Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Where are the students?

Some interesting comments in this morning's City Paper article titled "Schools see slightly fewer students than anticipated".

“This has been an unusual opening — the volatility of the heat and the half-days,” said Larry Collier, Metro Schools’ student assignment services director. “And we have a lot of schools with high numbers of ELL (English Language Learner) students…” (snip) Many school administrators have indicated that some of their ELL students are still out of the country visiting family and are unsure of when they will enroll, according to Collier.
Seems like an after Labor Day start to the school year would clear up most of this. People vote with their feet. They decided that somewhere else was where they wanted to be in August. I know a young woman who missed the first week because she was still on a cultural exchange trip for the first couple of weeks this month. THAT's the sort of educational opportunity that trumps being in school and her parents chose rightly to send her regardless of the start date of school. I'm not supportive of routine family visits preventing attendance, however.

So the system remains in flux until everyone is in place on "day 40"? How handicapping on the educational process is that? This is less of a negative impact on learning than a Christmas break? Here's another thing to factor into the real cost of starting school so early. (See SaveTennessee Summers for others.)

George Thompson (17 year BOE member, Chairman of the Board for Great City Schools and up for reelection next August) is quoted as saying:
...he is seeing increased growth in the county reflecting increase enrollment numbers, he thinks the numbers would have been much larger had an exodus to private schools not occurred in the 1970’s.

“We’re not growing as fast and at the same time we’re having some people who are leaving the district,” Thompson said. “Those who are opting out and going to private schools… [but] we have experience growth in our Hispanic populations.”
He's exactly right in saying that in 1970 MNPS was on the cusp of reaching that 100,000 enrollment mark and we took a huge plunge after that. However, what started as 'white flight' 40 years ago, has morphed into legitimate school choice by parents who will no longer tolerate empty promises and have decided that their children will not be sacrificed on the altar of public education. This system didn't want to hear from me last summer why this school district is losing families. It's easier to place the blame on the racist fears of parents rather than their own performance and decision making. They fail to accept that they are becoming less and less of of an educational monopoly despite legislative props. Just because MNPS doesn't want to participate in the competition for students doesn't mean they aren't already in the game. Token choices are not enough. And they shouldn't count on a influx of Hispanics to ensure the numbers climb. Those families are also starting to look at other educational options. What MNPS fails to realize is that there is a longing for quality neighborhood schools--the original small learning communities. The quicker we get there, the faster these enrollment numbers will rise.

I was given information from student services while on the school board last year which included a wonderfully illuminating set of charts. I expect they update these on a regular basis, as they should. These are charts tracking the Nashville population on top and the MNPS population on the bottom (a larger copy can be seen here). The years are not exactly aligned, there is a couple of years difference. But the margin of decrease so enormous that that small misalignment is meaningless. The high point on the MNPS chart at the bottom is approximately 96,000 students in 1970. MNPS isn't even keeping pace. People continue to leave and the BOE, if it wants to ensure a healthy and vibrant public education system in Nashville, must, absolutely MUST, commit to providing every available option if they want to survive. The sheer volume of applications for magnet schools year after year after year ought to have given the BOE plenty of clue of what parents want. Why it's not being provided is a mystery to me. Parents and voters need to start asking those August 2008 BOE candidates why not and expecting specific answers. If they respond with a lot of 'our hands are tied' answers--I suggest you cut them loose and find candidates willing and capable of undoing those knots.


Mike Shor said...

Agreed, though I think it is dishonest not to put a large part of the blame on the unions. Cutting loose the binds is a clever metaphor made impossible by Teachers Against Change if it requires them to learn, improve, or be accountable.

I am not indicting the individual teachers (only a minority of them), but the GroupThink of the Union.

Buckley said...

The charts are somewhat misleading without an acknowledgement that in the 1950s and 60s the school age population was larger than it was in the 70s and 80s. The birth rate began to drop in 1964, even moreso in the early 70s (Roe v Wade). So the large drop on the chart in the 1970s is not solely due to a drop in families choosing public schools but also a drop in the school age population. Boomers, extended life expectancy, and urban growth kept the overall Metro population growing.

there is a longing for quality neighborhood schools

Well, there is a longing for quality, but as you state:

The sheer volume of applications for magnet schools year after year after year ought to have given the BOE plenty of clue of what parents want.

but for most Nashvillians magnets, located in the center of town, are not what I assume you mean by neighborhood schools.

But you're right, MNPS has to compete, so they should relax many of the regulations that prohibit recruiting city-wide. They should allow more open enrollment. I disagree that a family should be limited to their neighborhood school and that a school should be limited to the families in that neighborhood. As I've stated before, neither segregation nor forced desegregation has worked, mainly because school assignment in both cases rests with the bureaucracy. It needs to rest with the parents.

So the system remains in flux until everyone is in place on "day 40"?

There are minor adjustments made after day 40. It's overstatement to say it is "in flux." The vast majority of us begin teaching on day 1. We aren't waiting for the handful of laggards as the statement implies. Also, dropouts and absenteeism are more prevalent in April and May, so would extending the year later increase absenteeism then? I'd bet it would some.

Wendy said... According to one web site there are about 20 private high schools--including the parochial schools--in Philadelphia County. And according to this web site the public schools have over 60 high schools.

Nation-wide birthrates have dramatically dropped with the "native" population and Roe v Wade would have impacted every city's population. Same goes for the boomer population in Phila living longer--although they are moving to my home county, Lancaster--and life expectancy is relatively the same nation-wide.

And this chart provides information on the population in Philadelphia.

According to this chart Nashville's birthrate is UP, over 23,000 in 2001--that's plenty of Kindergartners compared to 13,000 births in 1980--exiting seniors. Yes, I know people move, but they move into Davidson County as well as out.

In 2005, Phila had 1,463,281 people and Nashville had 1,336,266 people living in these cities. Yet Nashville only has about 6% of the population in public schools and Phila has nearly 9% of the population in public schools.

Antidotal, from the neighbors I see and meet my guess is that around half East Nashville school age children are not in their local neighborhood school. Parents are not sending their children to them because there is such a lack in good educational opportunities or it is not consistent.