- Researchers estimate $325 billion to $930 billion is needed to offset the learning loss effects caused by remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study published in the journal Educational Researcher, a publication of the American Educational Research Association. Those estimates, the study said, show the historic near-$190 billion allocated from the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds is “insufficient to mitigate declines in student achievement” due to the pandemic.
- The study’s co-authors, Kenneth Shores at the University of Delaware and Matthew Steinberg at George Mason University, found allocating ESSER dollars through preexisting funding channels, like Title I, provided unequal aid to districts with the same needs. Consequently, the researchers wrote that districts with similar student poverty levels received very different amounts of federal aid.
- The study recommends accountability structures be in place to measure the effective use of federal aid to districts, especially if another educational crisis occurs. Additionally, funding should be allocated in more flexible and dynamic ways, Steinberg told K-12 Dive, like relying on updated data around spending declines or learning losses.
In analyzing federal aid distribution following the Great Recession in 2007 to 2009 and the COVID-19 pandemic, Steinberg said it appears both periods of federal funding were weakly tied to the need and purpose of those dollars. On top of that, it’s still unknown how exactly districts are spending ESSER dollars, he said.
“The COVID aid in principle was designed to be distributed to districts where students suffered the greatest learning loss, and that’s not necessarily where the money is ending up,” Steinberg said.
To calculate the estimated range of federal aid needed to address COVID-19-related academic recovery, the study looked at the average amount of learning loss resulting from districts shifting to remote instruction, the average number of weeks students spent in remote instruction, and the marginal cost of increasing student achievement.
It’s also important that district leaders spend what ESSER dollars they have now on evidence-based approaches that improve student learning, Steinberg said.
With that, policymakers need to be aware of those interventions and consider how to best match resources to successful and existing programs, Steinberg said. At the same time, there are real concerns of staff shortages for those programs and initiatives, he said.
Moving forward, massive amounts of federal aid should not all be distributed initially at the same time, Steinberg said. That funding should be allocated in a more staggered approach, he said.
At the onset of distributing funds, federal leaders should rely on existing funding channels, such as Title I and state formula funds, Steinberg said. After that, he added, officials should update the staggered allocated funds to help identify schools that didn’t receive enough funding.