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June 14, 2005

National School Numbers Show Growth, Diversity, Pluses & Minuses

by William L. Bainbridge

Rising immigration and the "baby boom echo," have caused U.S. public school enrollment to steadily increase to an all-time high. Enrollment is projected to increase steadily to a peak of 50 million students in 2014. Not surprisingly, immigrant populations are locating in increasing numbers in western and southern states, where projected student enrollments will drive the need to expand school buildings and/or build new ones.

This is one of many interesting facts contained in the newest annual, Condition of Education, the Congressionally mandated national educational statistical report recently released by the U.S. Department of Education

An analysis of this huge volume points to some important demographic shifts and student population trends that will have far-reaching impact on the nature of American public education. Elements sparking change are:

  • Children of immigrants will continue to swell the student population.
  • A 25% increase in the annual birth rate since the mid-1970s means more schools will be needed.
  • Pre-kindergarten enrollment has increased dramatically; up from 6% to nearly 60% of children aged 3 and 4.
  • Violent crimes reported of all kinds in schools declined by 50% in a decade, and serious violent crimes went down by 70%, from 10 to 3 crimes per 1,000 students.
  • Students in suburban and rural schools continue to score higher on standardized tests in mathematics and reading than students from urban schools.
  • The percentages of 4th and 8th graders who read at the proficient level or above on the National Assessment of Educational Progress increased between 1992 and 2003, BUT chronic high school dropout rates continued to grow nationwide. European American students had the l owest dropout rates and Hispanic Americans had the highest.
  • From 1990 to 2003, the math performance of 4th and 8 th graders improved steadily.
  • Between 1990 and 2002, total expenditures per student in public elementary and secondary schools increased by 24% in constant dollars.
  • The achievement gap continues: European American and Asian American students continue to outperform Hispanic Americans, African Americans and Native Americans. Achievement and English language fluency are linked. The number who spoke a language other than English at home and who spoke English with difficulty increased by 124 % from 1979 to 2003. Nearly 1-in-5 students had at least one foreign-born parent in 2003.
  • 42% of public school students were racial or ethnic minorities in 2003, markedly up from 22% in 1972. Students identified as minorities were up from 22 % in 1972.
  • The Hispanic American enrollment has grown from 6% in 1972 to 19% in 2003. Hispanic American enrollment surpassed that of African American students for the first time in 2002.
  • The percentage of private school enrollment actually dropped slightly. The majority of private schools continue to be operated by the Roman Catholic Church, but that percentage is declining. The percentage of students enrolled in "other religious" private schools rose from 32 to 36 percent, with the broad category of "Christian schools" experiencing the largest increase.
  • The number of "home-schooled students" increased to 2.2% of all students in 2003 from 1.7% in 1999.
  • Public school teachers in high-poverty schools were about twice as likely as their counterparts in more affluent schools to transfer to another school. This yearís area of "special analysis" was the issue of teacher mobility. Almost one in five teachers in 1999-2000 started the school year as new hires at their school. Interestingly, a majority of those new hires had previous teaching experience.

Those who read, watch and listen to the daily news may be surprised by the reported reduction in violent crimes in schools. This is extremely encouraging news. Also there is good cause for optimism in the finding that the important pre-kindergarten enrollment is on the rise.

It is also important to note this report of national trends does not include statistics current enough to gauge the success of the federal "No Child Left Behind Act." The law requires annual testing of math and reading in grades 3 through 8 and imposes penalties on schools that fail to improve test scores of students in all racial and demographic groups. However, if the data continue to indicate increasing dropouts in urban centers and teachers leaving our worst schools at these rates, the ability of NCLB really closing the achievement gap does not look achievable.

is Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Dayton and is President & Chief Executive Officer of SchoolMatch®, a Columbus based educational auditing, research, data firm.

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