The Introduction provides a brief overview of current trends in American education, highlighting key data that are presented in more detail later in this volume. Topics outlined include the participation of students, teachers, and faculty in U.S. educational institutions; the performance of U.S. elementary/secondary students overall and in comparison to students in other countries; the numbers of high school graduates and postsecondary degrees; and the amounts of expenditures on education at the elementary/secondary and postsecondary levels.
In fall 2015, about 75.8 million people were enrolled in American schools and colleges (table 105.10). About 4.6 million people were employed as elementary and secondary school teachers or as college faculty, in full-time equivalents (FTE). Other professional, administrative, and support staff at educational institutions totaled 5.3 million FTE employees. All data for 2015 in this Introduction are projected, except for data on educational attainment. Some data for other years are projected or estimated as noted. In discussions of historical trends, different time periods and specific years are cited, depending on the timing of important changes as well as the availability of relevant data.
A pattern of annual increases in total public elementary and secondary school enrollment began in 1985, but enrollment stabilized at 49.3 million between 2006 and 2008, before beginning to increase again (table 105.30). Overall, public school enrollment rose 28 percent, from 39.4 million to 50.3 million, between 1985 and 2015. Private school enrollment fluctuated during this period, with the fall 2015 enrollment of 5.3 million being 5 percent lower than the enrollment of 5.6 million in 1985. About 10 percent of elementary and secondary school students were enrolled in private schools in 2015, reflecting a decrease from 12 percent in 1985.
In public schools between 1985 and 2015, there was a 31 percent increase in elementary enrollment (prekindergarten through grade 8), compared with a 21 percent increase in secondary enrollment (grades 9 through 12) (table 105.30). Part of the higher growth in public elementary school enrollment resulted from the expansion of prekindergarten enrollment (table 203.10). Between fall 1985 and fall 2015, enrollment in prekindergarten increased 755 percent, while enrollment in other elementary grades (including kindergarten through grade 8 plus ungraded elementary programs) increased 26 percent. The number of children enrolled in prekindergarten increased from 0.2 million in 1985 to 1.3 million in 2015, and the number enrolled in other elementary grades increased from 26.9 million to 34.0 million. Public secondary school enrollment declined 8 percent from 1985 to 1990, but then increased 33 percent from 1990 to 2007; however, secondary school enrollment in 2015 was 1 percent lower than in 2007 (table 105.30). Between 1990 and 2015, the net increase in public secondary school enrollment was 32 percent, compared with an 18 percent increase in public elementary school enrollment. Over the most recent 10-year period (between 2005 and 2015), public school enrollment rose 2 percent. Elementary school enrollment increased 3 percent between 2005 and 2015, while secondary school enrollment was less than 1 percent higher in 2015 than in 2005.
Since the enrollment rates of 5- and 6-year-olds, 7- to 13-year-olds, and 14- to 17-year-olds changed by less than 3 percentage points from 1985 to 2014, increases in public elementary and secondary school enrollment primarily reflect increases in the number of children in the population in these age groups (tables 101.10 and 103.20). For example, the enrollment rate of 7- to 13-year-olds decreased from 99 to 98 percent between 1985 and 2014, but the number of 7- to 13-year-olds increased by 25 percent. Increases in both the enrollment rate of 3- and 4-year-old children (from 39 percent in 1985 to 54 percent in 2014) and the number of children in this age group (from 7.1 million to 8.0 million) also contributed to overall enrollment increases.
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) projects record levels of total public elementary and secondary school enrollment from 2015 (50.3 million) through at least 2025 (51.4 million) (table 105.30). The total public school enrollment projected for fall 2015 is a record-high number, and new records are expected every year through 2025, the last year for which NCES enrollment projections have been developed. Public elementary school enrollment (prekindergarten through grade 8) is projected to increase 2 percent between 2015 and 2025. Public secondary school enrollment (grades 9 through 12) is expected to increase 3 percent between 2015 and 2025. Overall, total public school enrollment is expected to increase 2 percent between 2015 and 2025.
