We Have a Solution For Learning Loss. Why Aren't We Using It?

We Have a Solution For Learning Loss. Why Aren't We Using It?

guryan_jon.jpgResearch coauthored by Jon Guryan suggests there's a way to reverse pandemic-related learning loss. Researchers are calling on lawmakers to give schools more time and money to implement and expand intensive tutoring, a strategy that could address the massive learning loss created by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

In a new paper, Overcoming Pandemic-Induced Learning Loss, Northwestern University’s Jonathan Guryan and the University of Chicago’s Jens Ludwig, co-directors of the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Lab, highlight the tremendous success of “high dosage” tutoring, which generally involves having a student work with a tutor either one-on-one or in a small group at least three times a week.

But schools’ federal COVID-19 relief funding expires in September 2024. To pull this support at the end of the 2023-24 academic year “would be like calling it quits before the real work even begins,” said Guryan, an economist and the Lawyer Taylor Professor of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy.

“School districts need more time to spend the federal funds, more resources, and more accountability to address learning loss,” he said.

The paper, which is featured in the Aspen Economic Strategy Group’s forthcoming annual policy volume, argues that high-dosage tutoring or personalized learning is one of the most effective learning technologies ever studied and can be delivered effectively at scale.

Between 2019 and 2022, American schoolchildren lost an average of three quarters of a year of schooling, the researchers said. The most disadvantaged kids fell even further behind.

Studies led by Guryan and Ludwig’s team, in partnership with Chicago Public Schools and the non-profit Saga Education, suggest that for a few thousand dollars per student, it’s possible to double or even triple the amount they learn per year in a given subject.

But for tutoring to be effective, it should be done during the school day, not after school or virtually, they wrote in an opinion piece in The Hill.  “Tutoring works best with a structured curriculum, partly to help students learn content they don’t know that’s below their current grade level,” they wrote. “Yet schools are used to the idea of tutoring as homework help.”

A generation of 50 million school-age children are at risk of experiencing negative lifelong consequences, the researchers wrote. "Districts may need a nudge – or even a push­­––to ensure they follow through on implementing one of the closest things we have (for better or worse) to a 'COVID learning loss' vaccine," they added.

Ludwig is the Edwin A. and Betty L. Bergman Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago. He and Guryan are both research associates at the National Bureau of Economic Research. 

By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 11/7/23