Saturday, October 07, 2006

Enrollment, First Choice & Alternative Schools

In a comment on a previous post, Roy Smith wrote:

Since school district policy prohibits (with good reason) involuntary assignment to alternative schools, I would submit that only one criteria is particularly useful or should really matter in assessing whether an alternative school remains open: does it continue to attract enrollment?

I like the idea, and suggest that first choice numbers, as a measure of what parents think of a school, can be added to enrollment to help complete the picture. Many factors, like being mentioned for possible closure, can affect enrollment and first choice numbers and make this data problematic in some ways. But I think the results are interesting.

From the numbers the CAC looked at for first choice requests for elementary and alternative schools, I calculated the following data showing the percentage change in kindergarten first choice requests in 2006 as compared to 2001. (I opted not to include the 6th grade first choice requests here because I'm not sure whether the 5th graders who choose to stay in the same school for 6th grade are counted in this data or not.)

- Orca, Kindergarten: +81%

- Salmon Bay, Kindergarten: +26%

- Pathfinder, Kindergarten: +3%

- TOPS, Kindergarten: +1%

- Summit, Kindergarten: +0%

- AE#2, Kindergarten: -28%

- AS#1, Kindergarten: -46%

- AAA, Kindergarten: -79%

Then I looked at the percentage change in overall enrollment during almost that same period, 2001 to 2005. (If anyone gets the new 2006 enrollment numbers, I'd love to see them.)

- Pathfinder +12%

- AS#1 +10%

- AE#2 +9%

- Summit +8%

- Orca +4%

- Salmon Bay +1%

- TOPS -6%

- AAA -14%

And finally, I looked at the how full the schools were in 2005, using enrollment and planning capacity numbers. I am skeptical about these numbers because I don't agree with how the district counts excess capacity in general. For example, how can Pathfinder, a school with the entire middle school in portables, be counted as having excess capacity? But, although faulty, I believe these capacity numbers can help complete the picture of how popular alternative schools are around the district.

TOPS - 101%

AS#1 - 97%

AE#2 - 86%

Orca - 85%

Salmon Bay - 84%

Summit - 81%

Pathfinder - 78%

AAA - 68%

What does all this mean? I'm not sure. I'd love to have people from each of the schools tell some of the stories behind the numbers.

For example, Orca's 1st choice numbers went way up starting, I believe, when Ben Ostrom came on as principal. But overall enrollment didn't change much. Why? Likewise, at Salmon Bay you see a large increase in Kindergarten first choice requests, but not a corresponding large increase in overall enrollment. My guess is that the planning capacities are incorrect, making it look like Orca and Salmon Bay have excess capacity when they don't. Anyone from Orca or Salmon Bay want to confirm or correct this idea?

Someone from AS#1 and from AE#2, can you tell us why with a large decrease in first choice requests, the total enrollment of your schools is increasing?

And I'd welcome the analysis of anyone on what, if anything, all this data means.


Roy Smith said...

With regards to AS#1, a large proportion of students are there after having started somewhere else (usually a more traditional reference area school), and finding that that did not work for them. That may explain the discrepancy between the first-choice numbers for Kindergarten and overall enrollment.

Anonymous said...

TOPS numbers are low for kindergarten, I think, because there is a widespread (and probably true) belief in the difficulty of getting in. Also, once in, there is very little movement, so it is unlikely that you would see the numbers change. (And that leads to one of the main complaints, at least for kids, for K-8s that do not grow at middle school - lack of new people to interact with. By 7th grade, many of the kids are tired of each other. Salmon Bay grows its middle school so they have a new influx of kids.)

Salmon Bay, as I recall from my CAC work, does have more capacity. The principal is unwilling to grow the school because it is just manageable at the size that it is now. This astounded me when I heard it but it's another example of site-based management that may not be serving the community at large. I think Salmon Bay could easily fill up but if the principal won't do it I don't know what can be done.

Also, as an aside, if anyone is (or has) a Lemony Snicket fan, could you please e-mail me if you are going to the event for the release of the final book on Oct. 26th at Town Hall (westello@hotmail.com)? Thanks.

Roy Smith said...

I think there is an argument to be made that if the site-based management does not think that growing the school would not be a positive for the school, then maybe it shouldn't happen. However, in the case of Salmon Bay (for instance), I think that if the school is not using and does not intend to use its building to capacity, then it is reasonable for the district to find ways to fill the excess capacity.

In the case of both AS#1 and Summit, both schools have some excess capacity, but are both quite willing to grow to fill that capacity (both schools have operated at capacity in recent years). With AS#1, this also is partly why the school doesn't want to move to a larger site - the school is intentionally. With Pinehurst, the site is a good fit because even when using it at capacity, the school will be the size that it wants to be.

mammatoni said...

I believe, like TOPS, the kindy numbers are low at AS1 because people think their kids won't get in. I know of one such new parent at our school. Her older son is at AE2 because he couldn't get into AS1 as a kindergartner, but after starting the year at AE2 this year her younger son moved to AS1. We have lots of room.

We ended last year's enrollment at AS1 at 269 and have 213 now.