Districts that stayed in distance learning longer lost more students

In fall 2020, public school enrollment fell 2.5 percent — over 1 in 40 students, according to an enrollment tracker published by the American Enterprise Institute. Districts that spent the 2020 school year mostly in-person saw enrollment numbers rebound in fall 2021, while districts that stayed remote longer had even more students leave.

“Taken together, 1,268,000 students left public schools since the pandemic began,” according to the Return to Learn Tracker.

Minnesota ranks 27th in enrollment declines

Minnesota public schools experienced enrollment declines for two consecutive school years, with enrollment dropping 2.55 percent from 2020-2022, which I also wrote about here and here.

Minneapolis Public Schools, one of the last districts to bring students back into the classroom, lost more than 10 percent of its students over the last two years, according to the tracker. A charter school just down the road increased its enrollment by more than 10 percent during the same time period.

Enrollment declines fall along partisan lines

While district enrollment declines were relatively similar for the 2020 school year regardless of 2020 voting patterns, most districts that voted for Trump rebounded in 2021 compared to districts that voted for Biden and continued to experience enrollment declines, according to the tracker.

High mask usage a factor in enrollment declines, too

“Districts in counties with high mask usage lost 3.8 percent of their students,” reports the tracker.

Source: Return to Learn Tracker

Long road to recovery

Since COVID started, multiple studies have pointed out the declines in math and reading achievement. And now a new March 2022 National Bureau of Economic Research working paper highlights how remote instruction during the pandemic “was a primary driver of widening achievement gaps.” If the learning losses and gaps become permanent, “such losses will have major impacts on future earnings and intergenerational mobility.”