Philadelphia's Student Population, PART 1

In mid-July, the Philadelphia School District announced that students would begin the 2020-2021 school year on September 2, 2020 via remote learning. For the first marking period of Fall 2020, Philadelphia’s 130,000 students in District-run public schools will once again digitally attend classes from their own homes until public health conditions allow for a more gradual reentry to the physical classroom. With September 2 only a few weeks away, we ask ourselves what Philadelphia’s current student population looks like. In this Leading Indicator, we take a closer look at the demographics and enrollment of the city’s school-age population to understand how many young lives have been affected by the new learning environment ushered in by the COVID-19 pandemic. 


Key Takeaways 

  • As of 2018, approximately 283,991 Philadelphians were between the ages of 5 and 19 years old. This school-age population accounted for roughly 18 percent of the city’s total population.  
  • Philadelphia’s school-age population has declined by 3.3 percent between 2008 and 2018. 
  • As of 2018, approximately 70.0 percent of Philadelphia’s school-age population were enrolled in public schools, 22.7 percent were enrolled in private schools, and 7.3 percent identified as not being enrolled. 
  • The city’s District-run public school enrollment is 1.9 times greater than charter school enrollment and 3.9 times that of private school enrollment. 
  • Philadelphian’s Black students between the ages of 5 and 18 are the only racial or ethnic group to have a higher enrollment concentration in the city’s charter schools than public schools. 


Philadelphia’s School-Age Population 

As of 2018, approximately 283,991 of Philadelphia’s residents were between the ages of 5 and 19 years old. As Figure 1 shows, this “school-age” population made up approximately 18 percent of the city’s total population but has been in decline for the last decade [1]. Figure 1 shows both the decline and racial and ethnic distribution of Philadelphia’s school-age population between 2008 and 2018. 



NOTE: Data were obtained from one-year estimates of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2008 through 2018 American Community Surveys. The “school-age” population was measured as all individuals between the ages of 5 and 19 years old. All racial groups (excluding whites) include individuals of Latinx/Hispanic ethnicity.


While the city’s overall population grew by 136,743 residents between 2008 and 2018, the number of school-age residents declined by roughly 3.3 percent in the same time period. A recent survey by Pew found that many families with school-age children have chosen to leave the city in search of “better schools” for their kids [2]. The combination of an aging population and the influx of unmarried young students and professionals to the city in recent years could explain much of the decline.


The largest share of decline in Philadelphia’s school-age population came from Black and Non-Hispanic White residents. Figure 1 shows that the city’s Black school-age population peaked in 2010 at 52.1 percent but has since declined to 47.1 percent as of 2018. At the same time, the population of Non-Hispanic White school-age residents decreased by 8.1 percent between 2008 and 2018. While these two groups declined, other racial and ethnic representation increased. Of note is the share of Latinx school-age residents, who increased by 7 percent between 2008 and 2018 and surpassed Non-Hispanic White residents in 2018 to become the city’s second largest school-age population.


Figure 2 shows the spatial concentration of Philadelphia’s school-age population by census tracts and includes each tract’s racial or ethnic residential majority. As reflected in Figure 1, higher concentrations of school-age Philadelphians can be found in tracts that are predominantly Black and Latinx. Neighborhoods like Wissinoming, Harrowgate, Fairhill, Cecil B. Moore, and Carroll Park have school-age populations that account for 30 percent of more of the total population in 2018. Meanwhile, the predominately white neighborhoods surrounding Center City and those considered to be gentrifying have consistently small school-age populations.



NOTE: Data were obtained from five-year estimates of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2014-2018 American Community Survey. The “school-age” population was measured as all individuals between the ages of 5 and 19 years old. All racial groups exclude individuals of Latinx/Hispanic ethnicity. Tracts with group quartering exceeding a third of the total population were excluded.


Philadelphia’s Student Population 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 70.0 percent of Philadelphia’s school-age population were enrolled in public schools, 22.7 percent were enrolled in private schools, and 7.3 percent identified as not being enrolled at all in 2018 [1]. Figure 3 provides an estimated breakdown of Philadelphia’s enrolled student population by the type of school they attended. It uses the most recent enrollment counts from both the Philadelphia School District and the Pennsylvania Department of Education.  



School Enrollment by Type

NOTE: Public and charter school data were obtained from the School District of Philadelphia’s 2019-2020 enrollment data, private school data were obtained from the PA Department of Education’s 2018-2019 Private and Non-Public Schools Enrollment Reports, and Homeschool and Private Tutoring data were obtained from the PA Department of Education’s 2017-2018 Home School Education enrollment data


The majority of Philadelphia’s students attend the city’s District-run public schools. In fact, public school enrollment in the city is 1.9 times greater than charter school enrollment and 3.9 times that of private school enrollment. Almost 9 in 10 Philadelphian students between the ages of 5 and 18 attend a public or charter school and are therefore greatly impacted by changes to public education funding.  

Using data made publicly available by the Philadelphia School District, Figure 4 shows the demographic breakdown of Philadelphia’s public and charter schools during the 2019-2020 school year (private and nonpublic schools are not required to share their demographic data with the public).



NOTE: Public and charter school data were obtained from the School District of Philadelphia’s 2019-2020 enrollment data


The racial and ethnic composition of Philadelphia’s public and private schools is strikingly similar. Black students make up the majority of the student body for both schools, yet their concentration in the city’s charter schools is 1.2 times greater than in public schools. In fact, the Black population is the only racial or ethnic group to have a higher representation in the city’s charter schools than District-run public schools. All other groups have slightly higher concentrations among the city’s public schools.


Philadelphia Students and COVID-19 

With this deeper dive into the decline and makeup of Philadelphia’s school-age and enrolled student population, we have a better understanding of the number of students whose learning has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In our next Leading Indicator, we’ll take a closer look at the economic conditions of Philadelphia’s student population and explore how the digital divide will inevitably impact their learning.


Works Cited 

[1] U.S. Census Bureau. 2019. 2014-2018 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates. Retrieved from: ( 


[2] Philadelphia Research and Policy Initiative. 2019. Who’s Leaving Philadelphia—and Why. Philadelphia, PA: Pew Charitable Trusts. Retrieved from: (