About 3.6 million full-time-equivalent (FTE) elementary and secondary school teachers were engaged in classroom instruction in fall 2015 (table 105.40). This number was less than 1 percent lower than in fall 2005. The 2015 number of FTE teachers includes 3.1 million public school teachers and 0.4 million private school teachers.
Public school enrollment was 2 percent higher in 2015 than in 2005, while the number of public school teachers was less than 1 percent lower (table 208.20). In fall 2015, the number of public school pupils per teacher was 16.1, which was higher than the ratio of 15.6 in 2005.
The average salary for public school teachers in 2014–15 was $57,379 in current dollars (i.e., dollars that are not adjusted for inflation) (table 211.50). In constant (i.e., inflation-adjusted) dollars, the average salary for teachers was 2 percent lower in 2014–15 than in 1990–91.
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 national main NAEP and state NAEP provide current information about student performance in subjects including reading, mathematics, science, and writing, while long-term trend NAEP provides information on performance since the early 1970s in reading and mathematics only. Results from long-term trend NAEP are included in the discussion in chapter 2 of the Digest, while the information in this Introduction includes only selected results from the national main and state NAEP. Readers should keep in mind that comparisons of NAEP scores in the text (like all comparisons of estimates in the Digest) are based on statistical testing of unrounded values.
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 private 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. The state NAEP is identical in content to the national main NAEP, but the state NAEP reports information only for public school students. Chapter 2 presents more information on the NAEP designs and methodology, and additional details appear in Appendix A: Guide to Sources.
The main NAEP reading assessment data are reported on a scale of 0 to 500. In 2015, the average reading score for 4th-grade students (223) was not measurably different from the 2013 score, but it was higher than the 1992 score (217) (table 221.10). At grade 4, the average 2015 reading scores for White (232), Black (206), Hispanic (208), and Asian/Pacific Islander students (239) were not measurably different from the corresponding scores in 2013, but their average scores were all higher than in 1992. For 8th-grade students, the average reading score in 2015 (265) was lower than in 2013 (268), but it was higher than in 1992 (260). At grade 8, average 2015 reading scores for White (274), Black (248), and Hispanic (253) students were lower than the scores in 2013 (276, 250, and 256, respectively), while the average 2015 reading score for Asian/Pacific Islander (280) students was not measurably different from the score in 2013. Consistent with the findings at grade 4, the average reading scores for White, Black, Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific Islander 8th-grade students were higher in 2015 than in 1992. For 12th-grade students, the average reading score in 2015 was not measurably different from that in 2013. At grade 12, the average 2015 reading scores for White (295), Hispanic (276), and Asian/Pacific Islander students (297) were not measurably different from the scores in 2013 and 1992. For Black students, the 2015 average score (266) was lower than the 1992 score (273) but was not measurably different from the 2013 score.
While there was no measurable change from 2013 to 2015 in the average reading score for 4th-grade public school students nationally, average scores were higher in 2015 than in 2013 in the District of Columbia and 12 states (table 221.40). Average 4th-grade scores were lower in 2015 than in 2013 in Maryland and Minnesota, while scores in all remaining states did not change measurably from 2013 to 2015. The average reading score for 8th-grade public school students was lower in 2015 than in 2013 nationally and in 8 states (table 221.60). However, 8th-grade students in West Virginia scored higher in 2015 than in 2013. In the remaining states and the District of Columbia, scores did not change measurably from 2013 to 2015.
