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Covid-19 Education Research for Recovery

David M. Houston, Matthew P. Steinberg.

In spring 2020, nearly every public school in the U.S. closed at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Existing evidence suggests that initial decisions to re-open schools for in-person instruction were generally unrelated to Covid case and death rates. Instead, local political partisanship and teachers union strength were better predictors of school re-opening status in fall 2020. We replicate and extend these analyses using data collected over the entire 2020-21 academic year. We demonstrate that Covid case and death rates were, in fact, meaningfully related to initial rates of in-person instruction. We also show that all three of these factors—Covid, partisanship, and teachers unions—became less predictive of in-person instruction as the school year continued. Conversely, the relationship between prior student achievement and the rate of in-person instruction increased in salience. We then leverage data from two nationally representative surveys of Americans’ attitudes toward education and identify an as-yet-undiscussed factor that predicts in-person instruction: pre-pandemic public support for increasing teacher salaries. We speculate that education leaders were better able to manage the logistical and political complexities of school reopenings in communities with greater support for educators.

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Matthew A. Kraft, John A. List, Jeffrey A. Livingston, Sally Sadoff.

A substantial body of experimental evidence demonstrates that in-person tutoring programs can have large impacts on K-12 student achievement. However, such programs typically are costly and constrained by a limited local supply of tutors. In partnership with CovEducation (CovEd), we conduct a pilot program that has potential to ease both of these concerns. We conduct an experiment where volunteer tutors from all over the country meet 1-on-1 with middle school students online during the school day. We find that the program produces consistently positive (0.07σ for math and 0.04σ for reading) but statistically insignificant effects on student achievement. While these estimates are notably smaller than those found in many higher-dosage in-person tutoring programs, they are from a significantly lower-cost program that was delivered within the challenging context of the COVID-19 pandemic. We provide evidence that is consistent with a dosage model of tutoring where additional hours result in larger effects.

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Leiah Groom-Thomas, Monica Lee, Cate Smith Todd, Kathleen Lynch, Susanna Loeb, Scott McConnell, Lydia Carlis.

Many preschool agencies nationwide continue to experience closures and/or conversions to virtual or hybrid instruction due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the importance of understanding young children’s learning and development during the COVID emergency, limited knowledge exists on adaptable practices of assessing young children during the pandemic. We detail practices used to assess learning in 336 Head Start children across four states during three different time periods in the 2020-21 school year, using adaptation of traditionally in-person assessments of early numeracy, early literacy, and executive functioning. In doing so, we distill early lessons for the field from the application of a novel, virtual assessment method with the early childhood population. The paper describes adaptations of assessment administration for virtual implementation and incorporation of feedback into continued virtual delivery of assessments. Applications and limitations in broader contexts are discussed.

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Kathleen Lynch, Monica Lee, Susanna Loeb.

The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on preschool children’s school readiness skills remains understudied. This research investigates whether exposure to in-person (versus virtual) Head Start preschool predicted children’s early numeracy, literacy, and executive function outcomes during a pandemic-affected school year, using a novel virtual assessment methodology. Study children (N = 336; mean age = 51 months; 46% Hispanic; 36% Black Non-Hispanic; 52% female) experienced low in-person preschool exposure compared to national pre-pandemic norms. However, study children experienced gains during the pandemic-affected year of 0.08 SD in executive function, 0.34 SD in print knowledge, and 0.49-0.75 in early numeracy skills. For two of the three early numeracy domains measured, spring test score outcomes were stronger among children who attended more in-person preschool.

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George Bulman, Robert Fairlie.

Although enrollment at California’s four-year public universities mostly remained unchanged by the pandemic, the effects were substantial for students at California Community Colleges, the largest higher education system in the country. This paper provides a detailed analysis of how the pandemic impacted the enrollment patterns, fields of study, and academic outcomes of these students through the first four semesters after it started. Consistent with national trends, enrollment dropped precipitously during the pandemic – the total number of enrolled students fell by 11 percent from fall 2019 to fall 2020 and by another 7 percent from fall 2020 to fall 2021. The California Community College system lost nearly 300,000 students over this period. Our analysis reveals that enrollment reductions were largest among African-American and Latinx students, and were larger among continuing students than first-time students. We find no evidence that having a large online presence prior to the pandemic protected colleges from these negative effects. Enrollment changes were substantial across a wide range of fields and were large for both vocational courses and academic courses that can be transferred to four-year institutions. In terms of course performance, changes in completion rates, withdrawal rates, and grades primarily occurred in the spring of 2020. These findings of the effects of the pandemic at community colleges have implications for policy, impending budgetary pressures, and future research.

