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Digest of Education Statistics: 2006
Digest of Education Statistics: 2006

NCES 2007-017
July 2007

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, achievement, 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 state graduation requirements.


Public elementary and secondary school enrollments increased by 4 percent from 1999 to 2004, but enrollment at the elementary and secondary levels increased at different rates (table 36 and figure 6). Between 1999 and 2004, public elementary enrollment rose by 2 percent, while secondary enrollment increased by 9 percent. Enrollments in private elementary and secondary schools rose by 2 percent between 1999 and 2004 (table 3).

In 2005, about 57 percent of children ages 3 to 5 and not yet enrolled in kindergarten were enrolled in a center-based program (table 43). Some 23 percent of 3- to 5-year-olds who were not yet enrolled in kindergarten received care from relatives and 12 percent received care from nonrelatives. In 2005, 64 percent of 3- to 5-year-olds were enrolled in preprimary education (nursery and kindergarten), the same percentage as in 2000 (table 41 and figure 7). Though participation of young children in preprimary schools did not substantially increase, the proportion of children in full day programs did. In 2005, about 58 percent of the children enrolled in preprimary education attended preprimary school all day, compared with 53 percent in 2000.

Slowly increasing numbers and proportions of children are being served in programs for those with disabilities. During the 2000–01 school year, 13 percent of students were served in these programs, compared with 14 percent in 2005–06 (table 48). Some of the rise since 2000–01 may be attributed to the increasing proportion of children identified as having other health impairments (limited strength, vitality, or alertness due to chronic or acute health problems such as a heart condition, tuberculosis, rheumatic fever, nephritis, asthma, sickle cell anemia, hemophilia, epilepsy, lead poisoning, leukemia, or diabetes), which rose from 0.6 to 1.2 percent of enrollment; autism, which rose from 0.2 to 0.5 percent of enrollment; and developmental delay, which rose from 0.4 to 0.7 percent of enrollment.

Teachers and Other School Staff

During the 1970s and early 1980s, public school enrollment decreased, while the number of teachers generally increased. As a result, the public school pupil/teacher ratio declined from 22.3 in 1970 to 17.9 in 1985 (table 61 and figure 6).1 After 1985, the number of pupils per teacher continued to decline, 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 public school pupil/teacher ratio was 15.8 in 2004. The estimated pupil/teacher ratio for private schools for 2004 was 13.8.1 The average class size in 2003–04 was 20.4 pupils for public elementary schools and 24.7 for public secondary schools (table 64).

In 2003–04, 75 percent of public school teachers were women, 41 percent were under 40, and 48 percent had a master's or higher degree (table 65). Compared to public school teachers, a lower proportion of private school teachers (35 percent) had a master's or higher degree. Seventy-six percent of private school teachers were women.

Public school principals tend to be older and have more advanced credentials than public school teachers. In 2003–04, 15 percent of the public school principals were under age 40 and 98 percent of the public school principals had a master's or higher degree (table 82). Principals were less likely than teachers to be women. About 48 percent of public school principals were women, compared to 75 percent of teachers.

The number of nonteaching staff employed by public schools grew during the 1970s, while the number of students declined (tables 77 and 3). Between 1970 and 1980, the proportion of staff who were teachers declined from 60 percent to 52 percent. From 1980 to 2004, the number of teachers and other staff grew at more similar rates (41 and 49 percent, respectively) than in the 1970s. As a result, the proportion of teachers among total staff was 1 percentage point lower in 2004 than in 1980, in contrast to the decrease of 8 percentage points during the 1970s. Two staff categories increased staff over 100 percent between 1980 and 2004—instructional aides, which rose 117 percent, and instructional coordinators, which rose 132 percent. Taken together, the proportion of staff with some instructional responsibilities (teachers and instructional aides) increased between 1980 and 2004, from 60 to 63 percent. In 2004, there were 8 pupils per staff member (total staff), compared with 10 pupils per staff member in 1980. In 2003, the number of pupils per staff member at private schools was 7 (table 57).


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 97,000 in 2004–05 (table 83). But this number has been increasing in recent years; between 1994–95 and 2004–05, there was an increase of approximately 10,300 schools.

