For the Record: Enrollment Surges to 51.7 Million

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History is being made in the nation's classrooms this month: K-12 enrollment is expected to surpass the record set a quarter-century ago.

And that, according to a new report by the Department of Education, is just the beginning. This fall's estimated enrollment of 51.7 million students, in both public and private schools, surpasses the record of 51.3 million set in the 1971-72 school year, and the number of new students entering U.S. schools will continue to rise, setting records each year until 2006, the report says.

"We're now only at the midpoint of a long, slow wave of rising enrollment," Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said in releasing the report at a news conference here late last month.

The report projects that the most substantial growth will be in the West and South and that high schools will experience greater increases than elementary schools. However, about a third of the states and the District of Columbia can expect enrollment decreases, the report says.

The driving force behind the growth is what education officials have dubbed the "baby boom echo."

Many of today's students are the children of those born during the population boom that began after World War II, which demographers say lasted from 1946 to 1964.

And higher birthrates among African-Americans and Hispanics than among whites, along with immigration patterns, have combined to leave many districts across the country bursting at the seams.

The enrollment increase will create some tough challenges in the next decade, the report says. School districts will need an estimated 190,000 more teachers, 6,000 new schools, and about $15 billion in additional funds for operational expenses through 2006, the report says.

In a special series of articles, Education Week will take an in-depth look at some of those challenges. The five-part series, Knocking at the Doors: Enrollment Sets a Record, begins next week with a look at how the enrollment surge will affect schools and the people who work in them across the country, how large a part immigration is playing in the student boom, and how one administrator views the changes in education over the past 25 years.

Additional articles to appear in the weeks that follow will touch on the role of the older student in the nation's high schools, the effect of America's aging population on schools, how districts are struggling to keep up with facilities needs, and how changes in society have played out in private schools.

Vol. 16, Issue 01

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