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Report Gives an Insufficient Calculation of the Economic Cost of Pandemic for Education

BOULDER, CO (March 7, 2023)—A recent Hoover Institution report by Eric Hanushek presents a calculation of the future learning-related economic burden resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. It projects a large and persistent economic loss by using a set of assumptions about the link between reduced student achievement levels and earnings, but in doing so fails to consider several factors.

In a review of The Economic Cost of the Pandemic: State by State, Clive Belfield of Queens College, City University of New York describes how the report falls short of a full accounting of the total loss in children’s human capital from the pandemic.

The report focuses only on achievement-test shortfalls (what the report calls, “learning losses”), failing to consider the other dimensions of human—and social—capital. It also neglects the toll on families and, most significantly, it fails to consider how school productivity may have been permanently shocked. Almost certainly, Professor Belfield specifies, the educational consequences of the pandemic are understated.

Belfield also points out that, while the report contends that schools need to be “made better” to offset the student achievement gap, it never says what this would entail. Schools, it seems, simply need to be reformed in some unspecified way to produce more outcomes with the same amount of money after a highly disruptive shock to inputs and technology.

Finally, the report claims that schools “contributed to” the achievement-test shortfalls, but again it offers no evidence or justification for the claim.

Unfortunately, without a full reckoning or understanding of the damage and costs—economic and otherwise—that the pandemic imposed on schoolchildren, it is unlikely that suggested policy responses will be adequate, efficient, or equitable. 

Find the review, by Clive Belfield, at:

Find The Economic Cost of the Pandemic: State by State, written by Eric A. Hanushek and published by the Hoover Institution, at:

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