Sunday, April 19, 2015

Adding Students, Unevenly

From 2004 to 2014, Kentucky public schools saw a 5% increase in the number of students in average daily attendance, but that growth was far from evenly distributed: more than half of our districts actually saw their numbers decline. Additional differences can be seen in a table of results sorted by district size, type, and region:

Thus, three important patterns:
  • The growth tilted toward the larger districts, with smaller districts on average seeing declines
  • The growth was faster in the county systems (taken as a group) than in independent systems
  • The growth was concentrated outside Appalachia (using the Appalachian Regional Commission's designation of 54 counties and adding the 18 independents in that part of the state)
The Appalachian picture looks relatively tame because a handful of districts on the edge of the region had powerful growth.  Madison County, for example, added 1,653 students to its average daily attendance, growing 19% in one decade. If Madison were not included in the Appalachian list, the rest of the region would show a 3% decline. Clark, Corbin, Laurel, Madison, Montgomery, Pulaski, and Rowan, with excellent highway access and opportunities to act as regional hubs, showed 12% growth --and leaving them out would show the remaining districts with a 6% decline.

Here's a second table counting the districts seeing the various kinds of changes, with one twist on the earlier patterns:
  • Even though independent districts had slower growth as a set than counties as a group, a majority of independents expanded while a majority of counties shrank.
When thinking of those 88 districts with declining attendance, bear in mind that even small losses can bring big challenges. For example, even if layoffs are avoided, people who retire may not be replaced.  Over time,  as those who remain grow in seniority, payroll still creeps upward, making it hard to maintain existing programs and harder still to invest in innovations.  Most Kentucky districts are working in that difficult zone, even while public education as a whole expands.

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