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Kenneth A. Shores, Matthew P. Steinberg.

We synthesize and critique federal fiscal policy during the Great Recession and Covid-19 pandemic. First, the amount of aid during both crises was inadequate to meet policy goals. Second, the mechanisms used to distribute funds was disconnected from policy goals and provided different levels of aid to districts with equivalent levels of economic disadvantage. Third, data tools are missing making it difficult to understand whether funds were used to meet policy goals. Details for these results are provided along with policy recommendations.

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Joshua Bleiberg, Matthew A. Kraft.

The COVID-19 pandemic upended the U.S. education system and the economy in ways that dramatically affected the jobs of K-12 educators. However, data limitations have led to considerable uncertainty and conflicting reports about the nature of staffing challenges in schools. We draw on education employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and State Education Agencies (SEA) to describe patterns in K-12 education employment and to highlight the limitations of available data. Data from the BLS suggest overall employment in the K-12 labor market declined by 9.3 percent at the onset of the pandemic and remains well below pre-pandemic levels. SEA data suggest that teachers have not (yet) left the profession in mass as many predicted, but that turnover decreased in the summer of 2020. We explore possible explanations for these patterns including (1) weak hiring through the summer of 2020 and (2) high attrition among K-12 instructional support staff. State vacancy data also suggest that schools are facing substantial challenges filling open positions during the 2021-22 academic year. Our analyses illustrate the imperative to build more timely, detailed, and nationally representative data systems on the K-12 education labor market to better inform policy.  

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Gema Zamarro, Andrew Camp, Dillon Fuchsman, Josh B. McGee.

The 2020-2021 academic year was a trying year for teachers. We use a nationally representative sample of teachers from the RAND American Teacher Panel to document that teachers’ stated consideration of leaving the profession increased during the pandemic. We also study factors associated with teachers’ consideration of leaving the profession and high levels of job burnout during the pandemic. Approaching retirement age (being 55 or older), having to change instruction modes, health concerns, and high levels of job burnout all appear to be important predictors of the probability of considering leaving or retiring from teaching. Hybrid teaching increased consideration of leaving the profession because of COVID. Health concerns and switching instruction modes are all associated with higher levels of concern about job burnout. Interestingly, those approaching retirement ages do not present higher levels of concern about job burnout than younger teachers. Although increased consideration of leaving and concern about burnout do not yet appear to have materialized into higher attrition rates so far, higher levels of job dissatisfaction could affect teacher effectiveness and could harm student academic progress.

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Jennifer Darling-Aduana, Henry T. Woodyard, Tim R. Sass, Sarah S. Barry.

The COVID-19 pandemic initially resulted in an unanticipated and near-universal shift from in-person to virtual instruction in spring 2020. During the 2020-21 school year, schools began to re-open and families were faced with decisions regarding the instructional mode for their children. We leverage administrative, survey, and virtual-learning data to examine the determinants of family learning-mode choice and the effects of virtual education on student engagement and academic achievement. Family preference for virtual (versus face-to-face) instruction was most highly associated with school-level infection rates and appeared relatively uniform within schools. We find that students who were assigned a higher proportion of instructional days in virtual mode experienced higher rates of attendance, but also negative student achievement growth compared to students who were assigned a higher proportion of instructional days in face-to-face mode. Students belonging to marginalized groups experienced more positive associations with attendance but were also more likely to experience lower student achievement growth when assigned a greater proportion of instructional days in virtual mode. Insights from this study can be used to better understand family preference as well as to target and refine virtual learning in a post-COVID-19 society.

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Jeanne Lafortune, Todd Pugatch, José Tessada, Diego Ubfal.

We study the short-run effects of a gamified online entrepreneurship training offered to high school students in Rwanda during the COVID-19 pandemic. Using a randomized controlled trial, we estimate sizeable effects of the 6-week training on entrepreneurial activity. One month after the training, participants in schools offered the training were much more likely to own a business than participants in control schools. The training induced students to participate more actively in their school's business club, to undertake more business-oriented actions, to improve their business practices, and to interact more with other youth and family members about their business ideas. We hypothesize that the training might have motivated treated students to sustain their business activities during the COVID-19 crisis.

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