Huge Numbers of St. Paul High School Students Failing Virtual Classes

It’s hard to overstate the fiasco the St. Paul schools distance learning program has turned into for the city’s high school students this fall. There’s no sugarcoating the results in the dire outcomes  revealed in the Pioneer Press for thousands of struggling students.

St. Paul Public Schools is exploring new ways to support students during distance learning as the number of failing grades has doubled in its high schools.

Midway through the first quarter this fall, students were failing 39 percent of their high school classes, up from 19 percent last fall.

St. Paul already ranked in the lower half of Minnesota school districts, despite spending more than $15,000 per student pre-pandemic. But the lack of face-to-face access to instruction appears to go a long way to explaining how the bottom has fallen out of the district’s failed experiment in virtual learning.

The district is one of the few in Minnesota that has not reopened its schools — except for a few hundred special-education students — since closing in March because of a teachers strike and the coronavirus pandemic.

The district since Oct. 12 has offered in-person academic help inside Washington Technology Magnet to struggling students referred by staff, but few are taking advantage. Some 320 are enrolled but weekly attendance has fallen well short of that.

Grades remain dismal despite administrators bending the rules and giving students every opportunity to get it right.

Some schools are giving students extra time to turn in work before the first quarter ends on Friday. In a message to students last week, Highland Park High School Principal Winston Tucker said they had until Friday to retake tests and turn in missing work in any classes they are failing.

“We are very concerned about your grades and the high number of failing grades,” he wrote in a letter that acknowledged the difficulty of distance learning.

As long as the St. Paul teachers union and district administration refuse to resume traditional teaching on campus, the message appears to be that parents can expect more of the same.

[Chief Operations Officer Jackie] Turner said the face-to-face help at Washington has been effective for students who’ve shown up.

“They need help with the motivation and they need that space that looks similar to their classroom,” she said. “It’s that structure.”