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NCES Statistical Analysis Report, September 2001: Overview of Public Elementary and Secondary Schools and Districts: School Year 1999-2000


NCES 2001-339R

This report summarizes information about public elementary and secondary schools and local education agencies in the United States during the 1999-2000 school year. The information is provided by state education agencies through the Common Core of Data (CCD) survey system.

Types of Public Schools and Agencies

States reported over 92,000 public elementary/secondary schools in the 1999-2000 school year1. This was an increase of almost 7 percent over the more than 86,000 schools reported 5 years earlier, in the fall of 19942. Most of these were regular schools, those that offer a comprehensive curriculum and may provide other programs and services as well. A smaller number of schools focused primarily on special education, vocational/technical education, or alternative programs. Students in these specialized schools were often enrolled in a regular school as well, and reported with the membership of that regular school (table A). (See Key Terms for more information about school types.)

Table A. Public Elementary and Secondary Schools in the United States: 1999-2000
Total schools in
United States 92,012 84,902 1,947 1,048 4,115
Reporting students 89,599 84,073 1,596 342 3,588
Not reporting students 2,413 829 351 706 527
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data, "Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe Survey," 1999-2000

Among the schools that reported students in membership, almost 94 percent were regular schools (table 1). The second largest category with student membership was that of alternative education schools (4 percent) followed by special education schools (about 2 percent). Note that roughly two-thirds of the vocational schools identified in table A, as well as smaller proportions of other types of schools, do not appear on table 1 because no students were reported in membership for these other schools.

In the 1998-99 school year, the CCD began reporting schools operated by the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the domestic Department of Defense Dependents' Schools as separate entries, and they are not included in the United States totals shown on the tables in this report. Some, but not all, of these BIA and Department of Defense schools previously were included in the states within whose boundaries they were located.

Most local education agencies are those that are typically thought of as "school districts." Operated by a local school board, they provide instructional services for students and comprised almost 89 percent of local agencies in 1999-2000 (table 2). A smaller proportion, about 8 percent, were supervisory unions or regional education service agencies whose major responsibility is to offer administrative, special program, testing, or other services to school districts. Finally, around 4 percent of the reported agencies were operated directly by a state or federal government or were other than any of the preceding categories. The number of regular school districts increased by 1 percent from the 14,772 reported in 1994 to a total of 14,928 in 1999-2000.

The governance of charter schools varies from state to state. In some cases they are not considered under the administration of the regular public school district within whose boundaries they operate, and are reported on the CCD with a separate education agency for each charter school. When this occurs the districts are reported under the category of "other education agency." For example, although not all states designate a separate agency for each charter school, in the District of Columbia the establishment of 27 charter schools explains why the District is shown with 28 local education agencies on table 2.

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Student Membership

In the1999-2000 school year, 89,599 public schools provided instruction to 46.9 million students in the United States (table1), an increase of less than 1 percent over the 46.5 million students in 1998 (table 1, Overview of Public Elementary Schools and Districts: School Year 1998-99). Five states (California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas) enrolled more than 2 million students in their public schools. At the other end of the size distribution, the District of Columbia and Wyoming reported fewer than 100,000 students.

Most of the 1999-2000 students, 98 percent, were reported enrolled in regular schools. Some1 percent were in alternative schools, and special education or vocational schools each accounted for less than 1 percent of students. Mississippi, New Hampshire, and North Dakota operated only regular schools.

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Instructional Level

Schools come in all combinations of grades. To allow comparisons across states, instructional level is determined in this report by the lowest and highest grade in a school. Among the 89,599 schools with membership during the 1999-2000 school year, 58 percent spanned the primary grades, beginning with prekindergarten or kindergarten and going no higher than grade 8 (table 3; see Key Terms for complete definitions of instructional levels). Middle schools, those with grade spans ranging from as low as grade 4 to as high as grade 9, made up almost 18 percent of schools with students. High schools (low grade of 7 or more, high grade of 12) were another 19 percent of schools. Some 5 percent of schools had a grade configuration that did not fit into any of these three categories.

A total of 14,571 regular school districts reported students in membership for 1999-2000 (table 4). As with schools, grade span categories were assigned by the lowest and highest grades offered. Approximately 73 percent of school districts included the range of grades from prekindergarten or kindergarten to 9 or higher, and they accounted for 92 percent of all public school students. (In fact, only in Arizona, Illinois, Montana, and Vermont did as many as one-third of the students attend school districts with other grade spans.) A little less than 6 percent of students were in districts going no higher than grade 8, and about 2 percent were in secondary districts with no grade lower than 7. Less than 1 percent of students were enrolled in districts with some other range of grades.

