Nowadays, education is a headliner, oozing stories about teacher shortages and burnout, academically struggling students, and mental health concerns.

Enter the National Center for Education Statistics survey of our K-12 schools: The Condition of Education 2023. As The 74’s Kevin Mahnken explains: “Its contents offer a nuanced account of how COVID-19 affected student experiences both inside and outside of the classroom, but… also represents the fullest record yet of the decade preceding that once-in-a-century jolt to learning, during which K-12 spending climbed, school choice blossomed, and the teaching pipeline narrowed.”

Between 2012 and 2021…

  • The number of charter school students jumped from 1.8 million to 3.7 million in 2021, now amounting to 7% of all public-school enrollees.
  • Public-school revenues grew by 13%, but student enrollment grew by just 3%.
  • The dropout rate (the percentage of 16-24-year-olds who neither earned a diploma nor attended school) fell from 8.3% to 5.2%.

At the same time, mental health issues rose to the forefront:

  • 72% of schools in low-poverty neighborhoods reported an increased demand for mental health services.
  • 61% of schools in high-poverty neighborhoods reported an increased demand for mental health services.
  • Last spring, 70% of school leaders said more of their students sought psychological and behavioral support, BUT just 56% agreed—and just 12% strongly agreed—that their schools successfully provided that support.
  • 72% of schools provided mental health trauma support in the 2021-22 school year.
  • 72% of schools offered remedial instruction.
  • 75% of schools provided summer enrichment programs prior to said school year.

Meanwhile, schools found it harder to hire teachers in the 2020-21 school year than in 2011-12, especially in these subject areas:

  1. Foreign languages: 42%
  2. Special education: 40%
  3. Physical sciences: 37%
  4. Mathematics: 32%
  5. Computer science: 31%

Moreover, 69% of public schools said too few candidates applied for open teaching positions, and 64% said the problem was too few qualified candidates.

Part of that problem may be too few college students going into education. In fact, between the 2012-13 and 2019-20 school years, their numbers decreased by 30%, plus those completing such programs shrank by 28%.

In the meantime, we’ve seen declining student enrollment:

  • During the 2020-21 school year, 3% of public school students didn’t show up, thus enrollment fell from 50.8 million in the fall of 2019 to 49.4 million that school year.
  • The biggest drop was seen in our youngest children: In 2019, 54% of our 3- and 4-year-olds were enrolled in school, dropping to 50% in 2021.
  • Among 5-year-olds during that time, enrollment fell from 91% to 86%.

Says Stanford economist Thomas Dee, “The sustained declines in pre-K and kindergarten enrollment are important. Many of our youngest learners are missing important early learning opportunities, and it will be years before most age into conventional testing windows that will provide some indication of what this means for learning.”

Your guess is as good as mine…

~ With thanks, Carol