Once upon a time, public health officials closed U.S. public schools. Tens of thousands of kids left class and never returned.
“Bring back the lost children of Los Angeles Unified,” wailed the Los Angeles Times editorial board on August 8, 2022.
“Some 10,000 to 20,000 Los Angeles kids are missing,” the Times editorial board lamented. “Not in the picture-on-a-milk carton sense, but vanished from Los Angeles Unified School District enrollment rosters and unaccounted for as schools plan the start of classes on Aug. 15.”
“It’s hard to determine exactly where they are,” concluded the editorial board.
From the vague number- between 10,000 and 20,000 is a fairly large ballpark when you’re talking about school-age children enrolled or not enrolled in public school- to the reasons officials have encountered thus far in their limited study of the phenomenon, the problem is a vast iceberg known only by the barest glimpse of it.
The problem is hardly confined to the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Public school districts from Boston to Chicago to New York City are having precisely the same problem. Enrollment, which had been steadily falling for years in some cases, has suddenly dropped- sharply.
More and more parents, due to the extended nature of many public school closures, have opted for home schooling or private schools. Some parents have left the school districts for other reasons. In some areas, San Francisco in particular where three school board members were recalled, parents have been clearly expressing their displeasure at the failures of remote learning.
“Pay attention to parents’s dissatisfaction with California schools,” implored the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board on June 19, 2022. “COVID Exposed How Public Schools Are Failing Black Kids,” warned Adam Coleman for Newsweek on February 16, 2022. “Coronavirus school closures hurt low income, minority kids most,” reported Just the News on February 5, 2022, citing a study from the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty.
This is a major problem for U.S. public school districts and the entire system. A number of other factors are already pushing parents towards alternative education.
The Supreme Court’s recent ruling against withholding federal education funds from private schools which include religious instruction puts even more pressure on public schools to perform.
School choice is gaining traction on both sides of the aisle and everywhere in between.
Even liberal parents have been turning to popular charter schools like Montessori. They still vote Democrat, still support their local teacher’s union, even rubber-stamp property tax increases to fund public schools; but their kids attend a charter or private school.
Each student enrolled in Chicago’s public school system gets $22,000 per year in funding dollars. Proponents of school choice say the educational allotment should be attached to the student- not automatically paid to the school system. If parents could have more choice about where their child’s tuition was spent, it might force failing public school districts to improve.
Opponents of school choice argue the policy would gut public school systems and close many public schools. They may have a point.
Supporters of school choice argue those schools are failing public school students anyway.
And indeed, test scores weren’t good before COVID19. In some cases, they were downright abysmal.
Of course, they are worse now- how much worse is an ancillary iceberg floating right alongside that other one filled with tens of thousands of kids- or more- who left school high school or middle school in spring of 2020 and never went back.
The general consensus on remote schooling, according to no less authority than the New York Times: “Not Good for Learning.”
The term “Global Education Crisis,” is already being bandied about by the World Bank.
“New research is showing the high costs of long school closures in some communities,” wrote David Leonhardt for the NYT on May 5, 2022.
“When Covid-10 began to sweep across the country in March 2020, schools in every state closed their doors,” Leonhardt concluded. “A few months later, school districts began to make different decisions about whether to reopen.”
Some public schools reopened in the fall of 2020. Others remained closed for months.
“These differences created a huge experiment, testing how well remote learning worked during the pandemic,” Leonhardt wrote. “Academic researchers have since been studying the subject, and they have come to a consistent conclusion: Remote learning was a failure.”
It isn’t as it no one tried to warn of the impending disaster caused by extended public school shut-downs.
“Don’t Let Our Schools Go Back Online,” begged the Chicago Tribune on December 21, 2021. “There is no excuse for shutting schools down again,” concurred Bloomberg. “America’s Children Are in Crisis: Closed Schools Are the Cause,” agreed Erin Hawley for USA Today on January 14, 2022. “First, You Decide That Kids Belong in School,” added Carrie McKean for The Atlantic on January 27, 2022.
“Sometimes, people don’t believe me when I say the schools in much of the US were closed for a year,” wrote Mary Katherine Ham for CNN on May 12, 2022.
“In contrast, there was a parallel pandemic where kids attended fully functioning private schools, in person,” she wrote. “In many red states and rural areas, public schools reopened in the fall of 2020. Europe and much of the developed word sent kids back to school almost immediately after initial Covid-19 shutdowns with minimal restrictions.”
Even now- amid the dire trouble public schools are in, the vast number of missing students, falling test scores and other issues- some of the problems public schools are facing are almost embarrassingly mundane.
When classes start in Chicago, over 4,000 public school students will be without reliable busing. Ditto for students missing from the LA Unified Public School District, who have to live at least 5 miles from school in order to qualify for busing.
The LA Times editorial board is absolutely right: 10,000 to 20,000 LA-area children are missing from the rosters of public schools and they aren’t missing in the picture-on-a-milk carton sense.
Putting a missing child’s face on a milk carton could be considered a plan to get them back, albeit not a great one.
To recover public school students lost to attrition during long-term school closures predominant in places like San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago, some school districts don’t seem to have a plan at all.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)