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Tackling Disparities in Child Education Amidst COVID-19 Recovery: Lessons from Israel

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Yung Chun, Oren Heller, Jason Jabbari,

Yaniv Shlomo, Ayala Hendin, Fanice Thomas

 and Michal Grinstein-Weiss

The COVID-19 pandemic made significant and wide-ranging impacts on child education by disrupting learning process and exacerbating existing inequalities across continents. School closures intended to curb the virus’s spread, resulted in reduced instructional time and limited access to crucial resources like meals, counseling and special education. In the U.S. and Israel learning transitioned to online platforms, which lacked essential face-to-face interactions between teachers and students, as well as among students themselves. Academically, such shifts during the pandemic were accompanied by significant decline in overall student performance. Studies focusing on the U.S. projected substantial learning losses in reading and math, with students returning to school in the fall of 2020 having achieved only around 70% and 50% of the learning gains in reading and math, respectively, compared to the previous year. Another study confirmed lower average math and reading test scores in grades 3-8 in fall 2021, indicating the negative impact of COVID-19 on students’ academic outcomes. Meanwhile, across the globe, reading capabilities of 4th grade Israeli students decreased by 20 points as seen in the 2021 PIRLS research. An educational climate survey run by the Israeli National Authority for Measurement & Evaluation in Education found that 50% of students in grades 7-12 reported that COVID-19 had a negative academic effect on them, and 40% reported a negative social effect.

While the immediate effects are evident, the long-term consequences of the pandemic on child education remain less understood. Questions arise regarding the speed of recovery for students as educational systems in transition back to normalcy. Will the negative impacts persist, particularly among those already suffering from various socioeconomic disadvantages?

To answer this question, we conduct a cross-cultural examination of the results of a recent survey conducted in Israel. Examining the research in Israel provides valuable insights applicable to education systems worldwide, including the U.S. Both countries share similarities in their educational systems and social structures. Like the U.S., Israel closed schools and shifted to remote learning in March 2020 to limit the spread of COVID-19. Also similarly, pre-existing educational, socioeconomic, and ethnonational disparities intensified significantly during the crisis. Consequently, the lessons learned from the Israeli case study hold relevance not only locally but also globally, as education systems worldwide encountered similar challenges during the pandemic, amplifying existing disparities in the process.

Methodology: Socioeconomic Impacts of COVID-19 Survey in Israel

In February 2023, the Social Policy Institute at Washington University in St. Louis administered Socioeconomic Impacts of COVID-19 survey (Wave 6) in Israel. This study of 565 parents with school-aged children and asked them about learning difficulties experienced by one randomly selected child of each interviewee including:

  • [During COVID-19] “Did your child experience academic hardship during COVID-19?” (1=Yes, 0=No)
  • [After COVID-19] “Where do your child’s achievements in Mathematics and English stand relative to the class?” (1=Lower, 0=The same/Higher)

Using logistic regression models, we estimated the probabilities of learning difficulties during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, taking into account the family’s income level and controlling for other socio-demographic factors. The independent variables in our study included monthly household income categorized as low-income (NIS 0-8,000; equivalent to 0 to 2,162 USD), mid-income (NIS 8,001-17,000; equivalent to 2,163 USD to 4,595 USD), and high-income (NIS 17,001 or more; equivalent to 4,596 USD or more). We also controlled for demographic factors such as religion/religiosity, child’s grade, and the number of children in the household. Our empirical models did not account for parent’s age, gender, education level, and child gender, due to their weak associations with learning difficulties. Also, note that we excluded ultra-Orthodox parents from our sample as their children’s schools adhere exclusively to a Torah-oriented curriculum, and thus their children’s achievements cannot be accurately compared to children who use a different curriculum. Additionally, by focusing on learners in a more traditional curriculum, we are able to compare the findings to a larger global demographic.

Main insights and lessons from the Israeli survey

Everybody suffered from learning difficulties during the pandemic. However, wealthier children recovered more quickly from those hardships.

