The purposes of the Private School Universe Survey (PSS) data collection activities are (1) to build an accurate and complete list of private schools to serve as a sampling frame for NCES sample surveys of private schools and (2) to report data on the total number of private schools, teachers, and students in the survey universe. Since its inception in 1989, the survey has been conducted every 2 years. Selected findings from the 2015–16 PSS are presented in the First Look report Characteristics of Private Schools in the United States: Results From the 2015–16 Private School Universe Survey (NCES 2017-073).
The PSS produces data similar to that of the Common Core of Data for public schools and can be used for public-private comparisons. The data are useful for a variety of policy- and research-relevant issues, such as the growth of religiously affiliated schools, the number of private high school graduates, the length of the school year for various private schools, and the number of private school students and teachers.
The target population for this universe survey is all private schools in the United States that meet the PSS criteria of a private school (i.e., the private school is an institution that provides instruction for any of grades K through 12, has one or more teachers to give instruction, is not administered by a public agency, and is not operated in a private home).
The survey universe is composed of schools identified from a variety of sources. The main source is a list frame initially developed for the 1989–90 PSS. The list is updated regularly by matching it with lists provided by nationwide private school associations, state departments of education, and other national guides and sources that list private schools. The other source is an area frame search in approximately 124 geographic areas, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Of the 40,302 schools included in the 2009–10 sample, 10,229 were found ineligible for the survey. Those not responding numbered 1,856, and those responding numbered 28,217. The unweighted response rate for the 2009–10 PSS survey was 93.8 percent.
Of the 39,325 schools included in the 2011–12 sample, 10,030 cases were considered as out-of-scope (not eligible for the PSS). A total of 26,983 private schools completed a PSS interview (15.8 percent completed online), while 2,312 schools refused to participate, resulting in an unweighted response rate of 92.1 percent.
There were 40,298 schools in the 2013–14 sample; of these, 10,659 were considered as out-of-scope (not eligible for the PSS). A total of 24,566 private schools completed a PSS interview (34.1 percent completed online), while 5,073 schools refused to participate, resulting in an unweighted response rate of 82.9 percent.
The 2015–16 PSS included 42,389 schools, of which 12,754 were considered as out-of-scope (not eligible for the PSS). A total of 22,428 private schools completed a PSS interview and 7,207 schools failed to respond, which resulted in an unweighted response rate of 75.7 percent.
Further information on the PSS may be obtained from
Cross-Sectional Surveys Branch
Sample Surveys Division
National Center for Education Statistics
550 12th Street SW
Washington, DC 20202