ABC News reports that “thousands” — and perhaps “millions” — of educationally marginalized students are “missing” from the educational system, and have been since March of 2020, following a move to mostly virtual learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report also suggests that public school enrollment has plummeted as parents switch their students out to private schools, many of which have been in-person during the 2020-2021 school year, or transition to homeschooling, even if temporarily.
“States around the country are reporting a significant decline in the number of students enrolled in public school because of the coronavirus pandemic, leaving experts and educators concerned about the trend, and its potential long-term consequences,” the outlet noted Tuesday. “A notable number of students seem to have simply fallen off the grid, not showing up for online or in-person instruction, their whereabouts unknown by school officials.”
The problem seems to be particularly egregious within “underserved” and lower-income communities. Although there is no efficient or foolproof way to quantify the available data, ABC News says, the magnitude of the problem seems immense. According to at least one education non-profit that focuses on marginalized communities, as many as 3 million students could be missing from school.
That study, compiled by the Bellwether Education Partners, “estimates that approximately 3 million of the ‘most educationally marginalized students in the country’ may have been missing from school since March 2020, when the pandemic forced school closures. The group said it arrived at the number by calculating a ‘likely percentage of at-risk groups not in school, based on media reports and available data.'”
Michigan K-12 enrollment has dropped by the tens of thousands. More than 100,000 students are missing from Dallas, Texas, schools alone. Florida is also reportedly seeking the whereabouts of around 100,000 kids.
ABC News notes that a severe drop in Kindergarten enrollment may account for some of the “missing” kids. National Public Radio reports that, based on crude numbers, it appears that there’s been a nearly 20% drop in Kindergarten enrollment nationwide as parents struggle with a “virtual learning” environment that would have 5- and 6-year-olds parked in front of computers for extended periods of time.
“Many education experts are skeptical about the virtues of remote learning for very young children, and lots of parents seem to feel the same way,” NPR reported back in October of last year. Parents who spoke to the network also cited mask mandates and social distancing requirements, which children may have difficulty following.
Part of the problem is also broadband access. The National Education Association (NEA), the nation’s largest teachers union, found, in its own study, that 25% of school-age children lack reliable access to wifi, making virtual schooling a near impossibility.
Another part of the problem may be virtual learning itself.
“From a learning standpoint, that was potentially catastrophic,” one education expert told ABC News. “What we’ve learned, over the course of the last 12 months, is that from both a learning and a health perspective, there are millions of students for whom virtual learning just is not working.”
“There’s a subset of those students who are completely detached from their school systems at the moment,” the expert continued. “They have logged off. They don’t feel connected enough to their own learning to log on every day.”