Calculating the costs of academic recovery? A brand new tool can help

Districts get a handle on the costs of academic recovery from a learning loss calculator developed by the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University.

“The hurt could last a lifetime,” is one education expert’s warning about the urgency of bringing students back academically from the challenges of remote instruction and other COVID disruptions. To help districts get a handle on the size of the recovery, the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University has developed a calculator that an administrator can use to determine how far behind their students are and the costs of tutoring to catch them up.

“We know students are behind in their learning … we’re now learning more about how much less they learned,” Marguerite Roza, director of the Edunomics Lab, said during a web conference this week. “They will have permanent life outcomes–reduced outcomes–if we can’t get them back on track.”

The Edunomics Lab calculator has data on approximately 8,000 districts, including how long schools were closed for remote learning or operating on a hybrid model. The cost estimates are also based on factors such as a district’s racial demographics, poverty levels and the impact of past major disruptions, such as hurricanes and earthquakes. As most administrators know, low achievers, Black and Hispanic students and low-income students fell the furthest behind during the pandemic, particularly during remote or hybrid learning.

For instance, the think tank estimates that in Los Angeles USD–which was fully remote for most of the 2020-21 school year–students fell behind 22 weeks in math and 18 weeks in reading. Here’s how that compares to how far students fell behind in the three other districts:

  • Falls Church City Public Schools (Va.), low-poverty and mostly remote:
    • 11 weeks in math
    • 5 weeks of reading
  •  Brevard Public Schools (Fla.), mid-poverty and mostly in-person:
    • 6 weeks in math
    • 4 weeks in learning
  • Galena Park ISD (Texas), high-poverty and mostly in-person:
    • 11 weeks in math
    • 10 weeks in reading

The costs of recovery are based on providing high-dosage tutoring to students three times a week for the entirety of an average 36-week school year. The costs could vary based on student-to-tutor ratios and who provides the instruction. The district’s own teachers, while perhaps the most qualified, would, for example, cost more than hiring AmeriCorps volunteers, Roza said.

It will cost LAUSD about $851M to provide the necessary math tutoring and $466M for reading, the Edunomics Lab estimates. The district, the nation’s second-largest, received $2.5 billion in the third round of ESSER funding.

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While districts and states have submitted their plans for spending their relief funds, much of the money has yet to be spent and administrators have time to alter those plans as the scope of learning loss is now becoming clearer, Roza said. She also encouraged administrators to gather more input from their communities when considering changes.

But only 57% of 100 large and urban districts studied by another K-12 think tank, the Center for Reinventing Public Education, have not followed an ESSER requirement to collect community feedback on their initial spending plans. Districts that have reached out to their communities have done so through surveys, town halls and other platforms. Some districts have created new opportunities to include parents in leadership decisions.

Roza, finally, invited leaders whose districts are not included in the Edunomics Lab calculator to share their data to help determine the full costs of academic recovery. 

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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