Homeschooling and Private School Enrollment Rise as Public Enrollment Falls During COVID Pandemic

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As a grassroots, volunteer-based organization that connects homeschoolers across the state, the Maryland Homeschool Association (MHA) tracks data collected by the state Department of Education on homeschooling rates. home schooling for nearly 20 years. It always tended to fluctuate in seemingly random ways, founder Alessa Keener said, never changing more than 9%.

“Some years it goes down. Some years it goes up, she says. “There has never really been, I think, a good explanation [as to] Why.”

But in the spring of 2020, the face of education changed dramatically in the United States as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the country. The MHA predicted a growing number of homeschooling parents, but the 53.6% increase that occurred was “unprecedented,” Keener said.

The change noted by the MHA was the result of a national trend: parents were pulling their children out of public schools as the pandemic dragged on. After a slight increase in enrollment in the fall of 2019, the country saw an approximately 2.64% decline in public enrollment in the fall of 2020, according to data from each state’s education department.

And Maryland was no exception: The state saw an overall drop of 2.96% in K-12 enrollment, according to data from the state Department of Education. Although all counties individually recorded a decrease, the magnitude of the decline varied from county to county.

Although statewide enrollment declined further between fall 2020 and fall 2021, the drop was 0.12%, a much smaller drop than from the first year of the pandemic.

While the majority of counties saw enrollment rise after the first year of the pandemic, seven counties and the city of Baltimore saw further declines in enrollment in the 2021-22 school year.

Maryland is one of 10 states that overall saw a further decline in enrollment in the 2021-22 school year, based on data from the 30 states that have data for this year.

As schools across the state — and nation — transitioned to virtual learning in the spring 2020 semester, many parents became dissatisfied with the quality of their children’s education, according to Keener. She said the state has seen a surge of what the association calls “pandemic homeschoolers.”

“The schools really tried to do their best,” she said. “[Parents] I just felt like what the schools were trying to do was more frustrating than beneficial.

Maryland reached more than 42,600 homeschooled students in the 2020-21 school year after never surpassing 30,000 since at least 2003, according to state education department data. This followed a nationwide trend based on the Census Bureau’s Household Survey, whose data showed nearly every state saw an increase in homeschooling rates at the start of the 2020-21 school year. .

“Pandemic homeschoolers” have come in two major waves, Keener said, differing in their reasons for pulling their children out of schools.

The first wave brought their children homeschooling officially this spring or for the upcoming school year, often with the idea that it would be temporary — just to “get through” the year, Keener said. Some of these families were concerned about the negative effects that constant time spent in front of a computer screen would have on their children, and others – including parents of children with ADHD or learning disabilities – found that their children could not stay engaged in their virtual classes.

Other families, Keener said, had already considered homeschooling their children, and the pandemic gave them the boost they needed.

COVID-19-related anxiety has also played a role, she said, and currently still prevents some parents from sending their children back to school – sometimes because the child or a family member is at school. high risk.

The second wave of stay-at-home students, she said, came later in the pandemic as schools began to return to in-person instruction. These parents were driven more by “political” reasons, she said, concerned about mask mandates and possible vaccination mandates for students.

Many parents have also turned to private schools during the pandemic and as a result private school enrollment has increased.

“Our independent schools were able to quickly move to remote learning, then to blended learning, then back to in-person learning with [COVID-19] mitigation strategies in place,” according to Peter Baily, executive director of the Association of Independent Maryland & DC Schools, which currently represents 121 independent schools.

Additionally, these schools “quickly allocated financial resources” to fund additional programs during the pandemic, according to Baily.

Reports from the Maryland State Department of Education on non-public enrollment indicate that the pandemic has caused some private schools to temporarily close. While the number of traditional private schools counted in the report has increased during the pandemic, the number of private schools exempted by the church has decreased.

Some counties, such as Queen Anne and Frederick counties, expect public school enrollment to increase in the upcoming 2022-23 school year as schools return to relative normality.

“We found that many families came back to us when we started offering in-person learning again,” said Brandon Oland, communications manager for Frederick County Public Schools.

And Keener agrees. She expects homeschooling rates to drop in the future. However, she does not believe homeschooling will return to pre-pandemic rates.

“I think traditional brick-and-mortar families are eager to return to their usual educational normalcy with their children,” she said. “[But] there will be families who will say, “It was an interesting experience and, surprisingly, it worked for my family. So I think they will continue.

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