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National Center for Education Statistics

Programs, Organizational Structure

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is a federal agency responsible for collecting, analyzing, and disseminating statistical information related to the U.S. educational system. The principle goals of the NCES are to collect data concerning the condition and progress of American education and to make that data available to federal and state public policy makers, professional educators, the public, and the media. The NCES also reviews and reports on education in other countries.


The various programs of the NCES supply information and statistical data on such education-related matters as, for example, student enrollment, graduation rates, teacher staffing levels and teacher shortages, student skill and knowledge levels, and state and local educational expenditures. To obtain this information, the NCES conducts numerous surveys on the American educational system. Among the most important are the Schools and Staffing Survey, which monitors teacher supply and demand, as well as the composition of the educational work force in public and private schools across the country. Another survey, the National Assessment of Education Progress, evaluates the knowledge and skills of American fourth, eighth, and twelfth graders in reading, writing, science, mathematics, history, geography, and other subject areas. This survey also evaluates high school transcripts and provides state-by-state comparisons of its findings. The NCES National Study of Postsecondary Faculty reports on faculty and staff characteristics at the nation's colleges and universities. The National Adult Literacy Survey measures the reading and writing skills of the American adult population. In addition, the NCES conducts various longitudinal studies that follow different classes of students over a long period of time to asses such factors as academic growth, changes in attitude and motivation, and the ability to transition from one educational level to the next and from school into the labor market.

Federal, state, and local officials use data supplied by NCES to help them plan educational programs. The media use NCES data to inform the public about significant conditions and trends in American schools, such as school dropout and college enrollment rates, the relationship of educational achievement to class size, and the relative success of private and public schools. Members of the general public may examine NCES statistics to become more informed voters and to make knowledgeable decisions about their own and their children's education. Ultimately, wide access to the information collected and reported by the NCES can promote and accelerate the reform and improvement of education in the United States.

The NCES administers numerous programs to collect, process, and report educational data. The NCES Annual Reports Program conducts research on current and emerging topics in education and disseminates annual reports in support of other NCES programs. The Data on Vocational Education (DOVE) Program, established in 1998, collects and collates data from students and faculty involved in vocational education in secondary and postsecondary schools. DOVE also collects information about adults pursuing continuing education and work-related training. The NCES Education Financial Statistics Center conducts research related to the financing of public and private elementary, secondary, and post-secondary education. The Statistical Standards Program provides technical support and develops standards and procedures to ensure the quality and accuracy of NCES statistical surveys, analyses, and reports. The NCES established the National Forum on Education Statistics to improve methods for collecting, processing, and reporting elementary and secondary education statistics. The Forum also provides technical assistance to state and local data collection systems. Since 1994, a branch of the NCES called the Advisory Council on Education Statistics has deliberated problems facing the NCES and recommended solutions to the NCES Commissioner.

The NCES provides access to its statistical information through the online NCES Electronic Catalog, the National Education Data Resource Center, the National Library of Education, the Resource Sharing and Cooperation Division, and various web posting, CD-ROM releases, and nearly one hundred annual print publications. The major print publications of the NCES include the annual Digest of Education Statistics, a compilation of wide-ranging statistical data covering American educational institutions from preschool through graduate school. The Digest also compares American schools with schools in other countries. The Projections of Education Statistics, a periodic report first published in 1964, provides ten to fourteen year projections on enrollment, graduation rates, teacher levels, and expenditures in America elementary schools, high schools, colleges, and universities. Other periodical publications include the NCES Education Statistics Quarterly, which provides a comprehensive overview of work accomplished throughout the NCES over a three-month period.

The NCES also maintains a series of databases on a wide variety of topics addressing elementary, secondary, and postsecondary education at the local, state, and national level. These include Common Core of Data, which is the primary database for statistical information about public and private elementary and secondary schools. Another NCES database, the School District Database, provides demographic information derived from the most recent census about school districts around the country. The K–12 Practitioners' Circle is a website that provides links, resources, and other information for teachers and support staff, administrators, policymakers, librarians, and parents. The online NCES Students' Classroom offers children and parents information about schools and libraries, a kid's magazine called Crunch, and general educational data, as well as games and quizzes on history, mathematics, science, geography, and the arts.

Organizational Structure

The NCES is a division of the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Educational Research and Improvement. The NCES is headed by a commissioner and deputy commissioner, who set policy and over-see the operation of the center. There are four main divisions comprising the NCES: the Early Childhood and International and Crosscutting Studies Division, the Elementary/Secondary and Libraries Studies Division, the Postsecondary Studies Division, and the Assessment Division.


GEDDES, CLAIRE. 1999. Learning about Education through Statistics. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.

SNYDER, THOMAS D., ed. 1993. 120 Years of American Education: A Statistical Portrait. Washington DC: National Center for Education Statistics.



NATIONAL CENTER FOR EDUCATION STATISTICS. 2002. "Common Core of Data: Information on Public Schools and School Districts in the United States." <http://nces.ed.gov/ccd>.

NATIONAL CENTER FOR EDUCATION STATISTICS. 2002. "K–12 Practitioner's Circle." <http://nces.ed.gov/practitioners>.

NATIONAL CENTER FOR EDUCATION STATISTICS. 2002. "NCES Student's Classroom." 2002. <http://nces.ed.gov/nceskids>.


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