What are the effects of school closures during the Covid-19 pandemic on children’s education? Online education is an imperfect substitute for in-person learning, particularly for children from low-income families. Peer effects also change: schools allow children from different socio-economic backgrounds to mix together, and this effect is lost when schools are closed. Another factor is the response of parents, some of whom compensate for the changed environment through their own efforts, while others are unable to do so. We examine the interaction of these factors with the aid of a structural model of skill formation. We find that school closures have a large, persistent, and unequal effect on human capital accumulation. High school students from low-income neighborhoods suffer a learning loss of 0.4 standard deviations after a one-year school closure, whereas children from high-income neighborhoods initially remain unscathed. The channels operating through schools, peers, and parents all contribute to growing educational inequality during the pandemic.
As children reach adolescence, peer interactions become increasingly central to their development, whereas the direct influence of parents wanes. Nevertheless, parents may continue to exert leverage by shaping their children's peer groups. We study interactions of parenting style and peer effects in a model where children's skill accumulation depends on both parental inputs and peers, and where parents can affect the peer group by restricting who their children can interact with. We estimate the model and show that it can capture empirical patterns regarding the interaction of peer characteristics, parental behavior, and skill accumulation among US high school students. We use the estimated model for policy simulations. We find that interventions (e.g., busing) that move children to a more favorable neighborhood have large effects but lose impact when they are scaled up because parents' equilibrium responses push against successful integration with the new peer group.