Mike Kennedy New 2110

Fun with Numbers

Sept. 22, 2022

In my role as the person who gathers the enrollment numbers for this issue's AS&U 100 list of school districts with the most students, I have been immersed in figures for a few weeks.

After years of generating this list, I have grown accustomed to the familiar names among the largest districts. It’s not surprising that the largest cities—New York, Los Angeles, Chicago—also have the districts with the most students. But because school districts come in all shapes and sizes, the largest ones don’t necessarily correlate to the most populous cities. All things being equal, a district covering an expansive geographical area or a densely populated region will have more students than one that covers a sparsely populated area with only a few communities; a district that serves preK-12 students will have more students than a district with the same boundaries that has only elementary or only secondary students.

So one could view the list of the largest districts as arbitrary.

For instance, five of the 10 largest districts in 2020-21 were in Florida, in part because of the continuing growth that has made it the third-largest state, but also because school districts in the Sunshine State are countywide entities. By contrast, Los Angeles County, Calif., has 80 school districts, according to the Los Angeles County Office of Education, and Cook County, Ill., which includes Chicago, has more than 150 districts.

If school districts in all states coincided with county borders, Florida would not have any districts in the top 10. When students are counted by county, National Center for Education Statistics numbers for 2020-21 do show five of the 10 counties with the most students are from one state—but it's California, not Florida.

  • Los Angeles County, Calif. -- 1,374,222
  • Harris County, Texas (Houston) -- 882,929
  • Maricopa County, Ariz. (Phoenix) -- 740,289
  • Cook County, Ill. (Chicago) -- 723,842
  • San Diego County, Calif. -- 478,990
  • Dallas County, Texas -- 472,938
  • Orange County, Calif. (Anaheim) -- 442,790
  • Riverside County, Calif. -- 419,370
  • San Bernardino County, Calif. -- 396,911
  • Tarrant County, Texas (Fort Worth) -- 382,738

A countywide breakdown also would exclude New York City from the top 10. Because the city is divided into five counties, known as boroughs, the more than 1 million students attending city schools would be split into entities that would still be large, but not the largest.

  • Brooklyn (Kings County) – 311,838
  • Queens – 276,146
  • Bronx – 214,196
  • Manhattan (New York County) – 167,128
  • Staten Island (Richmond County) – 63,000

In the alternative world of countywide districts, the states of California and Texas still would dominate the list of the 100 largest—15 California counties and 13 Texas counties make the list. New York state, with only one representative among the largest districts, has nine counties among the 100 with the most public school students. Florida has eight counties on the list, including the 100th entry, Pinellas County, with 96,068 students. By contrast, the 100th largest school district in 20210-21, Boston, had 48,112 students.

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