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History of NCES

NCES's primary mission traces back to the original legislation instituting the Department of Education in 1867, which called for

collecting such statistics and facts as shall show the condition and progress of education in the several States and territories, and of diffusing such information respecting the organization and management of schools and school systems, and methods of teaching, as shall aid the people of the United States in the establishment and maintenance of efficient school systems, and otherwise promote the cause of education throughout the United States.2

The agency's name and status, have changed many times: first from a department to a bureau; then to an office; then to a division—initially in the U.S. Department of the Interior, then in the Federal Security Agency, and then in the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW).3 Its name was officially recognized in law as the “National Center for Education Statistics” in 1974, when it was a division of HEW.4 When the current U.S. Department of Education was established in 1979, NCES became part of the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI).5 The Education Sciences Reform Act of 2002 then placed NCES within the Institute of Education Sciences (IES)

More detailed historical information is available at: Retrospective Report (

2See the Improving America’s Schools Act of 1994 [P.L. 103–382, H.R. 6, Title IV, § 402(a)].

3Specifically, NCES became a division in the Department of the Interior in 1869, in the Federal Security Agency in 1939, and in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in 1953. As part of the Office of Education’s reorganization in 1965, the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) was created as a staff unit within the larger agency. For more details on the history of the agency, see 120 Years of American Education: A Statistical Portrait, pp. 1–4.

4See Elementary and Secondary Education Amendments (1974) [P.L. 93–380, H.R. 69, Title V, § 406(a)].

5See An act to establish a Department of Education, and for other purposes (1979) [P.L. 96–88, S. 210, Title III, § 301(c)]. For more historical information on OERI and NCES, see Changing Federal Strategies for Supporting Educational Research, Development, and Statistics.