Saturday, March 22, 2008

Are NYC Parents Voting on the DOE with Their Children's Feet?

As readers of this blog may have noticed by now, I often analyze data sets in order to “coax out” the stories they tell. I particularly enjoy counter-spin situations where the DOE’s actual data can be shown to contradict their public spin machine or reveal things they would rather not talk about.

While researching my previous posting ("I’m Shocked! Shocked!”) about graduation rates, I happened to take a closer look at NYC’s public school register totals (General and Special Education combined, Pre-K to Grade 12) for the last decade, from 1995-1996 through this year, as shown below with their year-to-year percentage changes.

School –- Register ----- Year-to-Year
Year ------ Totals---------- Change
95-96 ----- 970,174
96-97 ----- 993,304 ------ +2.38%
97-98 --- 1,004,042 ------ +1.08%
98-99 --- 1,012,966 ------ +0.89%
99-00 --- 1,010,601 ------- (0.23)%
00-01 --- 1,014,927 ------ +0.43%
01-02 --- 1,022,925 ------ +0.79%
02-03 --- 1,027,844 ------ +0.48%
03-04 --- 1,028,008 ----- +0.02%
04-05 --- 1,021,277 -------- (0.65)%
05-06 --- 1,000,189 ------- (2.06)%
06-07 ----- 992,953 ------- (0.72)%
07-08 ----- 967,268 ------- (2.59)%

Notice the almost nonstop increase in public school enrollment from 1995 - 1996 to 2002-2003, resulting in a net total inflow of 57,670 children to the system, an increase of 5.94% over seven years. Entering the first full year of Mayoral control (2003-2004), the trend essentially flat-lined, screeching to a halt with a year-to-year gain of just 164 students (+0.02%). The last four years of Mayoral control under the less-than-popular Chancellor Klein have witnessed a non-stop downward trend resulting in a net public school enrollment drop of 60,740 children (- 5.91%) to a level this year below that of 1995 – 1996.

Even allowing for the 18,000+ students that 60 charter schools have now siphoned out of the system (and whose numbers are resolutely and doubtless intentionally excluded from the DOE’s publicly-accessible statistical summaries), the Bloomberg/Klein era has seen an apparent enrollment drop of over 40,000 children in just the last four years! This while construction cranes litter the Manhattan skyline and the New York Sun is reporting the City’s population as still growing and now at a record high! A November 2007 press release from the City Planning Office proudly crowed Mayor Bloomberg's announcement that the City's July 2006 intercensus estimate is 8,250,567, up more than 242,000 from the 2000 U.S. Census. In addition, the NYC Planning Department's own projections from 2000 - 2030 (dated December 2006) show a 2.66% increase in population aged 5-19 from 2000 to 2005, and only a slight decrease (0.56%) from 2005 to 2010, for a net increase of 2.08% for the decade. While there may be declines in certain sub-groups, the aggregate numbers for school-aged children 5-19 show increases from 2000 to 2010, suggesting that the DOE's falling school register numbers from 2004 through 2008 may reflect more than just demographic effects.

These figures suggest that after years of steady growth, New York City parents may be rejecting the Mayor’s authoritarian, data- and test-driven, parentally disempowering, and unabashedly non-responsive public school system at an alarming rate. Perhaps the public is demonstrating its understanding that if you can’t vote out the man, you can still vote with your feet.


Anonymous said...

Steve, while I appreciate your point I don't think you've proved it. What is the relationship of enrollment to the actual number of students "available" to the DoE?

Would be better to show the public schools' "market share", their % of all students attending any type of primary/secondary school. Or alternatively, the % of children of school age in NYC who are registered for public school.

And even given a persuasive % figure, your idea about the decline being due to parental choice needs some grounding too. I think I could just as easily argue it was due to increased high school graduation rates (fewer high schools kids lingering around for more than 4 years and inflating the totals), or due to increased drop-out rates (schools forcing kids out with ruthless efficiency, cutting enrollment but increasing perceived performance?).

I do think you might be right... but I don't think the numbers you've shown us prove it.


Anonymous said...


I think we had a demographic bulge.

Many of the suburbs had to contend with crowded (for them!) classrooms, or temporary trailers, or deciding whether or not to build, for exactly the same time period.

I expect the economy to return a few kids to the public school system now. But I don't know how much of a difference that makes.

Here's a link to a flawed City Planning report from two years ago. (they show school age population rising sharply in the 90's, then going flat now. Probably problems both counting and accounting for illegal immigrants. Look, if you like, at which borough needs the most new seats and got the fewest new seats)

Population Projections by age and borough through 2030


Steve Koss said...

