Chicago Public School leaders on Wednesday said they will use new information on participation in remote learning to improve it for summer school and the fall, should it continue.
But leaders also emphasized how much they want to get students back in buildings in the fall. CEO Janice Jackson has established a reentry task force and will soon release its report, which will include a variety of recommendations, such as having students attend schools on alternating days.
“No one wants to see students back in school more than I do,” Jackson said during a monthly Chicago Board of Education meeting. “I can’t even calculate what the summer slide or the out of school slide will look like for our students here in CPS or students across the country. Please know we are committed to getting students back to school as soon as possible, in as safe a manner as possible, so they can continue their education.”
The need to get students back in school was underscored by data released by the school district Wednesday that shows sizable numbers of students are not engaging regularly with teachers. From May 11 through May 16, the last week of complete data, 23% of students failed to log onto an online classroom platform supported by CPS even once, and 16% did no graded work.
Those percentages get worse when it comes to logging on twice or three times or getting grades for two or more assignments. Some 41% of students did not log on to an online classroom platform three days in a week, including high school students who have several classes a day.
LaTanya McDade, chief education officer for Chicago Public Schools, acknowledged that remote learning is not perfect, but she said lessons are being learned.
“Looking at the curriculum that we are using, looking at the platform that we are using, how assignments are graded and the types of practices that teachers are employing in the virtual classroom — that will tell us a lot about what improvements can be made as we move into the fall,” she said.
CPS said 93% of Chicago Public Schools students have digital access to remote learning. The remaining 7% includes some that CPS hasn’t been able to find and about 5% that do not have digital access. Board president Miguel Del Valle homed in on students in that 5% group, which are not participating in remote learning. This is about 15,000 students. Many will be required to go to summer school.
He asked school district leaders whether they would make sure these students had internet access.
“Otherwise it is going to be a continuation of the same and then summer may be wasted for some of these students,” he said.
Chief information officer Phillip DiBartolo said he and city leaders are working on a plan to close the digital divide. He also said they will try to get the students a way to connect, but noted at the moment parents have to sign up for low-cost service through an internet company. In the last two months, the school district has distributed more than 100,000 computers to students who don’t have them at home. Those computers were either new or came from stock inside the schools.
McDade said the school district worked to provide comprehensive data that could give officials clear direction on areas to work on. In other big cities, like New York and Los Angeles, the school district provided broader information on remote learning and reported that nearly all students have been contacted or logged in once.
CPS broke down the information by grade, demographics and by what they call “priority groups,” which are students who are homeless, in special education or English Language Learners. CPS adjusted the information to exclude preschool or kindergarten students. Charter schools were also excluded.
Black students are participating the least in remote learning, with a third not logging on even once during the week of May 11, and 23% failing to do even one assignment, according to the data. By comparison, almost 90% of white students did some graded work and logged on.
Homeless students and those in special education also seem to be having a difficult time connecting to classes on Google platforms. A third of students in special education failed to log on.
And nearly 40% of homeless students failed to get onto a platform once during the week of May 11. This comes despite the fact that the school district gave them each new laptops and hotspot devices.
Both homeless students and those with disabilities, however, did a better job turning in graded assignments than they did with logging on.
McDade said the data mirrors what she teachers tell her. “I have heard from some that it is going really well and from others that it is a challenge and a struggle,” she said.
The school district sought to incentivize students to participate in remote learning by letting them know if they didn’t, they risked going to summer school.
“For students we may not have captured during this phase of remote learning, we may be able to capture during the summer, as opposed to not doing it at all and not having anything in place,” McDade said.