After the COVID-19 pandemic caused unprecedented disruption of America’s public schools, more parents than ever are taking their children out of the system altogether.
A survey by the American Enterprise Institute found that school districts with the highest levels of remote learning lost 4.4% of enrollment. That compares to the 1.1% drop in districts that maintained the highest level of in-school teaching.
From 2020 to 2022, New York was the state with the largest decline in enrollment, losing almost 6% of students. New York City’s system, the largest in the nation, saw enrollment fall off by 9.5% in the same period.
Statewide enrollment in California fell below six million students for the first time in over two decades.
Stanford Graduate School of Education professor Thomas Dee told Axios that uncertainty was the driving force behind falling public school enrollment. He said parents want to know that their children will have a stable learning environment and will be able to actually go to school.
Dee explained that a probable reason for accelerating enrollment loss is the need for parents to have a “safe harbor” and some continuity for their kids.
Since the onset of the pandemic, many parents opted to move their children to private or parochial schools. Many others saw increased work-from-home opportunities as a good reason to choose home schooling as an alternative.
Districts with heavy levels of remote learning saw the biggest loss in kindergarten enrollment, with a 8.1% decrease. Many parents of young children decided to delay the beginning of their childrens’ education by a year.
Dee warned that many students may simply be truant since the institution of remote learning. He noted that in the last two years, California has lost around 271,000 public school students while private school enrollment has only gone up by around 12,000. Dee expressed concern that students who have simply stopped going to school altogether are “likely to be our most educationally vulnerable.”
The push by many teachers’ unions for extended periods of remote learning and severe COVID protocols may well have had the unintended consequence of helping parents to learn that the unions are not directly concerned with the best interests of students.
Although all credible medical evidence shows that children are at very small risk from COVID and do not do much to spread the virus, unions have fought to maintain the restrictions. By putting the priority on letting teachers avoid returning to school over the immense educational and socialization damage done to an entire generation, the unions have provided parents with an unmistakable signal that their kids may well be better off in an accountable private school or at home.