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Education Statistics Quarterly
Vol 2, Issue 4, Topic: Methodology
National Household Education Survey of 1999: Methodology Report
By: Mary Jo Nolin, Jill Montaquila, Patricia Nicchitta, Kwang Kim, Brian Kleiner, Jean Lennon, Christopher Chapman, Sean Creighton, and Stacey Bielick
This article was originally published as the Introduction of the technical report of the same name. The sample survey data are from the NCES National Household Education Survey (NHES).


The National Household Education Survey (NHES) is a household survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The survey is a random-digit-dial (RDD), computer-assisted telephone interview (CATI) and has been conducted in the spring of 1991, 1993, 1995, 1996, and 1999.

NHES complements other NCES surveys, which primarily collect data through institutional surveys. By collecting data directly from households, NHES allows NCES to gather data on issues that cannot easily be addressed through institution-based surveys, such as early education and care arrangements, children's readiness for school, parents' perceptions of school safety and discipline, participation in adult and continuing education, parents' involvement in their children's education, and civic involvement.

NHES collects information on education issues from a relatively large, targeted sample of households in a timely fashion. It fills a need that existing household surveys, such as the Current Population Survey (CPS) and the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), cannot satisfy because they are designed to focus primarily on issues other than education. In these other survey systems, data on education issues are usually collected through supplements to the main household survey. These supplemental surveys have not provided NCES with the level of detail needed for desired analyses.

NHES provides data on the populations of special interest to NCES and education researchers. It targets these groups using specific screening and sampling procedures. The survey instruments are designed to address the selected issues in sufficient detail so that analyses can be performed to help explain the phenomena of interest. Furthermore, the data collection methodology is specifically designed so that relatively complex questionnaires can be handled smoothly and efficiently.

One of the major goals of NHES is to monitor education activities over time. To accomplish this goal, the survey collects data on the same topics on a rotating basis. For example, NHES collected data on early childhood education in 1991, 1993, 1995, and 1999. Occasionally, topics that are not intended to be studied more than once, such as school safety and discipline, are also included in NHES.

The purpose of NHES:1999 was somewhat different than that of previous NHES surveys. Throughout the early and mid-1990s, each NHES has included two survey components (except NHES:1996, when three components were fielded), each addressing a certain topic in depth. In contrast, the focus of NHES:1999 was to collect a breadth of information on education topics previously addressed in NHES. NHES:1999 collected data on key indicators that had been measured in previous NHES survey cycles in order to provide the U.S. Department of Education with end-of-decade estimates for several important issues. Thus, virtually all of the items included in the NHES:1999 questionnaires have been administered in at least one previous NHES component.

Previous NHES Survey Topics

The survey topics included in NHES:1991, NHES:1993, NHES:1995, and NHES:1996 are discussed below.

NHES:1991 survey topics

The survey topics for NHES:1991 were early childhood education and participation in adult education. The sampled population for the "Early Childhood Education" (ECE) component of NHES:1991 was 3- to 8-year-old children who were not yet in third grade. There were two different interviews for the ECE component: one for parents of children who had not yet started first grade (called the "Preprimary Interview") and one for parents of children who were enrolled in first grade or higher (called the "Primary School Interview"). The "Preprimary Interview" collected information on children's receipt of nonparental home-based child care (such as in the home of a relative or a family day care provider) and participation in center-based programs (such as day care centers, nursery schools, prekindergartens, and Head Start programs where children receive early childhood care and education). Parents of preprimary children were also asked questions concerning actual or planned entry into kindergarten and decisions to delay entry. The "Primary School Interview" focused on children's in-school experiences to date and collected some historical data on education experiences prior to first grade. Issues such as entry into kindergarten and first grade, parental involvement in children's education, and retention in kindergarten and primary grades were included in this instrument. A few items concerning the home environment and activities with family members were included for both groups of children.

The "Adult Education" (AE) component provided information about persons age 16 and older and not enrolled in elementary or secondary school and their participation in a wide array of adult education activities. The design of this component was based in part on the CPS supplement on adult education, supported by NCES and previously conducted in 1984. The findings provided important information related to the National Education Goals concerning adult literacy, ongoing training to compete in a global economy, and lifelong learning for adults. Information was collected on the number and types of courses in which adults had participated in the previous 12 months, including, for the four most recent courses, the course content, provider, location, sources of payment, and reason for taking the course. Unlike CPS, the NHES AE component was administered to a sample of nonparticipants as well, and focused on the perceived need for adult education courses, their availability, and barriers to participation.

NHES:1993 survey topics

NHES:1993 addressed two of the six National Education Goals, specifically, Goal 1 (readiness for school) and Goal 7 (safe, disciplined, and drug-free schools).

