Report Shows Record Public School Enrollment, More-Diverse Class

(By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)
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By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 1, 2009

Public school enrollment across the country is hitting a record this year with just less than 50 million students, and classrooms are becoming more diverse, largely because of growth in the Latino population, according to a new federal report.

Nationwide, about one in five students was Hispanic in 2007, the latest year for which figures are available for ethnic groups, up from 11 percent in the late 1980s. About 44 percent of the nation's students are minorities.

The picture of the nation's classrooms comes annually through the Condition of Education, a congressionally mandated look at enrollment and performance trends in schools and colleges. It draws on data from school systems, colleges and national and international exams.

Average reading and math scores for 9- and 13-year-olds have risen since the early 1970s, but performance among 17-year-olds stagnated. Achievement gaps persist between students from low-income families and those from wealthier families. Black and Hispanic students continue to lag in performance compared with non-Hispanic white students.

"This report allows us to take a big-picture look," said Stuart Kerachsky, acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, part of the Department of Education. "What we see are some improvements . . . but persistent challenges remain in educating a growing and increasingly diverse population."

The report shows that preschool enrollment is growing. More parents are choosing to home-school their children. And private school enrollment has dipped.

Kerachsky said the center gathers reams of data -- a 325-page book plus additional details on its Web site -- for researchers and educators to mine for insights about the education system. He encouraged researchers to jump in and ask: "Why? What's going on? How do we change it?"

Here are some highlights from the report:

Early Education

The academic divide between children from low-income families and their more-affluent peers starts early.

-- A study tracking a group of children born in 2001 found that those living in poverty are less likely to have someone read to them, tell them stories or sing to them. About 36 percent of 9-month-olds in families at or above the poverty line were read to each day, compared with 22 percent of those in the poorest families.

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