Great news. A sixth-grader received glowing grades in P.E. and Social Studies from her teachers at a middle school in year three of San Francisco Unified School District’s COVID-19 annus horribilis. School records show that the unidentified girl received two As as a student at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School.
Bad news. She hadn’t gone to the school the entire year.
Worse news. The school district had been counting her as a student, thus getting federal funds for the entire year also.
How many others are out there?
By April of 2021, more than 160,000 students had been yanked out of California public schools, but it’s likely much worse than that. COVID rules, mask mandates, Zoom classes, freaked out teachers, kids bailing to private schools, and disinterest had taken their toll on the school populations. Enrollment in LA Unified School District dropped by more than six percent — nearly 30,000 students — if not more. Huge portions of students never even bothered to boot up their free school computer for Zoom class. It’s been hell for teachers and students.
The biggest barrier to schools reopening, of course, is the teachers’ unions. Even though students must be vaccinated and masked to attend, unlike their mayor and governor, teachers have been loath to go back into the classroom and are even bailing out of the job.
The state has undertaken a teacher recruitment effort to attract more talent.
It’s not as if there’s a shortage of cash to pay teachers, either. California’s governor has fully funded schools as if they had 100% attendance at pre-pandemic levels. Under Gavin Newsom’s formula, schools use a three-year daily attendance rolling average to get funding. Now comes the end of the pandemic and, uh-oh, schools with fewer students don’t want to give up the cash. The teacher’s unions and friendly Democrat lawmakers want future funding based not on attendance, as every school in America does, but on “enrollment.”
This brings us back to the sixth-grade student “enrolled” in San Francisco.
According to Ed Source, our female student with the two As was having trouble in her other sixth grade classes. According to her records, “the rest of her grades were ‘pass’ or F’s,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported. “Her absences varied from 51 to 82, depending on the class,” reported the paper. Some teacher somewhere was writing that down.
Some days the student was “there” and some days she wasn’t, and someone at the school was keeping track and making sure the phantom student was getting counted for funding’s sake.
But she was never there. She’d left after a horrible COVID year in fifth grade, enrolled in a Catholic school where there was in-person learning with friendly teachers, and she never looked back. Her mom even informed the public school, she said. But “the district assigned her to a middle school anyway, and she remained enrolled even after her mother told the district the girl was attending school elsewhere [emphasis added].
When confronted with the story, the principal, Michael Essien, told the Chronicle he was mortified, of course, and that “we’ve never had a situation like this. Never.” He said “just to be clear, it’s still not an excuse,” yet he began making excuses including “teacher shortage, helping students who fell behind during distance learning, low morale and the omicron variant surge.”
We don’t doubt it’s been a horrible year for him and his teachers, but the school has only 453 students, according to pre-pandemic enrollment. Considering the school is given marks of 33 out of 100, one imagines that COVID is the least of his problems. Only 27% have math proficiency. Maybe that spilled over to the office staff too.
MLK Book Club’s 4th Year: Lisa Delpits book “Multiplication is for White People.” Previous books led to exploring our own institutional racism & implicit bias and giving students voice w/ Cogen Groups. Can’t wait to see what comes from this book @SFUnified @pliucb @PartnersSI pic.twitter.com/ATiEf8Dyd2
— MLK Middle (@mlk_ms) October 3, 2018
Indeed, Essien says “at some point in the system, we failed at our jobs at the school site with taking basic steps and doing our due diligence.”
And there’s the rub.
The teachers can’t teach. Students are leaving. The schools can’t count. And the state rewards the failure with somebody else’s money.
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