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Massachusetts school enrollment plummets by 37,000 students

Enrollment in Massachusetts public schools this year has plummeted more than 37,000 students — a 4% drop from a standard enrollment decline of about 3,000 students in normal years.



a man wearing a suit and tie: 19CoronaMain Boston, MA 11/18/20  Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley (cq) makes comments. With Riley and Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders (cq), Governor Charlie Baker (cq) gives a coronavirus update during the continuing pandemic. They speak in Gardner Auditorium in the Massachusetts State House. POOL PHOTO


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19CoronaMain Boston, MA 11/18/20 Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley (cq) makes comments. With Riley and Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders (cq), Governor Charlie Baker (cq) gives a coronavirus update during the continuing pandemic. They speak in Gardner Auditorium in the Massachusetts State House. POOL PHOTO

A majority of those students, about 13,000, have switched over to private schools, according to preliminary enrollment data from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education presented during a Tuesday meeting.

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That’s nearly double last year’s figure of 7,299 students that switched to private school.

About 7,000 students have chosen to home school, a significant increase from last year’s total of 802 home schooled students.

Another 12,000 students have moved out of state, which is on par for years prior.

Overall, there are 911,431 Massachusetts students enrolled this year, a decrease of 37,396 students representing a 3.9% drop from last year.

The state has typically seen a decrease of enrollment of about 3,000 students or around .25%, which had previously remained stable.

When asked about the remaining share of the 37,000 students, Russell Johnston, senior associate commissioner in the DESE center for district support, who presented the data, said, “I would speculate that the volatility is students, perhaps, moving out of state or out of country and just the lack of information to the school department because family’s lives are in flux right now.”

About 46% of the enrollment decrease is attributed to students in kindergarten and pre-kindergarten, according to the data. In older students, there has been a drop of just 2.4%.

DESE Commissioner Jeff Riley said, “I think it’s fair to say that a large chunk of the children, the loss here is for the pre-K and kindergarten students, and we expect that many of those children will be back in our system for next year.”

He said, “Parents have just opted to keep the kids home for the year, rather than start on the system.”

The data also showed that for the first time, the majority of the students in the state, 50.9%, are considered high needs.

The number of economically disadvantaged students has increased 3.8% while the number of English language learners and students with disabilities has decreased slightly compared to last year.

Many DESE members peppered Johnston with questions asking for a data breakdown of specific communities, racial and ethnic demographics.

Johnston said more time is needed to dive further into the details, “This is sort of the earliest that we’ve ever publicized these data, it really warrants that additional deeper dive into them.”

Also during Tuesday’s meeting, Riley said MCAS testing for the winter and spring is still moving forward.

“Guidance issued this fall at the federal level has indicated that testing will go forward as planned and that blanket waivers should not be expected this year,” said Riley.

Riley said DESE is “exploring a number of options” about test administration for the spring, which could even include at-home tests in “certain limited cases.”

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