Tables A-6 and A-7 provide more details about the distribution of regular public school districts by grade span.

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School and School District Size

Primary schools tended to be smaller than middle and high schools (table 5). The average number of students in a primary school was 446 in 1999-2000. Middle schools served, on the average, 595 students each while the average sized high school had 752 students. There was considerable range in school size across the states. High schools ranged from an average of fewer than 300 students in Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota to 1,400 students or more in Florida and Hawaii.

Student/teacher ratios were higher in primary schools, which had a median number of 16.2 students for each teacher, than in high schools, with a median number of 14.8 students per teacher (table 6). (The median is the point at which one-half the schools had larger student/teacher ratios and half had smaller. Note also that student/teacher ratio is not the same as average class size, since not all teachers are assigned to a classroom.) The median number of primary students for each teacher ranged from a low of fewer than 13 in Nebraska, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming to a high of more than 20 in Kentucky and Utah.

Twenty-five school districts enrolled 100,000 or more students, while 1,809 districts served fewer than 150 students (table 7). While few in number, the larger districts included a considerable portion of the students in America's schools. Although under 2 percent of school districts reported 25,000 or more students, almost one-third (32 percent) of students attended school in these districts. At the other end of the size range, more than one-third of school districts had fewer than 600 students but these districts accounted for only 3 percent of public school enrollment.

Tables A-1 through A-5 provide more detailed information about the distribution of schools and school districts by membership size.

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Other School Characteristics

The majority of schools, 57 percent, were in large or midsize cities or their accompanying urban fringe areas (table 8). These schools accounted for more than two-thirds (69 percent) of all public school students. About one of every six students was in a large city school in 1999-2000; a smaller proportion, about one in 10, attended a rural school that was not within the fringes of an urban area.

Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia recognized charter schools in 1999-2000. Of this group, 30 reported the number of charter schools (table 9). The number ranged from a single charter school in Delaware, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Oregon to more than 200 in Arizona and California. In the District of Columbia, charter schools accounted for more than 8 percent of public school enrollment, more than double the proportion reported for any state. (Note that almost 9 percent of Puerto Rico's public school students were reported to be enrolled in charter schools.)

States were asked to identify magnet schools. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia reported that they did not have magnet schools, and 18 of those states with magnet schools were unable to identify them. Table 9 lists the number of magnet schools for the 17 states that reported this information. California and Illinois reported the greatest number of magnet schools, 473 and 350, respectively. Illinois serves about 12 percent of its students in magnet schools; in California the figure is about 9 percent.

Table 9 shows the number of Title I eligible schools by state, and the number of these that have school-wide Title I programs. Seven states did not identify which of their schools were eligible for Title I services. Of those that could provide this information, three-fourths or more of all public school students in Colorado, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Montana, and New Hampshire were in Title I eligible schools. Within the states identifying schools with school-wide Title I programs, more than half of the students were enrolled in these schools in the District of Columbia and Mississippi.

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Student Program Participation and Selected Characteristics

Nationally, over 12 percent of public school students had a Special Education Individual Education Program (IEP) in 1999-2000 (table 10). Among those states that did not under-report students with IEPs, the proportion ranged from over 10 percent in Colorado to almost 19 percent in New Mexico and Rhode Island.

Only 35 states and the District of Columbia reported the number of students receiving services for limited English proficiency (LEP). In California there were 1.4 million LEP service recipients (almost one-fourth of all students) in 1999-2000, while Texas reported more than half a million students receiving LEP services.

Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia provided information about the number of migrant students who received appropriate services during the 1998-99 school year or the following summer. Because a single migrant student may enroll in several schools during the year, this is a duplicated count of students. Therefore, table 10 cannot estimate the proportion of students who were migrants. The greatest number of migrant students served, more than 116,000, was reported by Texas although that state did not provide information about summer school programs. Florida had the second-highest enrollment of migrant students during the regular school year, more than 50,000 students.

All but four states reported the number of students eligible for free- or reduced-price meals. More than one-half of all students were eligible for this program in the District of Columbia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and New Mexico. The largest numbers of students eligible for free- or reduced-price meals were in California, with more than 2.8 million eligible students and Texas, with almost 1.8 million.

