Back to School (News and Research 210)

Back to school? | Covid-19 has disrupted the lives of school-age children and students around the world. Whilst children in some countries are going back to school premises, others will continue to be homeschooled. In India alone, several states did not hold online classes for government school students. Children relied solely on other measures, such as educational TV and radio programs and physical workbooks, where available. For a large proportion of the population, though, the lack of access to TV or digital devices only increased the education inequality gap…

Lost Wages: The COVID-19 Cost of School Closures | Updated | Social distancing requirements associated with COVID-19 have led to school closures. In April, 192 countries had closed all schools and universities, affecting more than 90 percent of the world’s learners: over 1.5 billion children and young people. Closures are expected to reduce schooling and lead to future losses in earnings. Starting from the assumption that every additional year of schooling translates to 8 percent in future earnings, this paper estimates and confirms the loss in marginal future earnings on the basis of a four-month shutdown. The authors also estimated the losses by level of education. The findings show that the school closures reduce future earnings. It is also likely that students from low-income countries will be affected most, where the earning losses will be devastating. These estimates are conservative, assuming closures end after four months, with schools re-opening in the new academic year, and that school quality will not suffer.

Wages and GDP lost due to COVID-19 school closures | Even compared to past school closures during global crises, such as the Spanish flu, the level of education disruption and lost learning today due to COVID-19 is unparalleled. Though much about the current global pandemic remains unknown, history and emerging research teach us that the COVID-19 crisis will have deep and lasting repercussions for both education and earnings, at both the individual and aggregate levels: The impact of the Spanish flu lasted into the 1980s, with children in utero during the pandemic later showing reduced educational attainment and lower income—among other losses—as compared with other birth cohorts. In our recently updated paper published by the World Bank, we offer an initial projection of lost earnings that will result from the current school closures, as well as how these losses will lead to reductions in gross domestic product (GDP) across low-, middle-, and high-income countries. This analysis builds on our recent cost of school closures blog but with a broader global outlook rather than focusing on the United States as an illustrative country example. With such startling findings, it is important to look at the data from multiple angles to get a clear picture of the virus’s sobering impacts.

How France created a university to rival MIT | A huge modernist university campus is emerging amid farmland on a plateau south of the French capital. The University of Paris-Saclay, officially launched this year, merges some 20 higher-education and research institutions. It has a teaching and research staff of 9,000, catering to 48,000 students—more than Harvard or Stanford. Specialised in science, it is France’s attempt to create, in President Emmanuel Macron’s words, an “mit à la française”. Such ambition once seemed fanciful. Yet in August Paris-Saclay stormed into the Shanghai world university ranking, grabbing 14th place overall and 3rd in Europe after Cambridge and Oxford. It took the top international spot in maths. France’s two-tier higher-education system baffles outsiders. Three-fifths of its 2.7m students are enrolled in universities. These are public. Until recently they did not select undergraduates at entry; they charge no tuition bar a small enrolment fee, and are often sneered at as second-rate. An elite minority, meanwhile, attend selective grandes écoles, for which entrance exams require at least two years of post-secondary-school cramming. To confuse matters further, research is traditionally carried out not in universities or grandes écoles but in specialised public institutes. Over the years, this unusual structure has led to much French frustration about foreign perceptions. The country has world-class engineering schools, economics departments and mathematicians. After America, France has more Fields medal-winners for maths than any other country. Yet its fragmented system—partly down to the deliberate splitting of big universities after the 1968 student protests—has left it under-performing in world rankings and lacking global star appeal. In 2007 Valérie Pécresse, then the universities minister, began to give them more independence in order to encourage collaboration and scale. An international jury was invited to award big public budgets to promising merger projects. Over a decade later, these new giant rebranded universities, including Paris-Saclay, are the result. Like all mergers, forming Paris-Saclay entailed years of squabbling. Originally, Polytechnique, France’s top engineering grande école, was to join. But it feared losing its reputation for excellence if engulfed by a much bigger university. Researchers from all member institutions had to agree to publish under the new name in order to achieve scale and renown. As bickering continued, a national audit concluded in early 2017 that the entire merger project was “deadlocked”. Later that year the newly elected Mr Macron stepped in, realising that the new university would have to go ahead without Polytechnique. Its ensuing success, says Laurent Bigorgne, director of the Institut Montaigne, a think-tank, “is almost the revenge of the universities over the grandes écoles.” Sylvie Retailleau, president of Paris-Saclay, points out that those grandes écoles and niche scientific-research institutes that did join have in fact retained a separate identity, a bit like faculty departments. “Respect for diversity is our strength,” she says, even if it will take time to get used to a new dual identity and gain recognition from the Parisian elite with its powerful alumni networks. In the meantime, Paris-Saclay is enjoying its moment. A decade ago, French educationalists would lecture outsiders on how meaningless world rankings were for their higher education. Now the French have begun to crack the system, and are praising the result.

