New data shows public schooling in decline while homeschooling rises

by mcardinal

Marion Bae, FISM News


New polling data shows that over one million children transitioned away from public schooling since 2020, while the number of American households homeschooling more than doubled.

In March of 2020 mass lockdowns across the United States sent children home for distance learning. In some states children were out of the classroom for over a year while the government and educators grappled with policy decisions. Now children nationwide have returned to the classroom, but new data shows that 1.2 million will not be returning to public school. 

Data from the Return 2 Learn Tracker, which tracked enrollment from 2020 until 2022, demonstrates the trends in schooling during and after the COVID-19 education policy changes. According to their data, between 2020 and 2021 1,177,000 students left the public school system. Combining those numbers with what they’ve seen so far in 2022, a total of 1,268,000 students have left the public school system since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. 

In Fall of 2020 enrollment numbers in public schools dropped by 2.5%, or 1 in 40 students. Fall of 2021 saw improved enrollment numbers, but only for districts that had allowed predominantly in-person learning for the 2020-21 school year. Those districts saw a 0.9% increase in enrollment, bringing the loss to only 1 in 93 students. 

Districts that kept students out of the classroom throughout the previous school year saw a more drastic decline in enrollment numbers. After the Fall 2021 enrollment season there was a 4.4% decline since 2020, or 1 in 22 students not enrolling in school. 

Looking at the 2022 totals, districts that were remote for longer (4.4% loss) also directly correlated with districts that voted for President Biden (3.8% loss) and had higher mask usage (3.8% loss). The opposite was also true. Districts that had mostly in-person learning (1.1% loss) correlated with districts that voted for President Trump (1.9% loss) and had below average mask usage (1.5% loss).

The data also showed that the enrollment numbers differed greatly by grade level. For example, the most drastic loss was seen in kindergarten enrollment in the mostly remote districts, showing a 12.3 % loss in 2021 and only rebounding to an 8.1% loss in 2022. High school enrollment across all districts saw little change, with an average of 0.1% gain in 2021 and 1.1% gain in 2022.

In 2022 there is some disparity as mostly in-person districts grew by 2% and mostly remote districts grew by only 0.2%.

Many of the students who have left the public school system are now being homeschooled, with homeschooling rates at record highs. In 2020 the U.S. Census Bureau (USCB) began the Household Pulse Survey (HPS), to record household data surrounding the pandemic and public response. The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) used this data, along with data from the National Center for Education Statistics, to create charts demonstrating homeschooling rates before and after the Pandemic. 

Between 2007 and 2019 only 3% of school-aged children in the United States were being homeschooled. During the 2020-2021 school year, 4% of U.S. households were homeschooling exclusively, and an additional 7% of households were homeschooling at least one child, with other children in public or private schools. The HSLDA estimates that 7-8 million students were being homeschooled in this time frame. 

The HSLDA notes that while the final number given by the HPS for 2020-21 showed 11% of American households homeschooling at least one child, the original number was 14%, but the USCB adjusted this number down to 11%.

While researchers expected this 11% to decline drastically in 2022, new data published by the USCB through March of 2022, which the HSLDA interpreted, showed that the number has only decreased 1%.