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The Impacts of COVID on Education: What Does the Research Say?

Since the pandemic began in March 2020, students, educators, parents and community leaders have dealt with tremendous upheaval in their daily lives, both in and out of the classroom. And while we all still hope for a more “normal” school year, we’re already seeing schools and districts experiencing spikes in the number of COVID-related infections and pivoting to online learning.

Whether learning happens in person, online or in a hybrid environment, COVID is leaving a lasting impact in four key areas:

  1. mental health/social emotional issues for students.
  2. educator stress levels and burnout.
  3. the exacerbation of educational inequities that already existed for lower income families and students of color.
  4. academic learning loss.

Mental Health/Social Emotional Issues

Even before the pandemic, educators were increasingly focused on the social-emotional well-being of students. Today, it’s a top concern, even among students who are talking openly about how they feel.

  • According to research MMS conducted for GENYOUth Insights issued in Spring 2021, “Impact of COVID-19 on Teens, One Year Later”:
    • 47% of students reported their emotional well-being is less than good.
    • 50% of students reported their social well-being is less than good.
    • Youth say they are struggling the most in being isolated from other people (41%), having trouble concentrating (31%), feeling moody and emotional (29%) and having trouble sleeping (21%).
  • A February/March 2021 Voice of the Educator survey conducted by the Horace Mann Educators Corporation showed that 57% of educators believe their students to be at least 3 months behind in their social-emotional learning (SEL).

Leaders at all levels are recognizing the importance of providing emotional wellness support. And the American Rescue Plan requires districts to show how they are addressing SEL needs in addition to academic learning loss during the upcoming school year.

Educator Stress Levels and Burnout

The pandemic has not just impacted students; it has also taken a toll on educators.

  • In an April 2021 survey by the EdWeek Research Center, 59% of teachers say that teaching is a lot more stressful than it was pre-pandemic, with 33% saying it is somewhat more stressful.
  • In a teacher survey by the RAND Corporation, 47% of teachers ranked teaching in-person and remote students at the same time as their number one source of stress. The survey further indicated:
    • 27% of teachers reported symptoms of depression, compared to only 10% of other adults.
    • 1 in 4 teachers was considering leaving the profession, compared to 1 in 6 teachers pre-pandemic.

While these numbers are disquieting, they are not surprising given what teachers have been managing since the pandemic began. Many have experienced shifting teaching modalities — from remote to in-person and back again — and many in a hybrid model have had to teach in-person and remote students simultaneously.

These issues could persist as major stressors and sources of burnout for educators as many districts may continue to offer a remote option to families even as they plan to be fully in person in the 2021–2022 school year.

Exacerbation of Educational Inequities

Many schools that were fully remote in 2020—2021 the year tended to be in urban areas, serving more lower-income families and students of color. Remote, at-home learning impacted these students more significantly than their White peers.

  • According to federal data, as of January 2021, the majority of Black, Hispanic and Asian-American students in fourth grade were learning remotely while only a quarter of White fourth graders were fully remote. As a result, these student populations experienced learning loss due to remote instruction at significantly higher rates.
  • A recent article in The New York Times highlighted findings from two different studies, including a report by McKinsey & Company. The McKinsey report indicated that students in schools with a majority population that is Black and Hispanic were six months behind in math, while students in majority White schools were four months behind. Students in lower-income schools were seven months behind where they typically would be in math performance.
  • Emotionally, students of color reported more worry about their family’s finances than their White peers, putting additional strain on their mental health. (See chart below from GENYOUth Insights, Spring 2021.)

With both educators and students — especially those of color — facing significant challenges, it will be more important than ever for education companies to offer support and resources.

Academic Learning Loss

Data indicate that students who learned mostly via remote instruction experienced significant learning loss.

  • A March survey by the RAND corporation found that 90% of fully remote students received less instructional time than their in-person or hybrid counterparts (those with a combination of in-person and remote instruction).
    • Compared to those in full in-person settings, students in fully remote elementary schools had 110 fewer minutes of ELA instruction and, in mathematics, 80 fewer minutes in a typical week.
    • 35% of teachers in full in-person settings said they had covered all or nearly all of the material they would normally cover in a year, while only 19% in hybrid settings and 15% in fully remote schools were able to do so.
  • According to research MMS completed for GENYOUth Insights, Spring 2021, students are feeling the effects of a lessened learning experience in a remote environment.
    • 68% of teens said that it was harder to focus and absorb information during remote learning.
    • 30% of students say the pandemic has had a “huge” impact on their academic readiness; that number shoots up to 73% when it includes students who said it has had “some” impact (see graphic below).

Bridging these learning gaps due to remote learning in the past school year will be a major challenge in the 2021—2022 year.

To learn how MMS has been helping our clients address these challenges or to explore how we might assist your organization, please set up a meeting with our team by booking a meeting here.



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