The COVID-19 pandemic may have been the crack in the dam that allowed parents’ building frustration with the regular public schools to burst forth. Public school enrollment is nose-diving across the country, with legions of parents everywhere choosing other learning options for their children.
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools recently issued an analysis which examined data during the pandemic and found that the “public schools, including district-run schools, lost more than 1.4 million students (a 3.3% loss from 2019-20 to 2020-21).”
The report noted that the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics found that enrollment in public schools fell by the largest margin in at least in at least two decades.
Across California, state figures show that K-12 enrollment fell by 160,000 students, which was a 3-percent dip and the largest drop in enrollment in twenty years.
In the Los Angeles Unified School District, enrollment dropped by 27,000 students, which was a nearly 6 percent fall. The Los Angeles Times noted that this percentage decline “is three times what planners in the nation’s second-largest school district predicted.”
Even more ominous for the future of the regular public schools is the plunge in enrollment among the nation’s youngest students.
The education publication The 74 pointed out that federal data shows “the combined number of preschool and kindergarten students decreased by 13 percent last year.” Further, “the pre-K population plunged by an astonishing 22 percent.”
As parents were exiting the public schools, they were choosing education options ranging from charter schools to homeschooling.
According to the NAPCS report, “Public charter school enrollment increased during the 2020-21 school year in at least 39 states, the only segment of the public education sector to grow during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“All told,” the report found, “nearly 240,000 new students enrolled in charter schools during that period, a 7% year-over-year increase.”
In California, for example, the report said: “Charter schools saw enrollment increases for nearly every racial and ethnic subgroup, while district public schools saw enrollment decreases for nearly every racial and ethnic subgroup. Specifically, charter schools saw particularly large increases of Asian, Filipino, Hispanic, and multi-racial students. District public schools saw a particularly large decrease in White and Black students.”
Even more than the uptick in charter school enrollment, however, has been the surge in parents choosing to homeschool their children.
As I detail in my soon-to-be-released Pacific Research Institute book The Homeschool Boom: Pandemic, Policies, and Possibilities, U.S. Census Bureau data show that from just spring 2020 to fall 2020, the proportion of U.S. households homeschooling their kids more than doubled from 5 percent to 11 percent.
Among African-American families, homeschooling skyrocketed from 3 percent to 16 percent—a more than five-fold increase. Among Hispanic families, homeschooling doubled from 6 percent to 12 percent.
In my book, I profile Magda Gomez, who emigrated from Mexico to the United States and who decided to homeschool her daughters after they were bullied at their regular California public school. Homeschooling has worked so well for Magda and her daughters that Magda is now an activist in the Hispanic community promoting homeschooling and informing parents about the educational choices they have.
Analyzing the data, the Census Bureau concluded, “It’s clear that in an unprecedented environment, families are seeking solutions that will reliably meet their health and safety needs, their childcare needs and the learning and socio-emotional needs of their children.”
Thus, “the global COVID-19 pandemic has sparked new interest in homeschooling and the appeal of alternative school arrangements has suddenly exploded.”
The Census Bureau’s conclusion is borne out by on-the-ground practitioners such as Alicia Carter, the head of a homeschool academy at a charter school in Sacramento whom I interviewed for my book.
Carter’s academy is a brick-and-mortar facility where homeschool parents can send their children to take art, music, and other types of enrichment classes a day or two a week. Carter has been a homeschool parent, teacher, and administrator for many years and she has seen a lot of change over the years. However, what she has seen over the last couple years has amazed her.
For the first time in her homeschool academy’s history, she told me, they had to hold a lottery for admission in 2021.
Carter says that part of the reason is the pandemic, but she also thinks that people are starting to consider homeschooling a viable option, not a fringe choice. She says, “homeschooling has become much more diverse religiously, ethnically, and socioeconomically all over the country.”
As public schools continue to flail with controversial reopening policies, unpopular woke curricula, and unresponsive top-down one-size-fits-all edicts, parents, as the Census Bureau observes, “are increasingly open to options beyond the neighborhood school.” That is why homeschooling, especially, will be the education wave of the future.
Lance Izumi is senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute and the author of the upcoming PRI book The Homeschool Boom: Pandemic, Policies, and Possibilities.