Wednesday, February 1, 2012

School Enrollment Surging in Some Urban MA Districts; Overcrowding an Issue

Based on the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's 2011-12 enrollment report, it appears as though a number of urban districts are experiencing a huge growth in their public school populations. Worcester, for example, grew from 24,192 students in 2010-11 to 24,411 in 2011-12 while Brockton went from 15,828 students to 16,162. Unanticipated student enrollment growth has left some of these districts to figure out how to accommodate all of their new students while keeping class sizes as low as possible. Additionally, for some schools increases in student enrollment has occurred simultaneously with increases in their limited English proficiency  population as many of the new students that urban school districts are welcoming are immigrants who speak English as a second language. This leaves some financially strapped school districts to not only have to find space for a large group of new students, but also address the added challenge of educating students with limited English language proficiency.

Overcrowding and concerns about space has been a particularly salient issue in Lynn, which has also seen a large influx of new students. The Lynn Public School District increased from 13,547 students in 2010-11 to 13,731 in 2011-12. This has resulted in a proposal for the opening an innovation school  at the elementary level (Washington) to help lower class sizes at a few of the most populated schools which are mostly those that house the lower grades. Focusing on the lower grades (K-5) at this point is important as this is where much of the dramatic increases in student enrollment in Lynn are currently concentrated. Below is a table detailing student enrollment by grade from 2007-08 to 2011-2012 for the Lynn Public School District. Only enrollment numbers for pre-kindergarten through 3rd grade are shown here as, again, this is a particular area of concern. 


Here we see that the pre-kindergarten and kindergarten populations are exploding; the enrollment for these grades has increased by 34% and 25%, respectively, from 2007-08. Worcester and New Bedford saw a similar trend. In Worcester, pre-kindergarten enrollment increased from 1,554 students in 2010-11 to 1,624 students in 2011-12 while kindergarten enrollment went from 2,068 to 2,145. New Bedford had 108 more pre-kindergarten students enter its school district in 2011-12 when compared to the previous year.

Not all schools within each district are seeing an increase in their enrollment. Some schools in Lynn are relatively stable in their enrollment numbers; Brickett's enrollment increased by only two students from 2010-11 to 2011-12 while Callahan has eight fewer students this school year than it did last year. There seems to be just a few schools that are experiencing a substantial growth in their numbers.

Connery 583606

*[Editor's Note 2/7/12]: According to the Massachusetts DESE report, Ford School has 598 students; Ford's principal, Dr. Claire Crane, however confirmed on 2/6/12 that enrollment is actually 605.

From 2010-11 to 2011-12, Ford School grew by 51 students while Harrington welcomed 76 students. Cobbet currently has five 1st grades classrooms and six 2nd grade classrooms because there is a total of 269 students in these two grades combined.  I alluded to English language proficiency previously as this is serious concern for the schools growing at a rapid rate. Ford, for example, is 37.1% limited English proficiency (LEP) and 65.1% 'first language not English;' Ingalls is 34.6% LEP and 66% 'first language not English.'  Large class size is of particular concern for students with limited English skills who may require more personal instruction in order to learn adequately and become proficient in English. For this reason (among others), focusing on and seriously addressing the issue of overcrowding should be a top priority for the city of Lynn and other districts who are experiencing similar increases in student population growth.

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