The report’s conclusions are based on a wealth of literature linking learning—metrics include years of schooling and test scores—to future income opportunities.

To minimize these losses, the authors of the report recommend improving teacher efficacy—”for example, ensuring that the teachers who are best able to use video and internet instruction have more students, while those best at in-person instruction should concentrate on that,” Hanushek says—as well as providing more individualized instruction to help students catch up.

It will take a long time to see the full economic impact of this period, Hanushek says, though we can have a sense of how kids are doing in the meantime via standardized test scores. He’s also concerned that schools will emerge worse, and not better, once the coronavirus crisis is in the past.

“The thing that people seem to underestimate is the importance of learning,” says Hanushek. “They often seem to assume that just getting a certificate of graduation is what counts—not realizing that a high school diploma can signify very different levels of learning.”

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