The "School Readiness" component of NHES:1993 was administered to parents of children age 3 through second grade (and age 7 or younger) and examined several relevant domains. It covered experiences in early childhood programs, children's developmental accomplishments and difficulties, school adjustment and related problems, delayed kindergarten entry, early primary school experiences including repeated grades, children's general health and nutrition status, home activities, and family characteristics, including stability and economic risk factors. The intent of collecting such data was to allow a "whole child" approach to studying school readiness. Because no existing national survey provided this broad approach to the readiness of children for school, the "School Readiness" component of NHES:1993 fulfilled an important information need relative to this first National Education Goal.

The second component of NHES:1993, the "School Safety and Discipline" component, included interviews with parents of children enrolled in 3rd through 12th grade, as well as with a subsample of their children enrolled in 6th through 12th grade. This component addressed parent and youth perceptions of the school learning environment; serious behavior problems or crime at school that parents and youth knew about, had witnessed, or through which students had been victimized; parents' and students' perceptions of peer approval for using alcohol and drugs and of the availability of alcohol and drugs at school; and the kinds of alcohol/drug education provided by the school. The component also addressed parents' contributions to their children's learning environment through questions about parental expectations for academic achievement and good behavior at school, parental efforts to educate and protect their children, and parental involvement in the school.

NHES:1995 survey topics

NHES:1995 addressed the same two topics as NHES:1991, with some modifications. The "Early Childhood Program Participation" (ECPP) component dealt with issues related to Goal 1 (readiness for school), and the AE component dealt with issues related to Goal 6 (adult literacy and lifelong learning).

The ECPP component of NHES:1995 was administered to parents of children from birth through third grade and focused on children's early experiences in various types of nonparental care arrangements and educational programs. The age range for the subjects of data collection was expanded from previous NHES early childhood components to include infants and toddlers. The core of this survey component collected extensive information on children's participation and experiences in four different types of nonparental care arrangements and early childhood programs: care by relatives, care by nonrelatives, Head Start programs, and other center-based programs. The series of questionnaire items pertaining to each of these types of care arrangements or programs gathered detailed information on the extent of children's current and past participation, arrangement/program location and quality, care/program provider characteristics, the amount of time children spend in arrangements or programs, and the financial cost of these care arrangements or programs to the children's household. The items included in these sections on nonparental care/education arrangements provided information on three important domains: exposure, access, and quality. Other information collected in this component included children's kindergarten and primary school experiences, personal and household demographic characteristics, parent/guardian characteristics, literacy-related home activities, and children's health and disability status.

The AE component of NHES:1995 focused on the participation of adults (age 16 and older and not enrolled in grade 12 or below) in a wide range of education activities during the past 12 months. Respondents were asked about their participation in seven broadly defined types of adult education activities: adult basic skills and General Educational Development (GED) preparation classes, English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction, credential programs, apprenticeship programs, career- or job-related activities, other formal structured activities, and computer-only or video-only instruction on the job. Respondents who had participated in any of these types of adult education were asked why they participated, the number of days per week and hours per day they attended courses, the provider of the instruction, and whether employer or union support was received. The NHES:1995 AE component also collected information pertaining to three important issues explored in research on participation in adult education: participation rates, motivations for participation, and barriers to participation.

NHES:1996 survey topics

NHES:1996 included both a parent and a youth survey, each addressing the topics of "Parent/Family Involvement in Education" (PFI) and "Civic Involvement" (CI). In addition, a brief survey of only CI items was administered to a small random sample of adults. The PFI component of NHES:1996 addressed National Education Goal 1 (readiness for school) and Goal 8 (parent participation). The CI component of NHES:1996 focused on aspects of Goal 3 (student achievement and citizenship) and Goal 6 (adult literacy and lifelong learning) by assessing knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors that are related to responsible citizenship for adults and youth.

The sampled population for the PFI/CI "Parent Interview" of NHES:1996 included children from age 3 through 12th grade. Topics addressed for the preschool population were attendance at center-based care (including Head Start), feedback from teachers or care providers about problems children may be having in preschool or child care, home learning activities, child disability, and support and training received for parenting. For the kindergarten through 12th- grade population, the "Parent Interview" collected information from parents on family involvement in the following four areas: children's schooling, communication with teachers or other school personnel, children's homework and behavior, and learning activities with children outside of school. In addition, questions were asked about school practices to involve and support families, the school environment, and barriers to family involvement. Information was also collected about potential correlates of family involvement, such as student grades, attendance, grade retention, suspension/expulsion, and characteristics of the child's school or preschool, the child, the family, and the household.

