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Private School Universe Survey (PSS)


With increasing concern about alternatives in education, the interest and need for data on private education has also increased. NCES has made the collection of data on private elementary and secondary schools a priority.

The purposes of this data collection activity are; a) to generate biennial data on the total number of private schools, teachers, and students; and b) to build an accurate and complete list of private schools to serve as a sampling frame for NCES surveys of private schools. The PSS began with the 1989-90 school year and has been conducted every two years since.


The target population for the survey consists of all private schools in the U.S. that meet the NCES definition (i.e., a private school is not supported primarily by public funds, provides classroom instruction for one or more of grades K-12 or comparable ungraded levels, and has one or more teachers. Organizations or institutions that provide support for home schooling without offering classroom instruction for students are not included.). The survey universe is composed of schools from several sources. The main source is a list frame, initially developed for the 1989-90 survey. The list is updated periodically by matching it with lists provided by nationwide private school associations, state departments of education, and other national private school guides and sources. Additionally, an area frame search is conducted by the Bureau of the Census.


The PSS consists of a single survey that is completed by administrative personnel in private schools. Information collected includes: religious orientation; level of school; size of school; length of school year, length of school day; total enrollment (K-12); number of high school graduates, whether a school is single-sexed or coeducational and enrollment by sex; number of teachers employed; program emphasis; existence and type of kindergarten program.

Policy and Research Issues

The Private School Survey produces data similar to that of the NCES Common Core of Data (CCD) for the public schools. The data are useful for a variety of policy- and research-relevant issues, such as the growth of religiously-affiliated schools, the length of the school year, the number of private high school graduates, and the number of private school students and teachers.