CommonWealth Magazine


UNTIL THIS YEAR, Jennifer Quadrozzi’s daughter had always attended public school. When the pandemic hit, Quadrozzi kept her enrolled in sophomore at North Andover and stayed home with her to lead the distance learning process. But this experience gave Quadrozzi a first-hand view of her daughter’s classroom – and she wasn’t happy with what she saw.

“We are a conservative family,” Quadrozzi said. “We felt like we got a good overview of what was being taught in public school, and it was not in line with our conservative views. “

This year, Quadrozzi transferred his daughter to a Catholic school.

Quadrozzi appears to be part of a wave of migration out of public schools somehow triggered by the pandemic. When the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education released its enrollment figures for the 2020-2021 school year last fall, it was clear that the pandemic had had a huge impact, with 37,400 fewer students than the ‘last year. Most pundits and policy advocates believed these kids would be back this fall.

They did not do it.

Recently released enrollment figures for the 2021-2022 school year show that enrollment has remained stable this year, with 911,529 students attending public schools, an increase of just 65 students from last year.

The attendance of the youngest students has rebounded, although it remains below 2019 levels. There are 11,381 more students in public preschool and kindergarten this year than last year. But it does mean that there are fewer students in many older years.

The state has yet to update its figures to show how many students attend private or parish schools or are homeschooled. Both of these categories saw huge spikes last year, and declining public school enrollment means some of these trends have continued.

Keri Rodrigues, founder of Massachusetts Parents United, an urban parents’ group that advocates for school reforms, said schools in urban areas have experienced transportation problems and a lack of social support. “Parents have looked for additional options because they have simply observed catastrophic school failure in their living room and found something that works better, or their children respond better to alternative education options,” Rodrigues said.

Rodrigues said his two youngest children, aged 8 and 9, suffered from depression last February while their Somerville public school was still learning remotely. Her 9-year-old was in tears one morning begging her not to bring him back to Zoom. She enrolled the children in a local Catholic school, which met in person, and their shine returned. “It was a lifeline, ”Rodrigues said. This year her children were in a good emotional position, so in search of stability, she left them there.

Last year, many public schools were hybrid or remote for much of the year, and some parents have moved to private schools seeking in-person instruction. This year, public schools were required to return in person, so there is less difference in the format of education – although a small number of students who preferred virtual education may have left their districts to an online program.

But if the students changed last year, maybe they just stayed where they were. A recent survey from the MassINC Polling Group, which has the same parent company as Commonwealth, found that parents in private and Catholic schools are more likely than parents in public schools to be satisfied with the way their child’s school has navigated COVID. Parents in private and Catholic schools were more likely to report having access to small class sizes and personalized learning, more likely to believe their school was doing enough to help children catch up after COVID-related disruptions , and more likely to expect their child to learn before grade level by the end of the year.

Maeve Duggan, research director at the MassINC Polling Group, said that while the kids made the switch last year, and parents report that everything is going well,This could be a why rock the boat situation? “

Paul Reville, a former secretary of state for education who is now a professor at Harvard, said many hypotheses regarding the return of the children assumed the pandemic would now be over. With the Delta variant causing another increase in cases, “Some people are concerned about safety and they are restraining their children, ”Reville said. He said some parents probably liked the alternative they found last year – home schooling or private schooling. Reville noted that there are also demographic changes resulting in fewer school-aged children statewide.

But Reville said this was “not a good sign for the mainstream public education system in general, because at some level a lot of people vote with their feet.” Reville said parents either express a lack of confidence in how their district is dealing with the pandemic or they didn’t think they were receiving good services before and found a better alternative.

“It should get those of us in mainstream public education to stand up and take stock and think about how we’re going to adapt more effectively to these circumstances to bring people back,” Reville said.

Natasha Oushomirsky, Massachusetts state director for the Education Trust, which advocates for poor students and students of color, sjust as educators need to reach out to families to find out what is not working for them. One of his concerns is that some students, rather than finding better alternatives, have disconnected from school altogether. Although dropout figures are not available, there are 3,496 fewer students in grades 10-12 this year, which represents the ages at which students can legally leave school.

Meet the author

Journalist, Commonwealth

On Shira Schönberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter for CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for over seven years at the Springfield Republican / MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as starting the legal marijuana industry, issues with the state foster care system and the elections of US Sen Elizabeth Warren and Governor Charlie Baker. Shira won the 2018 Massachusetts Bar Association Award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and several articles won awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Prior to that, she worked for the Concord (NH) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, city hall, and Barack Obama’s primary campaign in New Hampshire in 2008. Shira is the incumbent of a master’s degree from the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University.

On Shira Schönberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter for CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for over seven years at the Springfield Republican / MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as starting the legal marijuana industry, issues with the state foster care system and the elections of US Sen Elizabeth Warren and Governor Charlie Baker. Shira won the 2018 Massachusetts Bar Association Award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and several articles won awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Prior to that, she worked for the Concord (NH) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, city hall, and Barack Obama’s primary campaign in New Hampshire in 2008. Shira is the incumbent of a master’s degree from the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University.

“Our schools and districts have just lost track of some of our children, and it is absolutely essential that school districts work with community partners to find students, help them return, ensure they receive support. which they need right now, ”Ushomirsky mentioned.

Colin Jones, senior policy analyst at the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, was one of the leading voices last spring calling on lawmakers not to use last year’s student enrollment figures to budget for this year, assuming many students would return. Jones said that much of that assumption is that the pandemic will be over, which it is not. He said it remains to be seen whether enrollment could rebound after the 37,000 student drop in 2020-2021. He said policymakers will likely have to wait until next year to see if this drop is permanent or “Did the pandemic last much longer than we thought? “

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