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Smaller Schools See Largest Gains and Loss from Open Enrollment

Last updated on 2015.01.21

The South Dakota Department of Education gives love to policy wonks and spreadsheet addicts with this boffo page of K-12 data designed for reference during the 2015 Legislative Session. I hereby take back all the mean things I've said about wanting to abolish the entire department. I will happily keep the DOE statisticians on payroll.

Among the documents is a spreadsheet showing open enrollment counts for each school district for each fall since 2010. As of last month, there were just over 8,000 students open-enrolled—i.e., attending a school outside the district they live in. The percentage of open enrollees has crept steadily upward, from 5.80% in fall 2010 to 6.18% in fall 2014 (with a plateau from 2012 to 2013).

This year 76 school districts have recruited more students through open enrollment than they have lost. 67 school districts have lost more than they have gained. Eight have broken even. Here are the top ten and bottom ten districts, whom we might call, at peril of breaking middle school rules, the "winners" and "losers" in open enrollment, based on my calculation of the percentage gain or loss a school gets from net open enrollment over its "natural" student population—in other words, how many more kids does a school have due to open enrollment compared to what it would have if South Dakota didn't let kids open enroll:

School District (In–Out)/
(Resident + Out) 2014
ACT 2014
Oelrichs 23-3 314.81% 14.56
Chester 39-1 93.35% 20.29
Rutland 39-4 67.02% *
McIntosh 15-1 60.82% 18.60
New Underwood 51-3 45.60% 21.25
Waverly 14-5 44.22% 19.50
Iroquois 02-3 40.26% *
Florence 14-1 39.51% *
Gayville-Volin 63-1 35.46% 20.40
Warner 06-5 32.90% 23.89
Average ACT: 19.78
Elk Mountain 16-2 -14.29% *
Andes Central 11-1 -16.22% 20.00
Leola 44-2 -16.44% *
Stanley County 57-1 -17.04% 20.94
McLaughlin 15-2 -17.77% 17.36
Eagle Butte 20-1 -19.86% 16.06
Colman-Egan 50-5 -23.60% 19.50
Tripp-Delmont 33-5 -23.64% *
Hoven 53-2 -25.69% *
Grant-Deuel 25-3 -38.52% *
Average ACT: 18.77

Note that neither the biggest importers nor the biggest exporters of students by open enrollment include any big schools. Chester is the largest, and it's still plays Class B basketball.

If we believe in the wisdom of the market, and if we believe that parents pick schools based on a desire of academic achievement, then we should expect to find that schools drawing more open enrollees are offering better opportunities for academic achievement.

So let's look at the 2014 ACT scores in the right-hand column. The asterisks mean that fewer than 10 students took the ACT at the listed school, making this an imperfect measurement of school performance. Among the ten schools with the highest positive open-enrollee percentages, the average ACT score is one full point above the average at the ten schools losing the largest percentage of students to open enrollment. But both groups' average ACT scores are well below the statewide average of 22.03.

If we take the 124 schools with ten or more ACT takers and groups them by open enrollment net gains, the difference in college readiness disappears:

Net Open Enrollment School Group
Average ACT
# of Schools
in Group
Gain more than 5% 21.22 36
Gain 0 to 5% 21.47 34
Loss less than 5% 21.64 26
Loss more than 5% 21.59 28

Across groups of schools—big gainers, little gainers, little losers, and big losers—average ACT scores are about the same. Whatever open enrollees are looking for, they do not appear to be seeking better preparation for college.


  1. Nick Nemec 2015.01.22

    Let me make a few guesses on this.

    I suspect Stanley County (Fort Pierre) looses out to Pierre. Parents work in Pierre so dropping kids off in Pierre is easy. Also Riggs HS in Pierre has more varied extracurricular activities compared to FPHS.

    Hoven HS loses out to Gettysburg simply because of convenience. The Hoven district may sprawls around three sides of the Gettysburg district. For many families Gettysburg is much closer.

    Iroquois gains from Huron because it runs a bus route in the city of Huron and parents want their kids to have a small school experience or, more darkly, want their kids in a district with a smaller immigrant population.

    A list that showed where the losers were loosing students to, and the winners were getting students from, would be more specific and would better support or disprove your hypothesis.

  2. Nick Nemec 2015.01.22

    Good grief, losing not loosing.

  3. Jenny 2015.01.22

    What is it with the misspelling of 'losing'? I've seen all the intellectuals from Nick to Troy misspell it. Surprising.

  4. Nick Nemec 2015.01.22

    At least I caught it, I should proofread before hitting "post". A misspelling distracts from the point I was trying to make.

  5. Donald Pay 2015.01.22

    Statistical artifact explains why small schools are in both the top ten losers and winners list. That's expected due to small population size. A student lost or gained in a small school has a bigger impact on your statistic.

    Statistic artifact also explains your other chart. You've lumped enough schools together in your winners and losers categories that the averages of your subgroups approaches the average of the entire state.

  6. Nick Nemec 2015.01.22

    Exactly Donald, we need more data showing where the students from every district are coming from and going to. Only then can we draw any sort of conclusion on reasons why people open enroll their kids.

  7. Donald Pay 2015.01.22

    Better statistics or why not ask the parents of families who open enroll? Most districts who do that find a number of reasons. The predominant one is convenience for the parents.

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2015.01.22

    Stanley County: 101 come in, 205 go out.
    Pierre: 241 come in, 116 go out.

    I'd love to do some interviews and find all the reasons for those ins and outs. By the way, if you're not going to Pierre or Fort Pierre, where's the next nearest district?

  9. caheidelberger Post author | 2015.01.22

    Jenny, even I get loose with my o's in lose.

  10. Deb Geelsdottir 2015.01.22

    Where is Elk Mountain School?

  11. grudznick 2015.01.22

    It's in Mr. Pay's uranium dump district, Ms. Geelsdottir. Where else would it be?

  12. Deb Geelsdottir 2015.01.23

    Um, sorry I'm this slow Grudz, but I don't get it.

Comments are closed.