The main NAEP mathematics assessment data for 4th- and 8th-graders are reported on a scale of 0 to 500 (table 222.10). The average 4th-grade mathematics score in 2015 (240) was lower than the score in 2013 (242), although it was higher than the score in 1990 (213). At grade 4, the average mathematics score in 2015 for White students (248) was lower than the score in 2013 (250), while the average scores in 2015 for Black (224), Hispanic (230), and Asian/Pacific Islander (257) students were not measurably different from the 2013 scores. However, the 4th-grade average scores for White, Black, Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific Islander students were all higher in 2015 than in 1990. The average 8th-grade mathematics score in 2015 (282) was lower than the score in 2013 (285), although it was higher than the score in 1990 (263). At grade 8, the average scores for White (292), Black (260), and Hispanic students (270) were lower in 2015 than in 2013 (294, 263, and 272, respectively). The 2015 average score for Asian/Pacific Islander students (306) was not measurably different from the score in 2013. However, the average scores for 8th-grade White, Black, Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific Islander students were all higher in 2015 than in 1990. Due to changes in the 12th-grade mathematics assessment framework, a new trend line started in 2005, with scores reported on a scale of 0 to 300. The average 12th-grade mathematics score in 2015 (152) was lower than the score in 2013 (153), but not measurably different from the score in 2005, the first year in which the revised assessment was administered.
The average mathematics score for 4th-grade public school students across the nation was lower in 2015 (240) than in 2013 (241) (table 222.50). Average 4th-grade mathematics scores for public school students were also lower in 2015 than in 2013 in 16 states. However, the mathematics average scores for 4th-grade students in Mississippi and the District of Columbia were higher in 2015 than in 2013. Scores were not measurably different in the other states during this period. The national public school average mathematics score for 8th-grade students was lower in 2015 (281) than in 2013 (284) (table 222.60). Similarly, 22 states had lower 8th-grade average scores in 2015 than in 2013, while scores for the remaining 28 states and the District of Columbia were not measurably different between 2013 and 2015. During this time, no state experienced a score increase at the 8th-grade level.
NAEP has assessed the science abilities of students in grades 4, 8, and 12 in both public and private schools since 1996. As of 2009, however, NAEP science assessments are based on a new framework, so results from these assessments cannot be compared to results from earlier science assessments. The main NAEP science assessment data are reported on a scale of 0 to 300. The average 8th-grade science score increased from 150 in 2009 to 152 in 2011 (table 223.10). Average scores for both male and female students were higher in 2011 than in 2009. Male students scored 5 points higher on average than female students in 2011, which was not significantly different from the 4-point gap in 2009. Score gaps between White and Black students and between White and Hispanic students narrowed from 2009 to 2011. The 5-point gain from 2009 to 2011 for Hispanic students was larger than the 1-point gain for White students, narrowing the score gap from 30 points to 27 points. Black students scored 3 points higher in 2011 than in 2009. The 35-point score gap between White and Black students in 2011 was smaller than the 36-point gap in 2009. The average scores of Asian/Pacific Islander and American Indian/Alaska Native students were not significantly different in 2011 from their scores in 2009.
The 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) assessed students' mathematics and science performance at grade 4 in 45 countries and at grade 8 in 38 countries. In addition to countries, a number of subnational entities—including the public school systems in several U.S. states—also participated in TIMSS as separate education systems. Results for the participating states are included in the discussion in chapter 6 of the Digest, while this Introduction includes only results for the United States and other countries. TIMSS assessments are curriculum based and measure what students have actually learned against the subject matter that is expected to be taught in the participating countries by the end of grades 4 and 8. At both grades, TIMSS scores are reported on a scale of 0 to 1,000, with the scale average set at 500.
On the 2011 TIMSS, the average mathematics scores of U.S. 4th-graders (541) and 8th-graders (509) were higher than the scale average (tables 602.20 and 602.30). U.S. 4th-graders scored higher in mathematics, on average, than their counterparts in 37 countries and lower than those in 3 countries (table 602.20). Average mathematics scores in the other 4 countries were not measurably different from the U.S. average. At grade 8, the average U.S. mathematics score was higher than the average scores of students in 27 countries in 2011 and below the average scores of students in 4 countries (table 602.30). Average 8th-grade mathematics scores in the other 6 countries were not measurably different from the U.S. average. The average science scores of both U.S. 4th-graders (544) and U.S. 8th-graders (525) were higher than the TIMSS scale average of 500 in 2011. The average U.S. 4th-grade science score was higher than the average scores of students in 39 countries and lower than those of students in 5 countries. At grade 8, the average U.S. science score was higher than the average scores of students in 28 countries, lower than those in 6 countries, and not measurably different from those in the other 3 countries.
