AUGUST 21, 1997
School enrollment in America's elementary and middle schools are at all-time highs, mainly because children of Baby Boomers are entering the classroom. How will local school districts handle their new charges? Paul Solman talks with Education Secretary Richard Riley and school officials from around the country.
PAUL SOLMAN: The new demographic bulge is for real. There are some 72 million children aged 18 and younger nationwide at this point. They represent fully 28 percent of the total population. No wonder schools are bursting at the seams. So, Richard Riley, Secretary of Education, thanks for being with us. And what's your report about? And what's the thrust of it today?
A RealAudio version of of this segment is available.
August 12, 1997:
Chicago Public Schools are looking into mandatory summer school to bring the up test scores.
February 11, 1997:
Pres. Clinton announces plans to create national standards to measure the country's educational system.
January 16, 1997:
A report issued by Education Week shows that despite a 15-year effort to improve public schools, performance continues to lag.
January 16, 1997:
A new Illinois law links getting a driver's license to a student's academic performance.
Browse the NewsHour Education Index
RICHARD RILEY, Secretary of Education: Well, the thrust of the report is--as we go back to school--is that this year there will be more young people in K-12 schools, public and private altogether, 52.2 million, than ever in the history of this country. Last year was a record. This year will be a record. Every year will be a record for about the next 10 years. And then there will be a plateau, but it will be a high plateau, and it's not going to be a blip up and down. It's going to be a constant increase that's going to be held and maintained.
PAUL SOLMAN: Wouldn't that be natural, I mean, if the country's growing, then more people, more kids in school?
SEC. RICHARD RILEY: Well, it is perhaps a natural thing in one sense, but when you look back at the Baby Boomers that really reached the peak in the early 70's, that was a blip. In other words, you could have a temporary part-time solution because you knew it was coming back down. This blip is not a blip. It's staying up there. It's a level that's constantly going up. The interesting thing about it is that high schoolers really are by far the largest increase, some 13 percent increase in high school, like 5 percent increase in middle school, about 1 percent in elementary school.
PAUL SOLMAN: And why is that?
SEC. RICHARD RILEY: That's because Baby Boom group--the Baby Boom echo, they call it, that the children--
PAUL SOLMAN: I see, the echo of we Baby Boomers.
SEC. RICHARD RILEY: And the Baby Boomers have children late. They decided to have children late. They married late. And so really it's coming in later, but it's hitting in high school as we approach this next 10 years.
PAUL SOLMAN: So they're in middle school at the moment.
SEC. RICHARD RILEY: Well, middle and elementary school, but it's really getting on up there in high school over the next 10 years, yes.
"You're going to see some things out there that are unfortunate..."
PAUL SOLMAN: So what's the worry? I mean, what are you warning us about?
SEC. RICHARD RILEY: Well, what we're doing is our job as the federal Department of Education is to let policy makers out there, let school superintendents and principals and teachers and school board members realize that this is happening. They need to pay close attention to an increasing enrollment. People have got to support schools in a big way. They've got to realize that's the future of this country. That's the future of their state or their community. And it is not a temporary thing. And if you have a temporary classroom out there, you know, don't call it a temporary classroom. You've got to--
PAUL SOLMAN: It'll be temporary forever.
SEC. RICHARD RILEY: It's going to be temporary forever, and you really need permanent construction and good schools to make for a good education.
PAUL SOLMAN: I mean, are you genuinely worried that there's going to be overcrowding in schools that will hurt America's educational level? I guess that's the key question, you know.
SEC. RICHARD RILEY: Well, I think I worry about all parts of education all the time.
PAUL SOLMAN: That's your shop. Yes, I know.
SEC. RICHARD RILEY: And it's my natural proclivity. But I will say this; that unless public decision makers realize that this is real and especially as we approach these next years in high school, then the poor decisions are made, people aren't willing to be committed to the schools and make the challenge real, then you're going to see some things out there that are unfortunate and that will gravitate poorly on this country and the various states.
PAUL SOLMAN: All right. Well, thanks. We'll be back to you in a second because now we're joined by Michael Casserly, who represents the 50 largest school districts in the country; Rod Paige, school superintendent, joins us from Houston, he is school superintendent in Houston; and Terry Grier, superintendent of the Williamson County School District outside Nashville, Tennessee. Welcome to all of you. And you're here Mr. Casserly, in Washington. Respond, if you would, to the secretary's comments.
MICHAEL CASSERLY, Council of the Great City Schools: First of all, the Department of Education and Sec. Riley have performed a terrific service for everybody in highlighting the needs that the nation is really going to have to face and the challenges we're going to all have to come to grips with in pointing out the enormous size and the nature and scope of enrollment increases over the next few years.
Some urban districts are seeing population increases of 50 percent
PAUL SOLMAN: So the problems he's talking about are real, as your 50 urban, I guess, school districts.
MICHAEL CASSERLY: Fifty urban school districts across the country. And we in some ways were probably precursors of many of the enrollment increases and have seen rather substantial enrollment increases upwards of 50 percent in some of the cities just over the last five years.