Our examination of learning disparities among different income cohorts revealed that there were no statistically significant differences in learning hardships across income groups during the pandemic. Still, children in the highest income cohort (NIS 17,000+) experienced fewer difficulties in remote learning during the pandemic (36.3 percent reported difficulties) compared to the low-income (42.1 percent) and middle-income groups (42.7 percent) based on parents’ reports (Figure 2, Left).

Post pandemic, we observed a substantial decrease in learning difficulties across all groups. Specifically, 9.1 percent of parents in the high-income group, 16.5 percent of parents in the middle income group, and 19.3 percent in the low income group reported that their children were having learning difficulties. However, significant disparities in learning difficulties across income groups emerged, with learning gains were significantly higher in the higher income group, and learning difficulties significantly more persistent in the middle and low-income groups (P<0.05; see Figure 2, Right).

Figure 2. Learning difficulties during and after the pandemic, by income

Note:   Confidence intervals at a 95% level of significance reported.

            Religion/ethnicity, child’s age, and number of children were controlled.

Income disparity in education recovery is closely linked to parents’ investments in their children’s education.

What factors contributed to the varying levels of resilience in overcoming learning difficulties after the pandemic? To understand this, we expand our logistic regression model examining learning difficulties after the COVID-19 pandemic to include additional factors: parents’ expectations for their children’s higher educational/occupational achievements, emotional supports, educational supports, and perceived school quality. Our regression models revealed that all four factors were significantly associated with decreases in learning difficulties after the pandemic. However, when examining these additional factors, we notice that previously significant relationships between income and learning difficulties no longer remained significant in the presence of parents’ expectations and, separately, educational supports. This suggests that income disparities in learning difficulties experienced after the pandemic primarily stem from parents’ expectations, which may link to investments in their children’s education, as well as the level of educational support provided to children. Conversely, income disparities do not drive factors such as emotional supports and perceived school quality, which play important roles in children’s learning difficulties after the pandemic.


Our findings suggest that income has a significant modifier of educational outcome recovery in Israel. Although similarities between the U.S. and Israel in terms of their systems and approaches to COVID-19 exist, there are still notable differences; the Israeli education system demonstrates greater centralization with reduced local autonomy, and Israel implemented considerably stricter lockdown policies. Nevertheless, our findings still yield several important conclusions for both countries.

First, these findings suggest that although learning difficulties during the pandemic were more universal, learning difficulties after the pandemic were more uneven. Thus, policymakers should prioritize policies that increase funding for schools that serve low-income students. For example, in the U.S. Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds provided schools with support for learning and offset costs associated with providing education during the pandemic. In Israel, in 2020/21 increased government funding was allocated for after-school programs, split classrooms, smart technology classrooms, and building new classrooms, to help overcome the widening disparities. Given our findings, continuing policies such as these that prioritize low-performing schools, may make significant impacts in decreasing these disparities.

Second, as educational expectations and supports appear to explain some of the income disparities, policies that provide additional support to families may also decrease these disparities. In the U.S., the expanded child tax credit (CTC) acted as a temporary mechanism to support families during the pandemic. Recent research on the CTC demonstrates that the benefit increased child investments, like savings and tutoring. Thus, given the findings of this analyses, policies like the CTC act not only as a temporary mechanism to reduce disparate economic impacts during the pandemic, but also as a long-term strategy for reducing educational disparities after the pandemic.


New title – Yung Chun, Associate Director of Data Insight at Social Policy Institute

New title – Oren Heller, Research Director, Social Policy Institute-Israel.

New title – Jason Jabbari, Associate Director of Community Partnerships at Social Policy Institute

Yaniv Shlomo

Ayala Hendin – Research Fellow at Social Policy Institute.

Fanice Thomas – Associate Director of Policy and Strategy at Social Policy Institute.

Michal Grinstein-Weiss – Brookings NRSF