Sunday, December 12, 2010

What does the future hold?

There will be a lot of stories on the school district with a superintendent departing, while another begins.  We will be debating what did or did not change at the school district in recent years past for many years into the future.   For the moment the talk of what impacts any of it will have can only be conjecture.  For the current situation, the latest news is that school district enrollment is now just above 25K students in total K-12 enrollment.. which is well in line with a recent trend that is continuing nearly unabated decline.   

I don't have time to update this.. but here is a graphic I put up a couple years ago with the enrollment trend for the City of Pittsburgh school district.  Note this graph is pre-K through 12 and thus a tad higher than thetotal enrollment number often reported in the news.. again a number now down to just above 25 thousand.  One way or another, we are talking a decline of 30-40% over the most recent decade of data.

If you think the story is just part of a bigger decline, here again is something I don't have time to update with another year's worth of data.  Below is a graph I previously put together of the relative change in enrollment in the city school district compared to the districts that make up the remainder of the county.  If you are wondering, the enrollment decline for the city does not track overall population change.  The city's population decline was steep, but something on the order of 6-7% over the most recent decade, which is a lot less than the 30-40% enrollment decline this graph shows.  We'll come back to that in a minute.

So my personal conclusions right now are that no matter the hagiography of what has been happening in the district of late, it is still a tough tough situation for the new superintendent. Any belief that any and or all problems have been solved are at least not quite evidenced in the enrollment stats at all.  Just not an inkling suggesting the trend is abating, or at least I don't see it yet.  It will be best to judge her performace in light of that reality and not just pretend the baseline has already inflected.

That enrollment time series going back to the 1980's is a meta-story unto itself.  If you look at it you have to wonder about some things.   It appears that the enrollment in the city's school district was nearly stable for a bunch of years pretty much through the very end of the 20th century.  So over a miasmic period when the city's population was really plummeting.. and we know that a lot of that population loss from the city was in young families (those moving out of the region, but also those just moving to suburban communities), yet somehow the school district's enrollment was nearly the Rock of Gibraltar.  I'll be direct.  I don't believe it represents the historical reality and honestly never have.  There is some great failure in that nobody ever questioned those numbers.  Note that this really is speculation, at least speculation as far as I can say.  Still, those enrollment numbers from the 80's and 90's really bear a similarity to quarterly capital gains reports produced by Madoff's AS/400.

I point that out for a lot of reasons. One is that it may be necessary to take the apparent recent acceleration in enrollment decline with a grain of salt. If the decline extended further into the back it would mitigate the recent inflection of it all, but still decline is decline.  I still think the bigger question is whether the reported data was correct and if not why not.   If it was really true that somehow the city school district was maintaining stability in a sea of decline across every other metric you can think of (except jobs located in the city of course) then folks would have been writing about us a paragon of school management and the saviour of urban America.  They didn't of course, which implies a certain rationality beyond our borders, but that now becomes speculation about speculation.  

One thing Mark Roosevelt has going for him no doubt...  Antioch's enrollment can only go up.


Anonymous MH said...

I've been to Yellow Springs. I have no doubt that Antioch's students will get higher and higher.

Sunday, December 12, 2010 9:43:00 PM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

What I would like to see is enrollment per size of the relevant age cohort in the City (as a percentage/ratio or something).

For example, the chart in the linked article seems somewhat encouraging insofar as the year-over-year enrollment numbers get better the younger you go (although only early childhood showed a gain). That would make sense given recent reports on the schools, showing the most improvement in younger grades and a reversal of those gains in HS. But it could also make sense if there was a steel-bust-related population trough still working its way through the potential student pool.

Incidentally, such a measure likely would also be quite helpful in making the case for the books having been cooked in the 80s and 90s, but I'm not sure the necessary data exists for those years (for the last few years and going forward, I would be thinking of using ACS data).

Monday, December 13, 2010 7:59:00 AM  
Anonymous MH said...

I wonder what padding the enrollment would have done to the drop out rate calculation?

Monday, December 13, 2010 12:55:00 PM  
Blogger Andrea said...

Chris - can you plot the city/county enrollment figures against population for the same time period? Just to spell it out clearly? This is very interesting.

Monday, December 13, 2010 9:41:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

i'll see what I can do

Tuesday, December 14, 2010 8:36:00 AM  
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