Diversity Fuels Student Enrollment Boom
By Kavan Peterson, Staff Writer
Fueled by rising immigration and the baby boom echo, U.S. public school enrollment has surpassed the previous all-time high set in 1970 and is expected to increase steadily to a peak of 50 million students in 2014, the U.S. Census Bureau and Department of Education reported June 1.
The number of students in public elementary and high schools swelled to 49.5 million in 2003, breaking the 48.7 million mark set by school-age baby boomers in 1970. Students identified as minorities made up 42 percent of public school enrollment in 2003, up from 22 percent in 1972, while the share of students who were white decreased to 58 percent from 78 percent.
While America's public schools have grown in size and diversity, the Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) also reported that school crime was down over the past decade but student achievement has been mixed, with reading test scores stagnant, math scores slightly up and chronic high school drop-out rates nationwide.
The annual NCES report, " The Condition of Education 2005 ," attributed increased diversity in the classroom to a large boom in Hispanic enrollment, from 6 percent in 1972 to 19 percent in 2003. Hispanic students outnumbered African-American students nationwide for the first time in 2002, and in the West, overall minority enrollment exceeded white enrollment in 2003.
"These trends illustrate why we are focusing so much time and energy on closing the achievement gap that exists between groups of students," U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said in a press release.
The NCES report includes updates on 40 education indicators, tracking trends in U.S. preschools and elementary, secondary and post-secondary schools up to 2003. The 382-page report, prepared for Congress, is considered the most current and in-depth look at the state of education in the U.S.
The U.S. Census Bureau issued a separate report June 1, " School Enrollment-Social andEconomic Characteristics of Students: October 2003," with demographic information on the 75 million students -- more than one-fourth the U.S. population, age 3 and older -- enrolled in preschool through college in 2003. The Census Bureau projected the children of baby boomers --known as the baby boom echo -- would begin declining in 2005 while the number of racial and ethnic minority births would continue to grow.
The nation's primary benchmark for student test scores, the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), showed that reading scores for fourth- and eighth-graders remained unchanged from 1992 to 2003, while math scores steadily increased.
White and Asian students outperformed Hispanic, African-American and American Indian students on most academic indicators. White students had the lowest drop-out rates and Hispanics the highest.
The report included a first-time analysis of teachers' mobility. It found that public school teachers in high-poverty schools were about twice as likely as their counterparts in more affluent schools to transfer to another school.
"If emphasizing closing the achievement gap is the goal of (President George Bush's) administration, they're not going to do that if teachers are fleeing our worst schools at these rates," said Jack Jennings, executive director of the nonpartisan Center on Education Policy in Washington, D.C.
The report does not include statistics current enough to gauge the success of Bush's signature education reform initiative, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001. NCLB requires annual testing of math and reading in grades 3 through 8 and imposes penalties on schools that fail to improve test scores of students in all racial and demographic groups.
The report found that the percentage of students enrolled in private schools decreased slightly from 1990 to 2002 compared to public school enrollment.
Instead of sending their kids to private schools in the 1990s when household incomes increased, more than 90 percent of Americans still chose to send their offspring to public schools, said Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association , the nation's largest teacher's union. "Our public schools are not doing as bad as some people want to portray. There are some things we need to do differently, but we're making every effort to provide every child with access to a quality public school," Weaver said.
Other findings from NCES report:
- Nearly 1-in-5 students had at least one foreign-born parent in 2003.
- Pre-kindergarten enrollment has increased dramatically, from about half a million in 1964 to 5 million in 2003, up from 6 percent to nearly 60 percent of children aged 3 and 4.
- The number of home-schooled students increased to 2.2 percent of all students in 2003 from 1.7 percent in 1999.
- Between 1990 and 2002, total spending per student in public schools increased by 24 percent.
- College tuition and fees increased by 99 percent between 1970 and 2001.
- About 46 percent of high school graduates were enrolled in college in 2003.
- About 1-in-3 of the nation's 13 million undergraduate college students attended two-year colleges in 2003.
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