The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on education is worrying. As we noted in October, “almost 250,000 students, representing four percent or more of all Texas students, are missing from Texas schools.” But even many of those students who are attending school are struggling. ABC 13 in Houston recently submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to several Houston-area school districts to find out how students are faring, and what they found is deeply troubling:
Comparing the first grading period last year to the same time this year, in Alvin ISD there has been a 45% increase in the number of students who got at least one “F.” The district could only give us the percentage of their students rather than the raw numbers. In Fort Bend ISD, there was a 60% increase in the number of students failing, there was a 67% increase in Spring Branch ISD, 71% in Katy ISD, 122% increase in Aldine ISD, and 17% spike in failures in Pearland. These are heartbreaking numbers driven mostly by off-campus learners.
That the pandemic has set some students back is not surprising. Unfortunately, some of the proposed remedies threaten to make things worse. “Lowering academic standards” should never be an option, and other proposals such as refusing to provide online instruction to students risks increasing the number of kids who disappear from the rolls. Instead, Texas needs to consider solutions that address the root causes and ensure every child has an opportunity to succeed:
- Protecting evidence-based school finance reforms from HB 3 last session. These reforms could not be more timely or vital for overcoming COVID-related learning loss. HB 3 allocates billions of new dollars for low-income, high-need districts, gives pay raises to our state’s most effective teachers (especially in high-need campuses), and incentivizes college and career readiness.
- Ensuring that the STAAR test is administered to as many students as possible this spring. We have to care enough to know how our students are doing, which students have lost the most learning, and how to direct resources and remediation most effectively.
- Expanding the Additional Days School Year to ensure that all Texas students (not just students in grades PK-5) have access to summer learning and innovative school calendars. Summer can be a critical time to close learning gaps and make up for losses when historically it has been a time where students lost valuable learning.
Simply put, we cannot give up on our kids. COVID has changed the educational landscape this year, but we cannot afford to lower our expectations or else we’ll never dig ourselves out of this hole. As vaccines become available, we are beginning to see an end to the coronavirus pandemic. But there is no vaccine to provide immunity from learning loss. If our children are going to fully recover from this crisis, we need to invest in long-term, sustainable solutions that reinforce the fact that educated kids are healthy kids.