LIFESTYLE

How many students are still missing from American schools? Here’s what the data says

Dec 18, 2023, 9:14 PM

Tameka and her 8-year-old-daughter hang out outside of their apartment in Atlanta Oct. 2, 2023. Tam...

Tameka and her 8-year-old-daughter hang out outside of their apartment in Atlanta Oct. 2, 2023. Tameka's daughter is the only one of her four children who regularly leaves the apartment to play with other children or attend a local after-school program. She’s never attended school, and is one of tens of thousands of children nationwide who are not enrolled in any kind of schooling. (AP Photo/Bianca Vázquez Toness)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Bianca Vázquez Toness)

Since the pandemic first upended American education, an estimated 50,000 students are still missing from any kind of U.S. school. That’s according to an Associated Press analysis of public, private and homeschool enrollment as of fall 2022, and U.S. Census data in 22 states, plus Washington, D.C.

The reasons students left during the pandemic are varied, and still not fully understood. Some experienced homelessness, lost interest or motivation, or struggled with mental health. Some needed to work or assume adult responsibilities. Some fell behind in online school and didn’t see the point of re-engaging.

The number of missing students has fallen from fall 2021, when over 230,000 students were still unaccounted for in an analysis by AP, Big Local News and Stanford University economist Thomas Dee. Slowly, many students returned to some form of schooling, or aged out of the system. The decline in missing students is a hopeful sign the education system is moving toward recovery.

Still, not all is back to its pre-pandemic “normal.” AP’s nationwide analysis shows lasting disengagement from public school, as Americans turn to other kinds of schooling. Roughly two-thirds of states keep credible enrollment data for either private or homeschooling. Among those states, private schooling grew nearly 8% and homeschooling grew more than 25% from fall 2019 to fall 2022. Public school enrollment remained depressed, down by over 1 million students.

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The Associated Press education team receives support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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