School Diversity Increases as Enrollment Grows

October 14, 2003
The Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) continues to undergo a significant change in student demographics, gaining greater diversity culturally, linguistically, and economically. The most profound change is occurring in the urbanized areas of the county most heavily impacted by increased poverty, immigration, and English language learners.

Dr. Jerry D. Weast, superintendent of schools, presented the new enrollment data to the Board of Education today [Tuesday, October 14] showing that this year's enrollment has increased to 139,801 students, a gain of 910 students over last year. The county continues to be the largest school system in Maryland, the 18th largest in the United States, and the 12th fastest growing district in the nation.

MCPS also has become one of the most diverse among the nation's largest systems. White student enrollment is 45 percent this year, down from 52 percent in 1999 (compared to 94 percent in 1969). By contrast, African American student enrollment has risen to 22 percent this year, with Asian American students at 14 percent and Hispanic students at 19 percent.

The increase in diversity is reaching several new milestones. This year, for example, is the last year in which white students systemwide constitute a majority of the graduating class (50.8 percent). This year's junior class is about 48 percent white.

White enrollment declines as a percentage of the student population in every grade level going back to first grade (42 percent). By contrast Hispanic student enrollment rises with each younger grade level, moving from just 14 percent among high school seniors this year to 21 percent among first graders.

A slim majority of elementary school students (50.1 percent) are enrolled in schools in the 60 attendance areas most heavily impacted by poverty and limited English proficiency. These attendance areas span from Takoma Park to Germantown, which together comprise an enrollment comparable in size to the nation's 75th largest school district (out of 15,000 nationwide). In fact, more enrollment growth has occurred in these schools than anywhere else in the county.

These 60 schools enroll the vast majority of all African American students (71 percent) and Hispanic students (78 percent) attending elementary school in the county. In addition, 80 percent of all students participating in the Free and Reduced-price Meals System (FARMS) attend these schools, along with 75 percent of all students in the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program. Among white students systemwide, 28 percent attend schools in this area.

Among the other highlights of the enrollment patterns:

* Total enrollment is projected to reach 145,681 students in 2008.

* The school system enrollment is so large that the state's smallest system (Kent County with 2,629 students) could fit in the the county's largest high school.

* The number of county births reached an all-time high last year, with 13,154 children born -- an average of a birth every 40 minutes.

* Household size is largest among Hispanic and Asian American families (3.87 and 3.17, respectively), compared to 2.68 among African American households and 2.44 among white households.

* The percent of students participating in FARMS reached 23.1 percent this year -- more than 31,000 children (by itself, larger than 16 entire school districts in Maryland).

* Nearly 12,000 children participate in ESOL -- more than the enrollment in nine entire school districts in Maryland.

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