PAUL SOLMAN: A 50 percent increase in five years?
MICHAEL CASSERLY: In five years. Just in some of the school districts. And this is from a variety of different reasons, but it's going to present enormous challenges not only to the schools but to the American public. We have enormous challenges in terms of recruiting new teachers, enormous challenges in the facilities that we educate our children in, enormous challenges in terms of class size and achievement levels, and a host of things that we're going to have to deal with.
PAUL SOLMAN: Well, give us, if you would, the most pressing problem for your 50 districts, if there is one that stands out, or there are several, I guess. I don't want to stick you with just one, but--
MICHAEL CASSERLY: I think probably the toughest challenge that urban education faces in this country related to the enrollment increases is achievement. And what I probably worry about the most in terms of the achievement increases is that it could put a substantial damper on the achievement gains that we have seen over the last couple of years. If the enrollment increases start to result in increased school sizes, increased class sizes and the like, and the teachers aren't qualified to deal with these many students, we could easily see achievements course in this country not gain in the way that we really need to see them gain to meet the high standards we're going to have to meet for the 21st century.
PAUL SOLMAN: Superintendent Page, you're in Houston. Are you overcrowded? Do you see this as a pressing problem that worries you?
ROD PAIGE, Houston Schools Superintendent: (Houston) Absolutely we do. And I'd like to respond to your comment, of course, and to Sec. Riley. I mean, when you asked if was genuinely concerned. I can assure you that we are all genuinely concerned because this represents issues that can't be solved overnight. These are things that we must begin to work on right now.
"Couldn't you see it coming?"
PAUL SOLMAN: Didn't you see this trend coming? I mean, it's like it should be a big surprise if there were suddenly more people. They've been growing all along.
ROD PAIGE: Well, in many cases it could be predicted but in many cases the prediction was missed, as in the case with us here in Houston. We expected there to be some leveling off, up to 1997, and in fact, we've gotten great growth, so it's a case of the demographics hitting us without showing itself.
PAUL SOLMAN: Where is the growth coming from? Is it all this Baby Boom echo or Baby Boomlet, we've called it here on this show? I mean, is that where it's coming from in Houston?
ROD PAIGE: I think it's different in different parts of the country. In Houston it is a part of the Baby Boom phenomenon, but it's also a part of immigration. We're receiving a large number of young people from outside the country.
PAUL SOLMAN: I see. Superintendent Grier, in Tennessee, do you see this trend coming? I mean, what did you see when you looked at the numbers, or didn't you look at them? Well, you're from Sacramento, right--before?
TERRY GRIER, Williamson County Schools Superintendent: (Nashville) Well, I was before in Sacramento, but I've been here. This is beginning the second year, but I've been here, this is beginning the second year, but our county commission and school board here have done a good job planning our schools. 64 percent of the people that live in Williamson County have lived here 10 years or less. We had to try to determine how much of this had to do with Baby Boom and how much of it has to do with people moving into our county.
PAUL SOLMAN: And what's the determination?
TERRY GRIER: We see it as about 50/50. We just opened our fifth high school this year. It was a $26 million high school designed to house 1700 students. We also at our other schools had a $4 million building project at one high school, added ten additional classrooms at another. We have a committee right now that's looking at building another high school. We know we need to begin work sometime in the next two years. We're continuing to grow, maybe different reasons, as the superintendent from Houston has stated, but we certainly have increased the students.
PAUL SOLMAN: And people are happy to pay for all of this? I mean, I keep--I think, gee, when I hear about all the taxpayer revolts, I mean, this sounds like you have no problems with that, no?
Finding solutions in a fiscally-conservative era
TERRY GRIER: Well, it's very interesting. Williamson County is a very conservative county. At the same time they value education here. It's one of the most rapid growing countries in our state. Our school facilities--I'd compare them with any in the country. We have a very fine school district. We have elected officials here that care about the quality of education. Our parents are tremendously supportive. Having said that, for the very first time you're beginning to hear people talk particularly about high schools, about different types of education, for example, even in high schools. We're beginning to hear for the first time people talking about year-round school. We have had commissioners say that we've supported building--construction projects in the past. But as much as we're projected to grow, we really need to start down--sit down and begin having serious talks about other uses of our facilities.
PAUL SOLMAN: Sec. Riley, is Williamson County typical here, and if it is, if it isn't, what are you telling people from these different places, Mr. Casserly and others to do?
SEC. RICHARD RILEY: Well, I think Terry Grier is right, and Rod Paige too, that you really have to look at different areas. It's typical for lots of examples but not typical of others. It is a good example of where the people really believe in the schools, and that is the future of the community. And they have responded in a very positive way.
PAUL SOLMAN: And it's also a fairly wealthy community, I think, relatively speaking, isn't that right, Mr. Grier?