Germany could provide a lesson in how to reopen schools in a pandemic | Germany closed its schools nation-wide as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic in mid-March. It then moved to a hybrid model of remote and in-classroom learning. However, since the beginning of August, teachers and students have returned to class, experimenting with a new routine of vigilance, strict hygiene rules, and free tests for teachers…

Identifying Effective Teachers: Lessons from Four Classroom Observation Tools | Four different classroom observation instruments—from the Service Delivery Indicators, the Stallings Observation System, the Classroom Assessment Scoring System, and the Teach classroom observation instrument—were implemented in about 100 schools across four regions of Tanzania. The research design is such that various combinations of tools were administered to various combinations of teachers, so these data can be used to explore the commonalities and differences in the behaviors and practices captured by each tool, the internal properties of the tools (for example, how stable they are across enumerators, or how various indicators relate to one another), and how variables collected by the various tools compare to each other. Analysis shows that inter-rater reliability can be low, especially for some of the subjective ratings; principal components analysis suggests that lower-level constructs do not map neatly to predetermined higher-level ones and suggest that the data have only few dimensions. Measures collected during teacher observations are associated with student test scores, but patterns differ for teachers with lower versus higher subject content knowledge.

Measuring the quality of teaching practices in primary schools: Assessing the validity of the Teach observation tool in Punjab, Pakistan | Monitoring the quality of teaching practices of primary school teachers in low-and-middle-income countries is often hampered by the lack of freely available classroom observation tools that are feasible to administer, validated in their own setting, and can be used as part of national monitoring systems. To address this discrepancy, Teach, an open-access classroom observation tool, was developed to measure the quality of teaching practices of primary school teachers in low-and-middle-income countries. This paper uses data from Punjab, Pakistan to evaluate the validity of Teach. Results show that Teach scores were internally consistent, presented good inter-rater reliability, and provided sufficient information to differentiate low from high-quality teaching practices. Further, higher Teach scores were associated with higher student outcomes.

Myths and Misperceptions: Reframing the narrative around women and girls in STEM | There are many prevailing beliefs about the participation of women and girls in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) studies and careers. The assumptions go something like this: there are no women working in STEM; women and girls are not as good as men and boys at science or math; and only men are interested in these fields. But how much stock should be placed in these stubborn myths and misperceptions? Not so much it turns out, according to a new study released by the World Bank, The Equality Equation: Advancing the Participation of Women and Girls.

Practical lessons for phone-based assessments of learning | Noam Angrist et al. | School closures affecting more than 1.5 billion children are designed to prevent the spread of current public health risks from the COVID-19 pandemic, but they simultaneously introduce new short-term and long-term health risks through lost education. Measuring these effects in real time is critical to inform effective public health responses, and remote phone-based approaches are one of the only viable options with extreme social distancing in place. However, both the health and education literature are sparse on guidance for phone-based assessments. In this article, we draw on our pilot testing of phone-based assessments in Botswana, along with the existing literature on oral testing of reading and mathematics, to propose a series of preliminary practical lessons to guide researchers and service providers as they try phone-based learning assessments. We provide preliminary evidence that phone-based assessments can accurately capture basic numeracy skills. We provide guidance to help teams (1) ensure that children are not put at risk, (2) test the reliability and validity of phone-based measures, (3) use simple instructions and practice items to ensure the assessment is focused on the target skill, not general language and test-taking skills, (4) adapt the items from oral assessments that will be most effective in phone-based assessments, (5) keep assessments brief while still gathering meaningful learning data, (6) use effective strategies to encourage respondents to pick up the phone, (7) build rapport with adult caregivers and youth respondents, (8) choose the most cost-effective medium and (9) account for potential bias in samples.

