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Census Bureau Forecasts School-Planning Woes

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A series of rapid shifts in the number of school-age children in the U.S. in the next 20 years will make planning for school staffing difficult and will "significantly affect" the future structure of educational institutions, according to a report released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The pattern will make planning difficult not only in terms of students, but also with regard to the need for school buildings and the demand for teachers, according to the report. (See Databank on page 16.)

The report, Characteristics of Children and Youth: 1980, is a compilation of federal statistics, from the Census Bureau and other sources, designed to provide "a readily accessible and comprehensive set of data on children and youth."

For school officials, the next two decades are expected to bring the following changes in the number of students entering the schools:

The population of preschool children--under 5 years old--is projected to increase from 16 million in 1980 to more than 19 million by 1990, then decrease to about 18 million by 2000.

The population of kindergarten- and elementary-school-age children--5 to 13 years old--is projected to rise steadily from 30 million in 1980 to 35 million by 2000.

The high-school-age population--14 to 17 years old--will decrease from 16 million in 1980 to 13 million by 1990, but is expected to rise again to 16 million by 2000.

The peaks and valleys in student population predicted by these statistics follow periods of declining numbers, which, for many school districts, have resulted in empty buildings and teacher layoffs.

Between 1970 and 1980, for example, the number of elementary-school-age children--6 through 13 years old--dropped from 32.9 million to 26.8 million. During the same period, the high-school-age population increased slightly until 1975, then dropped by 1.3 million, to an enrollment of 14.4 million.

In addition, officials of teacher-education programs have reported that fewer students are choosing careers in teaching--a trend that has already led to serious shortages in a number of fields. Some education organizations predict the teacher shortages will become much more severe in the future.

This, combined with the shifts in the number of students who will require teachers and with regional migration, may compound the problems of education planners for the next 20 years, according to many demographers.

Changes in Social Structures

The Census report also offers glimpses of the changes--or lack thereof--in social structures and family life over the last 20 years.

In 1966, for example, 3.7 million children between the ages of 3 and 5--29 percent of the total age group--were enrolled in nursery school and kindergarten. By 1980, the number had jumped to 4.9 million, 53 percent of the total.

Of the group enrolled in nursery schools, a majority of the black children attended publicly supported nursery schools, while a preponderance of white children attended private schools.

The increase in preschool enrollments can be linked to two other social changes, according to the report. During those 20 years, many more young mothers--previously less likely to work outside the home--began to join the labor force. Whether they worked out of necessity or choice, they came increasingly to rely on preschools to provide childcare, the report suggests.

Another possible explanation for the rise in preschool enrollment is parents' desire for their children to be better prepared for elementary school, according to the report.

The report also reveals trends in educational achievement among racial groups that coincide with the results of other federal studies, such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

In the early grades, roughly equal proportions of black and white students were in their "modal grade,"--the grade in which the majority of children of that age are enrolled--in 1980. In the first four grades of elementary school, for example, 75 percent of the white children and 71 percent of the black children were in the grade that is normal for their age.

By high school, however, black students were more likely to be placed below the grade in which others of their age were placed, according to the report. In 1980, 67 percent of the white students in grades 10 through 12 were in the modal grade, while 49 percent of the black high-school students fell in that category.

The statistics for childhood immuniza-tion offered by the report show a mixed record. For polio, the proportion of children between the ages of 1 and 4 years who had all three doses of the vaccine (necessary to confer full immunity) dropped from 70 percent in 1966 to 59 percent in 1978.

Similarly, in 1966, 75 percent of these children received the full immunization against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis, while by 1978, only 66 percent had been fully protected against these illnesses.

The statistics for measles, mumps, and rubella are more encouraging, according to the report. Between 1970 and 1979, the percentage of children immunized against rubella increased from 37 percent to 62.7 percent. For mumps, the percentage increased from 35 percent in 1973 to 55 percent in 1979.

Measles immunizations increased from 45.4 in 1966 to 63.5 percent in 1979--a figure that has probably risen further by now, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.

Other health-related trends reported by the Census Bureau are less encouraging. Suicide among 15- to 24-year-olds, for example, has tripled since 1950, and in 1978 was the third leading cause of death for persons in this age group.

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