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Ask A REL Response

April 2020


What research has been conducted on long-term school closures and the impact on student achievement?


Following an established REL Southeast research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles on long-term school closures and the impact on student achievement. We focused on identifying resources that specifically addressed long-term school closures and the impact on student achievement. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, and general Internet search engines (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. These references are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. Also, we searched the references in the response from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist."

Research References

  1. Gibbs, L., Nursey, J., Cook, J., Ireton, G., Alkemade, N., Roberts, M., Gallagher, H. C., Bryant, R., Block, K., Molyneaux, R., &; Forbes, D. (2019). Delayed disaster impacts on academic performance of primary school children. Child Development, 90(4), 1402-1412.
    From the abstract: "Social disruption caused by natural disasters often interrupts educational opportunities for children. However, little is known about children's learning in the following years. This study examined change in academic scores for children variably exposed to a major bushfire in Australia. Comparisons were made between children attending high, medium, and low disaster-affected primary schools 2-4 years after the disaster (n = 24,642; 9-12 years). The results showed that in reading and numeracy expected gains from Year 3 to Year 5 scores were reduced in schools with higher levels of bushfire impact. The findings highlight the extended period of academic impact and identify important opportunities for intervention in the education system to enable children to achieve their academic potential."
  2. Harris, D. N. (2015). Good news for New Orleans: Early evidence shows reforms lifting student achievement. Education Next, 15(4), 8-15.
    From the abstract: "What happened to the New Orleans public schools following the tragic levee breeches after Hurricane Katrina is truly unprecedented. Within the span of one year, all public-school employees were fired, the teacher contract expired and was not replaced, and most attendance zones were eliminated. The state took control of almost all public schools and began holding them to relatively strict standards of academic achievement. Over time, the state turned all the schools under its authority over to charter management organizations (CMOs) that, in turn, dramatically reshaped the teacher workforce. The author and his colleagues at the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans (ERA-New Orleans) at Tulane University carried out a series of studies to address questions such as: (1) Are the reforms living up to the hype associated with this unprecedented reform?; and (2) How did the reforms affect school practices and student learning? The researchers carried out two difference-in-differences strategies: (1) Returnees only--study only those students who returned to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina; and (2) Different cohorts--consider the achievement growth of different cohorts of students before and after the reforms. The performance of New Orleans students shot upward after the reforms. In contrast, the comparison group largely continued its prior trajectory. Between 2005 and 2012, the performance gap between New Orleans and the comparison group closed and eventually reversed, indicating a positive effect of the reforms of about 0.4 standard deviations, enough to improve a typical student's performance by 15 percentile points. In order to rule out explanations for the changes in outcomes other than the reforms themselves, four specific factors that could bias the estimated effects on achievement were considered: population change; interim school effects; hurricane-related trauma and disruption; and test-based accountability distortions. This report analyzes the findings of the series of studies conducted in terms of what really changed due to the reforms, implications for New Orleans, and implications for the nation."


Keywords and Search Strings
The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Long-term school closures, impact on student achievement
  • Natural disasters, extended school closures, student achievement
  • Public schools, natural disasters, student achievement
  • Pandemic, schools close, academic achievement

Databases and Resources
We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and PsychInfo.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published for last 15 years, from 2003 to present, were include in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, JSTOR database, PsychInfo, PsychArticle, and Google Scholar.
  • Methodology: Following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types - randomized control trials,, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, etc., generally in this order (b) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected, etc.), study duration, etc. (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, etc.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Southeast Region (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast at Florida State University. This memorandum was prepared by REL Southeast under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0011, administered by Florida State University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.