As the fall term of the 2020–21 school year draws to a close, the evidence on students’ academic progress amidst pandemic disruptions and on COVID spread in schools is mounting.
A new report from McKinsey & Company, released this week, measures learning losses and finds effects on students’ learning consistent with other studies. The analysis found that, from fall of 2019 to fall of 2020, students made 67% of the math gains and 87% of the reading gains as compared to a typical year, corresponding to a loss of approximately three months of learning in math and 1.5 months in reading. Learning losses were more pronounced in schools that serve primarily students of color.
COVID-19 Spread in Schools
As previous posts have documented, research on COVID-19 spread in school settings suggests that schools are not sources of significant spread when mitigation strategies are employed. A recent study based on school re-openings after the first lockdown in England reinforces that finding, and offers a nuanced view for strategies to reopen schools safely. Across the early childhood, primary, and secondary schools included in the study, infections and outbreaks were uncommon. Staff cases were more common than student cases, and documented transmission within schools was most often from staff to staff, rather than between staff and children or among children. As community incidence rates increased, so did the likelihood of outbreaks in area schools—the authors find that an increase in five cases per 100,000 increased this likelihood by 72%. Based on these results, the authors recommend school reopening strategies that focus on mitigating transmission and infection among staff members, as well as the control of community rates.
School Case Tracking Dashboard
Relatedly, the COVID-19 School Response Dashboard has documented rising infection rates among school-based staff. As the schools reporting data to the dashboard have changed and grown in number over time, the data should be interpreted with caution, but the recent data show case rates among school-based staff outpacing those of the community around the school. This gap is less pronounced in schools with universal masking policies and those operating at significantly reduced capacity.