compared the potential COVID-19 learning gap to the phenomenon dubbed the "Summer Slide" where students lose learning abilities and forget academic content after being out of school for the summer. Studies show that the more students miss school, the worse they perform. [13] In addition, several school districts are having trouble getting students to log in to online school. The Los Angeles school district reported that up to a third of their students were not logging into class in April 2020 and that schools in rural and underserved areas have had trouble gaining access to the internet and technological resources. [30]

Given that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges across society, there are a variety of reasons why students may not be logging in for online instruction. Some students may not have access to the proper technology and internet access. Others may be hindered by home factors like having to take care of other siblings at home, not having a quiet space to focus, or having to work a job during the pandemic. [31] Also, students may not feel motivated to complete school work for other reasons like the widespread implementation of lax grading policies or lack of student-teacher relationships. [31] However, no matter the reason, lack of educational engagement will likely result in decreased learning and educational achievement.

A major concern with the learning gap arising due to COVID-19 is the variability of online instruction across student populations. Students with consistent access to quality online educational instruction will likely experience less of a gap than students who experience barriers to access. The effects of long-term distance learning are likely to vary depending on the age and grade level of the students. Elementary school students may especially struggle with distance learning, especially without adult support, as they are still developing the skills needed to regulate their behaviors/emotions, attention spans, and learning skills. [20]

Socioeconomic implications

While overall virtual learning reports higher rates of absenteeism than traditional methods of schools, absentee rates remain higher in schools that are situated in lower-income communities. [32] Given that the more school days a student misses, the worse they retain information and perform on educational assessments, [12] many are concerned with the effects absenteeism may have on low-income students. According to an April 2020 study conducted by Education Week, 64% of teachers in schools with a large number of low-income students said that their pupils faced technology limitations, as compared to only 21% of teachers in schools with a small number of low-income students. [33]

Many stakeholders worry that the effects of COVID-19 on lower-income students could last well beyond the pandemic. In a study conducted by Yale economist Fabrizio Zilibotti, it was determined that students coming from the bottom 20% of income levels will be the most likely to experience negative and long-term effects of school closings. The study found that students in low-income communities quickly lost several skills and forgot key concepts they had learned before the pandemic, but students in affluent communities did not experience severe learning loss. The assumption here is that wealthy and affluent parents have the time and resources to dedicate to their children's virtual education, while low-income parents do not have the same access to resources.

In addition to economic inequalities among students, there has been evidence of racial inequalities. According to a study conducted by McKinsey, up to 40% of Black students and 30% of Hispanic students received no online instruction during school shutdowns, as opposed to only 10% of white students. [34] Latino and Black students are also more likely to be enrolled in school with large proportions of low-income students, which as stated earlier face a higher rate of technology limitations. [35] Parents of Black and Latino students are more likely to be employed in sectors where they cannot "telecommute," which means that students with these parents will likely not have an adult at home to facilitate their education. [36]

Mental health of students

Statistics from HuffPost showing the broader effects of COVID-19 on mental health. Covid-19 mental health impact in the United States July 2020.jpg
Statistics from HuffPost showing the broader effects of COVID-19 on mental health.

Many mental health professionals are concerned with the impacts of COVID-19 on a younger generation which has already reported staggering levels of depression, anxiety, and suicide even before the pandemic. [37] Students already coping with mental health conditions have been more susceptible to the mental health impacts of COVID-19. In many situations school closures also mean that students lose access to school mental health resources. [38] Several students who experience mental health conditions are often in stressful home situations and may not feel comfortable or have the privacy to talk about their situations virtually. [37] School routines can also function as an anchor or coping mechanism for young people with mental health issues, and the loss of said routines can severely challenge how students cope. The closing of schools also means that students are losing access to many of the social networks and interactions they had with teachers and fellow students. [39] In a Gallup study conducting in May 2020, many parents said that the separation from other students and teachers presented a challenge for their children. [40]

According to a study conducted by Active Minds, a nonprofit group dedicated to improving the mental health of students, in April 2020, 20% of college students said their mental health significantly worsened under COVID-19. Among both high school and college students, 38% said that they had trouble focusing and that doing work was stressful. [41] Specifically for students living under stay-at-home orders, 8 out of 10 students said they were struggling to focus on school and avoid distractions. Several students were struggling to continue performing well at school while maintaining their mental health, but many did not know how to cope or ask for health. The same survey noted that 55% of students did not know where to get help for their mental health.

