Back to school means catching up for many kids who may have fallen behind during the pandemic year of online classes.
In fact, the I-Team found students are at risk of being held back if schools and districts do not make big changes according to the districts own data.
Investigative reporter Lolita Lopez spoke to a father with two kids in LAUSD and an education expert about what’s at stake for our communities.
The first days of school, with a third and fourth grader, are typically chaotic for single father Akela Wroten Jr.
“So right now I'm nervous, number one because I don't want to have to repeat the same cycle. Number two, I'm scared because I don't think that they might get what they need,” he said.
His son, Khairi and daughter, Khyra attend schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
LAUSD went back to in-class learning this week after more than a year of online teaching.
“It was just pure chaos,” Wroten Jr. said.
A time that Wroten Jr. says was filled with problems. His kids didn't get the level of teaching they needed or fell behind rapidly in their learning.
“I skipped some days because the internet wasn't working,” Khairi said.
Wroten Jr. along with other LAUSD families are now suing the district, alleging the district’s remote learning failed to adequately educate every child equally.
This, while the district received more than $5 billion in state and federal aid for COVID-19. Money that is supposed to improve student learning opportunities and help schools deal with the trauma of the pandemic year.
“I don’t think they put their full effort into it,” Wroten Jr. said.
The I-Team found Wroten Jr. and his kids may not be the only ones now struggling to keep up.
A report from LAUSD, published in the summer of 2020, shows the district was aware of an education lapse for students.
The report shows at the beginning of the pandemic, students were barely logging into the district’s online platform.
From March 16th to May 22nd 2020, some 60% of middle and high school students were considered active, which could mean they simply logged on to the school portal.
About 39% to 40% of students were absent altogether.
An update to the report soon after showed improvement, but the district still noted “this analysis only scratches the surface of questions about student learning at this time.”
In a survey of LAUSD teachers completed in May 2021, “many teachers believe their students will have unfinished learning and need strategies for acceleration in the coming months and years.”
Pedro Noguera is the dean of the Rossier School of Education at USC.
“I don't blame them because we never did this before. We had to get all these kids online learning very quickly when quarantine began, but now we have a problem on our hands so we gotta fix it, we can't ignore it. We can't ignore the fact that there are lots of kids who are very far behind”
It’s worse for kids in certain communities.
LAUSD’s own data shows that at the start of online learning weekly participation by Black and Latinx students was 10% to 20% lower than their peers.
“The disparities in outcomes and achievement had been there all along. Pandemic made it worse. Schools are gonna need to really spend some time documenting and assessing where each student is,” Noguera said.
He says that means individualized attention, but with a teacher shortage, schools are struggling.
“Well, they have to make the time. They certainly have the resources,” he added.
NBC4 asked LAUSD to provide someone to speak with the I-Team about how they plan to address the pandemic-gap in education.
They sent over the following statement:
The district began working immediately to address the challenges many students faced with online learning.
Los Angeles Unified has also taken a proactive approach to building up our teacher pipeline, with three teacher residency programs, as well as other initiatives designed to address key barriers to recruitment and retention.
When and how many more teachers and personnel will be hired in the near future is still unclear.
“I'm working 16 hours, sometimes 24-hour shifts just to make sure they have what they need,” Wroten Jr. said.
Meanwhile, Wroten Jr., who wants to become a history teacher, says he’s working two jobs to pay for a private tutor and other resources to help his children stay on track.
“I love the district. I'm a product of the district. I can't wait until I'm able to teach in the district, but because I love you, I want to hold you accountable,” Wroten Jr. added.
What remains unknown is the impact on kids successfully advancing to the next grade. NBC4 will continue to follow academic progress throughout the year.
The full LAUSD response:
"To clarify, the Los Angeles Unified has no new comments on the March reports. As we stated at the time, the District began working immediately to address the challenges many students faced with online learning with initiatives like the Primary Promise to help elementary school students build a foundation in literacy, math and critical-thinking skills. In addition, Los Angeles Unified has been very transparent for months about the challenges in being able to fill all of the new positions. In this era of unprecedented hiring, Los Angeles Unified has augmented all resources and efforts to ensure we are recruiting, selecting, and placing high quality candidates in all open positions. Los Angeles Unified has also taken a proactive approach to building up our teacher pipeline, with three teacher residency programs, as well as other initiatives designed to address key barriers to recruitment and retention. Our Human Resources Division has also redesigned the onboarding process to make it easier and safer for candidates to onboard (fingerprinting at local locations, onboarding virtually, etc.)."