With everything going on in the world right now, the Missouri House subcommittee on education appropriations is likely to slip under the radar. Especially during October of an election year.
But a local state representative made an illuminating comment this month during one such meeting in Jefferson City. Rep. Brenda Shields, R-St. Joseph, related to the committee that one teacher in her legislative district hasn’t heard a peep from 30% of her students since school started five weeks ago. At the meeting, which was supposed to involve budget requests, educators aired a common frustration of failing to connect with or track down students who are learning remotely.
“I know that there are some districts that have much more engagement than others, but we’re probably at 20% of kids that we’ve lost and we can’t afford to lose these children,” Shields said at the meeting, according to a report from Missourinet. “We’ll be paying for it the rest of our lives.”
Shields’ comments, and those of others at the meeting, were appropriately vague and were not designed to single out any particular school or district. Shields represents an area that extends from the South Side of St. Joseph to northern Platte County, so there are numerous school systems there.
Perhaps St. Joseph is doing better than others with a Virtual Academy that’s supposed to offer a richer experience than what students got in the spring. It’s a good sign that other schools in the area are reaching agreements to utilize the St. Joseph School District’s platform.
Taken globally, though, her anecdote reflects a nagging concern about equity as it relates to online education. That means equity with connectivity and devices, but also with the struggle to make sure that a student who is supposed to be learning is actually in front of the screen at the right time. It means motivation.
One member of the State Board of Education, at a meeting last week, noted that attendance at some Kansas City high schools is hovering at about 50%.
State education officials note that much of the focus, at this point, has been on preparing schools in terms of online instruction and technology. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education also made an important tweak to attendance policies, allowing schools to continue counting remote students for the remainder of the school year. That decision impacts state funding for schools.
For a student who learns completely online, the attendance will be calculated at 94%. A district like St. Joseph could come out slightly ahead at that rate.
But the warning from Shields shouldn’t fall on deaf ears. Statewide, no one comes out ahead unless more is done to get students to engage in online learning.