Brian Woods has seen a lot in his nearly 30 years as an educator in the Northside Independent School District, in San Antonio. Tornadoes and storms have damaged buildings and left area campuses without power for weeks. Hurricanes have sent an unexpected surge of students into the district. In hindsight, each of those disruptions seems temporary—minor, even—compared with what he’s seen over the past 12 months. Three times as many students as normal are failing courses. “It’s almost impossible to describe how disruptive this year has been,” Woods, the district superintendent, told me.
Across the country, school superintendents are describing a similar situation. In Wilson County, North Carolina, 46 percent of students in third to 12th grade failed at least one class. Nearly 30 percent of students in the Sequoia Union High School District, in Northern California, received at least one failing grade. More than 20,000 students in metro Atlanta are behind in English, and nearly 30,000 fell behind in math after just nine weeks of virtual learning, one study estimated.
By this point, the reasons students have struggled are well known. Many strained to adjust to virtual learning; others never did. Millions were unable to immediately participate, because they lacked Wi-Fi or access to a computer. Even schools that reopened with a mix of online and in-person classes faced significant challenges. In San Antonio’s Northside district, which has been partially open since the fall, absences have risen dramatically. Of those students who attend class, Woods told me, some are showing up for just one or two classes and skipping the rest.“The last time I got a report from my folks, we were averaging about two out of every 10 actually agreeing to return,” he said of students falling behind in online classes.