Table 11 shows the distribution of minority students across cities, urban fringe areas, and small towns or rural communities in 1999-2000. In some states the more urban districts were composed primarily of minority students. Three-fourths or more of students were minority group members in the large or mid-sized city schools of the District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York. Small town and rural schools tended to have smaller proportions of minority students, but this was not the case for all states. In the small town and rural schools of Hawaii, Mississippi, and New Mexico one-half or more of the students were minority group members.

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Technical Notes

The Public Education Agency Universe Surveys are annual state-level collections of information about the numbers and types of public schools and education agencies, the numbers and selected characteristics of students, and the numbers of dropouts, high school completers, and education staff. These two surveys also include directory information such as school and agency names, addresses, and telephone numbers. The School and Agency Surveys are part of the Common Core of Data (CCD) collection of the National Center for Education Statistics. All of the CCD surveys use information reported by state education agencies.

Enrollments. Because some students may receive a public education outside a local school district or school (for example, may attend a state-operated residential school), the numbers of students reported on the CCD school or local education agency surveys are not used as the official state totals in CCD publications. The total numbers of students shown in tables 1 and 11 of this publication are those reported on the State Nonfiscal Survey of Public Elementary/Secondary Education. However, the percentages of students shown in any of the tables are based on the School or Agency Survey.

A student cannot be reported in the membership counts of more than a single school on the CCD. Students who are dually enrolled in a regular school and a vocational school, for example, can only be reported among the membership of one of these schools. It should be noted that this report excludes a disproportionately high number of vocational schools for which enrollment presumably is attributed to a regular school.

It should be noted that the 1998-99 school year change to reporting Bureau of Indian Affairs and Department of Defense domestic schools as separate entities had little effect on the numbers of students reported for the states in which these schools previously had been reported. In the past, states generally did not report statistical data for these schools.

Missing data. Not all states collect and report all of the data items requested on the CCD surveys. NCES imputes (replaces a nonresponse with a plausible value) some missing items on the State Nonfiscal Survey. Imputations are not used with the School and Agency Surveys. When information is missing for one or more states, NCES does not calculate United States totals. (A state is considered to have missing data if an item is reported by less than 70 percent of the schools or agencies.) For example, table 11 reports the number of minority students nation wide because all states report these data on the State Nonfiscal Survey; national distributions by community type are not shown because Idaho and Tennessee do not report racial/ethnic data on the School survey that contains community type (locale) information.

Data quality. Staff at NCES and its collection agent, the Bureau of the Census, edit all CCD reports and ask state CCD Coordinators to correct or confirm any numbers that appear out of range when compared with other states or with the state's reports in previous years. Tables include footnote explanations for some seemingly anomalous numbers.

Additional follow-up checks were carried out for several items. States were asked to reconfirm any missing or not applicable data for Title I schools; magnet schools; charter schools; free-lunch eligible students; and students receiving migrant or limited English proficient services. Among the 46 states that were contacted, the state CCD coordinator or staff responded from all states except Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Utah, and Washington.

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Key Terms

A public school provides educational services to students, has an assigned administrator, receives public funds as its primary support, and is operated by an education agency. A single school may operate at multiple locations (for example, an urban "storefront school" for potential dropouts with a single principal responsible for programs at several addresses). And, two schools may operate at the same location, as is the case when a kindergarten-grade 12 facility has both an elementary and a high school principal. Except in table A, this report excluded 2,499 schools (10 of these were in the outlying areas) that did not report any students in membership for the 1999-2000 school year.

Regular schools do not focus primarily on special, vocational, or alternative education, although they may offer these programs in addition to the regular curriculum. A special education school focuses primarily on special education, with materials and instructional approaches adapted to meet the students' needs. A vocational education school focuses primarily on vocational, technical or career education and provides education or training in at least one semiskilled or technical occupation. An alternative education school addresses the needs of students that typically cannot be met in the regular school setting, and provides nontraditional education.

Title I schools
are designated as eligible for participation in programs authorized by Title I of Public Law 103-382. Those with school-wide programs are schools in which all students have been designated by state and federal regulations as eligible for participation in Title I programs.

Magnet schools are those designed to attract students of different racial/ethnic backgrounds for the purpose of reducing racial isolation, or to provide an academic or social focus on a specific theme (e.g., performing arts).

