So, what’s with this supposed growth in population in DC Public Schools?

Remember the myth that under Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson, DCPS enrollment finally started to rise again?

Yes, it is a myth, as I will show you, using OSSE’s own graphs and tables. All I did down below is cut and paste.

If you look at the press release from OSSE and DC Mayor Gray, it looks like DCPS enrollment rose by by 2%.  You actually have to look pretty hard and really understand what you are looking for, if you want to find the dirty little hidden secret that the enrollment in DC public schools is actually DOWN by 1%. It’s contained here in this sentence:

  • DCPS enrollment had a slight decrease of 1%, from 45,630 to 45,191 (439 students).

“States across the country look at early childhood enrollment numbers to determine future trends and to gauge the trust parents have in their school system,” added Hosanna Mahaley, State Superintendent of Education. “Our amazing growth in the early grades and Pre-Kindergarten is a testament to the work of our school leaders, as well as the Mayor’s relentless early childhood efforts.”

So Mahaley tries to pretend that there really is big growth in DCPS, which isn’t true. However, part of the Education Deformers founding myth is that their ideas, which involve destroying public education as we knew it, will have amazing results, and that all of the results are wonderful.

The truth is otherwise: there aren’t any wonderful results. And they are destroying our public school system and turning the education of our youth over to people who at best have no idea what they are doing, even if they do have fancy spreadsheets and PPT presentations. And at worst want to move us back to a very unequal educational system that reminds me strangely of the Colored and White school systems that were still around when I was a little boy.

I think that many publications conveniently blur the differences between charters and real public schools when it suits their purposes. Here it makes the educational Deformers look good to add the numbers for public and charter schools.

Notice a couple of things: if all of the publicly-funded schools in a county or city start having enrollment increases, then there could be several reasons:

(1) Some of the students who used to be in private or parochial schools transferred to public schools, perhaps to save money, or parent(s) lost job(s), or school(s) closed down, or parents just changed their minds, etc. (Certainly possible. Problem is, I don’t have any data from private schools in DC in general, and I haven’t asked around yet; I just don’t know if they are growing or shrinking in general. As far as parochial schools are concerned, some of you readers probably remember that over the past decades, a LOT of catholic schools in DC have either closed or, more recently, converted themselves into charter schools to get the public funding.)

(2) The overall population of the region is growing for whatever reason, and that includes a number of children who were born somewhere between 2008 and 1993; and most kids do go to public schools. (DC’s population is definitely increasing, so this is quite plausible. If the population of a city is growing, and that includes kids of school age, then it stands to reason that unless their parents are home-schooling them or just not allowing them to enroll anywhere at all, then the public schools’ population will go up. It’s not rocket science, and it doesn’t really call for cheerleaders, either.)

(3) There are increased numbers of students moving across boundary lines (legally or not) in order to attend schools in the district in question. (I know that some Md and Va parents bring their kids to DC schools for various reasons, but I can’t tell you whether this trend is increasing or otherwise.)

(4) All the numbers are made up anyway, so there’s no way to know. (I hope we can trust these numbers!)

On the OSSE web page with the press release, I found some very nicely done graphs giving the long-term trends over the past decade.

First, let’s look at

OSSE’s own graph of DCPS enrollment over the past decade:

I hope you notice several things:

(1) DCPS now has the same number of students that it did in 2008/09.

(2) The numbers of students in DCPS has been essentially flat since 2008/09. You have to look pretty hard to find any real change at all since then, and if you do, you’re probably exaggerating.

(3) This graph does not go to zero; thus all changes look much bigger than they otherwise would.

(4) DC’s population was going down at a pretty steady clip for quite some time, until 2008/09. (When I started teaching in 1978, many, many schools were overcrowded.)

Now let’s look at the same graph from the same source, but pertaining to DC charter schools. 

I hope you notice several things:

(1) This graph DOES go to zero

(2) But its scale is totally different from that on the previous graph. (Given our natural human tendency to compare sizes rather than numbers, one could be forgiven for thinking that the number of charter school students now is equal to the number of DCPS kids)

(3) The # of charter students seems to be going up at a pretty steady rate, which we can estimate pretty easily. From around 2001 or 2002, there were abut 11,000 PCS students. This year, about 31,000 students, which means about 20,000 more students over about 10 years, or about 2,000 more kids per year.

(4) It’s not exponential growth.

Now, let’s look at a table that OSSE made that shows, by grade bands, what happened to the number of kids in DC public schools. As you can see, there are a few shifts of a few hundred students into and out of some grades. Big losers: grades 4-5 (down by 217 kids, or about 3%) and in grades 9-12, which is down by 311, or 3%.. There are some changes in Alternative and Special Education numbvers that I do not understand at all.

There are also some increases at grades PK4 and in grades 1-3.

Now let’s look at a similar table (again by OSSE) that gives figures for the charter schools.

Apparently the fact that the charter school numbers of  PK3 and PK4 students seem to jump around so much isn’t so important. But it does look to me that the charter schools are having a lot more growth in the earliest grades than the regular public schools are.

Another interesting trend: there are more adult students in the charter system (in particular, at Carlos Rosario) than in the regular public schools.

Another fact: the number of high school students in the charter schools went down by a larger percentage than it did in the public schools. Yes, there are roughly twice as many students in grades 9-12 in DCPS as in the charter schools, so that 3% drop in the public schools ends up being about 80 more kids than the 4% drop in the charter schools.

(Got that?)

But, in any case, both types of schools seem to be losing population in grades 9 – 12.

As usual, you can leave comments.

Published in: on February 14, 2012 at 11:47 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Not specifically to this post but to education policies and privatization overall, have you seen this post by Diane Ravitch?


  2. The Gr 4-5 loss looks like a Gr 3 retention because Gr 3 goes up by a similar amount in district schools and there is a similar, but not equivalent amount drop in charter schools. I would suspect that charter schools would have greater difficulty retaining Gr 3 students without them returning to district schools, so some of their Gr 4-5 loss would not show up as a Gr 3 gain if those students went back to district schools. That would also explain the greater gain in Gr 1-3 than loss in Gr 4-5 among district schools. This might make them resistant to retaining 3rd grade students.

    Looking just at K-12 numbers the district lost less than 200 students while charters gained over 800 students. However, inside each group in the same year, the 3 grades of 1-3 in district schools goes from about 10,000 students to only 7,000 student in the 3 grades of 6-8, while in charter schools the numbers increase by about 700 students. So there is a large loss of students from the entry to exit of elementary/middle grades in district schools that probably represents higher retention in district schools than in charter schools. You would also expect this if charter schools tended to cream the better/affluent students.

    The high school loss is interesting and not immediately explainable, and occurs in both the charter (4%) and district schools (2.8%). However, again looking at the same year numbers in district schools, the 3 grades of Gr 6-8 have 2,300 students per grade while the 4 years of high school have about 2,800 students per grade despite a presumed dropout rate. In charter schools there are about 2,000 students per grade in Gr 6-8 but only about 1,400 students per grade in high school.

    That would seem to indicate that a lot of charter elementary school students go to district high schools rather than charter high schools. So student population numbers K-12 have to consider this.

    Interestingly, the District adult enrollment went down by almost the same number that charter went up, indicating perhaps a transfer rather than any real change.


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