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Nation's Biggest School Districts Experience Shrinkage

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012 at 11:31 AM


Enrollment in nearly half of the nation’s largest school districts has dropped over the past five years, the New York Times reports. The Times says that's a problem:

Because school financing is often allocated on a per-pupil basis, plummeting enrollment can mean fewer teachers will be needed. But it can also affect the depth of a district’s curriculum, jeopardizing programs in foreign languages, music or art.

Both Cleveland and Columbus are singled out as districts facing steep declines.

Cleveland in the New York Times: "While the losses have been especially steep in long-battered cities like Cleveland and Detroit..."

  • Cleveland's enrollment dropped by 40 percent from 2000 to 2010, reaching about 43,000 in 2010-11.

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Columbus in the New York: "Urban districts like Philadelphia and Columbus, Ohio, are facing an exodus even as the school-age population has increased."

  • In comparison to Cleveland, Columbus' enrollment dropped by "just" over 22 percent over the same period, reaching about 50,000 in 2010-11.

The Times doesn't mention this, but Youngstown has seen sharper declines than Cleveland or Columbus.

In 1995, Youngstown was the 12th largest district in the state with about 12,000 students. By 2010, with enrollment at about 6,000, the district wasn't even in the top 40.

And the Times says the enrollment declines nationally aren't just because of middle-class families leaving big cities for the suburbs. The paper names other culprits: The economy, the home foreclosure crisis and housing market collapse, crackdowns on illegal immigrants and charter schools.

The Times doesn't mention vouchers, which are a source of falling enrollment in many of Ohio's urban traditional public schools. But the paper does suggest that traditional public schools themselves could also be to blame:

But some say the schools are partly to blame. “We have record-low confidence in our public schools,” said Kevin Johnson, the mayor of Sacramento and head of education policy for the United States Conference of Mayors. (He is married to Michelle Rhee, the lightning rod former chancellor of the Washington public schools and now an advocate for data-driven reform) [the Times words]. “If we have high-quality choices in all neighborhoods, you don’t have that exodus taking place,” he said.


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