In light of school closures caused by COVID-19, millions of students are home for the remainder of the academic year. Philanthropy will play a vital role in the response to this crisis. But how can education funders and donors ensure that they are allocating their resources effectively?

At a time when quick action is necessary, rigorous evidence can cut through the noise and guide effective giving strategies. By making evidence-informed decisions, funders can be confident in the efficacy of the programs they fund. To aid funders in this process, the education team at J-PAL North America compiled a list of rigorous evidence-informed recommendations, based largely on randomized controlled trials, for effectively supporting K-12 education during this crisis.

1. Expand Access to Technology
As students turn to online learning, disparities in access to technology are exacerbating pre-existing achievement gaps and inequities between high- and low-income students. In 2017, approximately 7 million school-age children in the United States lacked internet at home. Students who lack access to essential technologies will be unable to engage in many virtual learning opportunities.

There are several ways funders can take action to combat this risk. For example, funders can provide school districts serving low-income students with laptops and tablets. While evidence suggests that expanding access to technology alone typically does not improve learning outcomes, providing students with these essential tools during the pandemic is critical to enable online learning.

Funders can also work with school districts to expand internet connectivity in their region.

2. Support Evidence-Based Programs that Help Parents and Guardians
Evidence suggests that short, actionable directions for engaging activities can better equip parents to support student learning at home.

3. Expand Effective Programming
While many CAL and tutoring programs are effective, funders can maximize their impact by making an effort to identify and support accessible CAL programs that mimic a tutor. Funders should look to support programs that are self-paced and provide real-time feedback. Programs that are free, phone-compatible, and functional offline will most effectively reach students with limited technology and internet access. Funders should also encourage grantees to develop onboarding resources, as research suggests that CAL is most effective with guidance on proper usage.

Tutoring programs have also consistently generated promising academic gains for students.

4. Understand the Impact of COVID-19
Though postponed state academic testing will delay the ability to discern the impact of school closures on learning, research to understand student progress and engagement during closures can start now. Using data from education technology platforms, researchers and educators can identify students who are not engaging with online learning and reach out with targeted supports. Researchers can use administrative data to support service delivery for students, such as ensuring that students with free or reduced-priced lunch continue to receive meals during school shutdowns.

We recommend that funders provide support for researchers and districts to start data collection and expand learning management systems.

Read the full article about effectively supporting education by Kim Dadisman and Caroline Garau at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.