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What Went Wrong? The State Auditors Office Report on Covid Era Public School Policies

Updated: Mar 30

If "80% of success in life is just showing up," a recent report(1) from the Office of the State Auditor (OSA) shows the high risk to our public school students.

At the request of the North Carolina legislature(2), the OSA looked at 6 school districts in the state and found:

- the number of chronically absent students increased from 4% to 13% year over year

- school districts surveyed did not comply with North Carolina's Truancy Law
Public school student absenses  increased 10% year over year

Why does this graph only show one school district? The data was so problematic that the absence figures could only be validated in this one district. The unreliable information on student attendance and the difficulty that the districts had in reporting and explaining the data may be the most important of all the findings. School administrators are avoiding the data or worse.

The Auditor's report raised other concerns for our public schools that those in charge should account for, such as:

- 87% of chronically absent students were promoted to the next grade level

- in many cases noted, more than 60% of the families were not even contacted

Wrong choices made

The OSA was given a very tough assignment here. The Covid 19 pandemic created unprecedented challenges to both the schools and to families. In retrospect, we all know that wrong choices were made...

... which underscores the importance of the OSA report. It provides an important snapshot of data, much of it shining an unwanted light on failure. Kudos to the auditors who worked hard in sometimes adversarial circumstances to provide this snapshot.

The school districts who participated in the audit report also deserve various levels of praise.

High praise to the Henderson County Public Schools. They got extra attention and were able to provide a clean enough data set to at least give us all a good paper trail showing the impacts of thier Covid policies. I have tremendous respect for the professionals in that school system.

Other participating school systems, like Charlotte-Mecklenburg, offered excuses and minimized the potential long term impacts. But it is precisely because the 2021 school year was so difficult that a frank reckoning is needed.

Ignoring the report's findings dooms a generation, as explained by these words from the OSA report:

"Additionally, while the District’s response acknowledges the hard work of the District’s school counselors, social workers, principals, and teachers, it fails to acknowledge the hardships on those very same people, for years to come. Students that are promoted to the next grade level but are not prepared, for reasons such as chronic absenteeism, may require more instruction, support, and interventions."

What is the chance that these school systems will provide the "more instruction, support, and interventions" now? They failed to provide it in 2021. Judging from the reception of this OSA report so far, the chance is slim.

Note 2: Session Law 2021-180 § 7.27.(a)(14) authorized the audit and required it to be reported no later than June 20, 2022. I can't tell you why PER-2022-3510 was released 16 months after the due date. Elect me State Auditor and I'll report on this too.

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