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An Analysis of COVID-19 Student Learning Loss  

Harry Patrinos, Emiliana Vegas, and Rohan Carter-Rau

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic led to school closures around the world, affecting almost 1.6 billion students. This caused significant disruption to the global education system. Even short interruptions in a child’s schooling have significant negative effects on their learning and can be long lasting. The capacities of education systems to respond to the crisis by delivering remote learning and support to children and families have been diverse and uneven. In response to this disruption, education researchers are beginning to analyze the impact of these school closures on student learning loss. The term learning loss is commonly used in the literature to describe declines in student knowledge and skills. Early reviews of the first wave of lockdowns and school closures suggested significant learning loss in a few countries. A more recent and thorough analysis of recorded learning loss evidence documented since the beginning of the school closures between March 2020 and March 2022 found even more evidence of learning loss. In 36 identified robust studies, the majority identified learning losses that amount to, on average, 0.17 of a standard deviation (SD), equivalent to roughly a one-half school year’s worth of learning. This confirms that learning loss is real and significant and has continued to grow after the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most studies observed increases in inequality where certain demographics of students experienced more significant learning losses than others. The longer the schools remained closed, the greater were the learning losses. For the 19 countries for which there are robust learning loss data, average school closures were 15 weeks, leading to average learning losses of 0.18 SD. Put another way, for every week that schools were closed, learning declined by an average of 0.01 SD. However, there are also outliers—countries that managed to limit the amount of loss. In Nara City, Japan, for example, the initial closures had brought down test scores, but responsive policies largely overcame this decline. In addition, a decreased summer vacation helped. In Denmark, children received good home support and their reading behavior improved significantly. In Sweden, where primary schools did not close during the pandemic, there were no reported learning losses. Further work is needed to increase the quantity of studies produced, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, and to ascertain the reasons for learning loss. Finally, the few cases where learning loss was mitigated should be further investigated to inform continued and future pandemic responses.


The Effects of Parental Job Loss on Children’s Outcomes  

Jenifer Ruiz-Valenzuela

Severe economic downturns are typically characterized by a high incidence of job losses. The available evidence suggests that job losers suffer short-run earning losses that persist in the long run, are more likely to remain unemployed, suffer negative health impacts, and experience an increased likelihood of divorce. Job losses have therefore the potential to generate spillover effects for other members of the household, including children. This comes about because most of the negative consequences of job loss have a direct effect on variables that enter both the production function of cognitive achievement and the health production function. Workers who lose their jobs are likely different from those who remain employed in ways that are unobserved to the researcher and that might, in turn, affect child outcomes. Omitted variable bias poses a challenge to obtaining causal estimates of parental job loss. The way the literature has tried to approximate the ideal experiment has mainly depended on whether the child outcome under analysis could be observed both before and after the shock (i.e., both before and after parental job loss), normally relying on job losses coming from plant closures or downsizes and/or individual fixed effects. A survey of the literature shows that father’s job losses seem to have a detrimental impact on outcomes measuring children’s health and school performance. The impact of mother’s job losses on these same outcomes is mixed (including negative, null, and positive impacts). The impact on more long-term outcomes is less clear, with very mixed findings when it comes to the effect of parental job loss on college enrollment, and small impacts on earnings. In many studies, though, average effects mask important differences across subgroups: the negative impact of parental job loss seems to be mostly concentrated on disadvantaged households.