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Connecticut Schools: Student Population Smaller, Poorer And More Diverse

Grace E. Merritt

October 06, 2010

A wide-ranging report on the state of education in Connecticut shows that enrollment in public schools has dropped over the past five years, while the number of Latino and poor students has risen.

The report, released Wednesday by the state Department of Education, also shows that more students than ever are taking Advanced Placement courses.

The annual report touches on nearly every aspect of Connecticut schools, from the shortage of teachers in some subject areas to test scores and programs for gifted and talented students. It was issued to the State Board of Education Wednesday and will be forwarded to the governor and legislature.

The report shows that overall student enrollment has dropped every year since 2004, when enrollment peaked at about 578,000, and is projected to decline steadily until it bottoms out at about 524,200 students in 2019. The report attributes the decline to low birth rates and migration from the state.

At the same time, the racial makeup of the student body is changing. As of Oct. 2008, 35.5 percent of students were racial or ethnic minorities, up 3 percent from 2004.

In 2009 alone, the number of Latino students in public schools increased by 2.8 percent, while the number of black students remained steady and the number of white students fell by 1.3 percent.

"We have a changing population in Connecticut, and people should understand that our schools must be dynamic and adapt to students' needs," said Tom Murphy, spokesman for the education department.

The department is proposing to double the $1.9 million budget for bilingual programs and wants to launch "two-way language instruction" for English-speaking students. Under the dual-language program, Spanish-speaking students would learn English and English-speaking students would learn Spanish together to help achieve proficiency and promote positive cross-cultural attitudes.

The department also hopes eventually to establish an institute at Eastern Connecticut State University dedicated to the research and teaching of immigrant students and English language learners in Connecticut's public schools.

In addition to a smaller, more diverse student population, public schools now have more low-income students than ever.

Currently, 30 percent of all Connecticut students come from families poor enough to qualify for free or reduced–price lunches, an increase of 18,800 newly eligible students over the past 5 years, according to the report.

While Connecticut's student population is becoming more diverse, its teaching corps is increasingly homogeneous. White females account for about a third of the student body in Connecticut but make up 69 percent of the teaching staff, according to the report.

In addition, more students are taking more college-credit classes, such as Advanced Placement courses. Over the past decade, student enrollment in college credit courses has increased by 72 percent, from 33,027 in 2001-02 to 53,455 in 2008-09. The most popular courses are history and social sciences, science and English.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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