The AJC had an interesting piece this weekend on the inexact science of predicting school enrollments. I cannot link as the story was limited to AJC subscribers and did not appear online.
The gist of the story: Despite reviews of multiple records — census, birth records, housing, dropout and migration — and mathematical formulas, schools can get enrollments wrong. The predictions become even more difficult in a recession when parents are pulling their children out of private schools. (Public school enrollment is up nationwide.)
Here is a short excerpt of the AJC piece, which is worth reading in the Sunday paper:
Cobb County recently spent $2.2 million hiring 30 extra teachers because its projection was low by 1,364 students. Gwinnett’s projection was 2,059 students low. The district is hiring 10 teachers because of the growth, and it transferred 16 teachers and 10 support staff from schools under the projection to those that were over.
DeKalb County broke a record with 98,943 students, 1,268 over the projection, administrators said. In Fulton County, administrators were surprised to see 624 more students than anticipated.
Fayette County saw the opposite. Four years ago, it predicted it would have 4,500 more students. Instead, it lost 1,800, leading to a recommendation by Superintendent Jeff Bearden to close three schools. Now Bearden is leaving at the end of the school year. The school board approved his exit, “by mutual agreement, ” last week.
For most districts, the projection errors were minor compared to how many students they enroll — a .6 percent error, for example, in Fulton, which had to move some teachers as a result.But administrators are frustrated, too.
“Enrollment projection determines everything, ” said Yngrid Huff, Fulton schools’ director of operational planning. “It determines how many teachers and textbooks we need … to how many buses we dispatch. It drives everything in every entity of the school district. When we miss that mark, we only have a short amount of time to respond.”
Anita Johnson said her daughter Kelsey, a junior at Southwest DeKalb High School, didn’t have homework or a math class for the first month of school. “My daughter was living ‘la vida loca’ (the crazy life), ” she said. One of her classes had 56 students, she said.
When 42 seventh-graders unexpectedly showed up in Allison Clarke’s science class at Cobb County’s Barber Middle School, she dragged in extra chairs, gave a quick lecture and gave students assignments due at the end of the class. Managing that many students is “doable, but it’s not fun, ” she said
Fulton County administrators blame overcrowded elementary schools on a booming rental housing market in South Fulton, coupled with several Sandy Springs parents pulling their children out of private schools. “We’ve never undershot South Fulton, ” Huff said. “It’s something we’re trying to put our hands around. It’s a mystery.”
At Hopkins Elementary in Gwinnett County, where projections were 109 students off the mark, principal Penny Clavijo realized during home visits that several of her new students had moved in with relatives. Several other families had rented rooms from homeowners.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog