Chromebook Distribution & Online Attendance

By: Risa Garg

June 14th, 2020, 6:30 pm

Since mid-March, students of the Philadelphia school district have had to acquire a new skill -  attending online classes. While many students have quickly been able to assimilate to the new system, there are barriers that prevent some students from being able to attend online classes and participate.

In Philadelphia, it was roughly 53 days after Gov. Tom Wolf ordered schools to close that the district had a remote learning plan that was ready to be put into action. The School District of Philadelphia started formal online classes on May 4th, with students switching between an A and B day schedule. They also spent $11 million to purchase and distribute around 81,000 

Chromebooks after surveying charter and public schools in the Philadelphia area to determine their needs. Even after distributing the Chromebooks to those who need them, only around 57% of students are actually showing up to the online Google Meet classes, compared to the 94% attendance rate when schools are physically open. The district has around 125,000 students, and 64% of them received loaner Chromebooks to help them keep up with online learning, according to the Inquirer.

In Philadelphia, it was roughly 53 days after Gov. Tom Wolf ordered schools to close that the district had a remote learning plan that was ready to be put into action. The School District of Philadelphia started formal online classes on May 4th, with students switching between an A and B day schedule. They also spent $11 million to purchase and distribute around 81,000 Chromebooks after surveying charter and public schools in the Philadelphia area to determine their needs. Even after distributing the Chromebooks to those who need them, only around 57% of students are actually showing up to the online Google Meet classes, compared to the 94% attendance rate when schools are physically open. The district has around 125,000 students, and 64% of them received loaner Chromebooks to help them keep up with online learning, according to the Inquirer.

 

The reasons for low participation go beyond having or not having a Chromebook, ranging from families not having resources and being essential workers, to the stress caused by low social interaction and disruption of the school year. “I know that there are kids in my classes who still don’t have access to the internet,” acknowledges Lia Taylor, a freshman student at Central High, who feels that the district's efforts to buy Chromebooks and provide internet hasn’t been completely successful if 40% of the student body still struggles with internet access. 

 

“Income comes into play too,” says Central High School English teacher, Charles Wenger, “I fear that

missing this time will create a bigger education gap between poor students and students with means. Most wealthier and smaller school districts have continued to count attendance and grades for students and I believe this will make it easier for these students to transition back to school when buildings open back up.” According to a Parentstogether survey, families making less than $25,000 a year are 10 times more likely than families making $100,000 and above to say their kids aren’t attending the online classes. 

 

But it’s not just income levels and access which are the problem with low attendance rates in these online classes. The district's new grading system, where a student’s average for the entire year cannot be less than their average from the first two marking periods, also came into play around that time. If students skip assignments or classes, they can’t be penalized for doing so. “I already have a 100% in algebra, and my grade can’t really go down. So what’s the point in completing assignments or coming to classes that don’t benefit my grade in any way?” shares Lia.“There’s just no motivation to do the assignments or show up to the classes in which students already have good grades.” In many of Lia’s classes, attendance has trickled down from 30 to 15-20 students, many of whom choose not to show up because of the cushy grading system - feeling happy and safe with their current grades, they see no reason to show up to the classes or complete any assignments.

 

In Mr. Wenger’s English classes, many more freshmen show up than his seniors. “Almost all of my freshmen have been coming to class, so if they were given laptops I would say it was worth it. However, my senior class attendance has been poor. As we have gotten closer to grades being entered, fewer and fewer seniors have been showing up to class.” Seniors have been showing up consistently less because they don’t see a reason to attend the classes especially if they’re already happy with their current grades, since they all go to college next year and aren’t coming back to their high schools. “I fear for my seniors because most of them have decided to take off from March and once they enter college they will be in for a rude awakening,” he says. 

 

The ‘rude awakening’ if school starts in September won’t just be for high school seniors. In a short amount of time we’ve had to transition to online learning, and if schools open in September, students of all ages will share a ‘rude awakening.’