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Digest of Education Statistics: 2004
Digest of Education Statistics: 2004

NCES 2006-005
October 2005

Chapter 2: Elementary and Secondary Education

This chapter contains a variety of statistics on public and private elementary and secondary education. Data are presented for enrollments, teachers and other school staff, schools, dropouts and achievements, school violence, and revenues and expenditures. These data are derived from surveys conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and other public and private organizations. The information ranges from counts of students and schools to opinions of teachers and students concerning the state of education today.


Public elementary and secondary school enrollments increased by 4 percent from 1997 to 2002, but enrollment at the elementary and secondary levels exhibited different patterns (table 40 and figure 7). Between 1997 and 2002, public elementary enrollment rose by 3 percent, while secondary enrollment increased by 8 percent. Enrollments in private elementary and secondary schools rose by 10 percent between 1997 and 2002 (table 3).

Preprimary education (nursery and kindergarten schools) enrollment has grown substantially. Preprimary enrollment of 3- to 5-year-olds rose by 20 percent between 1993 and 2003 (table 43 and figure 8). An important feature of the increasing participation of young children in preprimary schools is the increasing proportion of children in full day programs. In 2003, about 56 percent of the children attended preprimary school all day compared with 40 percent in 1993.

Slowly increasing numbers and proportions of children are being served in programs for the disabled. During the 1993–94 school year, 12 percent of students were served in these programs compared with 14 percent in 2003–04 (table 52). Some of the rise since 1993–94 may be attributed to the increasing proportion of children identified as having speech or language impairments, which rose from 2 percent of enrollment to 3 percent of enrollment in 2003–04.

Teachers and Other School Staff

During the 1970s and early 1980s, public school enrollment decreased, while the number of teachers rose. As a result, the public school pupil/teacher ratio declined from 22.3 in 1970 to 17.9 in 1985 (table 64 and figure 7). After 1985, the number of pupils per teacher continued downward, reaching 17.2 in 1989. After a period of relative stability during the late 1980s through the mid 1990s, the ratio declined from 17.3 in 1995 to 16.1 in 1999. Small declines have continued since then, and the pupil/teacher ratio was 15.9 in 2002. The estimated pupil/teacher ratio for private schools for 2002 was 16.2. The pupil/teacher ratio includes teachers for disabled students and other special teachers, who generally are excluded from class size calculations. The average class size in 1999–2000 was 21.1 pupils for public elementary schools and 23.6 for public secondary schools (table 68).

In 1999–2000, 75 percent of public school teachers were women, 39 percent were under 40, and 47 percent had a master's or higher degree (table 67). Similar proportions of private school teachers were women (76 percent). However, a lower proportion of private school teachers (35 percent) had a master's or higher degree.

Public school principals tend to be older and have more advanced credentials than teachers. In 1999–2000, 10 percent of the public school principals were under age 40 and 98 percent had a master's or higher degree (table 84). Also, they were more likely to be male. About 44 percent of the principals were women.

The average salary for public school teachers grew slowly over the past 10 years, reaching $45,822 in 2002–03 (table 77). After adjustment for inflation, teachers' salaries increased 2 percent between 1992–93 and 2002–03.

The number of nonteaching staff employed by public schools grew during the 1970s, while the number of students declined (tables 3 and 79). Between 1970 and 1980, the proportion of total staff who were teachers declined from 60 percent to 52 percent. From 1980 to 2002, the number of teachers and other staff grew at more similar rates than in the 1970s. As a result, the proportion of teachers among total staff fell 1 percentage point during this later period, compared to 8 percentage points in the 1970s. In 2002, there were 8.1 pupils per staff member (total staff) compared with 9.8 pupils per staff member in 1980. In 1999, the number of pupils per staff member at private schools was 7.9 (table 59).



During most of the last century, the trend to consolidate small schools brought a large decline in the total number of public schools in the United States. In 1929–30, there were approximately 248,000 public schools, compared with about 96,000 today (table 85). But this number has grown in recent years, with an increase of 11,118 schools between 1992-93 and 2002–03.

The shift in structure of public school systems toward middle schools (low grades 4, 5, or 6 to high grades 6, 7, or 8) is continuing (table 92). The number of all elementary schools (beginning in grade 6 or below, with no grade higher than grade 8) rose by 10 percent to 65,718 between 1992–93 and 2002–03, but the subset of middle schools rose by 33 percent. Meanwhile, the number of junior high schools (grades 7 to 8 and 7 to 9) declined by 21 percent.

The average number of students in elementary schools was higher in 2002–03 (476) than in 1992–93 (464), but there have been only small fluctuations since 1995–96 (table 94). There has been a more consistent pattern of size increases for secondary schools, which rose from an average of 688 students in 1992–93 to 720 in 2002–03. The average size of regular secondary schools, which exclude alternative schools, special education, and vocational education schools, rose from 733 to 813 between 1992–93 and 2002–03.



The percent of dropouts among 16- to 24-year-olds shows some decreases over the past twenty years (General Educational Development (GED) recipients are treated as completers). This percent includes all persons in the 16- to 24-year-old age group who are not enrolled in school and who have not completed a high school program, regardless of when they left school. Between 1983 and 2003, the dropout rate declined from 13.7 percent to 9.9 percent (table 107). This measure is based on the civilian noninstitutionalized population, which excludes persons in prisons, in the military, and other persons not living in households.


