According to a recently published study from the Texas Education Agency (TEA), Texas public schools saw steep enrollment declines between this year and the last. The study also suggests an early burnout with online learning, though the choice to go back to class did not always rest with parents depending on local regulations and the decisions of school districts.
Overall, Texas public schools saw a three percent decline in enrollment this year. That amounts to almost 157,000 students who attended public schools in October 2019 and didn’t come back in October 2020. The difference is not due to graduation: the 10th, 11th, and 12th grades saw slightly increased enrollment, and the lion’s share of students that left public schools came out of early education and pre-kindergarten.
Pre-K experienced the most dramatic shift compared to all other grades with a 22 percent gap between this school year and the last.
A quick and early exhaustion with online learning shines clear through the data haze. Over 700,000 students that began the year online returned to the classroom in person by the second month of school. Whether by the decision of the school district or local officials, a number of schools began the 2020-2021 year entirely online before returning in person.
The official study lends its signet seal to recent analysis by the Texas Home School Coalition, an advocacy group among the home school resources that the TEA recommends. Before public data became available, the group saw a 400 percent increase in the use of its online withdrawal tool that parents can use to pull their kids out of public school between August of this school year and the last. The gap between the summer months of 2019 and 2020 yawned even wider with a fifteenfold increase in the tool’s use. The heightened use of the site pointed to an enrollment dip that official numbers now confirm.
This school year may also become the new peak in mounting departures from Texas public schools. Despite the fact that public school enrollment in Texas has gradually increased every year since measurements began, withdrawals for home school have risen.
In the 2018-2019 school year, 109,759 students left Texas public schools without graduating. The year before that marked a peak in a double-decade rising trend of students leaving public school for home school and in leavers overall, with nearly 113,000 students leaving school without graduating in the 2017-2018 school year. While the TEA cannot collect and publish final leaver data until the school year runs its course, the recent summary measures the raw gap in enrollment between this school year and the last at a whopping 156,596 students, dwarfing the leaver tallies of previous years.
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