The Pandemic Exodus: Kindergarten Enrollment Drops
The how old are kindergarteners is a question that has been asked recently. Kindergarten enrollment dropped by 3% this year, which means that there are more than 1 million fewer children enrolled in the program.
More than 1 million youngsters did not enroll in local schools as the epidemic spread. They were among the most vulnerable: 5-year-olds living in low-income areas
7 August 2021
PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) – Solomon Carson, 6, leapt from the stoop of his family’s neat rowhouse in West Philadelphia on a hot July day, full of what his father, David, described as “unspent energy.”
When asked his name by a stranger, he replied enthusiastically but admitted that he couldn’t spell it. “I can assist you,” his father replied, carefully pronouncing each letter and having Solomon repeat after him.
This past year, Solomon was meant to have mastered the fundamentals in kindergarten, but his first year of formal schooling was everything but that.
When Covid-19’s classes were shuttered, his parents decided against enrolling him in city schools, something they already had reservations about. They chose to educate him at home with his two elder boys since they were not working. They also enrolled him in a virtual charter school that promised in-person instruction but never delivered.
As Solomon begins first grade, Mr. Carson is confident in his son’s academic abilities. He said, “I really believe we can improve.”
Solomon is part of a mass migration from public schools in the area.
As the pandemic upended life in the United States, more than one million children who had been expected to enroll in these schools did not show up, either in person or online. The missing students were concentrated in the younger grades, with the steepest drop in kindergarten — more than 340,000 students, according to government data.
Now, for the first time, a comprehensive picture of these kindergartners has been created based on enrollment data from 70,000 public schools in 33 states. It demonstrates that, just as the pandemic exposed enormous inequalities in health care and poverty, it also exacerbated inequality in education, putting some of the most vulnerable children behind even before they entered a classroom.
According to a study conducted by The New York Times and Stanford University, 10,000 local public schools in those 33 states lost at least 20% of their kindergarten students. Only around 4,000 schools in 2019 and 2018 had such drastic reductions.
Nearly all kids suffered during the months of closed schools, and families of all economic levels and educational levels raced to assist their children make up for the lost time. The most dramatic drops were in areas below and just over the poverty line, when a family of four’s average household income was $35,000 or less. The decrease was 28 percent higher in those areas’ schools than it was in the rest of the nation.
Kindergarten enrollment in the Philadelphia school system, where almost all children come from low-income households, fell by more than a quarter between the autumn of 2019 and the fall of 2020. The decrease was three times the national average, with 2,700 pupils affected.
While many states make kindergarten optional, educators believe there is no replacement for high-quality, in-person kindergarten. It is the first day of school for many students. They are taught to work together as well as recognize numbers and letters. Early phonics and number awareness — the idea of larger and smaller amounts — are taught to them.
And kindergarten is often the first place when children are diagnosed with impairments such as dyslexia.
Despite this, tens of thousands of 6-year-olds in the country’s poorest areas will enter first grade without having attended conventional kindergarten.
“We have to be very concerned,” said Thomas S. Dee, a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education who collaborated on the study with The New York Times.
Two-thirds of all public schools were included in the study.
It revealed that remote learning was a major contributor to enrolment reductions.
According to a new study report published Saturday by Professor Dee and colleagues, districts that went completely remote saw a 42 percent higher decrease than those that provided full-time in-person instruction. While several of these institutions were losing students before to the pandemic, the drops between fall 2019 and autumn 2020 were far more pronounced.
The most likely to close classes for long periods were city schools, which serve a disproportionate percentage of low-income children of color.
One of the more contentious aspects of the epidemic has been remote teaching. Some parents, politicians, and teachers’ unions favor it because they are concerned about the virus spreading in the classroom. However, even as early as last summer, data surfaced that the health risk could be reduced, many doctors and child development specialists cautioned that school cancellations would have a significant emotional and cognitive impact on children and their families.
Interviews in three locations that saw significant reductions in kindergarten enrolment — Philadelphia, Jackson, Miss., and Honolulu — revealed the difficulties of educating the youngest children remotely, as well as how little parents trusted their schools to make the transition.
