Education Forward’s report indicates severe impact of COVID-19 on education in Cleveland
by Chuck Hoven
Plain Press, August 2022 At the June 28th business meeting of the Cleveland Municipal School District Board, Cleveland Metropolitan School District Chief Executive Officer Eric Gordon shared some of the findings of a recently completed report by Education Forward titled “The impact of COVID-19 on Cleveland’s Education Landscape.”
Gordon said the report, available online at www.educationforward.org , was a collaborative effort of a coalition called Education Forward, whose members included the Cleveland Foundation, Cleveland Transformation Alliance, College Now Greater Cleveland, The George Gund Foundation, Higher Education Compact of Greater Cleveland, PREFORCLE, Say Yes Cleveland and Starting Point.
The report looks at the impact of the pandemic on Early Childhood Education (for children, ages 3-5), Pre-K to grade 12 education, and post-secondary education.
Gordon said enrollment in high quality early childhood education programs declined significantly from pre-pandemic levels. The reports says that in December of 2019, 83% of the high-quality early childhood education seats were filled with students ages 3 to 5. (4,819 students in 5,779 available seats.)
By September of 2020, the number of students participating in early childhood education and the number of available seats had both declined with 52% of 4,659 available seats being filled by 2,431 children.
In September of 2021, the number of children participating in the high-quality early childhood programs increased to 3,728, but this was only 60% of the now 6,094 available high-quality early childhood education seats.
The pandemic also resulted in increased expenses for early childhood education providers, lost income for those programs, increased staff stress, increases in staff turnover and increases in behavioral issues among children.
Gordon said the short-term goal recommended by Education Forward is to return to pre-pandemic levels of attendance, staffing and resources at the early childhood education programs. Over the long-term he said the study pointed out a need to create a strategy to address the needs of children and their families from birth to age three.
Pre-K to Grade 12 Education
CEO Gordon said that the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) had through years of effort increased its graduation rate to 80.1% in 2019, prior to the advent of the pandemic. Gordon expressed concern about how the increased number of students that are chronically absent from school will impact student achievement. He said the number of students chronically absent nearly doubled during the pandemic.
Education Forward’s report says prior to the pandemic in the 2019-2020 school year the percentage of students that were chronically absent was 29%. That number increased to 54% of students being chronically absent in the 2020-21 school year. In the 2021-22 school year, that number dipped to 47% of CMSD students listed as chronically absent.
Gordon also noted enrollment dipped during the pandemic with CMSD’s enrollment dipping by about 3,000 students in the 2020-21 school year. Gordon said the district gained about 1,500 students this past school year, but enrollment has not returned to the pre-pandemic level (37,158 students in the 2019-2020 school year).
Gordon said the pandemic presented additional challenges to families with school aged children. Those included meeting basic needs such as feeding children. The pandemic also resulted in increased mental health challenges, he said.
The report noted that prior to the pandemic, 40% of Cleveland families lacked reliable access to high-speed internet services at home. It said that 68% of Cleveland families had no device with which to connect to the internet other than a smart phone. CEO Gordon described the digital divide experienced by Cleveland students. He said 6,000 homes of students are permanently connected to internet infrastructure. 12,000 homes have been equipped with hotspots. Still, he said there are thousands of homes that are not connected to any internet infrastructure where even hotspots will not work.
Gordon said in the short term, the goal of CMSD is to “get kids back in school.” He said that means returning Pre-K to Grade 12 schools to pre-pandemic levels, dealing with supply chain and staffing issues and using funds dedicated to addressing concerns of students related to mental health and social isolation.
In the long term, Gordon said the report calls for “building back better – designing something better.” This means addressing the issue of digital equity and securing equitable funding, particularly a fair funding level in the State of Ohio budget.
The report noted that prior to the pandemic in 2019, more Cleveland students were graduating from high school (80.1%), postsecondary enrollment had increased from 45% in 2016 to 49% in 2019, and fewer students needed remediation in English and Math when attending college (37% in 2019, compared to 76% in 2011).
The report says remote learning and college advising due to the pandemic has resulted in fewer CMSD students filling out financial aid applications for college (down from 54% in 2019 to 41% in 2021).
Gordon says there is also concern about students getting the financial and non-financial support system they need to stay in and complete postsecondary education programs. He said while Say Yes To Education pays for student tuition, other costs such as room and board need to be made affordable for students.
The year one to year two retention rate for CMSD graduates attending four-year institutions declined from 71% for the classes of 2018 and 2019 to 64% for the class of 2020. One bright spot indicated in the report was an increase in the ability of students to persist in attending two-year institutions. The report says, “at Cuyahoga Community College, our two-year institution, the increase in persistence (from 47% for class of 2018, 43% for class of 2019 to 48% for the class of 2020) can partially be attributed to the dedicated intensive coaching through the Tri-C Say Yes Scholarship Program.”