A stunning Dallas Morning News analysis of state data shows that more than 100,000 students in Texas never engaged in their remote learning assignments last spring, the newspaper reported this week, and about 20,000 of them dropped entirely out of contact.
The analysis puts a spotlight on what many educators have acknowledged remains a significant problem in the age of COVID-19. It’s a harbinger of what is almost certainly a national catastrophe: In April, just a few weeks into the pandemic, Education Week reported that teachers and administrators alike were facing an inability to contact many of their students. Some of them, those teachers and administrators said, literally seemed to drop off the face of the Earth. One major problem was that contact information for students and their parents was often out of date.
At the time, we reported about one study that found that only about half of a sample of high school students had a parent email or mobile phone number that worked. And Education Week survey data also showed that students in districts with more than three-quarters of students living in poverty were the most likely to have disconnected with school.
The causes are probably multifaceted—lack of stable housing, increased mobility due to the economic fallout of the pandemic, disengagement from teachers and peers, illness or trauma at home.
What should we call this phenomenon of widespread numbers of students failing to access school? The Dallas newspaper terms it no less than a potential “lost generation” of students, unless drastic steps are taken to find those students and making up for the learning loss they’ve suffered.
In a clever use of state data, the Dallas newspaper analyzed the labels that the Texas Education Agency assigned each student, based on district reports of how responsive students were to assignments over two distinct time periods. There were nine codes. Students who turned assignments in in a subject were considered “fully engaged.” The analysis included 80 of the largest Dallas/Fort Worth districts and charter schools.
In general, wealthier districts tended to have higher levels of engagement, reflecting the Education Week data from April. Several of these well-resourced districts said almost all their students were fully engaged.
Each of the codes matched how students responded to assignments over two time periods: from the start of the COVID-19 break to April 30, and from May 1 to the end of the school year.
In all, the newspaper found that more than 100,000 children across the 80 districts failed to engage in assignments at all, or stopped doing them by May 1.
Some districts in Texas are responding to the findings. The newspaper reported that the Garland district has built extra weeks of instruction throughout the year with optional days of classes offering intervention, enrichment, and acceleration. (The idea sounds similar to the notion of extended learning time in special academies, a model Education Week profiled in our Learning Loss series of stories.)
But the paper’s overall conclusions are worth repeating. This is really bad news for student learning, and the implications will be felt nationwide unless all of our 14,000 districts design comprehensive plans to ensure student engagement as the pandemic continues.
A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.