The second component of NHES:1996, the CI component, provided an assessment of the opportunities that youth have to develop the personal responsibility and skills that would facilitate their taking an active role in civic life. The CI component gathered information from both parents and youth related to the diverse ways that parents may socialize their children for informed civic participation, such as through exposure to information about politics or national issues, through discussion of politics and national issues, and by the example of parents who participate in community or civic life. The survey component also asked parents and youth about attitudes that relate to democratic values and civic participation and included a brief assessment of knowledge about government. Students in grades 6 through 12 whose parents had completed a PFI/CI "Parent Interview" were asked about involvement in several types of activities, particularly student government, out-of-school activities, and work for pay. A major focus was on participation in ongoing community service activities, either through the school, through other organizations such as a church or synagogue, or on an individual basis. Other questions assessed the extent of school efforts to support youth community involvement. Students were asked about their opportunity to learn at school about government and national issues and to learn skills that could be transferred to the area of civic involvement.

In order to provide national estimates for all adults, not just parents of students in 6th through 12th grade, some civic involvement items were administered to a small random sample of adults. This sample contained some parents, including parents of students in 6th through 12th grade. The items measured sources of information about politics and national issues, organizational participation, civic participation, political attitudes, and knowledge of government. Included were a few items related to literacy activities and opinions about improving public education.

NHES:1996 also included a brief topical component to examine public library use by household members. This component was administered to every household, either in the screening interview (referred to as the screener) or an extended interview. The questions included the ways in which household members used public libraries (e.g., for borrowing books, lectures, story hour) and the purposes for using public libraries (e.g., for school assignments, enjoyment, work-related projects). Estimates for these items can be developed at the state level.

NHES:1999 Instruments

There were two types of instruments in NHES:1999: the screener and the extended interviews. The NHES:1999 screener was used to identify eligible households, roster household members as needed for sampling, and sample subjects for extended interviews. It was completed by a household member age 18 or older. This person may or may not have been sampled for an extended interview. The screener was also used to identify the appropriate parent respondents for children selected as interview subjects; that is, the parents or guardians identified as being the most knowledgeable about the child's care and education.

NHES:1999 included four types of extended interviews: a "Parent Interview," a "Youth Interview," an "Adult Education Interview," and an "Adult Special Study Interview." As mentioned above, interviews collected information on several key education topics that have been addressed in NHES over the past decade. In order to choose items for the NHES:1999 extended interviews from the multitude of questions that have been asked in NHES over the decade, several considerations were weighed against each other. These included identifying the items that were consistently used in published estimates by the U.S. Department of Education or other education researchers, evaluating the data needs for measuring the Department's Strategic Plan indicators,* consulting with NHES data users and education researchers about issues they considered important to measure at the end of the decade, and evaluating the content of other studies that could potentially overlap the content of NHES:1999.

The design of the NHES:1999 interviews reflects the information gleaned from all these sources to define key issues for inclusion in NHES:1999. Also responding to the needs of researchers who use NHES data, an "Adult Special Study Interview" was included as part of the design of NHES:1999. This instrument was similar to the "Adult Education Interview" but contained additional items to address specific methodological issues. It was administered to a small sample of adults.

NHES:1999 "Parent Interview"

As outlined above, NHES has interviewed parents about a variety of education topics, each appropriate for certain age groups of children. To cover the breadth of these topics, the NHES:1999 "Parent Interview" targeted parents with children ranging from newborns to those in 12th grade. As a result, the NHES:1999 "Parent Interview" had six "paths," or sets of questions, appropriate for parents of six subgroups of children: infants and toddlers (children age 2 and younger), preschoolers (children ages 3 through 6 years old and not yet in kindergarten), elementary school students (children in kindergarten through 5th grade), middle or junior high school students (youth in 6th through 8th grade), secondary or high school students (youth in 9th through 12th grade), and children age 5 through 12th grade who were receiving home schooling.

The general topic areas covered in the NHES:1999 "Parent Interview" are listed in table 1. Because not all of these topics are appropriate for each population of children, table 1 is designed to indicate which topics were covered with which populations.

NHES:1999 "Youth Interview"

NHES:1999 "Youth Interview" was administered to youth in 6th through 12th grade. It was designed to cover the topics from the previous NHES:1996 youth component on civic involvement as well as items on school environment from NHES:1993 and new items on planning for college. The topics covered in the NHES:1999 "Youth Interview" are as follows:

  • school learning environment;
  • family learning environment;
  • plans for future education;
  • participation in activities that promote or indicate personal responsibility;
  • participation in community service or volunteer activities;
  • exposure to information about politics and national issues;
  • political attitudes and knowledge;
  • skills related to civic participation; and
  • type and purpose of community service.
The "Youth Interview" included a special section of items about community service participation not fielded in NHES:1996. These additional questions, designed in response to specific requests from the research community, were administered to a subsample of youth who reported participation in community service. The items measured type and sponsor of the service activity and are designed to assist researchers in categorizing types and purposes of participation.

