In my last post, I put up a chart, which I also included here, showing the decline in enrollment numbers
at TUSD from 2000 to the present. The short takeaway from the chart is, the district's enrollment declined slowly, averaging 350 students a year, from 2000 through 2007. Then the decline almost quadrupled, averaging 1,600 students a year, through 2012. Since then, the decline has slowed. The 2015-16 school year had the smallest decline, 417 students, in eight years.
I decided to pore over data for the 16 years in greater detail, looking at enrollment numbers from the beginning and the end of the school year and grade by grade, to see if I could find any trends worth noting. I did, and in the rest of the post, I'll describe some of what I found. I'm going to restrain myself from drawing too many conclusions from the data. I make a few observations at the end, but really, there are far too many variables at work here for me to tease out clear causes and effects. [Note: I'm going to try and make things as clear as possible, but I'm comparing lots of numbers, which always makes for slow reading, and this isn't the kind of writing I normally do. I'll do the best I can.]
I chose to use the figures from the 175th day for the end-of-the-year numbers because that's either the end of the school year or close to it, depending on the year, and the numbers for that day have fewer random ups and downs than other days. I also looked at student numbers on the 20th day, which is when things settle down after the first month's enrollment changes, so it's a reasonable place for a beginning-of-the-year count.
Looking at the enrollment on the 20th and the 175th day each year, I found, not surprisingly, that every year, TUSD had fewer students at the end of the year than at the beginning, which I suspect is true in other districts. For the 16 years from 2000 to the present, TUSD's average decrease from the beginning to the end of the year was about 1200 students.Only three years had decreases of less than 950 students: 2009-10 (915) and both of the last two school years, 2014-15 (920) and 2015-16 (582). That means that the during the last two years, holding onto students for the entire school year had a significant role in slowing the overall decrease of students.
The grade levels didn't all lose the same number of students from the beginning to the end of the year. In fact, most of the losses came from the high school grades. Looking specifically at the past three years, student numbers were reasonably stable throughout the year from 1st through 8th grade (there was actually a small but significant net gain of students in those grades last school year). In high school, on the other hand, the numbers decreased about 300 per grade from the beginning to the end in all three years. However, that's an improvement over previous years when the losses were closer to 500 per grade from the beginning to the end of the year.
One area of growing strength for the district is its ability to hold onto high school students, not just from the beginning to the end of the year but from year to year. From 2000 to 2009, the district had an average of 1100 fewer 12th graders than 9th graders. After that, the gap began to shrink, and for the last five years, the difference between the number of 9th and 12th graders is less than half the earlier number, in the 400-500 student range.
Before high school, the number of students in each grade is close to the number in the grade before it, until you hit the 6th grade, that is, which has significantly fewer total students than the 5th grade. Not coincidentally, that's the transition year from elementary school to middle school. Until 2006, the district lost about 300 to 400 students from 5th to 6th grade. Starting with the 2006-7 school year, that number jumped to between 500 and 600 students. This confirms what many people have noted before: many TUSD students leave the district to attend middle school at charters or in neighboring districts. However, over the past four school years, the loss has been cut to between 350 to 400 students, indicating that the district is holding onto more middle school students. And some of the students who left return in the 9th grade, when the number of students increases by 100 to 200 students over the 8th grade numbers.
The data indicates three areas where the district has slowed the decline of students in recent years. It has held on to more of its students from the beginning of the school year to the end. It has slowed the loss of students as they move through the high school years from the 9th grade to the 12th grade. And it has held onto more of its students moving from the 5th grade to the 6th grade. I can't say why those changes have occurred, but if they are the result of actions taken by the district in recent years, it deserves credit for significantly slowing the student decline at TUSD.