Mar 15, 2023 - News

Report: D.C. schools still coping with pandemic impact

Illustration of school desks, some of them cut out with nothing behind them.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

D.C. public school students still haven’t fully recovered from the pandemic despite returning to the classroom.

Driving the news: A report out today from the D.C. Policy Center says students are still struggling with the residual impacts of COVID on their learning and mental health.

Why it matters: The report shows the District needs to evaluate its efforts to shore up learning losses, focus on student well-being, and improve student achievement and test scores, which have plummeted.

Zoom in: Despite being in-person, some students are still having trouble attending class, and some older students aren’t moving onto higher ed post-graduation, per the Policy Center's findings.

  • While high school graduation rates have increased from the previous school year, the report estimates that only 8% of ninth graders will complete a postsecondary degree within six years of leaving high school, down from 14% pre-pandemic.

Details: Chronic absenteeism, or the rate of students absent for 10% or more of the year, rose to 48% last school year, up from 29% three years ago. The think tank points to quarantine, mental health challenges, and community violence as factors.

More than a third of students reported feeling sad or hopeless at the start of the last school year, a slight increase from the 2020-2021 year.

  • The report's authors say feeling unsafe amid an increase in violent crime may be driving some of this stress.

Of note: Hiring of new teachers also lagged; the fall 2021 vacancy rate was 6%, three times higher than in the fall of 2018. But 74% of teachers stayed in their jobs last year, up from 70% pre-pandemic.

Yes, but: The authors say the current school year is showing signs of a return to a pre-pandemic teacher workforce.

What they’re saying: DCPS has said it’s combating test score declines through an expanded tutoring program. That program reached 7% of students from May 2021 to December 2022.

What we’re watching: A school budget fight is brewing, with some parents, teachers, and advocates worried that proposed budget cuts will exacerbate the teacher shortage and leave students short on resources.

  • At-large D.C. Council member Robert White is set to introduce legislation today to bolster teacher retention through flexible scheduling and increased mental health services.
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