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Letter From the Commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics

May 2016

Congress has required that the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) produce an annual report to policymakers about the progress of education in the United States. The Condition of Education 2016 presents 43 key indicators on important topics and trends in U.S. education. These indicators focus on population characteristics, such as educational attainment and economic outcomes; participation in education at all levels; and several contextual aspects of education, including international comparisons, at both the elementary and secondary education level and the postsecondary education level. The three Spotlight indicators for the 2016 report provide a more in-depth look at some of the data. Supplemental indicators, which help to provide a fuller picture of the state of American education, are available online.

The Condition includes an At a Glance section, which allows readers to quickly make comparisons within and across indicators, and a Highlights section, which captures a key finding or set of findings from each indicator. The report contains a Reader’s Guide, Glossary, and a Guide to Data Sources that provide additional information to help place the indicators in context. In addition, each indicator references the data tables that were used to produce the indicator, most of which are in the Digest of Education Statistics.

This year’s Condition shows that 91 percent of young adults ages 25 to 29 had a high school diploma or its equivalent in 2015, and that 36 percent had a bachelor’s or higher degree. Median earnings continued to be higher for 25- to 34-year-olds with higher levels of education in 2014, and in 2015, the employment rate was generally higher for those with higher levels of education.

Student enrollment patterns in preprimary and K–12 education have varied over time. The percentages of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in preprimary programs in 2014 (43 and 66 percent, respectively) were higher than the percentages enrolled in 1990 (33 and 56 percent, respectively), but these percentages have not changed much in recent years. In the fall of 2013, total public school enrollment was at 50.0 million students, an increase of 3 percent from the fall of 2003. During this period, the number of White students enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools decreased from 28.4 million to 25.2 million, and the percentage of students who were White decreased from 59 to 50 percent. The percentage of White students in public schools is projected to continue to decline as the enrollments of Hispanic students and Asian/Pacific Islander students increase. In addition, over 2.5 million students were enrolled in charter schools in the fall of 2013; enrollment in these schools has increased from the fall of 2003, when it was just under 1 million students.

Students who are English language learners (ELL) are making up a growing share of public school students. In 2013–14, Spanish, Arabic, and Chinese were the most common languages spoken by ELL students. Another aspect of the landscape of schools is the percentage of schools that are considered high poverty. In the fall of 2013, high-poverty schools accounted for 25 percent of all public schools. In that year, 24 percent of traditional public schools were high poverty, compared with 39 percent of charter schools. In terms of school climate and safety, rates of school crime against students have declined significantly over the last two decades. Schools have also implemented more safety and security procedures in recent years.

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, mathematics and reading scores for both 4th- and 8th-graders were higher in 2015 than in the early 1990s, when the earliest assessments were conducted. However, the 2015 average mathematics scores in grades 4 and 8 were 1 and 2 points lower, respectively, than the 2013 average mathematics scores. The 2015 average reading score for 4th-graders was not significantly different from the score in 2013, and the 2015 score for 8th-graders was 2 points lower than the score in 2013. At grade 12, the average mathematics score was lower in 2015 than in 2013, and the average reading score did not significantly differ between the two years. Of particular note is that in both mathematics and reading, the lowest performing 12th-grade students—those performing at the 10th and 25th percentiles—had lower scores in 2015 than in 2013.

In school year 2013–14, some 82 percent of public high school students graduated with a regular diploma. This rate is the highest it has ever been. Sixty-eight percent of 2014 high school completers enrolled in college the following fall: 44 percent went to 4-year institutions and 25 percent went to 2-year institutions. Meanwhile, the status dropout rate, or the percentage of 16- to 24-year-olds who are not enrolled in school and do not have a high school credential, declined from 10.9 percent in 2000 to 6.5 percent in 2014.

We are pleased to present to you The Condition of Education 2016. As new data are released, the indicators will be updated on The Condition of Education website and on the Condition mobile website. NCES also produces a wide range of reports and data as well as other tools and products designed to help keep policymakers and the American public informed about trends and conditions in U.S. education.

Peggy G. Carr
Peggy G. Carr
Acting Commissioner
National Center for Education Statistics