The Carsons had reservations about their local public school even before the epidemic. Mr. Carson had seen a teacher screaming at a little girl while one of their older boys was a student there. And the structure, he added, reminded him of a prison, with cages on the windows and guards on the grounds. He was ready to give Solomon a another option.
Given the large number of kindergartners who have moved on, the issue now is to re-establish relationships between schools and the families who have gone. As the Delta variety spreads throughout the country, this job is made more difficult by the ongoing fear of infection in schools.
“A lot of Black and brown families kept their children at home for good reason,” said Kayla Patrick, an analyst with the Education Trust, a low-income and minority student advocacy organization. “They must understand that in-person teaching has been shown to be superior. We want to ensure that schools are re-establishing trust.”
Gone are half of the Kindergartners.
Last autumn, schools in Hawaii operated nearly completely remotely, and the state had one of the largest statewide kindergarten enrollment drops in the nation – a 14 percent drop from fall 2019 to fall 2020.
The decrease was even more startling at Linapuni Elementary School, which is located in a major public housing development in Honolulu: According to statistics from the New York Times, kindergarten enrolment has decreased by half, from 65 children in 2019 to 32 students in 2020.
According to Tami Haili, the principal, many of the kids come from Pacific Islander immigrant families who do not understand English. 85 percent of kids are eligible for free or reduced-price meals.
Teachers and other staff workers go door-to-door in the housing complex throughout the school year to identify youngsters who are eligible for kindergarten. Many parents need assistance with paperwork, medical documents, and birth certificates.
Those efforts came to a halt last autumn. “We couldn’t be proactive with Covid,” Ms. Haili said.
According to Ryan Kusumoto, president of Parents and Children Together, a charity assisting immigrant families in the Linapuni area, families did get laptops for their children.
Parents, on the other hand, need high-speed internet and language services in order to get basic information from schools, he said. They had to balance employment with safety, particularly if they were living with elderly grandparents.
Taking kindergartners through online courses was too much for many families. Only around ten pupils who had been absent in the autumn registered when Linapuni resumed classes in the new year, according to Ms. Haili.
When the Local School Refuses to Help
Many parents sought a safe alternative to child care as schools became more distant.
Many critical employees in Jackson, Miss., had to find someone to babysit their kindergartners when the school system switched to exclusively online instruction in the autumn of 2020. They went to a day care center.
Single parents showed up at Leaps and Bounds Developmental Academy, which cared for seven kindergarten-aged children and had employment at health care facilities, fast food restaurants, and the neighboring Continental tire factory.
According to Christi Jackson Payton, the day care’s director, just two people took part in remote learning. However, Ms. Jackson Payton believes that day care would have been a better option than online kindergarten since the center emphasizes on early reading abilities such as phonics.
“The youngsters that were here got more direct learning,” she stated at the very least.
Other day care directors, on the other hand, were concerned by the presence of school-aged youngsters. According to Petra Kay, the director of Northtown Child Development Center, 25 school-aged children were forced to attend online courses.
Ms. Kay, on the other hand, does not believe the teaching was successful for 5-year-olds.
“The kids now know how to use a computer quite well,” she added. “Did they, however, learn anything?”
According to her, all of the kindergarten children at her facility will be promoted to first grade in the autumn. Ms. Kay, on the other hand, thinks that a third of children are behind and should retake kindergarten in person.
The problem for other parents was one of trust. Is their local public school capable of providing a high-quality online education?
Some people in Philadelphia resorted to a state-run network of virtual schools, which had been established up before the epidemic.
While these programs are not large, the pandemic fueled their growth, despite the fact that these schools have produced “overwhelmingly negative results” for students in both reading and math compared to brick-and-mortar schools, according to a 2019 study. Las escuelas virtuales añadieron 20.000 estudiantes de primaria en los estados estudiados por The New York Times. En Pensilvania, la matrícula de kindergarten aumentó en 2.000 alumnos, más de tres veces.
Solomon Carson found the virtual charter program to be difficult. His parents enrolled him in a state-funded online school associated with a for-profit business. (Because Solomon is still enrolled, Mr. Carson requested The Times not to name the program.)
The organization offered to give in-person tutoring for children, which the Carsons thought would benefit Solomon in areas like as phonics and arithmetic.
