NY Times Enrollment Story Only Half the Picture
posted at 3:27 pm on July 24, 2012 by Mike Antonucci
The New York Times has a story by Motoko Rich headlined, “Enrollment Off in Big Districts, Forcing Layoffs.” And while no one is happier than I about the Times noticing that flattened or declining enrollment eventually leads to staff reductions, I can’t go along with the analysis and conclusions from the article.
Using U.S. Department of Education data, Rich writes, “Enrollment in nearly half of the nation’s largest school districts has dropped steadily over the last five years…. While the losses have been especially steep in long-battered cities like Cleveland and Detroit, enrollment has also fallen significantly in places suffering through the recent economic downturn, like Broward County, Fla., San Bernardino, Calif., and Tucson, according to the latest available data from the Department of Education, analyzed for The New York Times.”
She adds, “The economy and home foreclosure crisis drove some families from one school system into another. Hundreds of children from immigrant families have left districts in Arizona and California as their parents have lost jobs. Legal crackdowns have also prompted many families to return to their home countries.”
This is all sound reasoning as long as you cherry pick the declining districts and ignore the growing districts. I think we can safely include Las Vegas in “places suffering through the recent economic downturn,” but its enrollment increased 8.4% during the same period Rich examined. If immigrant families losing their jobs and “legal crackdowns” account for the losses in Arizona and California, how then do we explain the double-digit growth in enrollment in nine separate large school districts in Texas? San Bernardino’s enrollment is down 8.9%, but nearby Corona Norco’s is up 14.3%. Did the immigrants flee 26 miles down the road?
Out of the 100 largest school districts, the top 10 growers consist of four from Texas, two from Utah, and one each from Colorado, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia. You can write an entirely different article with very different conclusions using just those districts, but it would be equally slanted.
The fact is: Total enrollment in all U.S. schools grew by 0.3 percent between 2005 and 2010, while enrollment in the 100 largest school districts declined 0.4 percent. That doesn’t look like a very significant gap to me. There has been a gradual move of the populace from the Northeast and Midwest to the South and Mountain states. That’s about the only trend I can discern from the enrollment data.