Public schools struggling to reach pre-pandemic enrollment

by Jacob Fuller

Vicky Arias, FISM News

Public schools across the nation are struggling to reach pre-pandemic enrollment levels as millions of parents have chosen to enroll their children in homeschooling or private schools as an alternative to public education.

During the pandemic, many public schools decided to instruct students through virtual learning instead of in-person instruction and experienced teacher shortages. These changes factored into children falling behind in learning and parents pulling their children out of the public school system in favor of homeschooling, private school, or charter school enrollment.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), enrollment in public schools dropped by over one million students between 2019 and 2020.

“From fall 2019 to fall 2020, total public school enrollment in prekindergarten through grade 12 dropped from 50.8 million to 49.4 million students,” NCES reported. “Prior to this period, total public school enrollment had increased between fall 2009 and fall 2019.”

Axios reported that “a Wall Street Journal analysis found ‘enrollment fell in roughly 85 of the nation’s largest 100 public school districts.’” Additionally, the New York City public school system, which is the largest in the nation, saw an 8.3 percent drop in public school enrollment between 2020 and 2022, according to the outlet.

As a result of significant drops in enrollment, many public schools have chosen to close their doors, “since school funding is tied to enrollment,” according to the New York Times.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Jefferson County, Colorado decided to close 16 schools, and five schools in St. Paul, Minn. shuttered their doors.

Many reports have shown that parents became increasingly concerned over their children’s learning during pandemic school closures.

Polling from June 2022 reported by Bellwether Education Partners revealed that “about two-thirds of parents (65%) [were] concerned about their children’s academic progress, while over half of them (58%) [were] worried about their children’s mental health and emotional well-being.”

The Nation’s Report Card reported that the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a test to gauge students’ performance and “measure the general state of education in our nation,” reflected that “average scores for age 9 students in 2022 declined 5 points in reading and 7 points in mathematics compared to 2020. This is the largest average score decline in reading since 1990, and the first-ever score decline in mathematics.”

Studies from the American Academy of Pediatrics and others have shown low COVID transmission rates within school settings.

The Associated Press reported that “some educators and parents are questioning decisions in cities from Boston to Chicago to Los Angeles to remain online long after clear evidence emerged that schools weren’t COVID-19 super-spreaders and months after ‘life-saving’ adult vaccines became widely available.”

A 2021 opinion piece from the New York Times suggested that virtual learning may have residual, if not permanent, effects on children’s learning. An economist at Brown University, Emily Oster, researched distance learning and explained the damage caused by virtual instruction.

“The evidence on remote learning suggests that, despite the best efforts of teachers, it doesn’t work for a large share of kids,” Oster said. “I think we’ve deprioritized children in a way that will do long-term damage.”