Studies conducted during the Fall 2020 semester showed similar patterns of mental health challenges among student populations. Many students felt loneliness, isolation, stress, anxiety, depression, and sadness. 89% of college students said that they are experiencing stress and anxiety as a result of COVID-19 and 25% said that their depression significantly worsened. [42] A change from the onset of the pandemic is that more students (71%) reported knowing where to access mental health resources. A majority of students also reported feeling hopeful for their futures.  

See also

Related Research Articles

Distance education Mode of delivering education to students who are not physically present

Distance education, also called distance learning, is the education of students who may not always be physically present at a school. Traditionally, this usually involved correspondence courses wherein the student corresponded with the school via mail. Today, it usually involves online education. A distance learning program can be completely distance learning, or a combination of distance learning and traditional classroom instruction. Massive open online courses (MOOCs), offering large-scale interactive participation and open access through the World Wide Web or other network technologies, are recent educational modes in distance education. A number of other terms are used roughly synonymously with distance education.

Education Learning in which knowledge and skills is transferred through teaching

Education is the process of facilitating learning, or the acquisition of knowledge, skills, values, morals, beliefs, and habits. Educational methods include teaching, training, storytelling, discussion and directed research. Education frequently takes place under the guidance of educators; however, learners can also educate themselves. Education can take place in formal or informal settings, and any experience that has a formative effect on the way one thinks, feels, or acts may be considered educational. The methodology of teaching is called pedagogy.

Homeschooling Education of children outside of school

Homeschooling or home schooling, also known as home education or elective home education (EHE), is the education of school-aged children at home or a variety of places other than school. Usually conducted by a parent, tutor, or an online teacher, many homeschool families use less formal, more personalized and individualized methods of learning that are not always found in schools. The actual practice of homeschooling can look very different. The spectrum ranges from highly structured forms based on traditional school lessons to more open, free forms such as unschooling, which is a lesson- and curriculum-free implementation of homeschooling. Some families who initially attended a school go through a deschool phase to break away from school habits and prepare for homeschooling. While "homeschooling" is the term commonly used in North America, "home education" is primarily used in Europe and many Commonwealth countries. Homeschooling shouldn't be confused with distance education, which generally refers to the arrangement where the student is educated by and conforms to the requirements of an online school, rather than being educated independently and unrestrictedly by their parents or by themselves.

Virtual school School that teaches students entirely or primarily online or through the Internet

An online school teaches students entirely or primarily online or through the Internet. It has been defined as "education that uses one or more technologies to deliver instruction to students who are separated from the instructor and to support regular and substantive interaction between the students. Online education exists all around the world and is used for all levels of education. This type of learning enables the individuals to earn transferable credits, take recognized examinations, or advance to the next level of education over the Internet.

Educational technology is the combined use of computer hardware, software, and educational theory and practice to facilitate learning. When referred to with its abbreviation, EdTech, it is often referring to the industry of companies that create educational technology.

Right to education

The right to education has been recognized as a human right in a number of international conventions, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which recognizes a right to free, compulsory primary education for all, an obligation to develop secondary education accessible to all, in particular by the progressive introduction of free secondary education, as well as an obligation to develop equitable access to higher education, ideally by the progressive introduction of free higher education. In 2021, 171 states were parties to the Covenant.

Live online tutoring is the process of tutoring in an online environment, with teacher and student interacting in real-time without necessarily being in the same place. This real-time element, whilst presenting a significant technical challenge, sets live online tutoring apart from traditional online tutoring as it attempts to mimic in-person interaction as closely as possible rather than simply facilitating knowledge transfer.

Social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic Indirect effects of the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching consequences beyond the spread of the disease itself and efforts to quarantine it, including political, cultural, and social implications.

Education in emergencies and conflict areas is the process of teaching and promoting quality education for children, youth, and adults in crisis-affected areas. Such emergency settings include: conflicts, pandemics and disasters caused by natural hazards. Strengthened education systems protects children and youth from attack, abuse, and exploitation, supports peace-building, and provides physical and psychological safety to children. In times of crisis, education helps build resilience and social cohesion across communities, and is fundamental to sustained recovery.