However, the organization subsequently informed them that face-to-face coaching was unavailable due to the epidemic. They were left to fend for themselves, with two additional children to educate at home.
Bonnylin Sapp, the daughter of Gine Ramirez, 36, of North Philadelphia, was also enrolled in a virtual charter school. She would have preferred face-to-face instruction, but all of the classes were full. She was also concerned about the nearby school. Before transferring to a virtual charter in fifth grade, her older daughter had wilted there.
She reasoned that, at the very least, the distant charter school had prior experience with online teaching.
Academically, Bonnylin is flourishing. The 6-year-old counts by 5s and 10s and is learning Spanish and sign language. But that’s mostly due to numerous one-on-one sessions with her mother, who works as a babysitter on occasion.
While Ms. Ramirez was pleased by her daughter’s teacher’s kindness, Bonnylin only interacted with her for two hours each week through live video.
Overall, computer kindergarten was boring and “very sad,” Ms. Ramirez said, before summing up the experience with the letters “H-E-L-L,” which her daughter couldn’t comprehend.
Despite their frustrations, Solomon and Bonnylin will continue to attend their virtual schools this autumn.
Mr. Carson is concerned about illness infecting his family, and he prefers consistency and stability over uncertainty. “There are so many individuals who aren’t vaccinated,” he added. “They’re going to have to shut it down again.”
Ms. Ramirez no longer has a strong fear of the infection. However, she and Bonnylin have learned the routine of online education, and the local primary school is underperforming, she claims.
Only 20% of the absent kindergarten pupils in Philadelphia had returned in any form — online or in person — by the conclusion of the previous school year.
According to a spokesperson for the Philadelphia school system, it is still unclear if enrollment will increase this autumn. The district is organizing a citywide bus trip to assist parents in 31 areas with school registration. The trip will give school supplies as well as provide vaccinations for children.
Schools in Jackson began offering in-person instruction five days a week in January. According to a district spokesperson, just 129 of the 391 absent kindergartners returned throughout the course of the year, either in person or online.
As the spring semester of 2021 started in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and North Carolina, 60 percent of the missing kindergarten children were still missing.
Linapuni Elementary School began the new school year on Aug. 3, but the news isn’t much better. Despite the staff’s efforts to register children, just 38 kindergarten students and 37 first-graders have signed up as of July 20, compared to 65 kindergarten students and 71 first-graders in the autumn of 2019.
According to parent polls, low-income and nonwhite families are the most concerned about the virus and the safety of returning to school. And the emergence of the Delta variety may exacerbate these concerns.
However, the epidemic has highlighted the gap between what parents desire and what schools are able to provide. And that, at least for Ms. Ramirez, is the most important factor in keeping Bonnylin at home.
Ms. Ramirez said, “I need a miracle at this point to get out of this apartment and this area.” “My children are entitled to so much more.”
Amelia Nierenberg contributed to the story as a reporter. Graphics were provided by Jugal K. Patel. The data was compiled by Stanford University’s Big Local News project and Graduate School of Education’s Eric Sagara, Justine Issavi, Julia Ingram, Charlie Hoffs, Dilcia Mercedes, Justin Mayo, Elizabeth Huffaker, Christine DeLianne, Cheryl Phillips, and Thomas Dee; Alicia Parlapiano and Jugal K. Patel of The Times; Ryan Pitts of the journalism nonprofit OpenNews; Daniel J. Willis of EdSource; and Vignette
Concerning the information
Data from the United States National Center for Education Statistics was combined with numbers from the State of Illinois, which were not included in the federal data, to produce national totals.
Data about individual schools was gathered directly from 33 state education agencies. The Times eliminated schools that were mostly virtual prior to the epidemic, as well as those that had no pupils in the autumn of 2019 or 2020.
The EDGE School Community Poverty Estimates, which utilizes census data to estimate the poverty status of each school’s surrounding neighborhood, provided the neighborhood income levels. When the average household income was 135 percent of the poverty line or less, which in 2020 was $35,000 or less for a family of four, schools were deemed to be in high-poverty areas. The New York Times also looked at high-poverty schools using data on children who received free or reduced-price lunch, which revealed similar patterns.
Burbio supplied information on which school districts operated in-person, hybrid, and remote as of October.
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