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Absentee rates spike at N.C. schools
How many children are being left behind by remote learning?
The effectiveness of remote learning is still up for debate, but one thing we can all agree on: A student has to actually participate to get any benefit.
For a startlingly large number of North Carolina students, this simply isn’t happening. New data presented by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction shows that thousands of children are falling through the cracks opened wide by mandatory virtual schooling.
Only 81% of North Carolina students are regularly attending virtually learning, DPI reports. That means that one in every five children is getting essentially zero education this year. In normal times, the regularly attending rate would be well above 90%.
While the absentee rate of virtual school looks bad as it is, the reality is even worse. The 81% figure is just the average, and there’s a huge range of attendance figures across the state.
On the low end, as few as 63% of students in certain districts are regularly attending virtual learning.
That’s a staggering average absentee rate of 37% for an entire district. DPI did not say which district it is.
What’s worse: A deeper look into the numbers indicates that low-income and minority students appear to be the most significantly hurt by Gov. Roy Cooper’s remote schooling policy.
It will take years for the impacts of this to be fully felt, but for a state that has spent the last few years discussing equity in education, this is a devastating blow.
A look at Charlotte-Mecklenburg data
Even among schools with relatively low percentages of absenteeism, a deeper look at school-by-school data presents troubling results.
In Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the absentee rate reported in the first month of virtual schooling is only slightly higher than the year before — 5.2%, compared with 4% in 2019. That looks great on paper.
But schools with low-income and minority students have seen huge spikes in absentee rates.
Schools in affluent areas have much lower rates of absenteeism. The reason is simple. Keeping students on track during remote learning means a parent must dedicate themselves to supervising their schooling throughout the day, or pay someone to do it. For working families that can’t afford a tutor, this isn’t possible.
From Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools data:
At Martin Luther King Jr. Middle, the daily absentee rate has spiked from 5% to nearly 18%.
At Druid Hills Academy, absences rose from 6% to 17%.
Ranson Middle’s absentee rate increased from 7.5% to 16%.
Ashley Park PreK-8 absences ballooned from 4.4% to 16%.
All four schools are at least 98% Black and Hispanic, and the vast majority of their students’ families are on the lowest rung of the socio-economic ladder, according to CMS data. All four earned a grade of “D” or “F” on their latest school report card.
But the saddest part is this: These schools are largely meeting or exceeding growth goals for their students.
That means that students who attend these schools are learning, growing and catching up.
Virtual learning means huge percentages of them aren’t getting this benefit.
*A note on the data: An absentee rate of 3% of lower is considered good. When a school has a rate between 3% and 7%, there may be problems, according to EdWeek. At 7% or higher, chronic absences are a major concern.
This is the biggest story in North Carolina, and the most under-covered
This is just one small peek into one school district. Students across the state are still being forced into remote learning by executive order, despite no evidence that schools are helping transmit the COVID virus.
This could be the biggest and most far-reaching story in recent memory — and it's getting precious little attention.
To their credit, both The News & Observer and WRAL covered the hearing where this data was presented and reported these shocking figures. Their stories, however, were surface-level and the media outlets have yet to go deeper.
I urge legislators and the media to demand that DPI and school districts be more transparent.
Charlotte in particular has spent the last half-decade grappling with the implications of a Harvard study showing that our city has the lowest economic mobility in the country, where the fewest children are able to rise above the income levels of their parents.
All-remote schooling has likely wiped out any gains that have been made since then. North Carolina can’t afford to let these children be forgotten.
Mark Walker launches grassroots run for U.S. Senate. In a fast-paced four-minute video released last week, the outgoing Congressman casts himself as a “conservative warrior” and “bridge builder” who has taken on radicals and the establishment. The video also touts two significant endorsements, Greensboro civil-rights hero Clarence Henderson and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
With a large and diverse group of supporters in his introductory video, Walker is clearly signaling that he’s going to run a grassroots-heavy campaign. In a crowded Republican primary, a large field organization would be a significant advantage. Though Walker is not someone who will clear a primary field (nobody would in this election, though), his early announcement is also looking to force other candidates to make their intentions known early. We should have a good idea who will be in this race sooner rather than later.
A thaw in Charlotte-General Assembly relationship? For decades, the General Assembly has viewed the “Great State of Mecklenburg” with something like disdain. This is a problem for Charlotte, because if the city wants to make any progress on their goals — think transit and affordable housing in particular — they’ll need buy-in from the General Assembly.
That’s why it piqued my interest that House Speaker Tim Moore was a guest on the latest edition of R&D in the QC, the podcast hosted by Charlotte city councilmen Tariq Bokhari and Larken Egleston. They discuss the relationship between Charlotte and state government and how to improve it.
I don’t want to read too much into a podcast episode, but it’s a huge deal if this signals a thaw in their icy relationship. Don’t count on it being easy, though.
Charlotte’s latest transit plan presented last week calls for a 1-cent sales tax increase, which would need legislative approval. Rep. Jason Saine is already on record calling the proposal “tone-deaf,” and I tend to agree. Charlotte needs to spend some time building mutual respect, learning what the legislature values and learning how to communicate the city’s value to the state. And perhaps not proposing a multi-billion-dollar tax increase without talking it over with them first.
GOP loses every toss-up race in Wake and Mecklenburg. I wanted to write a piece about how John Bradford and Erin Pare’s victories in their State House races bodes well for the Republican Party. But as I dove deeper into the data, what I saw was a little depressing. Both Pare and Bradford are in Republican-leaning districts with an R+2 or more, according to the Civitas Partisan Index. Not to take anything away from the candidates, but this means the historic turnout tended to help them more. The GOP went 5/12 in toss-up districts, including losing every single one in Wake and Meck.
I don’t see too many broad lessons future candidates can take from these two races. Republicans will need a new (or better defined) message to compete moving forward in inner-ring suburbs.
I’ll really miss N.C. Spin. The weekly uninterrupted debate for the Old North State is coming to an end, again. The show nearly died in 2017 when WRAL dropped it, then got canceled again last year in a decision by the UNC Board of Governors that was later overturned. I enjoyed the rapid-fire discussion of North Carolina politics. If anybody wants to start a new show, hit me up.
Watch out for false media stories on election results. The Charlotte Agenda published a long, hand-wringing piece about the Myers Park neighborhood voting for Donald Trump despite hosting a Black Lives Matter protest a few months before the election. The only problem? The premise is false. Almost certainly, Myers Park went deep blue.
Election results on the State Board of Elections website only break down election day and early votes by precinct. Absentee by mail ballots aren’t available by precinct yet, and won’t be for at least another month. Mail-in ballots, of course, are heavily Democrat this year — and Biden only has to pick up 77 votes to flip the precinct. Be very skeptical of any media stories you see about precinct-level results until the new year.
Sen. Kathy Harrington (R-Gastonia) was elected Senate majority leader, becoming the first woman to hold the position.
Gov. Roy Cooper is headlining a fundraiser for the two Democrats in Georgia’s Senate runoff election to be held Jan. 5.
The ban on local non-discrimination ordinances has now expired.This was part of the HB2 repeal bill. The N&O reports that cities aren’t jumping to pass them this calendar year, but note that LGBT activist groups will be pushing for them.