At the school board meeting on October 26th, the Administration unveiled a new enrollment study. The presentation was made by the Principal Demographer of Sundance Associates. He explained the group’s credentials and stated that they had gone through an extensive evaluation of the Avon Grove School district including speaking to each of the local municipalities.
His key message is that enrollment in the school district is generally flat with a slow increase in enrollment. He made this conclusion based on questionable assumptions described below which resulted in the double counting of students. Take away the double counting and you will likely see a trend of declining student enrollment.
The presentation of the new study is available here.
The previous enrollment study which was a key element of the 2015 Gilbert Facilities Study, projected a sharply declining enrollment that could be fully reversed by introducing full day kindergarten (FDK), because it would cut the kindergarten enrollment by Avon Grove students at the Avon Grove Charter School in half. Reduced enrollment at AGCS is the only offset to the decline and they turn a 10 year projected loss of 353 students into a 227 student increase. This swing of 580 students implies that almost no students living in AGSD would be attending AGCS in the future. This study was the basis for the recommendation of the Facilities Input Group (FIG) you have heard so much about.
The new enrollment study considers trends of live births which is a matter of public record. The most solid data are from 2010 which is when the last census was completed. It was stated during the presentation that home sales have returned to pre-recession levels. However, nearly all of these home sales are for existing homes and could be residents trying to escape escalating taxes. New construction is flat in all areas with the exception of a bubble in London Grove Township which has passed.
The presentation also explained the calculations behind a standard projection methodology called Cohort Survival Method. In the simplest terms, it uses trends of the past to project what will happen in the future. It defines a relationship between births and students entering kindergarten and progressing into later grades based on the statistics of the past.
There is a major flaw in the way these calculations are applied which significantly exaggerates the projection into the future. Historically, Avon Grove would see a large jump in enrollment from K to 1st grade where students seemed to appear from nowhere. This spike represents the movement of the students who attended full day programs at the charter school and private daycare to the main school for 1st grade. The ratio calculated for this step reflects that jump. The page below shows that on average over 25% more students appear in 1st grade than were enrolled for half day kindergarten the previous year. Only the most recent 3 years are used to bring the ratio as high as possible to 1.255.
FDK was implemented in 2017 and it is reasonable to assume that the relationship between K and 1st grade enrollment will look different. Most of the students previously coming from private daycare or kindergarten programs parents had to pay for and some charter students will now already be in the system at first grade. Two months into FDK, we have no data to define this relationship and we won’t know what this relationship will look like for a couple more years. This didn’t stop Sundance Associates from assuming that we would see the same proportional increase of 25%+ more students from K to 1st grade that we saw in previous years with half day kindergarten. In other words, the enrollment projection double counts students that are already in the calculation. This double counting is carried forward thus inflating the entire downstream projection.
Even with the false assumptions described above, the presentation concluded that overall the district is generally flat with a slow increase in enrollment. Take away the double counting and you would most likely see a declining enrollment overall.
It is interesting to speculate what you would see if you were able to review the detailed report of all the calculations and assumptions that went into this study. For now no one will know on what assumptions the report was based since according to the presenter this report (the primary deliverable of our $10,000 investment) has not yet been generated and you can bet it won’t be available until after the election. Not surprisingly, this presentation was first on the agenda and the presenter left the meeting before public comment was permitted. Could the board or administration speak on the details of the study? No, because they don’t have the full report either but were willing to present the conclusions. So much for transparency and openness! The message from the administration is clear. Just accept what we tell you. If you have any questions, you can keep them to yourself.
To consider another source of information here is what the Pennsylvania Department of Education shows for the future of Avon Grove School District.