Christina Weiland and colleagues release new report with recommendations for meeting post-pandemic education needs of preK-2 students 

June 22, 2021

Christina Weiland and a team of researchers released a new policy brief/report on the effects of the academic disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic on the youngest students, those in preschool through second grade. EdWeek and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution quoted Weiland about the report. Weiland, a member of the Educational Studies faculty and a co-director of the Educational Policy Initiative at the Ford School of Public Policy, co-authored the report on behalf of 11 university and independent research groups exploring the pandemic's effects on enrollment, classroom time, and learning in early childhood education.

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In the report, Weiland and team summarize key findings from 76 high-quality studies (16 national studies, 45 studies from 31 states, and 15 local studies) on the effects of the COVID-19 crisis on young children’s educational experiences and learning outcomes. The report includes evidence-backed, equity-centered solutions. 

Main findings include:

  • The public health emergency highlighted pre-existing inequalities across early childhood program types. Child care centers and family child care homes experienced serious financial challenges that made it difficult to operate. In contrast, public schools and Head Start programs experienced more stable funding and were not as affected.
  • Early stabilization efforts left substantial unmet need, particularly in child care centers and in family child care homes. Pandemic recovery continues to be uneven, with tremendous need for new funding and professional supports.
  • The pandemic increased the complexity and stress of early educators’ jobs across all program types, in ways that negatively impacted teachers’ mental health. Teachers reported high levels of stress and depressive symptoms, as well as concerns that these challenges would affect their ability to provide high-quality experiences for young children.
  • More challenging working conditions, financial concerns, and mental health struggles may have contributed to programs’ challenges recruiting and retaining teachers. Data from fall 2020 and spring 2021 suggest that teachers’ commitment to both their jobs and the field of ECE has decreased, and programs are struggling to hire qualified teachers. 

“Some of the necessary changes that had to be done to make in-person learning environments safe for kids were not conducive to learning and social skill development,” Weiland told EdWeek. “And hybrid and remote learning, despite teachers’ many and best efforts, was really challenging for kids, families, and teachers themselves. There’s also then significantly less learning time and lower-quality instruction.”

Weiland also discusses how the already complex field of early childhood education was made significantly moreso by the pandemic. Not only the students but also their teachers felt the effects of this challenging environment, with the stress of conducting virtual, hybrid, and COVID-safe in-person classrooms significantly affecting educators' mental health. 

"All of that is adding up to a current acute crisis," Weiland said, "which is, the programs are really struggling to recruit and retain teachers at the same time that parents are expected more and more to be back in work.”

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Associate Professor, School of Education