In September, President Biden declared that “the pandemic is over,” however dad and mom with school-age kids is not going to quickly overlook the struggles of the prior two years. Beginning in March 2020, practically all faculty buildings nationwide closed and remained shuttered for the remainder of that college yr. These closures upended households’ routines, creating new challenges for folks’ work and kids’s schooling.
In Fall 2020, a brand new faculty yr began, however how faculty districts delivered instruction initially of the yr, and the way they operated all through it, diverse broadly. Many districts remained totally distant initially of the 2020–21 faculty yr. Many others reopened totally in-person. Others supplied a mix of in-person and distant instruction. Over the course of the 2020–21 faculty yr, districts’ tutorial choices shifted because the pandemic ebbed and flowed.
Many dad and mom, pissed off with the shortage of in-person education choices, started to tug their kids from public faculties. Throughout the 2020–21 faculty yr, enrollment in public faculties fell by a median of three p.c nationally. These declines had been bigger in districts that reopened remotely in contrast to those who returned to in-person studying, however a cautious have a look at enrollment knowledge reveals that the story is extra sophisticated than it might initially seem. That’s as a result of the districts that selected to stay closed through the 2020–21 faculty yr had been already shedding enrollment within the years main as much as the pandemic. These pre-pandemic declines make it difficult to find out how a lot of the enrollment drop that accompanied the pandemic was pushed by districts’ selections to stay distant in 2020–21. Nor have researchers but examined whether or not enrollment losses continued into the 2021–22 faculty yr.
We reap the benefits of newly compiled district enrollment knowledge for all 50 states by means of 2021–22, the second full faculty yr after the pandemic’s outbreak, to deal with these questions. After accounting for differential pre-pandemic enrollment tendencies, we discover that enrollment impacts attributable to faculty districts’ responses to the pandemic could have been as giant as, if not bigger than, enrollment impacts from the pandemic itself. Briefly, how districts selected to reply to the pandemic mattered—and will have penalties for his or her funds for years to come back.
Finding out Enrollment Selections Over Two Pandemic Faculty Years
A rising physique of analysis on the 2020–21 faculty yr reveals that districts that began the yr totally distant misplaced bigger shares of enrollment than districts that opened in particular person. District leaders and policymakers have puzzled if enrollments would bounce again the following yr. On one hand, households that left public faculties through the first yr of the pandemic as a result of their district had remained distant would possibly return to their little one’s unique faculty, resulting in a rebound. However, dad and mom would possibly select to depart their little one within the new possibility, inflicting web enrollment to stay flat. A 3rd chance is that much more dad and mom within the distant districts would go away their district within the second yr, driving even bigger enrollment losses.
To find out which of those situations is most correct, we first group districts into three classes primarily based on the cumulative quantity of in-person studying time they supplied college students through the 2020–21 faculty yr. We then study how district enrollments modified inside every group through the two faculty years following the onset of the pandemic.
The info for our examine come from the American Enterprise Institute’s Return to Study Tracker, the American Group Survey, and USAFacts. The Return to Study Tracker collected weekly info on modes of instruction for over 8,600 faculty districts through the 2020–21 tutorial yr.
We categorized districts into three roughly equal teams primarily based on their complete in-person tutorial choices through the 2020–21 faculty yr, with the third of districts with highest scores categorized as “most in-person,” these with scores within the center third categorized as “middle-remote,” and people with scores within the lowest third categorized as “most-remote.”
The Return to Study Tracker’s enrollment knowledge are drawn from state schooling division web sites and embody district-level pupil counts for the 2016–17 to 2021–22 faculty years. Forty-six states had each complete and grade-level enrollment knowledge that enable us to investigate modifications in particular grade ranges. These analyses distinguish between grades 1 to five in “elementary faculty,” grades 6 to eight in “center faculty,” and grades 9 to 12 in “highschool.” We additionally look individually at kindergarten enrollment, as dad and mom could have delayed enrolling their kids in class through the 2020–21 faculty yr. In 4 states (Kansas, Kentucky, Rhode Island, and Tennessee), we solely have complete counts, which embody prekindergarten enrollments that we couldn’t separate from the entire. We exclude these states from our grade-level analyses, and our measure of complete enrollment in these states consists of pre-Ok enrollment. All different state totals embody solely grades Ok–12.
Our ultimate dataset consists of enrollments for 8,226 public faculty districts from 2016–17 to 2021–22, masking roughly 89 p.c of complete Ok–12 enrollment within the 2019–20 faculty yr. This pattern is notably bigger than prior research inspecting reopening insurance policies’ results on district enrollment.