Behavioral problems, school truancy on the rise, data shows


More than 80% of public schools reported that the pandemic had impacted students’ behavior and social-emotional development, while almost as many schools say they need more mental health support, federal data shows. published on Wednesday.

The data, collected at the end of the 2021-2022 school year, also showed that more than 70% of schools have seen an increase in chronic student absenteeism since the start of the pandemic and about half of schools have reported an increase in acts of disrespect towards teachers and staff. .

“The survey paints a remarkably consistent picture,” said Kevin Welner, a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder and director of the National Education Policy Center.

“The general trend still shows the pandemic-related damage to students and their teachers.”

Findings from the National Center for Education Statistics, based on responses from leaders at 846 public schools, point to issues that have become increasingly well-known over more than two years of pandemic-altered education.

Disturbing litter

But the scale of behavior and wellbeing issues is troubling, said Constance Lindsay, assistant professor of instructional leadership at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Schools could jostle in the fall, she said, expecting “our most disadvantaged students have been hit the hardest”.

Compared to a typical year before the pandemic, 56% of schools reported an increase in classroom disruption due to student misconduct in 2021-22. According to NCES data, nearly half of schools reported an increase in rowdiness outside the classroom, with 46% of schools reporting more fights and threats of physical assault between students.

“I think it comes from a mix of different traumas and emotions,” said Ronnie Harvey Jr., principal of Washington-Marion High School in Lake Charles, Louisiana, who recalls teacher and student absences. , learning gaps, burnout and economic setbacks. His community was also hit hard by two hurricanes in 2020. As a school leader, he said, “it’s a balance of holding people accountable but also being caring and compassionate at the same time. pandemic was something we hadn’t experienced before. . It was something we couldn’t Google.”

The new figures follow a recent federal report showing that schools reported an increase in verbal abuse and disrespect from teachers in the decade ending in the spring of 2020. That report also looked at the surge in school shootings.

Teacher union leaders said the findings on student behavior reflect an increase in both reporting and problems. Schools continue to lack staff, training and support for students, said Cheryl Bost, president of the Maryland State Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, in a recent interview.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, predicted increases for the pandemic period, which she linked to the country’s culture wars and angry politics, intensified by social media. The toxic talk is seeping into the classroom, she said, stressing the need for more guidance counsellors, social workers and wraparound services.

Schools were clear on the need: nearly 80% would like more mental health support for students or staff, while 70% of schools said more training was needed to support the social-emotional development of students. students.

“All school levels”

“What that tells you is the depth and breadth of the need,” said Scott Gest, professor of education at the University of Virginia. “Part of what struck me looking at the results is that these core concerns and covid impacts are widely seen across all grade levels, across all regions, across different types of school demographics.”

Chronic absenteeism was explored in detail, with nearly 40% of schools saying it had increased even since the pandemic-altered 2020-2021 school year. Schools in cities, or with higher levels of poor students or students of color, reported higher percentages of chronic absenteeism in 2021-22.

Anu Ebbe, principal of Cherokee Heights Middle School in Madison, Wisconsin, said truancy can be traced back to multiple issues, including students caring for younger siblings when daycare was canceled due to coronavirus exposures. Another factor is mental health. “So many students have had welfare issues,” she said. “There was so much depression and anxiety, unlike anything I’ve seen before.”

State data shows chronic absenteeism has at least doubled since pre-pandemic levels, said Hedy Chang, executive director of the nonprofit Attendance Works. Data from 2020-2021 underestimates the scale of the problem when teaching remotely due to vague definitions of what it meant to be present at school.

“The key to returning to school is using data to notice which kids have struggled and to build relationships so we can put in place supports that not only address barriers to attendance, but also academic shortcomings and socio-emotional challenges faced during the pandemic,” Chang said.

Teacher absences also stood out. Almost half of the schools said teacher absences had increased from the previous year. The shortage of substitute teachers adds to the pressure.

More than three-quarters of schools said it was harder to get a substitute in 2021-22 than before the pandemic.

When replacements cannot be found, most schools said lessons were covered by administrators, non-teaching staff or other teachers using their scheduling periods. Only 1% of schools reported always being able to find substitute teachers.

The data was released by NCES, the statistical arm of the Department of Education’s Institute of Educational Sciences. The dataset has been described by NCES as “experimental”, in that it uses new, but reliable, sources or methodologies.


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