Mayor Vincent Gray announced Tuesday that 45,630 students enrolled in DCPS this year, up 912 pupils from 2009-2010. The official numbers, vetted by an auditing firm through the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, are higher than the school system's rough projection in October of 46,515 students, or a 1.6 percent increase.
|Sharing the wealth|
|2010-2011 enrollment||Increase||Share of D.C. public school students|
"The day will come when this [school system] has been substantially and significantly turned around," Gray said. "Young people are moving into the city and staying in the city and clearly enrolling in our public schools."
For that last step, Gray credited the universal prekindergarten program that he pushed while chairman of the D.C. Council, citing sustained enrollment increases in the earliest grades.
Pre-K jumped 17.1 percent for 3-year-olds and 5.4 percent for 4-year-olds, while kindergarten enrollment increased 12.2 percent. In grades one to three and six to 12, enrollment dropped slightly; grades four and five rose 0.7 percent.
Although early-childhood education doesn't show up as ballooning graduation rates or improvements in standardized test scores, "I don't think there's a more important metric," Gray said.
Interim Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson said she agreed with Gray, and noted, "We have more classrooms."
Some observers have pointed to the District's population growth for the increase as young families with school-age children filter into the city. The District recorded its first population increase since 1950 and topped 600,000 residents for the first time in 20 years in the 2010 U.S. Census.
The D.C. public charter school system's enrollment increased by 6 percent to about 29,400 students, slightly increasing charters' share of D.C. public school students to 39 percent -- the second-highest share in the nation behind New Orleans. The charter school board is considering a record 19 applications to open new schools.
Local political analyst Chuck Thies said of the many factors driving enrollment, expanded pre-K and population growth were possible players. "That said, certainly, the Rhee effect has changed perceptions among some parents, especially those with children entering school for the first time," Thies said.
Former Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee gained national attention for her reforms that focused on closing chronically underperforming schools and firing teachers rated ineffective on classroom evaluations.
Rhee, who was still chancellor when the initial numbers were released in October, said 73 of the system's 123 schools across all wards showed student growth.
"But real success will only come when we see parents taking children out of expensive private schools and sending them to DCPS," Thies said.
The school system expects to release school budgets this week, which on Monday included "severe cuts -- we're talking about positions, bodies" and school closures, according to officials inside DCPS. After Gray painted a slightly rosier budget picture for fiscal 2012 on Tuesday, school officials said it was not clear if or how the cuts would be eased.