Table 1.-NHES:1999 Parent Interview: Distribution of topics by population

Table 1.-NHES:1999 Parent Interview: Distribution of topics by population

1 Center-based programs include day care centers, nursery schools, preschools, and prekindergartens.

2 These sections were administered if the home-schooled student attended a school for instruction at least 9 hours per week.

NOTE: The path designations are as follows: I for infants and toddlers (children age 2 and younger); N for preschoolers (children ages 3 through 6 years old and not yet in kindergarten); E for elementary school students (children in kindergarten through 5th grade); M for middle or junior high school students (youth in 6th through 8th grade); S for secondary or high school students (youth in 9th through 12th grade); and H for children age 5 through 12th grade who were receiving home schooling.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Household Education Survey (NHES), 1999. (Originally published as table 1-1 on p. 8 of the complete report from which this article is excerpted.)

NHES:1999 "Adult Education Interview"

Participation in adult education activities has been the primary topic of interest in NHES surveys of adults over the decade, addressed in both NHES:1991 and NHES:1995. This focus was reflected in the design of the NHES:1999 "Adult Education Interview"; however, a few questions on other topics identified as important to measure at the end of the decade, such as the U.S. Department of Education's Strategic Plan topics, were also included. The topics included in the NHES:1999 "Adult Education Interview" are listed below:

  • educational background and work experience;
  • participation in several types of adult education;
    • English as a Second Language
    • basic skills and GED preparation courses
    • courses as part of credential programs
    • apprenticeship programs
    • career- or job-related courses
    • personal interest and development courses
  • participation in education activities through distance learning;
  • other general information about education activities (e.g., use of Lifetime Learning tax credit);
  • literacy activities;
  • community involvement;
  • adult demographic characteristics; and
  • household characteristics.
NHES:1999 "Adult Special Study Interview"

This interview was very similar to the "Adult Education Interview." It differed only in that it contained additional questions to explore certain methodological issues. These follow-up questions were included to improve the recall of work-related and personal development education activities. If these new follow-up questions contribute to a more accurate measure of adult education participation, differences in participation rates gathered by this instrument and by the "Adult Education Interview" will provide a crosswalk should the new items become part of future NHES designs. The difference in estimates will enable researchers to gauge what percentage of higher estimates might be attributable to better measures rather than to increased rates of participation, and therefore preserve comparability with estimates from NHES:1991 and NHES:1995. Also, race and ethnicity were measured by two sets of items, the items used in past NHES surveys and in the regular NHES:1999 "Adult Education Interview," and the items recently developed by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The two sets of questions differ on two attributes: the question order and the capture of information on multiracial persons.

In the set of items traditionally used in NHES, the Hispanic origin question is administered after the race question, whereas in the OMB version, the Hispanic origin question precedes the race question. In the OMB version, the respondent is asked to choose all races that apply; in the standard NHES version, "more than one race/biracial/multiracial" is given as a response category. Self-identification of race and ethnicity in response to the two sets of questions can be compared. Finally, there is interest in the effect of various telephone technologies on RDD surveys. Questions in the "Adult Special Study Interview" about the use of technologies such as answering machines and caller ID permit exploration of this issue. A forthcoming working paper will describe the results of the "Adult Special Study Interview."

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*The U.S. Department of Education's Strategic Plan of 1998-2002 outlines priorities that the Department has established to help focus its efforts on improvement of education. As part of the design process for NHES:1999, Strategic Plan Objectives and their indicators were reviewed to discover which might appropriately be measured by data that NHES could provide.

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Data source: The NCES National Household Education Survey (NHES), 1999.

For technical information, see the complete report:

Nolin, M.J., Montaquila, J., Nicchitta, P., Kim, K., Kleiner, B., Lennon, J., Chapman, C., Creighton, S., and Bielick, S. (2000). National Household Education Survey of 1999: Methodology Report (NCES 2000-078).

Author affiliations: M.J. Nolin, J. Montaquila, P. Nicchitta, K. Kim, B. Kleiner, and J. Lennon, Westat; C. Chapman, NCES; S. Creighton and S. Bielick, Education Statistics Services Institute (ESSI).

For questions about content, contact Chris Chapman (

To obtain the complete report (NCES 2000-078), call the toll-free ED Pubs number (877-433-7827), visit the NCES Web Site (, or contact GPO (202-512-1800).

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