Public schools lost 2 million students to alternative education models during the pandemic

by mcardinal

Lauren Moye, FISM News


Almost 2 million American students have left public schools for alternative forms of education following pandemic measures, according to a new poll from Education Next.

The poll discovered that students enrolled in public school compared to alternate education forms dropped from 81.0% to 76.5% between Spring 2020 and Spring 2022.

“If that percentage is accurate, it means that nearly 2 million students have shifted from traditional public schools to alternative school arrangements,” Education Next researchers noted.

The poll shows that the majority of these students ended up in a charter school with results showing a 2.2% increase between Spring 2020 and 2022 for a total of 7.2% of students. Private school enrollment jumped from 8.0% to 9.7% and homeschool from 6.0% to 6.6% respectively between years.

The information follows a period of confusion for pollsters and parents alike. In the early days of the pandemic, parents reported a drop in their children’s public school enrollment to 72%. However, the researchers noted that might have been confusion among parents on how to classify their children during distance learning.

The number bounced back up to 77% by Spring 2021. The latest numbers confirm that there has been an over 4% loss of students to the alternative forms.

Overall, the numbers “suggest that a modest but significant shift is occurring in the choices families are making about the schools they want their children to attend.” However, researchers cautioned against belief in a “wholesale abandonment of the traditional public school.”

Even so, the data hints that parents don’t believe public school is the most beneficial option for their children’s academic success. Those who would give their schools an ‘A’ or ‘B’ grade also dropped from 64% to 59% across the two years. Poll data also suggests that parents of private school students are more satisfied, 76%, with the balance of lessons taught on racism and slavery than those public school households, 63%.

Government data shows a more striking increase in homeschooling, particularly, during the pandemic. Census Bureau data reported that 5.4% of households homeschooled in Spring 2020. That number surged to 11.1% by the start of the next school year.

Researchers, in this case, took care to differentiate between true homeschooling and distance-learning public school. However, no data has been released showing how many of these families returned to other forms of education with loosening pandemic restrictions.

Meanwhile, conservative Christians have intensified calls to abandon public schools entirely.

“We need to be laying the foundation for influencing the next generation of working-class children,” said Rett Copple in a public post, before advocating for churches to leverage their homeschooling congregation members to begin private schools.

His post was sparked by the recent Arizona law that allows up to $6,500 in annual tuition per child to attend alternative schools, including homeschool. They are only one of many states who have enacted similar legislation this year.

The final shift in education caused by the pandemic has yet to be seen. However, as school choice policies gain ground with parents from both political parties due to a variety of reasons, the next few years will tell how parents truly feel about the public education model.