More Than a Million Children Aren’t Showing Up for Public School This Year

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Five-year-old Harper Shea is subjected to a social distancing walk complete with a mandatory mask during recess with classmates on their first day of kindergarten on September 9, 2020 in Stamford, Connecticut. A study from the New York Times found more than 340,000 expected kindergarten public school enrollments are missing in action, most likely converted to home schooling.
Five-year-old Harper Shea is subjected to a social distancing walk complete with a mandatory mask during recess with classmates on their first day of kindergarten on September 9, 2020 in Stamford, Connecticut. A study from the New York Times found more than 340,000 expected kindergarten public school enrollments are missing in action, most likely converted to home schooling. (Image: John Moore/Getty Images)

Over 1 million school children did not show up as expected for in person or online public education programs this year. The greatest number of absentees are kindergarteners, according to a new report. 

Analysis published by the New York Times in conjunction with Stanford University examined government data of 70,000 public schools across 33 states, finding that more than 340,000 kindergartners are missing from expected roll calls. 

Researchers found at least 10,000 of these schools lost 20 percent or more of their kindergarten enrollment. In comparison, only 4,000 schools suffered a similar decline in 2019 and 2018. They also found that in neighborhoods where the average income of a family of four was $35,000 or less, the drop was 28 percent higher than in other school districts.

The article attributes the collapse to the advent of online learning, because, “City schools, which serve disproportionate numbers of low-income students of color, were the most likely to shutter classrooms for extended periods.” Data showed that school districts that went all-in with pandemic hysteria and moved to a strictly online format saw a 42 percent greater decrease in enrollment than regions that offered full-time and in-person education. 

NYT said interviews with parents in three of the cities that showed the greatest drop in enrollment, Philadelphia, Honolulu, and Jackson, “Showed the difficulty of trying to educate the youngest students remotely, and how little parents trusted their schools to make the shift.”

A mother nasal probes her child for a COVID PCR test at a kindergarten on April 12, 2021 in Prague, Czech Republic. The nature of pandemic measures in public school in connection with forced online learning has driven many parents to homeschool their children as an alternative.
A mother nasal probes her child for a COVID PCR test at a kindergarten on April 12, 2021 in Prague, Czech Republic. The nature of pandemic measures in public school in connection with forced online learning has driven many parents to homeschool their children as an alternative. (Image: MICHAL CIZEK/AFP via Getty Images)

And this seems to be the root of the issue. A July 13 article by the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), quoted Tiffany Pierce, a New York woman who chose to homeschool her children after pandemic measures exposed the reality of the state’s education system, “During the remote and hybrid school year, parents have noticed how their vision of education did not align with that of the Department of Education, school, or teacher’s vision. Parents were able to see from video learning how their child interacted with content, teacher, and peers.”

Pierce, who FEE notes has a Master’s in Education and runs a “daily homeschool micro-learning program,” said the advent of “Zoom school” was what was turning many parents off from the public education system. 

In a March article, FEE found, based on U.S. Census data, that 11.1 percent of U.S. students were now being homeschooled, up from 3.3 percent in pre-pandemic life. In places such as Massachusetts, homeschooling saw more than a 1,000 percent increase from 1.5 percent in the spring of 2020 as the pandemic first arrived to 12.1 percent in the fall.

They noted that the Census Bureau defined homeschooled children as, “Students whose parents had officially removed them from a school or never enrolled them to begin with,” meaning the data excluded those who were relegated to online learning from home. 

Pierce said, “I believe this year and [a] half has shown us all that there needs to be more than just a reform to education…There needs to be a conscious elevation and rethink of what is learning, why do we need it, what are the infinite ways that learning can look like.”

“Learning is not sitting at a desk. Families want to see themselves and their values reflected in every aspect of their lives and that goes for the learning and education of their children.”

Marketplace in a February article interviewed another mother, Alison Fried of Fairfax, who organized a “private homeschooling learning pod she organized in her home’s basement with five other families,” which she described as “amazing,” not only because it provided a better education and experience for the children, but saved her family substantially compared to preschool. 

“We just could not wrap our brains around how 5- and 6-year-olds who are still learning their letters, still learning their numbers, don’t know how to work a computer were going to be expected to learn through that medium,” she said regarding school closures in her area the same year her daughter was to begin kindergarten. 

Fried said each family in the pod paid $1,000 per month for a teacher, a cleaning crew, and school supplies. While that may sound pricey, she noted, “The cost per family and what we would be paying out of pocket was literally 50% of what we were paying the year before for private preschool.”

“I find myself having extreme hesitancy thinking about going from this situation that has just been 100 times better than I ever anticipated and thinking of sending her back into a public school classroom.”

FEE noted that data by an Education Week survey showed, “This year’s new homeschoolers are also more likely to come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds…more lower-income families were choosing homeschooling during the pandemic response than higher-income families, challenging the myth that homeschooling families are more affluent than others.”

  • Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.