by Dr. Robert Luebke
Senior Fellow, Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
One of the biggest casualties of the pandemic has been the opportunity for our children to learn. Closed schools, the difficulty of pivoting to new learning platforms and upended schedules all contributed to a general sense that kids were falling behind academically.
An April White Paper by the Office of Learning Recovery at the Department of Public Instruction confirmed those fears and offered a sobering analysis of the scope of what’s come to be known in North Carolina and elsewhere as learning loss.
Learning loss is as its name implies, an attempt to measure and quantify the learning that didn’t happen. Fortunately, a consensus is emerging around tutoring as the best way to address learning loss.
What would it cost to use tutoring to resolve learning loss in school districts across the country? That’s the question the Learning Loss Calculator (LLC) from Georgetown University’s Edunomics Lab attempts to answer.
The calculator considers such factors as how long a school district operated in person or remotely, the demographic makeup of the district, as well as prior academic performance levels to assess the cost.
The real fun starts when we plug in actual school districts, like Wake County Public Schools.
According to LLC the pandemic cost the average student in Wake County Schools 14 weeks of instruction in math and 8 weeks of instruction in reading. To remedy these losses via tutoring Wake County Schools will need approximately $180 million for math and $69 million for reading, or about $250 million.
As the LLC points out Wake County Schools received about $215 million in ESSER III funds which could be used to cover these expenses.
And what about the other $35 million? According to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, Wake County Public Schools has received approximately $433.5 million in Covid relief funds. This total includes the $215 million in ESSER funds just mentioned. Of the $433.5 million about $233 million has already been spent. So about $200 million or about 45 percent of all Covid funds Wake County Schools has received has not been spent.
Tutoring is the best way to remedy learning loss. Unfortunately, expenditure data reveals school districts are spending Covid relief money on salaries and benefits and lots of other things – not tutoring.
Want an answer to an important question? If you do, parents and policymakers should take a closer look at LLC.