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Class sizes recover after 2020′s dramatic preschool enrollment drop

Northeast Ohio districts say class sizes already recovering to near ‘normal’ in 2021
Published: Nov. 9, 2021 at 2:53 PM EST
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - The nation saw an alarming dip in the number of children attending preschool last year, according to new data from the Census Bureau.

After receiving the agency’s latest report, 19 Investigates discovered that several local school systems saw similar patterns that aligned with the national numbers.

While concerning, administrators tell us they’re hopeful the enrollment decline was temporary, and they believe it will be.

It appears numbers are recovering already this year, but there are still some kids who missed out on a year or two of crucial early childhood education.

The data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that for the first time in 27 years, fewer than half of the nation’s 3- and 4-year-olds attended preschool in 2020.

North Ridgeville Assistant Superintendent David Pritt sat down to talk with us about the national numbers that show preschool enrollment dropped from 54% in 2019 to 40 percent last year.

“Pre-K is the foundation for everything we do the rest of the years,” he said. “The sooner we can get students into a structured school setting, the better for us.”

Pritt says there was a 20% decline in preschool enrollment within his district last year.

The Census Bureau’s numbers only cover through 2020.

This year, Pritt says the class sizes are already recovering, sitting just 6% fewer kids in preschool this year than in 2019.

We asked why the numbers aren’t quite back to normal just yet, though.

“I think it’s still the concern of COVID, particularly with this age group that can’t be vaccinated,” he said.

It’s a concern that’s likely not limited to North Ridgeville parents.

A spokesperson for Akron Schools says after seeing a decline in enrollment last year, classes are recovering to almost normal numbers there too this year. However, the system says its enrollment as a whole is still about 2% down.

“With this pandemic covering two school years, it is possible that we will see students come to us next year that haven’t had any pre-K experience,” Pritt said.

While not mandated by the state, Pritt says preschool is where children first work on literacy and number recognition, essential tools for the start of Kindergarten.

“The longer it takes for our students to get that, the longer they are it’s going to be before they are literate students,” he said.

Pritt says filling the gaps in education will fall on Kindergarten teachers. And that’s another added challenge in all this, finding the school staffing to get numbers back to normal.

“To greatly increase numbers is difficult, because of the resources it involves,” Pritt said.

Pritt says administrators have to anticipate needing at least a few months to hire new teachers and staff, where as before the pandemic, it only took a few weeks.

He is optimistic that his district will fully recover to normal numbers however by the end of the school year.

The Census Bureau’s report included this data on school enrollment within other grades and age groups:

The estimated distribution of kindergarten through 12th grade enrollment by race and Hispanic origin was statistically unchanged from 2019 to 2020:

  • 50% non-Hispanic White
  • 25% Hispanic
  • 15% Black
  • 5% Asian

College enrollment fell to the lowest level since 2007. Most of the decline took place in two-year colleges, which had their lowest enrollment levels in 20 years.

  • Enrollment in graduate school held steady. Graduate school enrollment in 2020 was 3.8 million, not statistically different from 2019.
  • Among college students in 2020, 53% were non-Hispanic White, 20% were Hispanic, 15% were Black, and 10% were Asian.

The Current Population Survey, sponsored jointly by the Census Bureau and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, is the primary source of labor force statistics for the U.S. population.

Data collection challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic may have affected some of the results reported here. Overall response to the October CPS declined from 84% in 2019 to 81% in 2020. During the pandemic, students may have continued their enrollment (i.e., to study) but in less traditional ways such as remote learning or by completing virtual or paper assignments. The various learning options increased the potential for misclassification of enrollment status, potentially artificially decreasing some enrollment estimates.

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