Sunday, March 14, 2010

An explanation of enrolment projections

Given the comment on the previous post, I had been holding this tab open in my browser for almost a week now from the Welland Tribune. The article concentrate's on a District School Board of Niagara superintendent's explanation of enrolment forecasts at one school that changed dramatically from one year to the next. In a coincidental twist, I got an e-mail months ago on DSBN and enrolment forecasting, after I posted something on the board's decision to hire a private consultant, Watson & Associates Economists Ltd. Apparently there's been some shift between people at the private firm and in the board's planning office, and the thought was this was contributing to a, er, different take on the enrolment projections for the schools involved in this Welland review.
From the article:
The projected enrolment data originally presented to the assigned committee last October, when the review began, placed Crowland's capacity at 78% by 2018.
Updated information was provided in December, placing the school's capacity at 50% by 2018.
Parents questioned why there was such a big change in numbers, a question Kartasinski hoped to clarify at Tuesday's meeting.
(Linda) Kartasinksi explained that enrolment numbers are projected using a formulaic process.
It begins with "straight-line enrolment," taking the current number of students in each grade at a school and moving the numbers forward a grade. Using birthrates within the school boundaries, staff in the planning department work to predict the number of junior kindergarten students that will be entering the school the following year. They also take into account the number of students graduating, she said.
For instance, Crowland Central was predicted to have four junior kindergarten students next year, with 28 Grade 8 students graduating.
"You move 28 out and four up. That's a net loss of 24 students," Kartasinski said. 
What's missing here that many school boards also use is any impact of redevelopment or development of new housing in the school's boundary area. A birth-rate formula is also applied to those housing units (per year, based on projected build-out) to estimate how many children will live in the area.
To all these formulas, the boards must also consider the traditional percentage-split for how many children go to English public, English Catholic, private, French-language, etc. They still can't count on every child in that housing going to the local public school.
And yes, enrolment is continually revised. The reality really is in many, many schools there are far larger cohorts of students leaving elementary schools from Grade 8 and moving onto high school than there are kindergarten or Grade 1 students coming in the other end. This rationale doesn't preclude blips in enrolment (you know, something in the water...) which still can and do happen. However a blip is not a medium- to long-term enrolment trend.
While we do focus declining enrolment so much on the elementary schools, it's about to hit high schools hard and fast-- a decline that takes eight to 10 years working through an elementary school moves through a high school in four to five years. The largest grade cohort in my region is Grade 11-- meaning the numbers of students in every grade below Grade 11 are smaller than the ones above.


RetDir said...

In my previous board we used Watson, and then when they split another consultant. They are quite sophisticated, and use all of the factors ER identifies. This removes the kind of variation that DSNB has experienced, especially in any given school. And ER is right - the picture in secondary for the next 5 - 7 years is not pretty, especially when lower enrolment drastically affects the courses that may be offered.

Anonymous said...

"the picture in secondary for the next 5-7 years is not pretty"

Is that why boards seem in no rush to get those kids out in four years?

Could be an even gloomier picture should the gov't actually encourage boards to nix those Victory Laps?

Education Reporter said...

Anon 15 March 16:23
It'll be a gloomy picture regardless of the victory lap question or not. The enrolment decline took twice as long to work its way through elementary because from JK-8 is 10 years. If you do four, five or six years of high school, that impact is still going to happen in approximately half the time it took among elementary schools.

I'm still waiting for the report showing that kindergarten/Grade 1 cohort (boardwide) being larger in numbers than the one a year ahead of it. That'll be the start of the turnaround on declining enrolment, but we're not there yet. Those kids have likely already been born, but aren't in the system yet as they're still preschoolers.

The system's in a 'rush' to get people to graduate in four years? I don't know if they really are or aren't. Speaking only for myself, I was ready to move on in four myself and had to loiter the extra year to get mandatory needed credits for university (OACs). If I could have had the option to do today's curriculum, I would have been done in four.

Given average return rates are 25-30%, I would say most of today's high schoolers are ready to move on in four years as well-- just like their peers in every other province, across the U.S. and elsewhere around the world.


RetDir said...

Not sure why we are expecting a rebound in elementary school - our projections only showed a levelling off, with very slight growth. We are never going to see any large numbers, save and except those associated with immigration (largely confined to big urban areas), because the echo of the echo gets fainter each time. Elementary is where it will be for the foreseeable future...
The 'victory' lap is the result of a number of factors, and will gradually (as ER has said) get to the same level as in other provinces - 20 to 25% of the student body.

Education Reporter said...

I think the projections vary by region slightly. There will be some rebound (maybe rebound is too strong a word?) as we move from the dip between echo generations and the next, smaller echo. You've correctly stated the growth in GTA boards is all due to either immigration or population shift as people move in and out of neighbourhoods.

Why are other areas of the province not growing due to immigration? Well, look at whether or not there are any elements in place that might attract those new to this country to your community... if there aren't, then it shouldn't be surprising they're not knocking down your doors.

The growth of this country's population being attributed to immigration came out of... the 2001 census, if not it was definitely confirmed in the 2006 census.

So, at some point, that kindergarten cohort will be slightly larger than the Grade 1 cohort ahead of it. At least for a few years.

As you've said it will be smaller-- people like me have put off family well into our 30s and won't have as many children as our parents' generation-- or the one that came after.


Anonymous said...

Declining enrolments and school closures are now at the top of the education agenda nearly everywhere in Canada. Over the past six months, I have been tracking the Save our School movements in Southern Ontario, BC, English Montreal, and all over the Maritimes.

My most recent EduBlog post invites concerned citizens to join in comparing notes and experiences.

Check it out at http//

For the latest on the Ontario scene, I count upon Hugo for his reliable front-line reports.

Stay tuned to my Blog for reports on the "school closure" issue from across Canada.

Education Reporter said...


Thanks for the input-- you're bang on when you remind us this demographic challenge is not unique to Ontario.

Further, in addition to the enrolment drops and shifts, we're also dealing with a swath of buildings that haven't been updated since the last large-scale consolidation of the one- and two-room schoolhouses at the end of the 1960s.