By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — An untold number of K-12 students appear to have “fallen off the grid” in Wisconsin during the lost year-plus of virtual education. What are Gov. Tony Evers and the education agency he led for a decade doing about these “ghost kids”?
Not much, according to a letter the state Department of Public Instruction recently sent to state Sen. Dale Kooyenga. The Brookfield Republican sought information about attendance changes among public school students in Wisconsin over the past year.
“I am also requesting to know what the Department is doing to address potential absenteeism, given the greater ease with which students can fail to attend class when their instruction is virtual,” Kooyenga wrote.
DPI Deputy Superintendent Mike Thompson responded with a two-page bureaucratic non-answer answer. While the agency has “current summary attendance data for this school year,” the “snapshotted” data won’t be certified and released until Dec. 7.
Thompson put on his Captain Obvious hat, noting that chronic absenteeism is “highly correlated with low student achievement and is a strong predicator of whether a student will fail to graduate.”
A study by Bellwether Education Partners found as many as 3 million struggling students nationwide may have “fallen off the radar” since the beginning of the pandemic. Evers kept schools closed statewide by order through the end of the 2019-20 school year. He stood back and watched while his teachers union allies kept the pressure on to keep many of Wisconsin’s largest school districts shuttered for the better part of the last year.
Madison and Milwaukee public schools are just beginning to re-start in-person learning. As Empower Wisconsin reported this week, Milwaukee Public Schools’ Bryant Elementary has lost contact with “approximately 25 percent” of its student body since virtual learning began.That’s at one school. How many more students in Milwaukee alone are unaccounted for? School choice advocate Jim Bender calls these disappearing students “Ghost Kids.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, this week said what he has been saying for months: Schools need to re-open as quickly as possible. Students locked out of the classroom and trapped in virtual learning environments for more than a year aren’t just struggling or failing academically, they’re struggling socially, emotionally, mentally, physically.
Evers is fond of making state-wide emergency declarations. He was more than glad to break the law to continue issuing his statewide mask mandate. The governor claimed he was doing so in the name of public health and science. His Department of Health Services could have done the same in demanding schools statewide re-open — in the name of student health and science.
He again chose the teachers union lobby over students — especially the ones who have “fallen off the radar.” Chances are good the Wisconsin Education Association Council will richly reward Evers’ choice in the campaign ahead.