COVID-19 pandemic in Missouri

The COVID-19 pandemic was confirmed to have reached the U.S. state of Missouri in March 2020. A university student who had recently been to Italy, was the first index case for COVID-19 in Missouri. She was treated at Mercy Hospital St. Louis. As of February 8, 2021, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has confirmed 502,432 cumulative cases and 7,562 deaths.

Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education Impact of COVID-19 on education

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected educational systems worldwide, leading to the near-total closures of schools, early childhood education and care (ECEC) services, universities and colleges.

Mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic Psychological aspect of viral outbreak

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the mental health of people around the world. Similar to the past respiratory viral epidemics, such as the SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, and the influenza epidemics, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms in different population groups, including the healthcare workers, general public, and the patients and quarantined individuals. The Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee of the United Nations recommends that the core principles of mental health support during an emergency are "do no harm, promote human rights and equality, use participatory approaches, build on existing resources and capacities, adopt multi-layered interventions and work with integrated support systems." COVID-19 is affecting people's social connectedness, their trust in people and institutions, their jobs and incomes, as well as imposing a huge toll in terms of anxiety and worry.

In March 2020, schools, nurseries and colleges in the United Kingdom were shut down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. By 20 March, all schools in the UK had closed for all in-person teaching, except for children of key workers and children considered vulnerable. With children at home, teaching took place online. The emergence of a new variant of COVID-19 in December 2020 led to cancellation of face-to-face teaching across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales the following month.

Edgenuity Online learning resource

Edgenuity, formerly Education2020 (E2020), is a standard-based online learning resource for school districts, which teaches kindergarten through 12th-grade in core, elective, credit recovery, technical, and career subjects, through both remedial and accelerated work. As of 2019, Edgenuity serves more than four million students in the United States. The site has been used for virtual learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, and has received criticism from its users.

Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children Overview of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children

A systematic review notes that children with COVID-19 have milder effects and better prognoses than adults. However, children are susceptible to "multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children" (MIS-C), a rare but life-threatening systemic illness involving persistent fever and extreme inflammation following exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Sustainable Development Goal 4 4th of 17 Sustainable Development Goals to achieve qualilty education for all

Sustainable Development Goal 4 is about quality education and is among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals established by the United Nations in September 2015. The full title of SDG 4 is "Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all".

There was a resurgence of homeschooling during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. Variations of homeschooling include micro schools and educational family co-ops. The first usually involves hired professionals to teach a small group of kids. The second is a parent-organized co-operative where families take turns educating and minding their kids during the week. Both are largely available only to the well-off, as costs in time and money are high. 'Pandemic pod' is the fashionable term used to describe one of these arrangements where all group members agree to participate under well-defined and strictly enforced health rules.

Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people with disabilities Overview of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people with disabilities

People with disabilities are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 and have higher rates of mortality than non-disabled populations. This is especially true for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, individuals who reside in care facilities, and women with disabilities. People with disabilities are at greater risk of experiencing mental health issues related to the pandemic, such as feelings of loneliness and isolation. They may be at greater risk of domestic violence and abuse during the pandemic. People with disabilities are more likely to experience unemployment as a result of the pandemic and may require changes to the types of accommodations they require for work. Children with disabilities are experiencing disruptions to their educational programming. Remote learning poses a host of challenges for children with disabilities, including disruptions to physical and occupational therapies and access to assistive technologies.

Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education in Ghana

Most governments decided to temporarily close educational institutions in an attempt to reduce the spread of COVID-19. As of 12 January 2021, approximately 825 million learners are currently affected due to school closures in response to the pandemic. According to UNICEF monitoring, 23 countries are currently implementing nationwide closures and 40 are implementing local closures, impacting about 47 percent of the world's student population. 112 countries' schools are currently open.

In September 1937, amid a polio outbreak in Chicago, Chicago Public Schools undertook a pioneering large-scale program that provided at-home distance education to the city's elementary school students through lessons transmitted by radio broadcasts and materials published in newspapers.

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