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U.S. News & Politics

The More Insane Public Schools Were About Covid, The More Parents Abandoned Them


As a new academic year begins across the country, parents and children are still trying to recover from the lockdown-related disruptions of the past two years. Many students may take years to overcome the learning losses they suffered due to Covid lockdowns—and some might never overcome it at all.

A recently released study demonstrates the unnecessary nature of much of this damage. That analysis shows that public school districts with tighter Covid restrictions suffered larger enrollment losses, while showing little correlation with Covid case rates.

Diverging Enrollment Trends

The analysis, conducted by Nat Malkus of the American Enterprise Institute, analyzed enrollment data from 48 states (all except Kentucky and Tennessee). Overall, public school enrollment dropped by 2.7 percent in the first pandemic year, which began in the fall of 2020, and remained largely flat in the second pandemic year, which commenced last fall.

But cross-referencing these enrollment data with information on schools’ types of learning mechanisms reveals a different phenomenon. Malkus classified public school districts into three categories, based on their use of fully remote and hybrid methods of learning compared to fully in-person schools. The Return to Learn Tracker shows sharply divergent approaches to learning for the first pandemic year of 2020-2021—many schools remained fully remote or in hybrid form, while many others returned to fully in-person learning in the fall of 2020.

That natural experiment of districts’ differing approaches yielded different results for enrollment. Malkus found that the third of public school districts with the most remote learning during 2020-2021 lost additional students in 2021-2022. Conversely, the third of the districts with the most in-person learning during 2020-2021 gained back last year nearly half of the students they lost during the first year of the pandemic:

Political and Cultural Factors

The effect Malkus found regarding school

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