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A Changing Student Body
Report Shows Record Enrollment, More-Diverse Population

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.

-- At age 4, children in families at or above the poverty line were better able to recognize letters, numbers and shapes.

-- Mothers who had completed higher levels of education were more likely to read to their children. More than 60 percent of 4-year-olds whose mothers had at least a bachelor's degree were read to each day, compared with 20 percent of 4-year-olds whose mothers had not finished high school.

Where Kids Attend School

-- Public school enrollment is projected to set records each year from now to 2018, when experts predict there will be about 53.9 million students.

-- The number of children who are home-schooled nationwide rose from 850,000 in 1999 to 1.5 million in 2007.

The report found that the most-common reason parents choose to teach at home is a desire to provide religious or moral lessons, along with math, reading and other subjects. Other home-schooling parents said they were concerned about the school environment or unhappy with the academic instruction at local schools.

-- Private school enrollment is on the decline, dropping from 6.3 million in 2001 to 5.9 million in 2007. Catholic schools remain the most popular choice among non-public schools, but their enrollment is shrinking.

-- Black and Hispanic children are more likely to attend high-poverty schools than non-Hispanic white students.

In the 2006-07 school year, about one-third of black and Hispanic children were in schools in which more than 75 percent of students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. About 13 percent of students of Asian background and 4 percent of non-Hispanic white students attended such schools.

Safety and Discipline

-- During the 2005-06 school year, 78 percent of schools reported one or more violent incidents.

-- About one in 14 students was suspended from school at least once in 2006 because of disciplinary problems, according to the report. That's about 3.3 million students nationwide.

Most of the students suspended (2.3 million) for disciplinary problems were boys. Black students were more likely to be suspended than their peers in other ethnic and racial groups. About 15 percent of black students were suspended compared with 7 percent of Hispanic students and 5 percent of non-Hispanic white students .

Student Progress

-- The percentage of students from kindergarten through eighth grade who have had to repeat a year of school has been relatively steady for the past decade, hovering from 9 to 11 percent.

-- Across the country, about 2.6 million students in the class of 2006 graduated after four years of high school. That's an average on-time graduation rate of 73.2 percent.

The rate was highest in Wisconsin (87.5 percent).

Family Involvement

-- In 2007, nearly 90 percent of school parents reported that they attended a school or PTA meeting. Nearly 80 percent of parents said they went to parent-teacher conferences, and about three-quarters said they attended a school or class event in their child's school.

-- About 85 percent of students who did homework had their work checked by an adult at home. Black students from kindergarten through eighth grade were the most likely to have a parent or another adult check their work (98 percent).

-- Parents in low-income families were less likely to participate in school activities. About 58 percent of parents of elementary and middle school children from middle- or upper-class homes reported they volunteered on a school committee, compared with 32 percent those from low-income families.

Higher Education

-- College-going is on the rise, with undergraduate enrollment up 19 percent from 2000 to 2007. During that time, the number of students increased to 15.6 million.

-- Nearly three-quarters of full-time undergraduates received a student loan or grant. The average federal grant was $3,841 at not-for-profit colleges and $3,214 at public institutions.

-- More than 1.5 million bachelor's degrees were awarded in 2007. That's up 30 percent from the number of degrees earned 10 years earlier.

-- Business is the top choice of study, accounting for about 21 percent of bachelor's degrees awarded. Social sciences and history were next, followed by education.

ON THE WEB

To view the report, go to http://nces.ed.gov .

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