TERRY GRIER: It is. We've some counties located South of Nashville. The Saturn Plant is in the county south of us, Murray County. A lot of the executives from both areas, along with a lot of country western stars and people in the music industry live in our county. It's an affluent county, but it's a place where people really value education. The county has changed so much over the last 10 years. It was just a little sleepy community 10 years ago. And it's really increased, and we're growing about 900 students a year. And as the governor has said, we're going to continue to grow throughout the next ten to fifteen years.
PAUL SOLMAN: Okay. Back to you, Sec. Riley. I just wanted to clarify whether--how typical or atypical it was.
SEC. RICHARD RILEY: Well, you know, regardless of that, I know a lot of affluent communities that aren't as generous with their schools too. You can have a community that believes in education and supports it, or one that doesn't, or one that we hope will become better, but I think it's very clear -- it's very clear -- that schools are the future of this country; education is. I think the idea of achievement being affected by overcrowding and some of these other factors--teachers is another very important factor. We talk about having less pupils per teacher. Then you talk about having more teachers; and you talk about student enrollment means more teachers. And you have a third of the teachers today that are teaching out of their field. So you've got some real problems dealing with growth and expansion and high quality.
PAUL SOLMAN: Does overcrowding actually make that much difference? I remember researching this years ago as a research assistant in the 1960's. And it wasn't clear that spending more money on schools--at least back then--was--had a real payoff to it. So I--
SEC. RICHARD RILEY: Overcrowding, I think you're exactly right, the research is inconclusive about a particular magic number, and you can come down on a couple of pupils per teacher, and it doesn't make a whole lot of difference. A significant reduction does make a difference and a significantly large classroom clearly makes a bad negative difference.
PAUL SOLMAN: Mr. Paige in Houston, is that right? I mean, does overcrowding--are you sure it's going to hurt your people if they're overcrowded, the schools are overcrowded?
ROD PAIGE: I can promise you that's going to be the case. When you put 3,000 students in a space where it should be 2500, you're going to impact the learning environment. And the climate in the school is going to deteriorate such that it's going to litigate us against student learning--so--and make the situation very disruptive. So it's a very important part of the student achievement factor.
PAUL SOLMAN: So what do you do? I mean, what are you doing in Houston, or what do you hope to do?
ROD PAIGE: You've got to get more space. That's the only solution to this, and that's what we're trying to do. We're converting existing space to school--for school use. We've bought an old grocery store, converted it into a school. We bought two existing churches that had classrooms spaces in it, and we use it for schools. We have to do things like that because space is the issue.
PAUL SOLMAN: But you can't keep people in a grocery store, as the secretary says; these things are--this trend--this is no blip. This is a plateau.
ROD PAIGE: Absolutely. I think what is going to have to happen is we as a society will have to step up to the challenge, and we're going to have to create more space to solve the problem. All these issues that we're talking about now are stop gap measures at best. The answer will be more buildings.
PAUL SOLMAN: Mr. Casserly, are we going to do that?
MICHAEL CASSERLY: Rod is absolutely 1000 percent correct. A lot of the measures that Houston and other school districts are having to take in terms of shared usage or the rent of alternative facilities or year-round schools or staggered schedules are--all of those kinds of things really are band-aid approaches, stop-gap measures until such time that the nation can really get the will together to create the facilities, the educational structures that the nation and the kids need for adequate learning.
PAUL SOLMAN: Well, how does the nation get this will together that you're talking about?
MICHAEL CASSERLY: I think a lot of it is calling additional attention to the value and the important role that public education in this nation plays in the integrity of this nation. Public education is really the glue that holds this nation together and a thriving, healthy public education system is exactly what this nation needs to keep moving forward.
PAUL SOLMAN: But, Sec. Riley, don't we already spend a lot more money say per pupil than we used to, and you know, we've been hearing this story about we have to spend--we have to spend--we have to spend on education--I mean, isn't the public a little skeptical of whether or not just pouring money in is going to be the answer or building new schools?
"Pouring money in is not the answer."
SEC. RICHARD RILEY: Certainly, pouring money in is not the answer. Putting investment in, in a careful way on known factual information makes good sense, though. But I think there are so many factors to consider. For example, this growth--we mentioned infrastructure, buildings, and teachers, but computers, technology--you have all of the other factors involving high schools. And you have this large number of students over the next 10 years--21 percent increase enrollment in college. That is another factor. And so the colleges also then are impacted by this very clearly.
PAUL SOLMAN: So you just want to get the message out, and that's what you're doing here, and that's what you're doing here today.
SEC. RICHARD RILEY: Absolutely.
PAUL SOLMAN: And the idea is to just get everybody to realize how--at least from your point of view--important it is.
MICHAEL CASSERLY: Well, I think it really is key that those messages do get out because in the places where the school systems and the parents and the community have gone to the voters and asked for additional funds over the last year or so to build more facilities, to increase operating levies, to invest more in their children. Those bonds, more and more, have been approved.
PAUL SOLMAN: Is that right?
MICHAEL CASSERLY: That's correct.
PAUL SOLMAN: We'll leave it on that note then. Thank you all very much.
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