COVID-19 and Student Learning in the United States: The Hurt Could Last a Lifetime

Research Rundown Issue: August '20
Publisher: McKinsey and Company
Date Published: June '20


McKinsey analyzed the potential long-term damage that COVID-19 related school closures will have on students and the US economy. Using statistical modeling and academic studies, McKinsey looked at three scenarios for a return to in-person learning—fall 2020, January 2021, and fall 2021—amongst three different groups of students. For all three scenarios, their projections found that learning loss will be greatest amongst low-income, Black, and Latino students. In addition to the learning loss, the report found that COVID-19 closures will also likely increase high school dropout rates for those student groups.

The authors also noted that the negative impacts of learning loss may extend beyond the pandemic due to the current and forthcoming economic stressors on state budgets, noting: “Cuts to K–12 education are likely to hit low-income and racial- and ethnic-minority students disproportionately, and that could further widen the achievement gap.”

The report also estimated that the economic impact of learning loss and higher dropout rates translates into an estimated impact of the current K-12 student cohort losing $110 billion in annual earnings, which has significant negative long-term implications. The report ended with a call to action to: 1) provide teachers with the support they need to effectively advance students’ social-emotional needs and 2) ensure that all students have devices and the internet.

Why This Matters in Minnesota

These findings align with other projections, making it clear that we need to take COVID’s academic impact seriously. It’s important that all schools and districts have clear plans for supporting students in the fall and beyond. In the short term, this means districts and charter schools must also ensure comparable rigor across different schooling models, and should strongly consider offering limited, prioritized in-person services to meet the needs of younger learners, students with special needs, English Learners, and those who face barriers to distance learning at home.

Read the full analysis