MCPS Enrollment Drop Highlights Expanded Opportunity Gap

Students+work+on+an+assignment+using+a+Chromebook.+Students+in+MCPS+participated+in+exclusively+virtual+learning+for+most+of+the+2020-2021+school+year.

Photo courtesy of The Fluco Beat

Students work on an assignment using a Chromebook. Students in MCPS participated in exclusively virtual learning for most of the 2020-2021 school year.

For the first time in decades, MCPS enrollment has declined two years in a row. Peaking at 166,000 students in 2019, total enrollment is now at 159,005. A drop in enrollment in itself doesn’t seem like it would be an issue, especially when you think of schools like WJ that are bursting at the seams because of overcrowding. The problem arises when you consider why people are pulling out of MCPS. 

The leading factor in declining enrollment is believed to be the Covid pandemic and MCPS’s handling of virtual and recovery learning. In 2020, thousands of parents, who had the resources, decided to pull their kids out of the fully-virtual MCPS to enroll them in in-person or hybrid private schools. As the school year began, there was a noticeable education gap between the private school students who were learning in-person and those in MCPS who were sleeping through Zooms from their bedrooms. 

Now that all schools in Montgomery County, public and private, are back to in-person learning, public schools that remained closed much longer are grappling with even more learning loss and educational recovery than private schools. MCPS has been rattled with staffing shortages, behavioral crises and an intense loss of learning. Younger students, in particular, have experienced seemingly irrecoverable losses with elementary school parents and teachers raising concerns about gaps in foundational reading and math. 

Quality early elementary education is the backbone of one’s educational career. Think about how much you try to call back to your third-grade fraction knowledge while trying to do pre-calculus. Now imagine how much harder it would be if you never learned fractions. Currently, elementary school teachers have been working to teach students new content while also recovering lost content, from the last year and a half, that students never picked up. 

No wonder so many of the parents who have the resources decided to enroll their children in private schools. Their kids have gotten to have a relatively normal educational experience and more opportunities to catch up to pre-pandemic standards. 

Throughout different fields, industries and circumstances, the pandemic worsened the wounds of economic inequality. Education was not immune. Rich families have always been able to give their kids more educational opportunities than families with less money, even within the same community. But the pandemic has dramatically exacerbated this reality. Rather than just supplemental opportunities through tutoring and at-home help, wealth has now become the barrier between a solid educational foundation and a failing one.

I wish there was some magic solution but there isn’t. Teachers are trying their best to catch students up and attention is being paid to the kids who suffered the most during quarantine. But as thousands of parents with resources determine that MCPS can no longer meet the needs of their kids, it’s important that we don’t forget about the kids for whom MCPS is the only option and to whom we owe our best. We need to talk about the current crisis of public education and what we can do to improve opportunities and outcomes for all the children of Montgomery County. 

For the first time in decades, MCPS enrollment has declined two years in a row. Peaking at 166,000 students in 2019, total enrollment is now at 159,005. A drop in enrollment in itself doesn’t seem like it would be an issue, especially when you think of schools like WJ that are bursting at the seams because of overcrowding. The problem arises when you consider why people are pulling out of MCPS. 

The leading factor in declining enrollment is believed to be the Covid pandemic and MCPS’s handling of virtual and recovery learning. In 2020, thousands of parents, who had the resources, decided to pull their kids out of the fully-virtual MCPS to enroll them in in-person or hybrid private schools. As the school year began, there was a noticeable education gap between the private school students who were learning in-person and those in MCPS who were sleeping through Zooms from their bedrooms. 

Now that all schools in Montgomery County, public and private, are back to in-person learning, public schools that remained closed much longer are grappling with even more learning loss and educational recovery than private schools. MCPS has been rattled with staffing shortages, behavioral crises and an intense loss of learning. Younger students, in particular, have experienced seemingly irrecoverable losses with elementary school parents and teachers raising concerns about gaps in foundational reading and math. 

Quality early elementary education is the backbone of one’s educational career. Think about how much you try to call back to your third-grade fraction knowledge while trying to do pre-calculus. Now imagine how much harder it would be if you never learned fractions. Currently, elementary school teachers have been working to teach students new content while also recovering lost content, from the last year and a half, that students never picked up.

No wonder so many of the parents who have the resources decided to enroll their children in private schools. Their kids have gotten to have a relatively normal educational experience, at least a more normal one than they would have had in MCPS and because of greater resource access, they have more opportunities to catch up to pre-pandemic standards. 

Throughout different fields, industries and circumstances, the pandemic worsened the wounds of economic inequality. Education was not immune. Rich families have always been able to give their kids more educational opportunities than families with less money, even within the same community. But the pandemic has dramatically exacerbated this reality. Rather than just supplemental opportunities through tutoring and at-home help, wealth has now become the barrier between a solid educational foundation and a failing one.

I wish there was some magic solution but there isn’t. Teachers are trying their best to catch students up and attention is being paid to the kids who suffered the most during quarantine. But as thousands of parents with resources determine that MCPS can no longer meet the needs of their kids, it’s important that we don’t forget about the kids for whom MCPS is the only option and to whom we owe our best. We need to talk about the current crisis of public education and what we can do to improve opportunities and outcomes for all the children of Montgomery County.

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