Part One: Enrollment Data and Public Information
What seems like a reasonable way to gauge who might have erred is to look at the rest of the available enrollment data, sparse though it may be. If the rest of the data is pretty consistent and lacking in anomalies, then it seems reasonable to conclude that the district got it right, and Garfield had an unusual counting flub.
But first, a second to rant about the incredible scarcity of enrollment data.
Enrollment data directly drives hundreds of millions of dollars of public funding. It is important that it be both accurate and public. Right now, it is neither.
- Enrollment numbers are directly tied to staffing throughout the district (well, everywhere but JSCEE).
- Analysis of enrollment numbers is essential for capacity management and capital projects.
- Bad enrollment data will obviously result in erroneous conclusions, and misspending of public funds.
- Detailed enrollment data, which used to be routinely put up on the district website every month, and directly influences how hundreds of millions of dollars of public dollars are spent, is no longer posted on the district website (because of a software change, according to the Public Records officer), and data has been removed from the district website.
So, does the available data tell a pretty consistent story, without any major contradictions or anomalies? - Nope.
The data is weird. Very, very weird. There are two major sources: Friday memos, and the enrollment data SPS files with OSPI.
Let’s take a look at the OSPI data first.
The above chart shows the enrollment change between September and October for all high school grades. Almost invariably, high school enrollment in every grade rises between September and October. Only twice since 1997-98 has any high school grade dropped between September and October. In 2006-07, the 12th grade lost 3 students between September and October (it’s a teeeeeny red bar, but it’s there, I promise). I mean: WOW. MIND THE 3 KID GAP.
And then this fall, between September and October, 566 9th graders vanished. 566 kids gone. Poof. What happened? Did they drop out? Join a cult en masse? Get abducted by aliens? Was there some kind of SPS 9th grader rapture event?
So. The numbers SPS filed with the state are extremely peculiar. But surely the Friday memos, reporting to the board and Superintendent, show typical enrollment patterns? Again: NOPE.
In September, district administrators reported that there were 14,000 HS students, and 52,068 students in the district as a whole. In October, district administrators reported that there were 13,786 high school students, and 51,988 students in the district as a whole. So, minus 80 students district-wide, and minus 214 high school students.
High school enrollment has never, ever dropped between September and October. Not even once. The state funds districts using the October count because October is almost always the highest enrollment for the entire school year.
How… odd. As mentioned earlier, the person most experienced with enrollment counting for SPS retired in June (we miss you, Tracy!).
The best case is that district administration made a mistake with Garfield, and probably with other high school counts.
But there could be a very reasonable case to be made for district administration lowering high school numbers intentionally.
Given the severely limited data available, it’s hard to estimate the scope of the mistake, but it very likely includes a miscount at Garfield High School.
Is it worth asking if someone at JSCEE intentionally altered the numbers? Yes, it is.
While there is some seriously dubious SPS history that could make my Magic 8 Ball come up with an answer more nefarious than “ERROR,” I doubt that this is a case of intentional alteration. Because if this is intentional alteration, it is really, really sloppy work. It’s terrible. My kids could do better.
But a stubbornly uncorrected mistake has the same result as an intentional alteration.
So will the district review their conflicting, strange numbers? Will they consider when there are multiple instances of anomalies, that they might have been the ones to make a mistake?
Or will they continue to stonewall, conceal and/or remove enrollment information, cut a teacher from Garfield, and insist that the disruption to student schedules will be lessened because the teacher will be removed at the end of the semester… even though the overwhelming majority of core classes are full-year classes?
Based on current behavior, I’d say they’d rather do anything rather than admit a mistake – even one that screws over students they are responsible for educating.
One teacher matters at every school. At the high school level, removing a teacher immediately makes it more difficult for students in that building to acquire credits for graduation, for college admissions and for college scholarships. And given the anomalies in the data available, I have serious concerns that Garfield is not the only school the district flubbed the count for.
OSPI 1251 enrollment form for 2014-15, headcount (I also looked at the FTE forms)
OSPI 1251s relating to SPS, from 1997-87 to 2014-15