D.C. School Enrollment: Numbers, Damn Numbers and Statistics

Washington D.C. school enrollment is looking like a footrace that both the traditional and charter schools can claim to be winning. (An Education Next profile of schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, now online, describes the background of this race and why the stakes are so high.)

The city’s Public Charter School Board reported Thursday that the city’s 57 charter schools enrolled 27,953 students this fall, or about 38% of total public school enrollment.  The Washington Post, in a story on the charter-board statement Friday, said the city’s traditional schools enrolled 45,772 when a preliminary count was taken in October.  Both numbers will be audited by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education and could change substantially in the coming months.

Both numbers also require a longer look.

The state office’s audited enrollment in the traditional schools in 2008 was 45,200, a drop from 49,500 in 2007, the year Rhee arrived.  Rhee this summer estimated 2009 enrollment at 45,000, far more than an estimate of 41,500 set by the D.C. city council.  So, compared to 2008 enrollment, Rhee’s estimate and the council’s projection, attendance may be up slightly.

The state office’s audited enrollment in the charters was 27,700 in 2008, up from 22,000 in 2007, when there were fewer schools.  The Public Charter School Board projected 2009 enrollment of 28,066.  So, charter enrollment is up over the previous two years, but may have fallen short of projections for this year by 113 youngsters.

There will be plenty else to look at when the audited results are released.  In 2008, for example, 38% of public school students were in charters, but 48% of sixth graders were in charters.  That would seem to be a pretty clear public vote on the quality of the district’s middle schools.  And then there’s this: Based on those preliminary numbers, school enrollment actually grew this year by about 800 youngsters, and the traditional schools got a slightly larger slice of the increase.

Auditors:  Start your calculators.

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