School Enrollment Math in DC

According to The Washington Post, 37,000 students are expected to start in DC Public Schools today.  That number is down 17 percent from those who ended the year back in June, and it falls about 17 percent short of the 44,681 DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee has been targeting for the 2009-2010 academic year (and the number on which this year’s budget is based).  The full story can be found here. 

Despite the advertising campaigns, the door-knocking, and the community marketing designed to boost public interest in DCPS — “Go public and get a great free education!” — families are still not looking to send their kids to DC public schools.  DC-CAS scores may be up, but enrollment is down.  Rhee is focusing on teacher quality and new standards for teachers, but enrollment is down.  Theoretically, we’ve closed some of DC’s lowest-performing schools, thus giving more students access to a decent public school, yet enrollment is still down.
To be expected, DCPS has its reasons.  First, school leaders say that DC parents traditionally don’t complete their paperwork on time, so that number will increase over the course of the school year (we’ll forget for a second that not every kid currently enrolled today will stay at DCPS or even stay in school before all is said and done, thus making the whole thing a wash).  We’ll hold our tongues on how those students who are late to enroll are probably the ones that need that free education from day one in the first place.  
Of course, we also hear that the charter schools are threatening the growth of DCPS.  Despite the hype about improved DC Public Schools, boosts in student achievement, and an overall change in attitude, DC families are still looking to send their kids to charters before they go to traditional public schools.  Currently, nearly a third of DC school children are enrolled in charters, and charters are posting a 10 percent increase in enrollees, up to about 28,000.  Guess charter families don’t have the same challenges getting their paperwork in by the first day of the school year.
On top of it all, we also need to factor in the demise of the DC Voucher program.  This year, there are no new kids getting vouchers under DC Choice.  Clearly, those students are looking to attend school somewhere.  But they must be choosing between charters and private schools, based on the numbers.  Where are the 216 denied their choice enrolling once the protests are over?
Eduflack doesn’t mean to beat DCPS while it is down, but the numbers do raise an interesting question.  Right now, enrollment at DCPS is down about 7,500 students from last year and from where it was projected for this year.  Enrollment at DC charter schools is up by about 2,600 students.  So where are those nearly 5,000 students?  Are they finishing up a late beach week, and will join DCPS as school officials believe?  Have they moved on to the private schools, looking for a better pathway?  Have their families moved out of the District, bringing them to schools in PG or Montgomery Counties in Maryland, Arlington or Fairfax Counties in Virginia, or other communities throughout the United States?  Or are these students just not present and unaccounted for?
We all want to see a real renaissance at DCPS, with teacher quality improving, student achievement rising, and all DC children having access to a high-quality high school that can get them into a postsecondary program.  But even if we assume that each and every new student in the charter schools is one lost by DCPS, we still have more than 11 percent of the projected 2009-2010 DC student body undocumented.  For a district of DCPS’ size, that’s an awful lot of students to misplace or fail to document. 
I want to believe DCPS that those students are merely stragglers, and their paperwork will soon be in and they will be enrolled at their neighborhood public schools  I don’t like the fact that they will have missed the start to the school year, but I’d like to believe they are just running a little late.  But how do we know for sure?  And what happens if those 5,000 or 6,000 students aren’t on the DCPS rolls by September or October?  Are those just more kids that are written off in the ongoing saga of urban public education?

263 thoughts on “School Enrollment Math in DC

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