Timesman does Las Vegas: Adam Nagourney had been a major reporter at the New York Times for many years.
We’re often puzzled by his work. Yesterday, he did Las Vegas.
Nagourney’s report was the featured piece in yesterday’s National section. Buttressed by a large photograph, it ate the entire top half of page A12, the National section’s first page.
Nagourney was writing about overcrowded schools. Headline included, he started off like this:
NAGOURNEY (10/7/14): Las Vegas Schools Groan From Growing PainsLater in his report, Nagourney described the gross overcrowding. Once again, he attributed “the enrollment surge” to recent gains in the Las Vegas economy, which are bringing people back into the area.
Schools in this suddenly robust community are so packed these days that 13 of them stay open 12 months a year. Children go to classes and eat lunch in cramped, windowless trailers, bustling with restless students. Thousands more take online classes at home, and school district administrators, desperate for space, are looking to abandoned strip malls for classrooms.
In one sense, this is good news as the new school year starts for the Clark County School District in southern Nevada: powerful evidence of the economic rebound that is sweeping across Las Vegas after what was, by almost every measure, the worst economic downturn in memory. After years of declining or flat population rates, people are moving back, looking for a place to live and seeking schools for their children.
Why has student enrollment grown? Because “people are moving back” as the economy recovers.
Still, the overcrowding is dire. A photo caption showed lunch being served at “a school that was built for 780 but where enrollment has topped 1,150.”
The negative spinoffs also seem dire. At one point, Nagourney described a stigma surrounding the portable classrooms being used at some schools:
NAGOURNEY: The pale-yellow trailers carry a stigma, as they resemble those used in California to accommodate prisoners. They have given rise to a language of euphemism: Trailers are called “portables,” while online schooling is referred to as “blended education.”The children think of themselves as prisoners! No wonder they can’t learn!
(Full disclosure: in the 1970s, we taught fifth grade in a portable classroom at a Baltimore City school. It was unbelievably nice. Those classrooms were known as “portables” even back then. This wasn’t seen as “euphemism.”)
It may well be that the Las Vegas schools are badly overcrowded. That said, we were puzzled when Nagourney provided his one basic statistic about the growth in enrollment.
How much has student enrollment grown? Early in his report, Nagourney wrote this:
NAGOURNEY: “I’ve already enrolled seven children today,” said Shawn E. Paquette, principal of Robert L. Forbuss Elementary School, perched at the edge of the desert here. Built for 780 students, the school last month had an enrollment of 1,150—and climbing. On Sept. 19, the Clark County School District reported that enrollment had reached 318,597 in its 357 schools, a record; it was 308,377 in 2012, when the economy was near its worst.Say what? By our reckoning, enrollment has grown by three percent over the last two years, since the time when the economy was near its worst. If the previous drop in student enrollment tracked the economic slump, that should have been the point when enrollment was somewhere near its lowest.
Clark County schools may be overcrowded, but that doesn’t sound like a massive jump in enrollment. And if that 2012 figure represented a low point in student enrollment, it sounds like enrollment might have been as large as it is today at some point before 2012.
What was enrollment like in 2008, before the collapse? Were the schools overcrowded back then?
We don’t doubt the possibility that Las Vegas (Clark County) schools are overcrowded. We’re just noting the puzzlement which often accompanies Nagourney’s news reports.
Nagourney’s limited data about enrollment don’t quite seem to support his thesis. But then, what else is new?
Mathematics is hard: In theory, Nagourney is describing overcrowding which has resulted from a three percent gain in enrollment.
How does he illustrate this problem? With a photo from the Norbuss school, where student enrollment exceeds capacity by almost fifty percent!
To us, those numbers don’t seem to add up. But then, what else is new?