Nearly twice as many homeless children in Connecticut are not showing up for classes on any given day this school year compared to last year, according to a report released by the State Department of Education Wednesday night.
Last school year, one out of every nine homeless students failed to attend class on any given day; now, one out of every five students isn’t showing up. These 2,247 homeless students are primarily concentrated in the state’s poorest and historically underserved districts, a reality that has led to Connecticut having some of the largest achievement gaps in the country.
In New Haven, where students have remote classes this school year, about 48 out of its 167 homeless students aren’t showing up. In Hartford, which recently switched to a hybrid plan and has the largest number of homeless children reported in the state, about 120 of the city’s 384 homeless students aren’t attending class on any given day.
But these disparities transcend wealth. While the share of Black and Hispanic students not showing up for school each day increased from 6% last year to nearly 11% this year, attendance improved for white students, with nearly 5% not showing up each day last year vs. 4% this year. English learners and students who have a learning or physical disability also saw a drastic uptick in students not reporting for class.
It’s impossible to know how these numbers compare to last March, when schools shut down abruptly without being able to prepare for the shift to remote learning. Districts were surveyed one time during the closure about student attendance but asked only broad questions about how often students are logging on, not average daily attendance rates, which were released Wednesday.
Comparing average daily attendance rates before the pandemic hit last spring shows more students aren’t showing up to school on any given day statewide, with the share of students absent jumping from 5.2% to 6.7% statewide. That’s 31,335 students not showing up each day this year.
The data released are not broken down by learning models, so there is no way of knowing yet what attendance looks like for students who are learning entirely from home compared to those who have the opportunity to attend school in-person.
“Establishing systems within local school districts to collect that differentiated attendance didn’t really happen until later in the month of September,” said Ajit Gopalakrishnan, chief performance officer for the education department. “So the September data don’t lend itself to sort of doing that split. But starting with October, we will be able to look at that split.”
A weekly survey of districts, however, does show that for students who went entirely remote, one out of every 38 children is not signing on at all each week.
This is the first time the state has collected and released month-to-month attendance data. The state has also issued guidance to districts on how to track attendance for remote learning since that model has changed the way attendance is counted in various districts.
“We’re asking districts to do things that they haven’t had to do before, during a pandemic while they’re trying to keep schools open,” said state Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona during Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting. “We’re asking for information on a regular basis so that we can ensure that we’re doing everything we can in our power to keep kids engaged and keep them in school.”
The state department of education also announced Wednesday that there has been a 3% drop in enrollment statewide in K-12 schools this academic year, the largest decline coming from pre-K and kindergarten students, with public pre-K dropping 20% and kindergarten by nearly 12%. There was also a slight decline in grades 1-7.
The department said one of the factors they believe played a role in the pre-K and kindergarten enrollment decline is parents holding off on sending their younger kids to public school this year due to the pandemic. State officials were unable to say whether schools are offering fewer pre-K slots to students, a grade districts are largely not required by state law to offer.
Additional factors the department said are contributing to the overall 3% drop in enrollment are parents deciding to home-school their children. Between June and October last year, the state had 547 students switch to homeschooling, but this year that number increased to 3,571.
These enrollment numbers are based on preliminary data and are subject to change, according to the state. Final enrollment counts for the 2020-21 school year will be published by the end of February 2021.
“We’re doing our best to be as transparent as we possibly can,” Gopalakrishnan said. “But know that … collection is still in process.”
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