Remote learning engagement ‘uneven’ across Chicago, teachers union says

Chicago Public Schools, unlike other large districts around the country, has not yet released data to show how many students have or have not been reached by their schools.

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Chicago Public Schools students use computers

It remains unclear how many Chicago students have been able to connect with their teachers during the coronavirus school closures.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file photo

The president of the Chicago Teachers Union said Friday his members have reported widely varying levels of student engagement since schools closed nearly two months ago because of the coronavirus.

Chicago Public Schools, unlike other large districts around the country, has not yet released data to show how many students have or have not been reached by their schools.

CTU President Jesse Sharkey said he’s heard anecdotally from teachers that remote learning is “uneven” from one neighborhood and one school to the next.

“Remote learning has been a challenge in the CPS schools,” Sharkey said on a virtual news conference with reporters. “What we’re noticing is it’s been very uneven around the city.

“People in some parts of the city say that they are having very good attendance and high participation rates, and in other parts of the city I’ve actually heard of teachers saying, on a given day, they’ve had no one on their lessons at all,” he said. “Which is very demoralizing and frustrating. But really it runs the gambit. Ten different schools have 10 different stories.”

Asked why the district has not released engagement numbers seven weeks after schools closed and almost a month after CPS’ remote learning plan started in earnest, CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton said “creating a new streamlined data reporting system that captures all of the digital tools and unique ways students are being engaged through remote learning is extremely complex.

“As previously stated, the district is committed to providing the public with comprehensive data on remote learning as soon as possible,” she wrote in an email. “The district is actively working to streamline the data and will report it out publicly as soon as we are confident in the fidelity and accuracy of the data.”

The two largest school districts in the country, New York with 1.1 million students and Los Angeles with 600,00, released numbers in April. Both districts closed buildings the same week in March as CPS, which serves 355,000 kids.

Sharkey said he’s “disappointed and frustrated” not to have a full picture of how many students aren’t being reached, and where.

“For the life of me I can’t understand why they can’t supply that number,” he said. “Seems like it would be a number which, even if it’s an ugly story, it’s one that we got to look square on, face reality and pick up the conversation based on what that tells us.”

There are serious challenges to conducting remote learning in a city with 271,000 students who come from low-income families, including an estimated 17,000 who are experiencing homelessness.

One in three CPS students didn’t have a computer when online classes started last month, and the same number don’t have internet access. Since then, the district has distributed more than 100,000 laptop computers and tablets, either from its own existing stockpile or devices newly purchased, and started handing out 12,000 mobile internet hotspot devices to homeless students. But many more still are without broadband.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot acknowledged Friday remote learning is no substitute for in-person learning.

“I really worry about [the students], particularly our youngest of children,” she said. “It’s so critically important that they get the right start. And that’s hard to do for them when you’re talking about remote learning.”

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