by Rey Saldaña, President and CEO of Communities In Schools
As of March 2021, more than 250,000 students in Texas were missing from school. In Florida, the number is close to 90,000. The total across the country is estimated at three million.
These students have not attended school since the beginning of the pandemic, not participating in any remote learning. No homework. No reading. Nothing. In districts with a high percentage of low-income families, the numbers translate to one in three students.
The pandemic has given us too many painful statistics — deaths, job loss, and more. It’s natural to see this as another part of that pain. But this statistic isn’t about the pandemic. These students aren’t missing because of COVID-19. They’re missing because of obstacles that existed in their lives before the virus arrived — hunger, housing insecurity, a parent’s job loss, substance abuse issues, mental health needs, and more. Obstacles that were already causing them to be “missing” from participating fully in learning.
It would be a tragic misreading to see this as another pandemic statistic. These students aren’t new or newly missing. They’re the same Black, Brown, and Indigenous students, and students living in poverty who have always faced more barriers and been more likely to struggle and drop out. It is not an exaggeration to say the only thing new here is another metric — remote learning attendance. It’s just the latest symptom to capture headlines and divert our attention from the real problem — systemic inequity in our public education system.
If these three million kids simply return to the school system they attended before the pandemic, they’ll just go missing again and we’ll read about another metric. These students need more than faster reopenings or attendance at better Zoom sessions.
This is a moment of choice for K-12 public education in America — to do more than reopen the old system. We have the opportunity to make new and better choices to build a more equitable system of public education that works for all students.
Some might make the argument that what happens to kids outside the classroom has more impact on achievement than what happens in it. Children who are hungry or anxious need more support to be ready and able to learn than their peers. Yet, our current system makes little or no effective distinction in how they are treated.
We can choose to ensure students are surrounded by resources, not barriers. We know what to do. We’ve learned to identify the students who are most vulnerable. Research has shown which resources are most effective for these students and how to provide them. The CIS evidence-based model of integrated student supports (ISS) has been proven in more than 2,900 schools in 26 states and the District of Columbia. In fact, 96% of seniors who received our most intensive support graduated or earned their GED.
We can choose to ground it all in the simple truth that relationships of trust are the most important factor for student success in school and life. For more than 40 years, CIS has put students at the center and surrounded them with a community of caring adults. Because “programs don’t change people, relationships do.” Of the students who received targeted support for the 2019-2020 school year, 99% remained in school, 97% of K-11 students were promoted to the next grade, and 96% of seniors graduated or received a GED.
A more equitable system of public education in America is not a fantasy. It’s a choice.
So, I’m asking you to make a choice — to please help CIS continue our work to ensure that all students, regardless of race, gender, zip code, or socioeconomic background have what they need to realize their potential in school and beyond.
Start by watching our organization’s new video to see how this work is rooted in our history and to learn how we are building a movement to ensure equity in public education for all students.