In what has become an annual activity for me, I compile the public school enrollment numbers that make up this issue's AS&U 100 list of the districts with the largest enrollments.
The districts that appear on the list change very little from year to year—New York City is by far the largest public school system with over a million students; it has been for many years, and with a margin of several hundred thousand students over the next largest system, will continue to be for some time. On this year’s list, which uses 2021-22 numbers, 97 of the 100 districts on the list are holdovers from last year.
The National Center for Education Statistics has enrollment figures online for districts going back to 1986-87, and a look at the 100 largest districts from 35 years ago tells a tale of declining or stagnating numbers in many urban districts.
Among the school systems on 1986-87 list that won’t be found on the 2021-22 list: Memphis, Tennessee (the district no longer exists; it merged with the Shelby County system); Orleans Parish, Louisiana (after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, most of the schools in New Orleans became charter or state-run schools). Districts in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City, Missouri, all have been bumped from the list by faster-growing districts, many in the south and west parts of the country.
There are other ways to crunch numbers that may reveal some insights about school districts. The Census Bureau compiles the overall population of each school district, as well as how much of that population is school-aged (5 to 17).
The 2020 Census figures show that 251 school districts have populations greater than 200,000—48 are in California, topped by 4,597,582 in the Los Angeles Unified District; 32 are in Texas, led by 1,579,113 in the Houston Independent District and 26 are in Florida, led by 2,707,303 in the Miami-Dade County district.
The numbers of school-aged children provide an indication of which districts are growing. The nationwide figures show that children aged 5 to 17 make up about 15% of the population. In 23 districts with overall populations greater than 200,000, children 5 to 17 make up more than 20% of the population.
The three districts with the highest percentage of school-aged children are in Utah—Alpine (25.8%), Jordan (24.7%) and Davis (23.4%).
Texas has 10 districts with school-aged children accounting for at least 20% of the population, led by the Katy district with 22.6%. The Gwinnett County (Georgia) district, with a population of 929,337 is the largest school district in the nation with a school-aged population greater than 20% (20.1%).