New York City public school students returned to classrooms last month without a remote option for the first time after a year and a half of disrupted learning caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
But despite children being back in school buildings for six weeks, New York City Department of Education officials have not released the number of students actually attending classes sparking questions about enrollment from the country’s largest public school system.
During a City Council hearing on classroom capacity, Education Committee Chair Mark Treyger pressed DOE officials for the number of students currently enrolled in one of the city’s 1,600 public schools. But the DOE’s Deputy Chief Academic Officer for Teaching and Learning Lawrence Pendergast refused to give a number instead promising the department would release enrollment numbers of Oct. 31.
“We committed to sharing that number at the end of October and we are going to honor that commitment,” Lawrence told Treyger.”We schools have time to verify their registers and as you know, that is a responsibility that falls on teachers and principals and we don’t want to ask them to do it over and over again.”
Treyger, a former high school history teacher, pushed back against Lawrence’s answer. ” You are speaking to someone who gave the attendance sheets every day, they were scanned into ATS…the DOE knows how many kids are in school each day they are just choosing to not share that information.”
Public school enrollment has been declining in the city since 2016, following a trend across the country’s largest school districts, with DOE officials partially blaming the declining birth rate on the drop in public school enrollment. But concerns over a mass exodus from the school system were raised last year due to the pandemic.
According to DOE preliminary data from January, the system lost about 43,000 students last year, a 4% drop in enrollment across all grades, with the sharpest decline in enrollment occurring in the city’s universal pre-k program at 13%. The drop meant that the country’s largest public school system was only educating about 960,000 students.
Lawmakers, education advocates, and other members of school communities have since asked the City to provide an updated number to get a better sense of how many students have become chronically absent or left the system entirely and address the issues causing students to not attend class.
“There is no question the DOE has the data and is looking at the number of students who are and are not attending school right now,” said Randi Levine, policy director at Advocates for Children of New York. “It’s important for the public to know how many students are enrolled in school in order to put the attendance rate into context and then advocate for targeted resources and support.”