Stemming Learning Loss During the Pandemic: A Rapid Randomized Trial of a Low-Tech Intervention in Botswana | Noam Angrist et al. | The COVID-19 pandemic has closed schools for over 1.6 billion children, with potentially long-term consequences. This paper provides some of the first experimental evidence on strategies to minimize the fallout of the pandemic on education outcomes. We evaluate two low-technology interventions to substitute schooling during this period: SMS text messages and direct phone calls. We conduct a rapid trial in Botswana to inform real-time policy responses collecting data at four to six-week intervals. We present results from the first wave. We find early evidence that both interventions result in cost-effective learning gains of 0.16 to 0.29 standard deviations. This translates to a reduction in innumeracy of up to 52 percent. We show these results broadly hold with a series of robustness tests that account for differential attrition. We find increased parental engagement in their child’s education and more accurate parent perceptions of their child’s learning. In a second wave of the trial, we provide targeted instruction, customizing text messages to the child’s learning level using data from the first wave. The low-tech interventions tested have immediate policy relevance and could have long-run implications for the role of technology and parents as substitutes or complements to the traditional education system.

Advocating for Children During the COVID-19 School Closures | Nationwide closures of elementary and secondary schools due to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) have severed nearly 60 million students from critical educational and health resources. As the impact of COVID-19 unfolds, pandemic-related trauma and economic instability will disproportionately impact children in poverty, who most heavily rely on school-based services for nutritional, physical, and mental health needs. Yet amid months of public health and political discourse and the passage of 4 federal relief bills, including the historically unmatched $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, measures to mitigate risk for educational and health disparities among children have been woefully lacking. Beyond provision of clinical and infection control guidance, the pediatric community must advocate for stronger action to ensure the educational, nutritional, physical, and mental health needs of children are met during periods of school closures and addressed during plans for reopening. Action is needed to offset the risk for educational losses among all children as well as exacerbated educational disparities among children in poverty. Unforeseen extended school closures can lead to lower test scores, lower educational attainment, and decreased earning potential.

Giga – A journey to break down the digital divide | Last November I wrote about the launch of the Giga initiative by UNICEF and ITU, with Giga being a new partnership for sustainable development with a focus on school connectivity. The ambition of Giga is to connect every school to the internet and every young person to information, opportunity and choice – an ambition with highlighted importance given the current global situation…

COVID-19 Will Force Us to Redesign Our Higher Education System for Lifelong Learning; You Won’t Recognize It When It’s Done | Higher education is in crisis. The proximate cause is COVID-19, which has crippled college and university revenues and greatly increased their costs. Many will face bankruptcy in the coming months if they don’t get help. But these vital institutions were in deep trouble long before COVID-19 arrived on its campuses. The top of our pyramidal hierarchy of higher education institutions has been functioning not as a great leveler, but as a reinforcer of a social order that increasingly favors the sons and daughters of the highly educated, powerful and wealthy. No less problematic, the education that the vast majority of institutions in the lower part of the pyramid provides is more like the education provided by high schools than postsecondary institutions in the countries with high-quality, more efficient education systems. An unacceptable proportion of our college students leave college with crushing debt and either no credential or a credential worth much less in the marketplace than the students deserve or had hoped…

Private School Choice and Character: More Evidence from Milwaukee | We examine the effects of Milwaukee’s school voucher program on adult criminal activity and paternity suits. Using matched student-level data, we find that exposure to the program in eighth or ninth grade predicts lower rates of conviction for criminal activity and lower rates of paternity suits by ages twenty-five to twenty-eight. Specifically, exposure to the MPCP is associated with a reduction of around 53 percent in drug convictions, 86 percent in property damage convictions, and 38 percent in paternity suits. The program effects tend to be largest for males and students with lower levels of academic achievement at baseline.

The COVID Generation social mobility test: how to level up an even more unequal playing field created by the pandemic | Lee Elliot Major and Stephen Machin explain just how badly those aged under 25 appear to be faring in the labour market. They outline five proposals through which the government can help address both the classroom and workplace inequalities facing this generation.

Testing Times: The Exams “Debacle” in the UK and What COVID-19 Has Meant for High-stakes Exams Around the World | These are testing times for the UK government. Thanks to the COVID-19 schools closures, national exams in England this year were replaced with a combination of school-allocated grades and a centralised algorithm, leading to a set of results that were widely perceived as inequitable. The government was forced to backtrack and eventually issued students with their school-allocated grades without central moderation. The exams “fiasco” has been on the frontpage of left- and right-leaning newspapers for more than a week and the national outrage that ensued may yet force ministerial resignations and cause lasting damage to the government.