In 1962 President John F. Kennedy famously declared that the United States would put a man on the moon before the end of the decade. At the time, there was not a rocket that was powerful enough to send astronauts and their supplies to the moon and back. The first step, before the much-anticipated giant leap for mankind, was for NASA engineers to calculate the magnitude of thrust needed to propel a lunar spacecraft and its crew.
Economist Thomas Kane likes to recall the space race when he considers the enormity of the task that public schools currently face, making up for all the learning that children missed during the pandemic. Kane, the faculty director of the Center for Education Policy Research and professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, paints a striking picture of the problem in the recently released Education Recovery Scorecard, produced in collaboration with researchers at Stanford.
The district-level analysis, which compares math and reading test scores across the country between 2019 and 2022, where data is available, has some sobering findings:
- On average, students in grades 3–8 lost half a school year of math learning and a quarter of a year of reading. Six percent of students lost more than a year of math.
- The pandemic exacerbated achievement gaps that had long existed between low and high-poverty schools. Schools with the greatest poverty saw the biggest achievement losses.
- Without sufficient efforts to help students catch up, particularly in poorer districts, the pandemic could create the largest increase in educational inequity ever seen.