Chicago Public Schools enrollment rises slightly after 11 years of decline

Chicago Public Schools enrollment rises slightly after 11 years of decline

Chicago Public Schools reported its first uptick in enrollment after 11 years of decline. Thousands of new English learners contributed to the rise. Low-income and Black student enrollment declined.

Chicago Public Schools enrollment rose by nearly 1,200 students this 2023-2024 school year to 323,291 students, according to the district’s official enrollment report.

This marks the first rise in enrollment since 2011, likely because of the influx of thousands of migrant children, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

The numbers could indicate a potential shift in Chicago’s decades-long enrollment decline. But if CPS hopes to establish a new trend of rising enrollment, district leaders must reverse CPS’ harmful trend of worsening student proficiency.

A closer look at CPS enrollment

Despite the reported increase in the district’s official enrollment count on the 20th day of the school year, there are still 38,000 fewer students than before the pandemic. During the 11 years of enrollment decline starting in the 2011-12 school year, the district lost nearly 81,000 students. Last year’s decline cost CPS its status as the nation’s third-largest school district.

On Sept. 19, CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said he was “pleased” with the district’s preliminary 20th-day enrollment number, saying enrollment would be “relatively consistent with last school year.” While Martinez said more analysis and context around the increase in students would be forthcoming, he mentioned the district’s continued trend of more English learners.

The number of students learning to speak English in CPS increased by 7,800 since last school year. They now are nearly 25% of district students, up from about 22%.

The number of low-income students in the district declined by nearly 6,000 this school year. CPS said it would continue to analyze the cause for this decline.

The report doesn’t indicate why that demographic suffered enrollment losses.

Studies have shown third-grade reading proficiency is a strong indicator of whether a student will graduate from high school and the student’s subsequent earning potential, meaning elementary school is a vital time for learning by students. Many low-income students in CPS are struggling to meet grade-level standards in reading and math, so many of their parents may be realizing CPS is not serving their student’s needs or providing an avenue for future academic success.

The largest decline of economically disadvantaged students came from the elementary grades, with over 4,500 fewer low-income students in grades K-8. There are about 1,100 fewer enrolled in high school and almost 150 fewer in pre-K.

The racial makeup of the district changed slightly, with the largest increase being nearly 2,000 more Hispanic students. The largest drop – and largest change overall – came from Black students with 2,100 fewer enrolled this school year compared to last school year.

The only other racial or ethnic group to decrease in enrollment was the Hawaiian and Pacific islanders group by just 42 students.

Failing schools fail to attract students

While CPS managed to modestly increase enrollment for the 2023-2024 school year, the district’s track record of poor proficiency doesn’t suggest a strong likelihood of reversing the loss of nearly 81,000 students since 2011.

The most recent test scores available for CPS students show few students are meeting grade level standards in the core subjects of reading and math despite the district spending more to educate them.

Among third- through eighth-grade students districtwide in 2022, just 20% could read at grade level and 15% could perform math proficiently. Chicago students on average are scoring about 10 percentage points below the state average in reading and math.

Among 11th-grade students, only 21% could read or do math at grade level on the SAT, which measures proficiency for high school students. On average, Chicago 11th-grade students scored 9 percentage points below the state average in reading and 8 percentage points lower in math.

Districtwide, there were many schools where no students in some grades could read or perform math at grade level.

Operational spending per student is over $26,000. CPS’ operating budget has increased by 52% during the past decade, but all that additional spending has not yielded better academic outcomes.

To establish a new trend of increasing enrollment, CPS must get a grip on the failing proficiency rates plaguing the district’s students.

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