Newton school enrollment trends suggest pandemic exodus may have ended

There’s been a lot of talk in Newton about the city’s declining public school enrollment, caused by widespread frustration over COVID-019 closures and protocols. But enrollment may be on the rebound, as the nightmare of COVID-19 gets smaller in the public school rearview.

Dr. Katy Hogue, chief of data and research for the Newton public school system, gave a presentation to the Newton School Committee showing enrollment patterns in the city’s school this academic year as well as projections out to 2029.

With the exception of the COVID-19 pandemic years of 2020 and 2021, enrollment in Newton has remained close to projections in the last few years, Hogue said.

What’s a CSR and why does it matter?

Changes can be seen more prominently when looking at cohort survival ratio—how much of one class has moved on to the next year within the district.

Using a five-year average CSR by grade and building from 2019, 2021, 2022 and 2023, 2022, 2021 and 2019, Hogue said, the district can get a clearer picture of enrollment trends in Newton (2020 is omitted because of the pandemic and school closures).

A CSR compares a particular cohort (group of students) in a year with the number of students in that cohort the previous year.

“As an example, the Angier grade 2 to 3 CSR for this year would compare the number of students in grade 3 at Angier this fall to the number of student in grade 2 at Angier last year,” Hogue explained.

A CSR of 1 is stable. A CSR of lower than 1 indicates a decline in enrollment, and a CSR higher than 1 indicates increase in enrollment.

A CSR for each grade in each building is calculated each year, and those numbers are averaged across five years to get the modified five-year average CSR the district uses to make projections.

About 20 percent of Newton’s households have kids in the Newton public school system, Mayor Ruthanne Fuller said.

Newton’s trends

In recent years, Newton’s middle schools have seen a decline in enrollment, particularly in grades 5 and 8. But this year the data shows a little bit of growth in those grades this year.

“That is mainly the reason we have a larger than projected middle school class this year overall, which is due to the larger than projected sixth grade,” Hogue said.

Newton school enrollment predictions. Chart by Dr. Katy Hogue

The COVID-19 exodus people often talk about in Newton’s schools—parents pulling their kids out of public school and putting them in private school because of public school handling of the pandemic and closures—has likely stopped.

This year’s fifth grade students were in second grade when COVID-19 hit, and a lot of early elementary school students who left then did not return.

“Students who would have left for private school after grade 5 appear to have left earlier in the pandemic,” Hogue explained. “We had many fewer students leaving NPS for private school after grade 5 this year than we typically do, and we have a higher than typical number percentage entering in grade 6.”

The CSR for grade 8 to 9 has returned to pre-pandemic levels as well, with fewer students leaving and more arriving to go to high school in Newton public schools.

Newtron middle school enrollment projections. Chart by Dr. Katy Hogue

Districtwide, Hogue said, Newton is projected to have an enrollment decline of .6 percent (which amounts to 74 students), largely caused by fewer kindergarten enrollees, which reflects a dip in births several years ago.

Those shifts in CSR means future projections are changed to account for it. And all of the data for all of the grades in all of Newton’s schools will be used in ongoing discussions about what resources the district needs.

You can watch Hogue’s entire presentation online.

More discussions on enrollment are expected in the coming months, including another presentation in a few weeks with some recommendations in the next few weeks.