The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), coordinated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), has measured the performance of 15-year-old students in reading, mathematics, and science literacy every 3 years since 2000. PISA assesses 15-year-old students' application of reading, mathematics, and science literacy to problems within a real-life context. In 2012, PISA assessed students in the 34 OECD countries as well as in a number of other education systems. Some subnational entities participated as separate education systems, including public school systems in the U.S. states of Connecticut, Florida, and Massachusetts. Results for the participating U.S. states are included in the discussion in chapter 6, while this Introduction includes only results for the United States in comparison with other OECD countries. PISA scores are reported on a scale of 0 to 1,000.
On the 2012 PISA assessment, U.S. 15-year-olds' average score in reading literacy was 498, which was not measurably different from the OECD average of 496 (table 602.50). The average reading literacy score in the United States was lower than the average score in 13 of the 33 other OECD countries, higher than the average score in 10 of the other OECD countries, and not measurably different from the average score in 10 of the OECD countries. In all countries, females outperformed males in reading (table 602.40). The U.S. gender gap in reading (31 points) was smaller than the OECD average gap (38 points) and smaller than the gaps in 14 of the OECD countries.
In mathematics literacy, U.S. 15-year-olds' average score of 481 on the 2012 PISA assessment was lower than the OECD average score of 494 (table 602.60). The average mathematics literacy score in the United States was lower than the average in 21 of the 33 other OECD countries, higher than the average in 5 OECD countries, and not measurably different from the average in 7 OECD countries. In 25 of the OECD countries, males outperformed females in mathematics literacy (table 602.40). In the United States, however, the average score of males (484) was not measurably different from that of females (479).
In science literacy, U.S. 15-year-olds' average score of 497 was not measurably different from the OECD average score of 501 (table 602.70). The average science literacy score in the United States was lower than the average in 15 OECD countries, higher than the average in 8 OECD countries, and not measurably different from the average in 10 OECD countries.
The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) measures the reading knowledge and skills of 4th-graders over time. PIRLS scores are reported on a scale from 0 to 1,000, with the scale average set at 500. On the 2011 PIRLS, U.S. 4th-graders had an average reading literacy score of 556 (table 602.10). The U.S. average score in 2011 was 14 points higher than in 2001 and 16 points higher than in 2006. In all three assessment years, the U.S. average score was higher than the PIRLS scale average. In 2011, PIRLS assessed 4th-grade reading literacy in 40 countries. The average reading literacy score of 4th-graders in the United States was higher than the average score in 33 of the 39 other participating countries, lower than the average score in 3 countries, and not measurably different from the average in the remaining 3 countries.
About 3,506,000 U.S. high school students were expected to graduate during the 2015–16 school year (table 219.10), including 3,192,000 public school graduates and 314,000 private school graduates. High school graduates include only recipients of diplomas, not recipients of equivalency credentials. The number of high school graduates projected for 2015–16 is higher than the prior record high in 2013–14, and exceeds the baby boom era's high point in 1975–76, when 3,142,000 students earned diplomas. In 2012–13, an estimated 81.9 percent of public high school students graduated on time—that is, received a diploma 4 years after beginning their freshman year.
The number of GED credentials issued by the states to GED test passers rose from 330,000 in 1977 to 487,000 in 2000 (table 219.60). A record number of 648,000 GED credentials were issued in 2001. In 2002, there were revisions to the GED test and to the data reporting procedures. In 2001, test takers were required to successfully complete all five components of the GED or else begin the five-part series again with the new test that was introduced in 2002. Prior to 2002, reporting was based on summary data from the states on the number of GED credentials issued. As of 2002, reporting has been based on individual GED candidate- and test-level records collected by the GED Testing Service.1 Between 2003 and 2013, the number of persons passing the GED tests increased by 40 percent, from 387,000 to 541,000.
