City school enrollment falling fast City school enrollment falling fastSchool student numbers are up in one category -- schools with children with discipline issues. Oh my.
Superintendent says it's because of demographic shift, but critics say it's because of unpopular changes
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
By Joe Smydo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Enrollment in the Pittsburgh Public Schools fell just over 5.7 percent in the past year, one of the largest increases in a decade. Superintendent Mark Roosevelt blamed demographic trends, but critics fear it is partly attributable to unpopular changes he has made.
To be fair, perhaps, that is one way to make sure that the schools do not die, overall. The trend and practice has been to take the kids causing trouble and just leave them where they are -- in a troubled state causing trouble. Or, move the students to different schools to cause trouble there. That's a game of musical chairs for the non-musical but very obvious.
The higher numbers in those programs with gains are due to other reasons -- such as a privatized 'light-jail' school that had been opened.
The district on Sept. 28, 2008 counted 26,649 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, down 1,616 from a year ago.
While some individual schools saw gains, overall enrollment fell in accelerated learning academies, K-8 schools, K-5 schools, middle schools and high schools -- every category except schools for children with disciplinary problems.
Pittsburgh's problems are NOT like those of other urban school districts. This is not okay for a justification. This excuse was used when Gov. Rendell won his election to become governor as he failed in Philly as head of that district. So, Pittsburgh had to show it was on the brink as well. That's when the foundation money was pulled.
Around the globe, urban areas are increasing population. With the higher price of gas, people want to live closer to work, play, worship and cultural opportunities. The city can and should be growing. The city has plenty of great values, in various segments.
Many urban districts are experiencing enrollment declines because of the attractiveness of suburban and charter schools, among other reasons. Mr. Roosevelt yesterday blamed the Pittsburgh district's losses on "city flight," an aging population and other demographic issues.
The city flight that I'm seeing is due to Mr. Roosevelt's policies. When you have a hand-picked committee work for a few years on high school reform and then chuck all of those efforts out the window -- that stinks. That's what they did. The high school reform task force efforts were turned into nothing but a joke.
For example, he said the demolition of public housing in Garfield may be responsible for the loss of students at Fort Pitt PreK-5, an accelerated learning academy. The school has 292 students, down 93 from a year ago.
"There's a lot happening here," Mr. Roosevelt said, adding that the district hopes to begin a project to find families that have left the district and ask them why they relocated.
The district had 39,603 students in fall 1998. It has lost students in each of the past 10 school years, including a drop of about 6.6 percent from 2001-02 to 2002-03 and a drop of about 5.7 percent from 2003-04 to 2004-05.
Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers President John Tarka said his members are working with the district to improve the district's academic reputation and reverse the enrollment decline.
The Pittsburgh Promise is to PPS just as PNC Park is to the winning ways of the Pittsburgh Pirates. When PNC Park was being built, everyone was told that there would be years of 'sold out' baseball games. The first year there were about ten games that were sold out. That's it. They lied. They were hyper inflated projections.
"We also know the Pittsburgh Promise is an important ingredient," Mr. Tarka said, referring to the college scholarship program for city high school graduates that's intended to lure families to the city and help retain those already here.
During the past three years, Mr. Roosevelt has closed and consolidated schools, introduced new curricula and made other changes, hoping to right academics and finances. Critics displeased with Mr. Roosevelt's changes, including the closing of the Pittsburgh Schenley High School building in June, have suggested that he's driving some families from the district.
Mr. Roosevelt yesterday disputed that idea, saying enrollment numbers conform to state projections that are based on demographics.
He added that ninth-grade enrollment at Pittsburgh Frick 6-9 in Oakland and the new university-prep school in the Hill District show that the Schenley decision hasn't caused parents to pull students from the district.
Frick and the university school together have about 270 ninth-graders, most of whom would have gone to the Schenley building had it remained open. Mr. Roosevelt said enrollment at the Reizenstein building in Shadyside -- new home to Schenley's 10th, 11th and 12th graders -- is a healthy 694.
Enrollment over the past year fell by about 9.5 percent, or 334 students, at the accelerated learning academies; by about 6.3 percent, or 382 students, at K-8 schools; by about 8 percent, or 285 students, at middle schools; and by about 8.8 percent, or 739 students, at high schools. Enrollment at K-5 schools was down 15 students, about 0.2 percent, and enrollment at schools serving children with disabilities was down seven students, or about 2 percent.
Enrollment in schools serving children with discipline problems was up about 46 percent, or 146 students. Most of the increase came from the referral of additional students to the North Side alternative school that Community Education Partners operates for the district.
More to come.