A Moonshot for Student Learning

The University of Chicago Magazine

Four years ago the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools around the United States, sending students and educators home for an unprecedented, monthslong experiment in remote learning. The disruption had a cost—student test scores in math fell by record levels between 2020 and 2022, and reading scores also declined. Most children lost half a year of learning, and losses were even larger for low-income and minority students and in school districts that stayed remote longer.

“This is the biggest problem facing America that nobody’s talking about,” economist Jens Ludwig, faculty codirector of the University of Chicago Education Lab, told the audience at a Washington, DC, event in December 2023 convened by the Aspen Economic Strategy Group. If learning losses are not reversed, Ludwig said, it could mean an average of 2 to 9 percent less income for the nearly 50 million children enrolled in public K–12 schools—a collective $900 billion loss in future earnings.

Ludwig and Education Lab codirector Jonathan Guryan argued the point further in a paper the Aspen Economic Strategy Group commissioned for a 2023 volume on building a more resilient US economy. “Because education is intrinsically cumulative, there is the real possibility that pandemic-induced school disruptions may set a whole generation of students off track for the rest of their lives,” they warned.

Armed with this model, in 2021 the Education Lab and nonprofit MDRC launched the Personalized Learning Initiative, describing the effort as “a moonshot to overcome pandemic learning loss.” With its partners and supporters, the Personalized Learning Initiative aims to develop and test high-dosage tutoring programs at sites around the country and expand the most effective approaches on a massive scale. The initiative currently involves approximately 18,000 high-need students in school districts in Illinois, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, New Mexico, and California.

Full Article