13 Investigates Houston campuses with fewest students engaged

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Stacey Maxie said she struggled in the spring to make sure her 12-year-old son was logged onto his classes when districts shifted to online learning.

"It wasn't coordinated," said Maxie, whose son will attend Key Middle School this year. "It was crazy. It was hard. I got it at the end, though."

Now, when her son starts classes at Houston Independent School District on Sept. 8, she's worried online learning won't be the same and educators will end up reteaching material to get everyone caught up.

"They're not going to get much of an education this year," Maxie said.

Even though Maxie was able to keep her son engaged, 48,637 HISD students were either not contactable or lost engagement during the spring semester - that's nearly 1 in every four students at the district.

13 Investigates is breaking down those numbers to share which Houston ISD campuses will need to improve their engagement the most this year.

"Attendance is critical because in the state of Texas, your funding is tied to your attendance," said Duncan Klussmann, a former Texas public school superintendent who now teaches at the University of Houston. "In this new world that we're in of COVID, whether a student is ... doing virtual education or they're face to face, we have to document their time and their attendance because you get your funding based on attendance."

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Houston ISD School Board Trustee Kathy Blueford-Daniels, who represents three of the 10 worst engaged schools, said the pandemic unveiled the hurdles some children have to overcome regarding getting an education.

"What scares me is that people have waited through the summer and have not engaged their children all summer and now, starting Sept. 8, we'll actually go online and those grades will count," said Blueford-Daniels, who represents the Greater Fifth Ward, where she grew up. "We can't afford for our children to be left out."

RELATED: Thousands of Texans stopped learning during the pandemic

Statewide, 2.7 million Texas students were identified as at risk of dropping out of school during the 2019-20 school year, according to data from the Texas Education Agency.

At HISD, 164,317 students - or 78% - were economically disadvantaged during the 2019-20 year.

13 Investigates looked at 2018-19 campus profiles the 20 schools with the best and worst online engagement and found the campuses with the worst engagement also had more economically disadvantaged and at risk students.

Ninety-six percent of students at the 20 schools with the lowest engagement also were economically disadvantaged and 77% were at risk. At the 20 schools with nearly every student engaged, 68% of students were economically disadvantaged and half were at risk.

RELATED: How many students were engaged at your district?

Outside of the TSU Charter Lab School, which had no engaged students, Ortiz Middle School was among the schools with the worst engagement. At Ortiz, 89% of students either were not engaged or were uncontactable at some point during the spring. At Key Middle School, 75% of students were not engaged or contactable.

Making sure all students are engaged is important not only to maintain funding, but also to make sure students don't fall so far behind that they can't catch up.

"What worries me the most is actually how this is affecting a generation of kids," Klussmann said. "Many of those students are who need to be engaged the most."
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