Of course, demographics are complex, and my posting is hardly a "study" in either depth or length. On the other hand, I posed the issue in question form to raise the issue, not as a conclusion.

It's very difficult to find the relevant data about what's going on in charter and private school enrollment. A serious demographic study would doubtless seek to do so. What I can see from the DOE's own statistical files tend to support my proposition:

1. Flat or slight decreases in year-to-year enrollment for primary school grades and modest but steady increases in middle school grades for a period of years, followed by sudden and precipitous drops in 2004 and 2005 in every grade level (except 11th and 12th) at the same time. That does not suggest demographics to me, since those should look more like a wave than a cliff across so many age levels.

2. High school retention rates have increased, leading to steady increases in the number of grade 11 and 12 students. Dropout rates don't appear to be the cause and in fact seem to be making the total enrollment numbers better. If the same dropout rate existed in 2007-2008 as existed in 2000-2001, this year's 12th grade enrollment would be 32,600. DOE's registers show 49,500, or 17,000 more than would have been the case a few years ago.

I can't say by any stretch that my little analysis is definitive, but I think the numbers certainly raise some questions.

Anonymous said...

I agree that this likely reflects a demographic bulge. There was a recent Times story saying that this year is peak enrollment for graduating seniors nationwide (the article was focused on whether college admissions would now become a little less competitive than recent years). That would suggest that, nationally at least, enrollment has been declining in lower grades for some time, with the "crest of the wave" in student population graduating this June. Also, many districts are facing major education budget cuts due to declining enrollment. A friend of mine in Boston reports that they're considering shutting schools and laying off teachers for that reason. There are states experiencing population growth, but NY is not one of them. Statewide, population has been declining and the birth rate has been going down, so it's unsurprising that enrollment would be going down accordingly.

Steve Koss said...

Again, I'm not a demographer, but when I look at the City Planning Department's own reports, I just don't see an enrollment decline in the aggregate. For ages 5-9, yes, but that's offset by ages 10-14 and 15-19.

If you look at the Planning Departments 2000-2030 report (dated December 2006), you see a graph of school-aged population that is effectively flat from 2000 to 2010. Their own numbers back this up: add the totals for age groups from 5-19, and you get 1,612,572 in 2000, 1,655,430 for 2005, and 1,646,128 for 2010. They neither forecast nor show any dip in between these years, although it's true they forecast a decline from 2010-2020 and a rebound from 2020-2030 that brings us back to the 2010 level.

I have not yet been able to find other NYC inter-census data, but the City's own data combined with recent U.S. Census Department reports of continued growth in the City's total population and the obvious construction explosions seemingly everywhere, I'm really finding it hard to see where the downward demographic trend is. I have yet to find it documented anywhere; maybe it's just me.

Steve Koss said...

I am especially loathe to use national numbers, or those from Boston, to reflect anything that is going on here. NYC is sui generis, in a class of its own, as anyone can see by just comparing our real estate market to what's going on in the rest of the country. The only numbers that matter are those for NYC; I'm hoping that someone will be able to point me to NYC-specific demographic numbers that can help clarify this question.

One thing I do know for sure: if I had a five- or six-year-old child right now, there's not a chance in the world I would send him or her to a NYC public school given the "educational philosophy" (to be kind) emanating from 52 Chambers Street now. It is an anti-educational, factory-measurement attitude that I utterly reject as relevant to children's education.

Anonymous said...

I don't have to be a statistical expert. I know from practical experience that my friends with children are voting with their feet and leaving Brooklyn. Not that I believe the grass is greener, but when once we had strong districts that attracted people to buy homes here and send their children to the public schools, with the loss of the districts many people feel that their children can no longer get the education that our kids got so, they leave. The city is losing its middle class tax base which will eventually snowball into an even less attractive school system.

Anonymous said...

The only thing these numbers prove is that the families that have their children in these schools are leaving the city! Approximately 70% of New York City Schools have a majority of low income students. These numbers are confirmed when you look at the schools that have title I funds. These funds are received by getting a certain percentage of your lunch forms (which report family income information). If a school is above a certain percentage number, the school will receive Title I funds in accordance to their number of low income population.

These schools with low income families are (as well as everyone else) having a hard time surviving in this harsh economy. This city has made very little efforts to keep their low income families; in fact they have done everything possible to increase their higher income families in the city. Families can’t afford to live in midtown or downtown anymore and are moving uptown and reclaiming places like Harlem.

This congestion pricing plan and other initiatives are just some that effectively make the NYC economy more difficult for these families. They eventually have no choice but to leave the city. It’s just another indirect tax that will subsequently accelerate the depopulation of New York City’s’ middle and lower income families.