WSSD Demographics

The WSSD demographic study was presented at the school board meeting last night. You can see the report here. The discussion at the board meeting didn’t add much to it, but its on the board meeting video at the 44th minute. It’s great to have this data and I think it tells a couple of stories and asks some additional questions. I’ve produced my own graph combining their historical data (on the left) with their projections (on the right). All the other graphs and charts here are from the report.

One story is that there’s a clear demand for full day kindergarten. Although there’s exceptions, most years anywhere from 40-70 more children appear in first grade than attend kindergarten. This is about 20% of the first grade population. And this doesn’t count the additional children attending supplementary programs, which again, are only available to those that can afford it. The district remains an outlier in not offering full day kindergarten and this likely remains the strongest single source of inequality in the district.

Another story is the decline of private schools outside of kindergarten. This is something that wasn’t fully addressed in either the data or the presentations. There’s two sets of data presented that seemingly tell different stories because they aren’t quite the same data sets.

The more granular data on the left indicates that WSSD enrollment has gone from 92.9% to 94.3% of enrollments in the district over 10 years. On the right it suggests that the percentage of 5-17 year olds has gone from 87.7% to 95.2% over ten years. The two data sets don’t quite measure the same thing and seem to tell different stories. The one on the left suggests that about 25% of the student population growth is due to students attending public schools instead of private ones. The table on the right however suggests that almost all of the public school growth is due to students attending public schools instead of private ones (and maybe some older children not dropping out? But are there really hundreds of 16-17 year olds dropping out in any given year in WSSD or being homeschooled?) I feel like there’s more of a story to be told behind these numbers, but the data given and the presentations made don’t tell that story yet.

And that story is important, because if most of the growth in the WSSD public schools is due to a higher percentage of the district’s children attending public school, that trend is ending. Much of that remaining 5% of students not attending public school is due to the kindergarteners I discussed above and so unless the district offers full day kindergarten, there’s little room for additional growth. If this is the case, the projections being made seem unlikely to be accurate.

This chart I love,

The orange, yellow and blue markings are the track of a class cohort through the school district. Each of these show that about 28% of each class joins between 1st grade and 12th. A lot of children do move into the district. Most of them arrive during the elementary school years. This confirms what a lot of us see day to day as children move into the district, bringing along younger siblings. Judging from private school tuitions, it costs significantly more to educate high schoolers vs. elementary school students. With students moving into the district as they become more expensive to educate, this represents yet another problematic dynamic for our tiny school district.

Revisiting the chart at the top of this story, the consultants believe that after over a decade of increasing K-5 numbers, it will suddenly level off. I didn’t hear a convincing explanation for why that’d happen. If the story of the collapse of private schools is the driving force for growth, maybe that makes sense though, because the population of children living in WSSD isn’t growing much.

The middle school numbers jumped up this year and they’re predicting those higher numbers will remain for the next 6 years before inexplicably dropping off. The historic middle school numbers don’t follow any clear logic, so I guess its no surprise the future predictions don’t either. Perhaps housing market data could explain the trends here, there was some discussion among the board that this data would be useful but the consultants apparently didn’t have it.

The high school numbers are predicted to keep increasing on trend with the pre-Covid rise. It makes some sense that the high school numbers are tracking the historic rise in K-5 numbers and its own historical patterns but it seems a little strange that they’re rising faster than the middle school numbers. Generally most cohorts of students stop growing much by 9th grade. So if they aren’t coming from the middle school or from outside the district, I don’t understand where these high students are appearing from.

Data is great, but this feels like a starting point. This data will soon have an important impact. A fellow parent pointed out to my wife that the policy committee is currently discussing policy 206 which would change how students are assigned to schools. Unfortunately the way WSSD holds meetings now, draft policies are not readily available to the public until they’re before the board for final passage, so this is one to keep an eye on as it has the potential to cause anger and confusion in the future, as the kerfuffle over WES students did over the summer.

Categories: Government, WSSD