IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Bar Chart Race: States With the Highest Public School Enrollment

Recently, bar chart races have become a useful tool to visualize long-term trend changes. The visual below, which uses data from an array of sources, depicts the changes in U.S. public school enrollment from 1870 to 2020 by region: Northeast (green), South (orange), Midwest (light blue), and West (dark blue). Since 1870, states’ populations and public school enrollment have increased, with differential growth across the country.

Source: Report of the Commissioner of Education (1870–71, 1879–80, 1989–90, 1899–1900, and 1909–10); the Biennial Survey of Education in the United States (1919–20, 1929–30, 1939–40, and 1949–50); and the Statistics of State School Systems (1959–60). The intervening earlier years for these decades are estimated by NCES for the purposes of this visual, as are data from 1960 to 1964. Data for 1965 to 1984 are from the Statistics of Public Elementary and Secondary Day Schools. Data for 1985 and later years are from the Common Core of Data and Projections.

Here are some highlights from the data:

  • 1870: All of the top 10 states for public school enrollment—including the top 3 states of New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio—were in the Northeast and Midwest. No states from the South or West were in the top 10 at this time.
  • 1879: A state in the South—Tennessee—entered the top 10 for the first time.
  • 1884: Texas first entered the top 10 and, as of 2020, has never left the top 10.
  • 1891: Illinois displaced Ohio as the state with the third-highest public school enrollment.
  • 1916: A state in the West—California—entered the top 10 for the first time and, as of 2020, California has never left the top 10.
  • 1935: Texas displaced Illinois as the state with the third-highest public school enrollment. New York and Pennsylvania still remained the two states with the highest public school enrollments.
  • 1942: California displaced Texas as the state with the third-highest public school enrollment. In 1947, California displaced Pennsylvania as the state with the second-highest public school enrollment. In 1953, California overtook New York and became the state with the highest public school enrollment.
  • 1959: Florida entered the top 10 for the first time and was in the top 4 by 1990.
  • 1980: Texas displaced New York as the state with the second-highest public school enrollment.
  • 2014: Florida displaced New York as the state with the third-highest public school enrollment.

Projections indicate that the 10 states with the highest public school enrollment in fall 2020 will be California (6.3 million), Texas (5.5 million), Florida (2.9 million), New York (2.7 million), Illinois (2.0 million), Georgia (1.8 million), Pennsylvania (1.7 million), Ohio (1.7 million), North Carolina (1.6 million), and Michigan (1.5 million).


By Rachel Dinkes, AIR

NCES hosts 11th Annual Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) Best Practices Conference

By Charles McGrew and Ross Santy

Representatives from 40 states and 6 territories are gathering in Crystal City, VA this week for the 11th Annual SLDS Best Practices Conference. The conference, starting on Feb 28 and concluding March 2, provides an opportunity for data system leaders from all states, both SLDS program grantees and non-grantee states, to collaborate with and learn from SLDS program officers, the State Support Team of experts and most importantly each other as examples of best practices are presented and shared. Topics on the agenda for this year’s conference include models for hosting statewide data summits, ways to visualize data for improved data use, and effective practices that improve the protection of individual students’ privacy within developed data systems and data sharing agreements.  

To date, the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) Grant Program has awarded over $700 million dollars in funds to support states’ and territories’ efforts to collect and use data to improve their decision-making and educational practices. Grants have been awarded for states to improve the quality of their data, with states deciding how to use the grant funds based upon their own specific needs as outlined in their approved applications. Through the SLDS program the Department is able to provide technical support to help all states successfully achieve their objectives. Over the life of the program, 47 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa have received funding through this competitive grant program. Nearly three-quarters of these states have received more than one grant.


The Program was authorized in 2002 through the Educational Technical Assistance Act. It is administered by the National Center for Education Statistics within the Institute of Education Sciences. Grants were first awarded in 2006. When the Program started, most states did not have a central database to house data from all their school districts, which hampered their ability to use data effectively to inform state policies and made reporting much more complicated. Five grant rounds later, all states and territories have detailed K-12 data in their states’ data systems, many also connect with postsecondary data, and a growing number are establishing connecting which are focused on workforce outcomes.  Although some grantees have used their systems to reduce the burden and improve the quality of their state and federal reporting, no individual, student-level data are sent to the U.S. Department of Education.

The most recent round of grant awards, made in 2015, allowed states or territories to request funds in support of their efforts to improve data utilization in one or two of the following areas: Financial Equity and Return on Investment, Educator Talent Management, Early Learning, College and Career, Evaluation and Research, and Instructional Support.  A number of states are working to improve linking across data sources to inform broad education and labor force policies, and many others are developing systems with these capabilities. Later this year, NCES will release the results of a 2017 SLDS Survey, which will provide more specific information about state progress, capacity, and self-reported plans for their information systems.