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What is EDGE?

The NCES Education Demographic and Geographic Estimates (EDGE) program designs and develops information resources to help understand the social and spatial context of education in the U.S. It uses data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to create custom indicators of social, economic, and housing conditions for school-age children and their parents. It also uses spatial data collected by NCES and the Census Bureau to create geographic locale indicators, school point locations, school district boundaries, and other types of data to support spatial analysis.

Why are demographic, geographic, and economic data important?

The population of school-age children in the U.S. is remarkably diverse, and differences in demographic and economic conditions are often associated with differences in educational opportunities and outcomes. As a result, it is important to understand potential socioeconomic differences when comparing educational conditions across students, schools, and school districts. Some types of educational issues can be assessed through nationally representative surveys. However, elementary and secondary education in the U.S. is primarily managed at the local level, and the socioeconomic conditions of local communities may be quite different from average conditions for the entire U.S. Therefore, NCES not only measures conditions at the national level, it uses two primary programs to measure conditions at the local level as well. The NCES Common Core of Data (CCD) provides information about school and school district administrative and fiscal characteristics, while the NCES EDGE program provides information about school and school district demographic, economic, and geographic characteristics.

What is educational geography?

The field of educational geography considers how location, space, and place influence the inputs, administration, and outcomes of education. It also attends to features like school locations, school district boundaries, school attendance zones, and other types of locations and areas used to organize and operate school systems. Geography has always played an important role in public access to education in the U.S. The General Land Ordinance of 1785, expanded by the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, required territories that wanted to become states to set aside the 16th section of every new township for the support of public education. Additional sections were added to later states until the total acreage reserved as education land grants was about the size of Colorado. Geography continues to play an important role in the way school systems are organized and the ways children and parents experience education. Demographic and economic conditions are equally important, but these characteristics often vary by location. As a result, educational geography begins by asking Where, and then considers Who, What, Why, and How.

What is NCES’s strategy for geospatial data?

The NCES Education Demographic and Geographic Estimates (EDGE) Program uses a five-part strategy to oversee geospatial activities. First, we focus on developing, updating, and maintaining core data sources needed to support statutory programs and general analysis. These include school locations, school district boundaries, community locale boundaries, and other supplemental sources. Second, we focus on making these data easily available through static downloads and through data web services. This allows data users to easily integrate NCES geospatial data with other types of data sources. We also include metadata in open data platforms and common data catalogues like Data.Gov to make the data easier to find. Third, we incorporate and rely on existing authoritative data and definitions as part of development and review processes. For example, NCES collaborates with the U.S. Census Bureau to update school district boundaries, and NCES locale boundaries rely on standard urban definitions established by the Census Bureau and shared by other federal agencies. We also rely on well-established metadata formats, geographic coordinate systems, and other standards to support broad compatibility with geospatial technologies and other common data sources. Fourth, we develop and provide analytic tools to help explore and understand the data. These tools incorporate multiple data sources to help users understand the broader analytic context. Fifth, we develop demographic and economic data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) to help data users understand the social context of spatial data.

Does EDGE work with the U.S. Census Bureau?

The U.S. Census Bureau is the largest statistical agency in the federal statistical system, and it conducts regular surveys and censuses to measure social, economic, and geographic conditions throughout the U.S. NCES is a much smaller statistical agency, so it collaborates with the Census Bureau and uses existing survey and census data to help measure social and economic conditions facing local school systems. NCES initially worked with the Census Bureau in 1990 to collect a comprehensive set of school district boundaries and used them to create a custom set of school district characteristics from the 1990 decennial census. That effort resulted in additional collaboration in the mid-1990s to create annually updated school district poverty estimates for the Department of Education’s Title I program. NCES worked with the Census Bureau again to create school district characteristics from the 2000 decennial census and began producing annually updated school district demographic and economic characteristics from the American Community Survey (ACS) when it was introduced in 2005. In addition to helping NCES produce updated school district boundaries and demographic characteristics, NCES also relies on the Census Bureau’s definitions of urban and rural to help create locale indicators that identify the type of geographic area where schools and school districts are located. The Census Bureau shares NCES’s interest in developing data for school districts and school-age children, and it includes district characteristics in many standard Census data products. It also uses school district boundaries to help with ACS sampling operations.

Staff Contact

For questions regarding EDGE data, please send an email to