For the past few years, I've put up a chart of TUSD's enrollment numbers beginning in 2000. The district has a detailed table of daily enrollment for those years separated out by grade, ethnicity and gender. However, it wasn't updated last year because, I was told, of a change in computer operations. I recently received the 2016-17 numbers from the district and was told the daily enrollment count will return to the district website toward the end of this year.
Here is the updated chart.
A few things before I look at the numbers. I've consistently used the enrollment numbers on the 175th day because they seem to have less random variation than other days during the year. However, the numbers I'm using this year are somewhat different than last year's. The reason is, I hadn't noticed until I looked over the numbers for this post that I had included preschool enrollment in the count, which skews the count, especially for the past school year. Preschool numbers have increased slowly over the years, but they made a big jump this past year, increasing by 300 children. If I included them in the chart, the enrollment loss for this past school year would be smaller. This corrected chart only includes K-12 numbers.
The chart shows an average decline in district enrollment of about 350 students a year from 2000 to 2007. The numbers take a plunge from 2008 to 2012, averaging about 1600 a year, then the yearly decreases slow. Over the last three years, the average loss has been about 650 students, which is an improvement from the previous seven years but still a serious problem for the district.
My chart only shows the total numbers year to year. A look at the grade-by-grade changes in the detailed district tables reveals a few problems and one bright spot.
The most serious problem I see is that last year's enrollment numbers for kindergarten and first grade are 200 to 300 students lower than the numbers for grades two through five. As those K-1 students move through the grades, they will continue to lower the enrollment numbers for the twelve to thirteen years they'll be students unless the district can increase their numbers. And if the kindergarten and first grade enrollment continues at its current low numbers, it will create a cascading enrollment downturn for the district.
The district has about 400 fewer students each year in middle school than it had in the fifth grade, meaning that parents are pulling their children out of the district for the middle school years. In the ninth grade, the numbers go back up by about 250 students, so many of those parents must be bringing their children back for high school. This indicates that the district needs to work on making its middle schools more attractive to parents to keep the numbers up. If 200 more students had stayed for middle school in each grade in 2016-17, the district's loss from the previous year would nearly disappear.
The bright spot is that high schools are doing a better job of holding onto students than they have in the past. In the years from 2000 to 2003, the district lost about 450 students each year from grades nine through twelve. In the past three years, the loss is closer to 225 students each year.
I haven't delved into the causes of the district's slipping numbers because there are so many possibilities, many of which could be in play. Maybe TUSD is losing students because it's doing a poor job of educating students. Maybe the increased "school choice" in the state—more charter schools, the ability to enroll in other districts and the increase in private school vouchers—has drained off an increasing number of students. There may have been a demographic shift in the city which has lowered the school-aged population in certain age groups. I'm sure there are other possibilities as well. But the bottom line is, TUSD has to do what it can to improve its numbers or face a variety of bad choices in the future.