The first six-weeks grading period is over, and the city and county school systems now have their final enrollment numbers. With all the news stories about schools, this little true-false quiz should be easy.
1. Alarmed by two years of failing report cards and bad publicity, thousands of students have left the Memphis City Schools.
2. Thanks to an influx of new students and a booming market in new schools and subdivisions, the Shelby County Schools System has nearly doubled in size in the last decade.
3. Hundreds of city school students have enrolled in the innovative KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Academy, a test case for charter schools.
4. In racial composition, the city and county school systems are virtually the opposite of each other.
5. The most racially diverse public schools in the area are the city optional schools.
Pretty simple, huh?
The first statement is false. So are the next four. Sometimes, what media reports suggest and what people actually do are two different things.
If there is anything remarkable about the enrollment reports that come out this time each year, it is how little the big picture changes. Individual schools sometimes undergo dramatic declines or increases in enrollment and racial makeup, but the trends in the city and county systems as a whole are gradual and pretty predictable.
The Memphis City Schools have 119,049 students. That's an increase of about 1,000 students from last year and 2,271 more than the 2000-2001 school year, when the first failing report cards came out.
The Shelby County Schools System, with no failing schools, has 45,561 students, which is only 456 more than it had in 2000-2001 and 117 students less than it had in 1995-1996, the year before the Grey's Creek sewer extension and Nonconnah Parkway triggered a building boom in eastern Shelby County.
The KIPP Diamond Academy has 55 students, all fifth-graders, or roughly one for every news story that has been written about it. KIPP is new and controversial, so maybe that's understandable. Or maybe it's the most overhyped educational reform since Dr. Gerry House and the New American Schools. For now, the sample is too small and it's too early to tell.
As for the racial diversity of the two school systems, there was a time six or seven years ago when they were nearly the opposite of each other, but that is no longer the case. The city system is 87 percent black, 9 percent white, 3 percent Hispanic, and 1 percent Asian. The county system is 70 percent white, 25 percent black, 3 percent Asian, and 2 percent Hispanic. The county system would be even more diverse (and about 4,500 students larger) if four county schools with large black and Hispanic populations had not become city schools because of the Hickory Hill annexation.
The most racially balanced public school in the Memphis area is also the biggest one, 2,309-student Germantown High School, which is 49 percent white, 46 percent black, and 5 percent Hispanic and Asian. Optional schools, which are only in the city system, tend to self-segregate, with the extremes being all-black John P. Freeman Elementary School and its predominantly white counterpart, the optional program at Grahamwood Elementary.
As for "one-race" schools, three of the 48 county schools are 90 to 91 percent white. In the city system, 130 of 175 schools are 90 to 100 percent black.
Of course, just because the city and county public schools start the year with a combined total of 164,610 students doesn't mean they'll all be there at the end of May. The dropout problem is acute at city high schools. Ten of them -- Booker T. Washington, Carver, Frayser, Hillcrest, Kingsbury, Melrose, Northside, Raleigh-Egypt, Sheffield, and Treadwell -- have fewer than half as many seniors as freshmen.
And city high schools are a lot smaller than county high schools to begin with. The smallest county high school, Millington, is bigger than all but three of the 28 city high schools (White Station, Hamilton, and Whitehaven).
Shelby County government is much maligned these days for supposedly encouraging suburban sprawl and throwing up a passel of new schools. But the seven county public high schools, with an average enrollment of 1,987 students, are arguably the most efficient educational institutions in the Memphis area.
In contrast, there are 28 city high schools, with an average enrollment of 1,040 students. Seven of them have enrollments under 700, with the smallest, 376-student Manassas High School, getting an $18.5 million overhaul.
Memphis City Schools: 175 schools, 119,049 students; 87% black, 9% white, 3% Hispanic, 1% Asian
Shelby County Schools: 48 schools, 45,561 students; 70% white, 25% black, 3% Asian, 2% Hispanic
(sources: city and county school system 2002-2003 reports)