Almost two years into the pandemic, Covid-19 is still causing massive disruptions to public education globally. While in-person learning has largely resumed after widespread school closures earlier in the crisis, around the world, the omicron variant is already complicating the resumption of classes in 2022. In the United States, thousands of schools stayed closed immediately after their winter breaks. Some larger U.S. districts are temporarily returning to remote learning. Schools across the country are meanwhile contending with staffing shortages, a lack of coronavirus tests, and anxiety about the safety of in-person instruction. And now, added to all the unusual challenges educators have been facing since 2020, they’re now figuring out how effectively to work with kids who’ve fallen behind academically. Where is this all going?

Morgan Polikoff is an associate professor of education at the University of Southern California and the author of Beyond Standards: The Fragmentation of Education Governance and the Promise of Curriculum Reform, who’s been looking at the impact of Covid-19 on American families. As Polikoff sees things, the pandemic has meant extremely negative educational consequences that will significantly affect certain students and the society around them for decades—especially among young people who already live with disadvantages that impair their education. Some interventions can help, Polikoff says. The U.S. government provided $122 billion last year to help reopen America’s schools, sustain their operations, and “address the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on our nation’s students.” Still, a lot of that impact will be hard to undo—for many reasons, including that students most in need of remedial help often end up being the least likely to get it.

Graham Vyse: What’s Covid meant for student learning in the U.S.?

Morgan Polikoff: We see a few different trends. In general, there have been declines in student achievement across the subjects that have been tested, though the declines are concentrated in different grades, depending on the subject. For instance, there seem to have been big setbacks in reading among students in kindergarten through third grade. And if you’re a kid who isn’t able to read by third grade, and you don’t catch up, it’s very difficult to engage with written content later on in your schooling.

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