District-run public schools lost nine percent of enrollment between spring 2021 and spring 2022, concludes School Disrupted by Tyton Partners, an education consultancy. Most schools had reopened, but school-switchers said they doubt the academic quality of their local schools and worry about bullying, fighting and the risk of school shootings.
Most switched to charter and private schools and homeschooling. They don't seem to be coming back.
Many post-pandemic parents now "feel empowered to find alternatives," write Michael B. Horn, author of From Reopen to Reinvent, and Daniel Curtis on The Future of Education. "Parents said they were dissatisfied with districts’ lack of personalized learning experiences. They want smaller class sizes, multiple learning sites, and flexible scheduling."
Parents have a variety of priorities, they write. Politics has little to do with it.
Seventy percent of parents are interested in alternative school models, such as opportunities to go off campus "to engage with interest-based groups, receive tutoring, or intern." But children from disadvantaged families are much less likely to be offered out-of-school learning options.
Charter enrollment surged by 7 percent in the first full year of the pandemic, then held steady, concludes a report on enrollment trends by the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools. District schools' lost enrollment in the first year, then leveled off.
The “adjustment” in enrollment that occurred during the pandemic that resulted in charter enrollment gains and district public school enrollment losses appears to be a “new normal,” instead of a temporary reaction to turbulent times.
Charter schools drew more White, Black, and Hispanic students "with particularly high enrollment gains for Hispanic students."
Among the nearly 20 percent of families that switched schools, 89 percent of parents reported a "positive change" as a result, according to the report.
In states with large virtual charter schools, enrollment declined when brick-and-mortar schools reopened, even as some families stayed with remote education, the analysis found. However, the rise in enrollment in traditional charters offset the shifts from virtual charters.
Large urban districts may lack the flexibility to rise to the challenge of "learning recovery," warn Robin Lake and Paul Hill of the Center on Reinventing Public Education. They see "an awful mismatch between the degree of academic decline and districts’ ability to make the dramatic instructional changes necessary to help kids catch up."
Many families, meanwhile, believe everything is fine. Almost half of American parents of school-aged children do not believe the pandemic disrupted their child’s learning, according to a survey in April by NPR and Ipsos. And while most parents thought their child was on grade level at the end of last year, only 44% of their teachers agreed, according to a survey by the nonprofit Learning Heroes and Edge Research.
Districts are "not telling parents how much learning their kids have missed," they write. Presumably, they're afraid of losing even more students.