The pandemic has set schools back years

The pandemic has set schools back years

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

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The effects of the 2020-21 school year will be felt throughout the education system long after the pandemic ends.

Big picture: Lower grades, decreasing enrollment and diminished interest in secondary education all show COVID-19’s influence on the education system, and we’re only halfway through the school year.

  • More CMS students are failing their classes, the Charlotte Ledger reports, citing an increase from 7.1% to 14.4% during the first quarter.
  • Fewer seniors are college bound, judging by the 9.2% drop in FASFA completion among high schoolers in N.C.
  • CMS is seeing an exodus of teachers and students.
  • Student athletes may have fewer opportunities to advance with CMS sports programs paused until at least mid-February.
  • Students are growing up “way too fast,” says Kelly Knicely, an English teacher at South Meck. She hopes CMS will provide additional mental health resources for students once they return in person. “(Students will) need help processing for years.”

What’s happening: COVID-19 has worsened inequities in schools and beyond. As a result, students of color and low-income students are most likely to fall behind in school work or drop out, reinforcing Charlotte’s existing mobility issues.

Between the lines: A drop in enrollment — approximately 5,000 students from the start of this school year compared to the start of last school year — could mean a drop in how much money the state allocates to a district.

In the months and years after students can safely return to in-person classes, schools will need more resources, not less, Knicely says. “I just imagine the need for counselors and social workers… in schools will go up drastically.”

    cms protest against remote learning

    CMS students and parents protesting in December for in-person learning.

    For the record: None of the issues we’re seeing now are the result of a lack of effort on teachers’ part. Teachers and school administrators are going above and beyond during this difficult time to do their best by students, and parents agree.

    What to watch: Daily attendance numbers and graduation rates aren’t available mid-year, but teachers tell me they’ve noticed a dip in virtual class attendance.

    Knicely knows of five South Meck students who’ve drop out so far this school year. She says some students dropped out to help support their families, others have always struggled with school and the pandemic served as a final straw.

    Those in favor of returning to in-person classes say students can’t afford to continue virtually. “We are digging such a deep hole for so many of our students,” CMS board member Sean Strain tells me.

    • Some cite data that shows COVID-19 isn’t spreading in schools. Others argue that contact tracing just isn’t strong enough to find linked cases.

    The other side: Some say the risk of returning to in-person learning far outweighs the reward, and the issues the education system faces now are just a continuation of pre-existing problems that went unchecked.

    • “You can decide to save lives, or you can start drafting your press releases for when one of your beloved employees dies,” CMS teacher Meredith Fox said during the board’s January 12 meeting. “Which will it be?”
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