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John Huber


Maryland’s Public Schools are Losing Students. The question is why

It is no secret that Maryland’s public schools are losing students.  The question is why.  The Chalkbeat and the Associated Press reported that Public K-12 enrollment from 33 states across the nation dropped by more than 500,000 students, which is 2% since the same time last year.  From 2017 through 2020 Maryland’s K-12 public schools added over 23,000 students.  But, in 2021 there was a loss of almost 27,000 students taking the enrollment back to pre-2017 levels.

Many think that students are simply going to private schools. Maryland private school enrollment increased by about 9,500 students in the fall of 2020. Since then, the private schools have lost those gains. State data show private schools enrolled 11,445 fewer students in Sept. 2021 compared to the previous year.

This data is gathered every year in a required September 30 enrollment report supplied by schools.

The declines are obviously due to a combination of factors brought on by the pandemic. Fewer parents enrolled their children in kindergarten, and some students left public schools for other educational means such as virtual schools or homeschooling.   So, if they are not returning to the public schools and they are not returning to the private schools, where are they going?  Well, the spike in homeschooling and various forms of virtual schooling are flourishing.

Another factor is that high schools very often struggle with tracking down students who simply stop coming to school and are nowhere to be found.  There is a difficult balancing act they must perform.  If they are removed from the roles, they count as a dropout, and it hurts the schools’ graduation rates.  If they keep them on the roles, it hurts the schools’ attendance rates.  Since the pandemic, the state has been very forgiving in terms of attendance and dropout rates, so many schools are cleansing their roles.

At the same time, students who intended to remain in school but were struggling to attend classes, as many were at the height of the pandemic, may have been purged from public school rolls for missing too many days in a row.

Regardless the reason, why did so many students leave during the pandemic and why haven’t they returned?  The dramatic increase in homeschooling speaks for itself.  Many parents, upset with the on again off again virtual learning, associated with all of the other public schools’ problems such as shortages of teachers and other professionals, have simply had enough.  While homeschooling seems to be a great option, parents should be careful and be sure they are following the laws.

Another option that many parents have been pursuing is virtual schooling.  Placed like Stride  or Fusion Global seem very enticing for some.  These options offer a variety of options and some brag of incredible results.  This whole virtual schooling space has been taken over by young upstart entrepreneurs and it appears to be the wild frontier of education.  The jury is still out; however, the most recent assessment in the public schools last fall did not leave a high standard for a baseline.  Any improvement by virtual schools will be a reason for them to celebrate and double down.

So, for now, we will wait and see.  But one thing is for certain, parents are now beginning to identify and accept the increasing number of options for their child’s education.  Public schools are no longer the only game in town.

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The MEN was founded by John Huber in the fall of 2020. It was founded to provide a platform for expert opinion and commentary on current issues that directly or indirectly affect education. All opinions are valued and accepted providing they are expressed in a professional manner. The Maryland Education Network consists of Blogs, Videos, and other interaction among the K-12 community.