The shift in structure of public school systems toward middle schools (grade spans beginning with 4, 5, or 6 and ending with 6, 7, or 8) since the early 1970s continues (table 90). The number of all elementary schools (beginning in grade 6 or below, with no grade higher than grade 8) rose by 9 percent to 65,984 between 1994–95 and 2004–05, and the subset of middle schools rose by 26 percent during the same time period. Meanwhile, the number of junior high schools (grades 7 and 8 or 7 to 9) declined by 16 percent.

The average number of students in elementary schools was higher in 2004–05 (474) than in 1994–95 (471), but there have been only small fluctuations since 1995–96 (table 92). Secondary schools increased in size fairly consistently between 1994–95 and 2003–04 (with averages of 696 and 722 students, respectively), but then decreased to an average of 713 students in 2004–05. The average size of regular secondary schools, which exclude alternative, special education, and vocational education schools, rose from 759 to 815 students between 1994–95 and 2004–05.

High School Graduates and Dropouts

The projected number of high school graduates in 2006–07 was 3,232,000 (table 99), including 2,912,000 public school graduates and 321,000 private school graduates. The 2006–07 record number of high school graduates is higher than the former high points in 2005–06, when a projected 3,176,000 students earned diplomas, and in 1976–77, when 3,152,000 students earned diplomas. In 2003–04, an estimated 74.3 percent of public high school students graduated on time—that is, received a diploma 4 years after beginning their freshman year (table 101). The number of General Educational Development (GED) credentials issued rose from 332,000 in 1977 to 648,000 in 2001, before falling to 406,000 in 2004 (table 103).

The percentage of dropouts among 16- to 24-year-olds has shown some decreases over the past 20 years (persons who left school but went on to receive a GED credential are not treated as dropouts). This percentage 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 1985 and 2005, the dropout rate declined from 12.6 percent to 9.4 percent (table 104). This measure is based on the civilian noninstitutionalized population, which excludes persons in prisons, persons 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 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. Because the assessment items reflect curricula associated with specific grade levels, the main NAEP uses samples of students at those grade levels.

Since 1990, NAEP assessments have also been conducted at the state level. Participating states 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. From 1990 through 2001, the national sample was a subset of the combined sample of students assessed in each participating state along with an additional sample from the states that did not participate in the state assessment. Since 2002, a combined sample of public schools has been selected for both state and national NAEP.

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 long-term trends of student achievement requires the precise replication of past procedures. For example, students of specific ages are sampled in order to maintain consistency with the original sample design. Similarly, the long-term trend instrument does not evolve based on changes in curricula or in educational practices. The differences in procedures between the main NAEP and the long-term trend NAEP mean that their results cannot be compared directly.

Long-term trend data have 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. For Black 9-, 13-, and 17-year-olds, average reading scores in 2004 were higher than in 1971 (table 110). At age 9, Black students scored higher on average in 2004 than in any previous administration year. For White students, the average scores for 9- and 13-year-olds were also higher in 2004 than in 1971. Separate data for Hispanics were not gathered in 1971, but as with the other racial/ethnic groups, the average reading score for Hispanic students at age 9 was higher in 2004 than in any other assessment year. The average score for Hispanic students at age 13 increased between 1975 and 2004. The scores for 17-year-old Hispanic students also increased between 1975 and 2004, but no measurable changes were seen between 1999 and 2004.

All reading score differences show that female students scored higher on average than their male counterparts in 2004. The gender score gap at age 9 decreased from 1971 to 2004. In contrast, there has been no measurable change in the gender score gap at age 13 between 2004 and any previous assessment year. For 17-year-olds, the gender score gap in 2004 was larger than the gaps in 1980 and 1988, but showed no measurable difference from the gaps in other assessment years.

The 2005 main NAEP reading assessment of states found that reading proficiency varied among public school fourth-graders in the 53 participating jurisdictions (the 50 states, the Department of Defense overseas and domestic schools, and the District of Columbia) (table 114). The U.S. average score was 217. The scores for the participating jurisdictions ranged from 191 in the District of Columbia and 204 in Mississippi to 227 in New Hampshire and Vermont and 231 in Massachusetts.

