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Remote learning is largely on track, but some Chicago schools have a ways to go

At some schools last week, student attendance was only 60% — or even lower. Getting all 355,000 students engaged in online learning is a must.

Jasmine Gilliam (left) and Lucy Baldwin, teachers at King Elementary School in Englewood, prepare to teach their students remotely in empty classrooms on the first day of school, Sept. 08, 2020.
Jasmine Gilliam (left) and Lucy Baldwin, teachers at King Elementary School in Englewood, prepare to teach their students remotely from empty classrooms on the first day of school, Sept. 8, 2020.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

There’s good news, and some alarmingly bad news, with respect to remote learning in Chicago’s public schools this fall.

After the dismal showing last spring, Chicago Public Schools made an extra effort to get students logged on for digital learning. Attendance-taking would be mandatory. A major back-to-school campaign was launched, with a massive barrage of phone calls, text messages, emails, radio ads and other outreach to parents.

So far, it’s largely paying off.

According to CPS data released this weekend, 84.2% of students logged on to the learning platform on the first day of school last week. That’s a major improvement over the 59% figure last spring.

And by the end of the week, attendance had risen to 90.2%,

But there can be no letting up on the ultimate goal: To get every one of the district’s 355,000 students engaged in remote learning, the only educational option available until the city curbs the spread of COVID-19.

We’re looking to see that attendance number go up more, especially at schools that are way behind the average. There’s no getting past the alarmingly poor online turnout at schools in certain lower-income neighborhoods, such as Englewood and Garfield Park, where first-day attendance rates were a shocking 60% or lower.

The school district’s continued outreach efforts — let’s get those kids in school — must be focused heavily on those schools. No child can be left behind, wherever the fault may lie. Even during a pandemic, every child must be in school.

We also hope CPS has better success this fall in reaching children who essentially have gone missing, as more than 2,000 children did last spring. Security officers will start to make home visits this week to connect with students who have not responded to other outreach efforts.

If CPS can raise attendance to the typical 95%, we’d call that a huge success.

The end game, of course, remains the same: To get students physically back in their classrooms as quickly as public health officials can safely give the green light.

As one North Side parent told us, “We can’t stay home forever.”

Even with the “luxury” of being able to work at home and oversee her children’s lessons, she said, it’s a rough ride.

“We’re often having tech issues — kids don’t mute themselves, or the screen freezes,” she said. “If I found Google classrooms a little bit clumsy, and I have a tech background, I can’t imagine what some other parents are struggling with.”

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