The percentage of dropouts among 16- to 24-year-olds (known as the status dropout rate) has decreased over the past two decades (table 219.70). The status dropout rate is the percentage of the civilian noninstitutionalized 16- to 24-year-old population who are not enrolled in school and who have not completed a high school program, regardless of when they left school. (People who left school but went on to receive a GED credential are not treated as dropouts in this measure.) Between 1990 and 2014, the status dropout rate declined from 12.1 percent to 6.5 percent (table 219.70). Although the status dropout rate declined for both Blacks and Hispanics during this period, their rates in 2014 (7.4 and 10.6 percent, respectively) remained higher than the rate for Whites (5.2 percent).
College enrollment was 20.2 million in fall 2014, reflecting a 4 percent decrease from the record enrollment in fall 2010 (table 105.30). College enrollment is expected to set new records from fall 2018 through fall 2025, the last year for which NCES enrollment projections have been developed. Between fall 2014 and fall 2025, enrollment is expected to increase by 15 percent. Despite decreases in the size of the traditional college-age population (18 to 24 years old) during the late 1980s and early 1990s, total enrollment increased during this period (tables 101.10 and 105.30). The traditional college-age population rose 7 percent between 2004 and 2014, and total college enrollment increased 17 percent during the same period. Between 2004 and 2014, the number of full-time students increased by 17 percent, compared with a 16 percent increase in part-time students (table 303.10). During the same time period, the number of males enrolled increased 19 percent, and the number of females enrolled increased 15 percent.
In fall 2013, degree-granting institutions—defined as postsecondary institutions that grant an associate's or higher degree and are eligible for Title IV federal financial aid programs—employed 1.5 million faculty members, including 0.8 million full-time and 0.8 million part-time faculty (table 314.30). In addition, degree-granting institutions employed 0.4 million graduate assistants.
During the 2015–16 academic year, postsecondary degrees conferred were projected to number 999,000 associate's degrees, 1,853,000 bachelor's degrees, 773,000 master's degrees, and 179,000 doctor's degrees (table 318.10). The doctor's degree total includes most degrees formerly classified as first-professional, such as M.D., D.D.S., and law degrees. Between 2003–04 and 2013–14 (the last year of actual data), the number of degrees conferred increased at all levels. The number of associate's degrees was 51 percent higher in 2013–14 than in 2003–04, the number of bachelor's degrees was 34 percent higher, the number of master's degrees was 34 percent higher, and the number of doctor's degrees was 41 percent higher.
Between 2003–04 and 2013–14, the number of bachelor's degrees awarded to males increased 35 percent, while the number of bachelor's degrees awarded to females increased 33 percent. Females earned 57 percent of all bachelor's degrees in 2013–14, the same percentage as in 2003–04. Between 2003–04 and 2013–14, the number of White students earning bachelor's degrees increased 19 percent, compared with larger increases of 46 percent for Black students, 114 percent for Hispanic students, and 43 percent for Asian/Pacific Islander students (table 322.20). The number of American Indian/Alaska Native students earning bachelor's degrees was 1 percent higher in 2013–14 than in 2003–04. In 2013–14, White students earned 68 percent of all bachelor's degrees awarded (vs. 76 percent in 2003–04), Black students earned 11 percent (vs. 10 percent in 2003–04), Hispanic students earned 11 percent (vs. 7 percent in 2003–04), and Asian/Pacific Islander students earned about 7 percent (increasing their share of the degrees from 6.8 percent in 2003–04 to 7.3 percent in 2013–14). American Indian/Alaska Native students earned less than 1 percent of the degrees in both years.
For the 2014–15 academic year, average annual prices for undergraduate tuition, fees, room, and board were estimated to be $16,188 at public institutions, $41,970 at private nonprofit institutions, and $23,372 at private for-profit institutions in current dollars (table 330.10). Between 2004–05 and 2014–15, prices for undergraduate tuition, fees, room, and board at public institutions rose 33 percent, and prices at private nonprofit institutions rose 26 percent, after adjustment for inflation. Prices for total tuition, fees, room, and board at private for-profit institutions decreased 18 percent between 2004–05 and 2014–15.
