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Average daily membership is down 5% since last year across North Carolina’s public school districts

Update on 12/01/20: The North Carolina Department of Instruction has released preliminary Month 2 ADM data for the 2020-21 school year. We compared the final Month 1 ADM data with the preliminary Month 2 data, and found the following:

  • The total ADM across all 116 school districts (the usual 115 plus the Innovative School District) increased by 1.32% from Month 1 to Month 2.
  • Most districts’ Month 2 remained roughly the same as Month 1, with 79 of the 116 districts seeing between a 1% decline and 1% increase in ADM from Month 1 to Month 2.
  • Six districts saw an ADM increase greater than 9% from Month 1 to Month 2 – Whiteville City Schools (9.51%), Avery County Schools (9.96%), Lincoln County Schools (10.68%), Swain County Schools (11.01%), Mitchell County Schools (12.42%), and Guilford County Schools (16.03%).
  • Rowan-Salisbury Schools appears to have a decline from Month 1 to Month 2, but the preliminary data does not include the district’s Summit K-9 Virtual Academy, which will likely be included once the Month file 2 data is finalized.

On Oct. 20, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (DPI) released new data that provides a first look at how many students are attending public schools across the state this school year. While the data is preliminary, it provides an initial understanding of declines in K-12 student enrollment that have rippled across the country amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new data is the Month 1 average daily membership (ADM) by school for the 2020-21 school year. All but two districts in the state saw a decrease in Month 1 ADM this year when compared to Month 1 ADM last school year (2019-20), and total ADM across all public schools districts declined by 5.05%.

ADM is a measurement that gives the state an idea of how many students are in schools. Districts receive funding based on their projected ADMs. If the actual ADM ends up being lower, they can face budget cuts. However, this year, the General Assembly passed a bill to hold districts harmless for ADM declines to ensure districts would not face budget cuts.

Here is DPI’s definition of ADM, which explains how it is calculated. Note that it is independent of student attendance:

The total number of school days within a given term, usually a school month or school year, that a student’s name is on the current roll of a class, regardless of his/her being present or absent, is the number of days in membership for that student. The sum of the number of days in membership for all students divided by the number of school days in the term yields ADM. Average daily membership is a more accurate count of the number of students in school than enrollment.

For more on what ADM is, watch Watauga County Schools Superintendent Scott Elliott explaining it in this video.

The comparison

In order to understand how ADM differs this school year from past years, we compared the 2020-21 Month 1 ADM data with 2019-20 Month 1 ADM data and 2018-19 Month 1 ADM data. The original data for all three years can be found here under the subheading “Average Daily Membership and Membership Last Day by School (ADM & MLD).”

This analysis only includes the 116 public school districts in the state: 100 county districts, 15 city districts, and the Innovative School District.

In the 2020-21 Month 1 data, there are seven traditional public schools that are “pending,” meaning their data was not available at this time. They are listed below, followed by the 2019-20 Month 1 ADM for the school when available.

  • Durham Pubic Schools – DPS Hospital School (1)
  • Winston Salem / Forsyth County Schools – Main Street Academy (31)
  • Winston Salem / Forsyth County Schools – Virtual Academy (cross-enrolled students) (Not in 2019 data)
  • Guilford County Schools – SCALE School (16)
  • Guilford County Schools – Pruette SCALE Academy (11)
  • Hoke County Schools – J W Turlington School (20)
  • Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools – UNC Hospital School (1)

Additionally, two schools in the 2020-21 Month 1 ADM data had no available data. They were removed from the data.

  • Cumberland County Schools – Ramsey Street High (13)
  • Union County Public Schools – Walter Bickett Education Center (Not in 2019 data)

Changes in ADM

Prior to this school year, ADM declined slightly statewide (0.20%) from the 2018-19 school year to the 2019-20 school year. This year, however, ADM declined 5.05%, moving from 1,408,592 students statewide in 2019-20 to 1,337,470 students this year.

In the map below, hover over any district to see Month 1 ADM data for the last three years. You will also see the percent change in Month 1 ADM from 2018-19 to 2019-20 and 2019-20 to 2020-21. Dots represent city school districts and the Innovative School District.

Guilford County Schools had the greatest decrease in ADM at -16.47%. Elkin City Schools had the greatest increase in ADM at 1.09%.

Click here to access an Excel spreadsheet with our comparison of the data.

From Month 1 of 2019-20 to Month 1 of 2020-21:

  • 10 districts had a decrease in ADM more than -10%.
  • 41 districts had a decrease in ADM between -5% and -9.99%.
  • 63 districts had a decrease in ADM between -0.1% and -4.99%.
  • 2 districts had a slight increase in ADM.

For comparison, from Month 1 of 2018-19 to Month 1 of 2019-20:

  • No districts had a decrease in ADM more than -10%.
  • 11 districts had a decrease in ADM between -5% and -9.99%.
  • 71 districts had a decrease in ADM between -0.1% and -4.99%.
  • 34 districts had an increase in ADM.

To see an analysis of Month 1 kindergarten ADM, read the piece below.

Additional context

The Month 1 ADM data for the 2020-21 school year is still preliminary, and districts tend to see an increase in ADM by Month 2. For that reason, we only compared Month 1 ADM data from this school year with previous school years’ Month 1 ADM data.

A spokesperson for Guilford County Schools said they expect the district’s Month 2 ADM data to be higher than Month 1 data. In the 2019-20 school year, the district’s ADM increased by roughly 700 students from Month 1 to Month 2.

Our hope is that this data provides districts with context as they think about the strategies they need to deploy to locate and serve students who have not returned to school this year.

A future analysis on charter school ADM data is forthcoming, along with an analysis of kindergarten ADM.

As you look at this data, if you have thoughts about what it means or reactions to it, please email me at or contact me on Twitter at @analisasorrells.

Analisa Sorrells

Analisa Sorrells is a Master in Public Policy candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School and previously worked as chief of staff and associate director of policy for EducationNC.