Charter schools provide free public elementary/secondary education under a charter granted by the state legislature or other appropriate authority.

Membership is the annual headcount of students enrolled in school on October 1, or the school day closest to that date. In any given year, some small schools will not have any pupils. And, in reporting to the CCD, states assign students who attend more than one school to a single school rather than prorating students across all the schools they attend.

Instructional levels are calculated from the lowest and highest grades for which students are reported in a school. Primary schools are those with a low grade of prekindergarten through grade 3 and a high grade of up to 8. Middle schools contain a low grade of 4 to 7 and a high grade ranging from 4 to 9. (A 4th grade center would be counted as a middle school.) High schools have a low grade of 7 to 12 and must extend through grade 12. All other grade configurations, including schools that are completely ungraded, are grouped under the heading of "other."

IEP counts are reported at the school district level and reflect the numbers of students with individualized education programs under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)- Part B.

Free meal (lunch) eligibility is the number of students in a school who indicate that they are eligible to receive free meals under the National School Lunch Act. Beginning with the 1998-99 school year, states were asked to report both the numbers of students eligible for free meals and for reduced-price meals. Table 10 notes which states did not report students who were eligible for reduced-price meals.

Migrant students are those whose parents or guardians are employed on a seasonal or temporary basis for agricultural or fishery work, and who have established a temporary residence for this purpose.

The race/ethnicity categories used in the CCD are American Indian/Alaskan native; Asian/Pacific islander; black, not Hispanic; Hispanic; and white, not Hispanic. They are mutually exclusive. Minority students, in this report, include all categories except white, not Hispanic.

School locale code is assigned on the basis of the school's physical address, or mailing address, if the former is not reported. The locale code categories are:

  • Large city-central city of a metropolitan statistical area (MSA) or consolidated MSA (CMSA), with a population of at least 250,000.
  • Midsize city-central city of an MSA or CMSA, with a population less than 250,000.
  • Urban fringe of a large city-any incorporated place, Census-designated place (CDP), or non-place territory within a CMSA or MSA of a large city and defined as urban by the U.S. Bureau of the Census.
  • Urban fringe of a midsize city-any incorporated place, CDP, or non-place within a CMSA or MSA of a midsize central city and defined as urban by the U.S. Bureau of the Census.
  • Large town-an incorporated place or CDP with a population of at least 25,000 and located outside a CMSA or MSA.
  • Small town-an incorporated place or CDP with a population between 2,500 and 24,999 and located outside a CMSA or MSA.
  • Rural-any incorporated place, CDP, or non-place territory designated as rural by the U.S. Bureau of the Census; excludes places that are within an MSA.
  • Rural Urban Fringe-any place meeting the definition for rural that is within an MSA.

Regular school districts are agencies responsible for providing free public education for school-age children residing within their jurisdiction. This category excludes local supervisory unions that provide management services for a group of associated school districts, although it includes the "component" districts that receive these services. The category also excludes regional education service agencies that typically provide school districts with research, testing, or data processing services; state and federally operated school districts; and other agencies that do not fall into these groupings. Most states reported education agencies that administered only charter schools under this last category. There were 1,865 agencies not considered regular school districts in 1999-2000; 905 of these reported students and 960 did not. This report also excluded 357 regular school districts that did not report any students in membership for the 1999-2000 school year, a condition that can occur when a small district has no pupils or contracts with another district to educate the students under its jurisdiction.

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More information

For further information about this report or related publications and data sets, contact Lena McDowell at 202-502-7396 or by electronic mail at More NCES publications are available at http://


This paper was improved by the suggestions of the reviewers, Michael Cox of the West Virginia Department of Education; Ron Danforth of the New York State Department of Education; and Ed Strozyk of the Washington State Department of Education. Charlene Hoffman and Frank Morgan of NCES also served as reviewers, while Leslie Scott of the Education Statistical Services Institute provided valuable technical guidance. The adjudication was chaired by Karen O'Conor, NCES, whose careful review was much appreciated. Beth Young of NCES ensured the quality of the information and the analyses. The tables were prepared by Julia Naum of the U.S. Bureau of the Census and the final document was formatted by Carol Rohr, Pinkerton Computer Consultants, Inc.

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1 Although the outlying areas, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DoDDS) are included in the tables, national totals are limited to the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
2 All comparisons with 1994 are based on table 90 in the Digest of Education Statistics 1999 (NCES 2000-031).

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