The U.S. Census Bureau collects annual statistics on the educational attainment of the population. Between 2005 and 2015, the percentage of the adult population 25 years of age and over who had completed high school rose from 85 percent to 88 percent, and the percentage of adults with a bachelor's degree increased from 28 percent to 33 percent (table 104.10). High school completers include those people who graduated from high school with a diploma, as well as those who completed high school through equivalency programs. The percentage of young adults (25- to 29-year-olds) who had completed high school increased from 86 percent in 2005 to 91 percent in 2015 (table 104.20). The percentage of young adults who had completed a bachelor's degree increased from 29 percent in 2005 to 36 percent in 2015. During this same period, the percentage of 25- to 29-year-olds who had completed a master's degree increased from 6 to 9 percent.
The Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) assesses the cognitive skills of adults in three areas—literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments—that are seen as key to facilitating the social and economic participation of adults in advanced economies. The discussion below focuses on the areas of literacy and numeracy. PIAAC 2012 results are available for adults in 24 education systems, including 22 OECD education systems. The education systems that participated in the 2012 assessment were primarily countries, but also included three subnational education systems: Northern Ireland and England within the United Kingdom, and the Flemish community in Belgium. PIAAC literacy and numeracy scores are reported on a scale of 0 to 500.
In 2012, average scores on the PIAAC literacy scale for adults ages 25 to 65 ranged from 249 in Italy and 250 in Spain to 296 in Japan (table 604.10). U.S. 25- to 65-year-olds had an average PIAAC literacy score of 269, which was not measurably different from the OECD average score of 271. Across education systems, adults' average literacy scores generally increased with higher levels of educational attainment. In the United States, for example, 25- to 65-year-olds whose highest level of attainment was high school completion had an average literacy score of 259, compared with an average score of 302 for those who had a bachelor's or higher degree. The literacy score for U.S. high school completers in the 25- to 65-year-old age group was lower than the OECD average of 268 for high school completers in this age group, while the literacy score for U.S. 25- to 65-year-olds with a bachelor's or higher degree was not measurably different from the OECD average of 302 for those with a bachelor's or higher degree.
On the PIAAC numeracy scale, 2012 average scores for adults ages 25 to 65 ranged from 245 in Spain and 246 in Italy to 289 in Japan. U.S. 25- to 65-year-olds had an average PIAAC numeracy score of 254, which was lower than the OECD average score of 268. Across education systems, adults' average numeracy scores generally increased with higher levels of educational attainment. In the United States, for example, 25- to 65-year-olds whose highest level of attainment was high school completion had an average numeracy score of 241, compared with an average score of 293 for those who had a bachelor's or higher degree. The numeracy score for U.S. 25- to 65-year-olds who had completed only high school was lower than the OECD average of 265 for those with the same level of educational attainment. Likewise, the average numeracy score of U.S. 25- to 65-year-olds with a bachelor's or higher degree was lower than the OECD average of 303 for those with a bachelor's or higher degree.
Expenditures for public and private education, from prekindergarten through graduate school (excluding postsecondary schools not awarding associate's or higher degrees), were an estimated $1.2 trillion for 2014–15 (table 106.10). Expenditures of elementary and secondary schools totaled an estimated $696 billion, while those of degree-granting postsecondary institutions totaled an estimated $532 billion. Total expenditures for education were an estimated 7.1 percent of the gross domestic product in 2014–15. Education spending as a percentage of GDP increased from 7.1 in 2004–05 to 7.6 in 2009–10, but has declined since then.
1 Information on changes in GED test series and reporting is based on the 2003 edition of Who Passed the GED Tests?, by the GED Testing Service of the American Council on Education, as well as communication with staff of the GED Testing Service.