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Enrollment in ninth grade has jumped at a much higher rate than before the pandemic. Texas saw a 9% increase in its freshman class this year. This includes increased 9th grade enrollment in a new San Antonio schoo, Learn4Life, a national charter school network, which typically serves older struggling teens. This percentage is more than four times higher than pre-pandemic percentages. That pattern has been demonstrated in more than a dozen states. See highlights below of school creativity aimed at getting students back into school, after pandemic-induced chronic absenteeism.

  • The new data shows:
    • 15 of 35 states and D.C. saw growth in ninth grade of at least 5% compared to 2020-21
    • Few states, including New Mexico and North Carolina, saw a greater increase in freshmen than kindergartners.
    • Retention rates have nearly doubled in some states and districts. 
  • Students may have two-year gaps in their education.
  • COVID disruptions and remote learning contributed to surge of 9th graders.
    • COVID situation was so tough that more 9th graders than than usual didn’t earn enough credits to be considered 10th graders.
    • 18% of 9th graders in the Houston ISD repeated the year, significantly higher than the district’s pre-pandemic rate of 10%.
    • North Carolina had more than 16% of last year’s freshman class retained, roughly double the rate of past years.
    • Districts from rural Maryland to Albuquerque, New Mexico, also saw higher retention rates this year.
  • This will impact graduation rates three years from now.

Off the radar

  • Private school enrollment and homeschooling also grew last year.
  • But students often return to traditional high schools to play sports.
  • Many parents decide they’re not cut out to teach high schoolers. 
  • Some families who opted for private schools will return and save their money.
  • There are a lot of kids who fell off the radar.
  • Some students returned to school to be with friends and for a normal school structure.
  • A year of remote learning, some students struggles with some social cues and are missing some organizational skills and fell behind in some classes.

Virtual programs

  • Virtual programs are another reason some district’s ninth grade classes are swelling.
  • The Mecklenburg County Public Schools in Virginia, a rural district not far from the North Carolina, offered a virtual option through Stride so parents still concerned about COVID wouldn’t withdraw their children to homeschool and the district wouldn’t lose funding. 
  • The virtual program boosted ninth grade enrollment from 337 in 2020-21 to 609 this year.
  • However, some have regrets and suggest that remote instruction shares some of the blame for students veering off track.
  • They will not offer virtual education options for students next year, stating they are concerned that most of them have not completed much, if any, actual academic work.

Conclusion

  • Virtual programs met the needs of many students during the pandemic. They proved effective for some school districts/states and not in otheres. This will require concentrated program reviews and innovative considerations in order to justify continuation, discontinuation, or expansion of virtual programs.

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