Most of the student performance data in the Digest are drawn from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The NAEP assessments have been conducted using three basic designs: the national main NAEP, state NAEP, and the long-term trend NAEP. The main NAEP reports current information for the nation and specific geographic regions of the country. The assessment program includes students drawn from both public and nonpublic schools and reports results for student achievement at grades 4, 8, and 12. The main NAEP assessments follow the frameworks developed by the National Assessment Governing Board, and use the latest advances in assessment methodology.

Since 1990, NAEP assessments have also been conducted at the state level. States that choose to participate receive assessment results that report on the performance of students in that state. In its content, the state assessment is identical to the assessment conducted nationally. However, because the national NAEP samples prior to 2002 were not designed to support the reporting of accurate and representative state-level results, separate representative samples of students were selected for each participating jurisdiction/state. Since 2002, a combined sample of public schools is selected for both state and national NAEP. The national sample is a subset of the combined sample of students assessed in each participating state, plus an additional sample from the states that did not participate in the state assessment.

NAEP long-term trend assessments are designed to give information on the changes in the basic achievement of America's youth since the early 1970s. They are administered nationally and report student performance at ages 9, 13, and 17 in reading and mathematics. Measuring trends of student achievement or change over time requires the precise replication of past procedures. Therefore, the long-term trend instrument does not evolve based on changes in curricula or in educational practices.

Long-term trend data has shown improvements in achievement in a number of areas. The average reading score at age 9 was higher in 2004 than in any previous assessment year (table 110). The average score at age 13 was higher in 2004 than in 1971, but not measurably different from the average score in 1999. Between 1999 and 2004, average reading scores at age 17 showed no measurable changes. The average score for 17-year-olds in 2004 was similar to that in 1971. Significant gaps in performance continue to exist between racial/ethnic subgroups. All reading score differences show female students scored higher on average than their male counterparts in 2004. The gender gap at age 9 decreased from 1971 to 2004. In contrast, there has been no measurable change in the score gap at age 13 between 2004 and any previous assessment year. For 17-year-olds, the score gap in 2004 was larger than the gaps in 1988 and 1980, but showed no measurable difference from the gaps in other assessment years.

Results from the long-term trend NAEP of mathematics achievement indicate a significant improvement at ages 9 and 13 between 1973 and 2004, but not for age 17 (table 120). At 241, the average score at age 9 was higher in 2004 than in any previous year—up 9 points from 1999 and 22 points from 1973. At age 13, the average score in 2004 was higher than in any other assessment year. The 5-point increase between 1999 and 2004 resulted in an average score in 2004 that was 15 points higher than the average score in 1973. The average score at age 17 was not measurably different from the average score in 1973 or 1999. The apparent difference in average mathematics scores at age 9 between male and female students in 2004 was not statistically significant, while the change in the score gap between 1973 and 2004 was statistically significant. Males had higher average scores than females at ages 13 and 17. The gender score gaps for 13- and 17-year-olds were measurably different between 1973 and 2004.

The SAT (formerly known as the Scholastic Assessment Test and the Scholastic Aptitude Test) was not designed as an indicator of student achievement, but rather to help predict how well students will do in college. Between 1993–94 and 2003–04, mathematics SAT scores increased by 14 points, while verbal scores rose by 9 points (table 129).

The average number of science and mathematics courses completed by public high school graduates increased between 1982 and 2000. The mean number of mathematics courses (Carnegie units) completed in high school rose from 2.6 in 1982 to 3.6 in 2000, and the number of science courses rose from 2.2 to 3.2 (table 134). The average number of courses in vocational areas completed by all high school graduates was lower in 2000 (4.2 units) than in 1982 (4.6 units). As a result of the increased academic course load, the proportion of students completing the 1983 National Commission on Excellence recommendations for college-bound students (4 units of English, 3 units of social studies, 3 units of science, 3 units of mathematics, 2 units of foreign language, and .5 units of computer science) rose from 2 percent in 1982 to 31 percent in 2000 (table 137).


School Violence

About 86 percent of public schools had a criminal incident in 1999–2000, including a serious violent crime or a less serious crime such as a fight without weapons, theft, or vandalism (table 142). In 1999–2000, 71 percent of schools reported a violent incident; 46 percent of schools reported theft/larceny; and 73 percent other types of incidents. Overall, there were about 48 crime incidents reported per 1,000 students.

Revenues and Expenditures

The state share of revenues for public elementary and secondary schools grew steadily for many decades at the same time as the local share declined (table 156 and figure 10). However, this pattern changed in the late 1980s when the local share began to increase, while the state share fell. Between 1986-87 and 1993-94, the state share fell from 49.7 percent to 45.2 percent, while the local share rose from 43.9 percent to 47.8 percent. Between 1993-94 and 2001-02, the state share increased to 49.2 percent and the federal share rose to 7.9 percent. The local share of revenues fell to 42.9 percent.

After adjustment for inflation, the current expenditures per student in fall enrollment in public schools rose during the 1980s, and again between 1992–93 and 2001–02 after remaining stable during the first part of the 1990s (table 163 and figure 11). Between 1985–86 and 1990–91, current expenditures per student in fall enrollment grew 14 percent, after adjustment for inflation. From 1990–91 to 1995–96, current expenditures per student increased by less than 1 percent. Between 1995–96 and 2001–02, the current expenditures per student in fall enrollment rose 18 percent to $7,727.