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Wanted: A Better Way to Predict Public School Enrollment in NYC

The city is challenging urban wonks and concerned citizens to come up with a more granular approach to figuring out which school district might see a surge in population.
In 1995, school gyms were being turned into classrooms in crowded public schools in Queens. The same thing is happening today. A new way to predict public school enrollment could help the city better tackle the problem.
In 1995, school gyms were being turned into classrooms in crowded public schools in Queens. The same thing is happening today. A new way to predict public school enrollment could help the city better tackle the problem.Chrystyna Czajkowsky/AP

New York City’s public schools have struggled with overcrowding for decades—and in recent years, the problem has worsened. In the 2012-2013 school year, 43.5 percent of public school students went to school in overcrowded buildings. For these kids, that means fewer teachers, larger class sizes, and fewer resources.

But overcrowding turns out to be an extremely complicated problem to address, because enrollments ebb and rise annually and the demand for space in different schools isn’t uniform: Some have empty seats, while others are bursting at the seams. And the next year, the situation could be reversed. The city tackles the problem on many fronts. On one hand, it tries to create room for kids in currently overcrowded schools by rezoning, which can become incredibly contentious. (New York Times Magazine reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones recently wrote an extensive story on her daughter’s school in Brooklyn became a battleground for parents embroiled on both sides of the rezoning war.) Another longer-term fix: constructing new school buildings to accommodate higher demand, which the Department of Education has planned to do in their 2015-2019 vision.