Mathematics achievement results from the long-term trend NAEP indicate a significant improvement for ages 9 and 13 between 1973 and 2004, but not for age 17 (table 121). The average score at age 9 in 2004 (241) was higher than in any previous year—up 9 points from 1999 and 22 points from 1973. The average score at age 13 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. 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 2005 main NAEP assessment of states found that mathematics proficiency varied among public school eighth-graders in the 53 participating jurisdictions (the 50 states, the Department of Defense overseas and domestic schools, and the District of Columbia) (table 125). Overall, 68 percent of these eighth-grade students performed at or above the Basic level in mathematics, and 29 percent performed at or above the Proficient level. The percentage of students performing at least at the Basic level in math ranged from 31 percent in the District of Columbia to 81 percent in North Dakota.

Between 1996 and 2005, the national average 4th-grade science score increased from 147 to 151; there was no measurable change in the 8th-grade score; and the 12th-grade score decreased from 150 to 147 (table 128). Certain subgroups outperformed others in science in 2005. For example, males outperformed females at all three grades. White students scored higher, on average, than Black and Hispanic students at all three grades in 2005. At 4th grade, average scores increased for White, Black, Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific Islander students between 1996 and 2005. At 8th grade, the average score for Black students increased, but no measurable increases occurred for other racial/ethnic groups. At 12th grade, there were no significant measurable changes in average scores for any racial/ethnic group during this period. Asian/Pacific Islander 4th-graders' 2000 results are not included because reporting standards were not met.

The SAT (formerly known as the Scholastic Assessment Test and the Scholastic Aptitude Test) is not designed as an indicator of student achievement, but rather as an aid for predicting how well students will do in college. Between 1995–96 and 2005–06, mathematics SAT scores increased by 10 points, while critical reading scores decreased by 2 points (table 132).

The average number of science and mathematics courses completed by public high school graduates increased between 1982 and 2005. The average number of mathematics courses (Carnegie units) completed in high school rose from 2.6 in 1982 to 3.7 in 2005, and the number of science courses rose from 2.2 to 3.3 (table 137). The average number of courses in vocational areas completed by all high school graduates was lower in 2005 (4.0 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 36 percent in 2005 (table 140).

School Violence

In 2003–04, about 89 percent of public schools had a criminal incident, which is defined as a serious violent crime or a less serious crime such as a fight without weapons, theft, or vandalism (table 147). The percentage of schools having a criminal incident in 2003–04 was not measurably different from the percentage of schools having an incident in 1999–2000. In 2003–04, 81 percent of schools reported a violent incident; 46 percent of schools reported a theft/larceny; and 64 percent reported other types of incidents. Overall, there were 4.6 crime incidents reported per 100 students.

Revenues and Expenditures

The state share of revenues for public elementary and secondary schools generally grew from the 1930s through the mid-1980s, while the local share declined at the same time (table 158 and figure 9). However, this pattern changed in the late 1980s, when the local share began to increase at the same time 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 2000–01, the state share rose to 49.7 percent again, the highest share since 1986–87, but fell every school year afterward until 2003–04, when the state share was 47.1 percent. Between 1993–94 and 2003–04, the federal share of revenues rose to 9.1 percent and the local share fell to 43.9 percent.

After adjustment for inflation, current expenditures per student in fall enrollment in public schools rose during the 1980s, remained stable during the first part of the 1990s, and rose again between 1993–94 and 2003–04 (table 167 and figure 10). There was an increase of 37 percent from 1980–81 to 1990–91; an increase of less than 1 percent from 1990–91 to 1995–96 (which resulted from small decreases at the beginning of this period, followed by small increases after 1992–93); and an increase of 21 percent from 1995–96 to 2003–04. In 2003–04, current expenditures per student in fall enrollment were $8,310 in unadjusted dollars. In 2003–04, 56 percent of students in public schools were transported at public expense at a cost of $640 per pupil, also in unadjusted dollars (table 172).


1 The pupil/teacher ratio includes teachers for students with disabilities and other special teachers, while these teachers are generally excluded from class size calculations. The student count for the pupil/teacher ratio includes all students enrolled in the fall of the school year.