HOUSTON – They are numbers that are sending major worries across Houston -- even across the state.
Students in the Houston Independent School District -- the state’s largest school system -- are struggling academically and struggling far more than normal. The biggest factor -- online learning forced by the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think it’s certainly lasted quite a bit longer than we all expected, which doesn’t make the teaching any easier,” said Houston resident Nicholas Gerling. “So. It’s survival mode.”
In a statement to KPRC 2, HISD confirmed that 42% of their students failed one or more classes in the first grading period of the fall, which was six weeks long. The numbers were first brought to light in a report by the Houston Chronicle, which also showed the failure rate in that grading period normally is 11%. That is a failure rate that has nearly quadrupled.
On Wednesday, the day after this story was originally published, HISD officials released numbers to KPRC 2 that showed 26% of students received on or more Fs during the first grading period of the 2019-2020 school year. That grading period was nine weeks long and all in-person instruction.
Here is how other local school districts reported the fail rate for the first grading period:
Parents are now searching for answers.
“It may be because of resources, it may be because some of the parents have to take the time to learn the platforms and then help the students,” said Veronica Vault, a mother with two sons in HISD. “And particularly to make sure that the students are actually doing their work.”
A representative with the Houston Federation of Teachers said educators are witnessing the struggles firsthand with their students.
“You have those students who are not able to learn, even when they do have the support at home, the environment, the technology,” said Dr. Claudia Morales. “They are not about to focus looking at a screen so long.”
KPRC 2 has asked the district about any proposed solutions and after two days, we were still waiting. On Wednesday, district officials said in a written statement that campus leaders and teachers are reaching out to families in an effort to address any issues that may be hampering academic performance.
“Teachers are providing support during small group instruction, meeting with students individually during their office hours, and holding parent meetings to discuss options,” the statement read, in part. “Additionally, to support students who are facing academic challenges, interventions are in place during the school day. Academic enrichment days were offered prior to the start of the school year and continue to be offered during each vacation period such as Thanksgiving, Winter Break and Spring Break. Also, high school students can attend virtual online classes for credit recovery.”
Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a known critic of the school board, believes any solution needs to be hyper-focused on the students.
“I think the HISD board needs to focus on the education of the kids now,” Bettencourt said. “Stop wasting time on trying to hire a superintendent when they’re not able to do that under the conservatory agreement they have with the state of Texas.”
“I mean that’s what really keeps me going nowadays, my kids,” Darryl Jerrols, a father of three HISD students, said. “For one, while they are at home it’s like their attention span is short, they really not learning anything on virtual.”
Jerrols said virtual learning has been difficult so far.
“The kids really ignore everything that’s going on [virtually], they got the laptop in their face at home, plus they have a cell phone on the side of them playing games, it’s not working,” Jerrols said. “Better safe than sorry, I know we can keep everything sanitized and clean at home, I don’t know what’s going on inside the school buildings.”