Why has the Pandemic Resulted in a Permanent Change in Student Education?

April 19, 2024

Covid-19 was not just a public health crisis that plagued the world, it also managed to creep its way into American schools and caused students across the country to fall behind in math and reading skills. With a $122 billion federal aid package approved in 2021, many students and schools have managed to make great comebacks in learning.  But as most education experts concede, there are a significant amount of students who have not shown improvement. This article will address the potential causes as to why some students and schools have been unable to make strides towards minimizing the education gap post-pandemic.

Scarcity of Good Teachers

During the pandemic, 2.6 million teachers left the education field. Teachers were met with new challenges of online school and figuring out how to make a remote learning platform  work for their students. For many, this resulted in burnout. Teachers reported leaving for reasons such as larger class sizes, poor student behavior, inadequate compensation, and feeling overwhelmed due to their change in responsibilities.

Many teachers quit in the middle of the school year, resulting in a student’s daily routine being disrupted. The teacher they saw every day was no longer present, and in some cases, replaced with a stranger. A new teacher mid-year means a student has to get acclimated to a different teaching style, a new grading methodology, and develop trust and confidence in their new instructor. The new teacher also needs to familiarize themself with the different learning styles in their classroom. When this disruption occurs in the middle of the year, there may not be enough time to catch up and create a successful learning environment.

Teacher attendance was another issue schools faced post-pandemic. A report conducted by The Heritage Foundation surveyed schools across the country and found that 72% of those schools reported having higher teacher absenteeism rates than before the pandemic. Sixty-one percent of schools reported they found it more difficult to hire substitute teacher post-pandemic. Schools in Nevada, Ohio, and Virginia were forced to shut down when teacher absenteeism reached unsustainable highs.

Some Substitute Teachers Are Not as Qualified to Teach

There are many talented substitute teachers. However, several substitute teachers who stepped up did not have the certifications necessary to be a teacher. This made classroom management and lesson planning difficult to achieve. Many of the substitutes who took over these empty classrooms did not have a teaching degree, therefore they did not receive the appropriate training necessary to manage student learning that certified teachers received during their college years and through work experience.

Twenty-three states, including New York, Ohio, Arizona, and Pennsylvania, have lowered their substitute teacher requirements. In some states, only a high school diploma is necessary. Lowering the educational requirements also reduces the quality of education a student will receive. Only requiring a bachelor’s degree or high school diploma means substitute teachers do not have to complete exams that determine whether they are qualified to teach in the subjects they are hired for. This means more unqualified teachers are placed in classrooms because schools are desperate to fill up vacant positions.

The Increase in Student Absence

In the 2020-2021 academic year, Johns Hopkins University reported 30% of students missed more than 10% of the school year; nearly 14.7 million students were chronically absent. Chronic absenteeism has improved in students for the 2022-2023 school year, but only slightly. Research conducted at the American Enterprise Institute reported only 26% of students were chronically absent during the 2022-2023 academic year. These numbers are still alarmingly high since the rate of chronic absenteeism in students in 2019 was only 15%. Student absenteeism results in them missing out on vital information in the classroom. This may also cause teachers to fall behind on the curriculum since they are required to reteach material that multiple students have missed.

Students Lost Valuable Socialization Skills and Education During Their Formative Years

The formative years of a child are between the ages of a few months and eight. For students in that age range, remote schooling resulted in them learning and socializing with their peers and teachers through a computer screen. It also meant the necessary therapies they were to receive, such as occupational therapy, speech therapy, and physical therapy, were done through a computer or postponed altogether. A study by Policy Analysis for California Education shows that during the pandemic, students in second and third grade lost out on developing fundamental skills that are required for long term success in learning. If reading skills are not effectively grasped by the third grade, students may fall behind in other subjects that require strong literacy skills.

Children born during the pandemic, termed “pandemic babies,” are reported to have developmental delays that have impacted their fine and gross motor skills, speech and language, and their ability to interact with others. Not only are they accomplishing milestones later in life, but they are also entering pre-k and kindergarten classrooms with behavioral and emotional problems such as separation anxiety, increased aggression and temper tantrums, and negative attention seeking behavior. Many children who spent the first year of their education learning through a computer screen exhibited a difficult time transitioning to in person learning.

Economic Disparities Between Schools

Economic disparities between schools were also exacerbated during the pandemic, and some lower-income schools have yet to catch up. While disparities existed long before the pandemic, they worsened during it.

Students from low-income schools have made similar strides in progress to higher income schools. However, low-income schools were remote for a longer time than high income schools in 2020-2021.  As a result, these students suffered more education loss. Since students from low-income schools lost more reading and math skills, their progress was not enough to catch up to wealthier schools. In 2024, the New York Times reported that poorer school districts are nearly a grade behind, while their wealthier counterparts are only one-fifth a grade behind. The Harvard Graduate School of Education recently reported that in some states, the education gap in less affluent school districts schools has even grown during the 2022-2023 school year.


Various factors have contributed to the problem of many students not being able to recover from the educational losses suffered during remote learning due to the pandemic. While progress has been made, many students lack critical social skills that are important for their maturity and educational development. Numerous students are still lagging to catch up.   Worsening absenteeism, economic disparities, and teacher shortages exist nationwide. While some students found remote learning beneficial and were able to gain back momentum lost during the pandemic, a significant amount of pandemic students lost educational opportunities and are forced to catch up in an educational system that has been permanently altered.



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