Skip Navigation
small NCES header image

Stuart Kerachsky
Acting Commissioner, National Center for Education Statistics

Briefing on The Condition of Education 2009
May 28, 2009

Good morning, it is my pleasure to brief you today on The Condition of Education 2009.  Let's begin with some background about the report.

The Condition of Education is a congressionally mandated report produced by the National Center for Education Statistics that brings together new and recently released information from our statistical surveys. This annual report allows us to take a big-picture look at the condition of American education. Many of the findings we discuss focus on national or regional trends, although some of the indicators in the report feature state-level data as well.

Let me provide a brief overview of some of the key findings in the report: we see some improvements, such as higher math and reading scores for younger students, but challenges remain in educating a growing and increasingly diverse population. While greater numbers of individuals are enrolling in college and more bachelor's degrees are being awarded, the percentages of students enrolling in college and earning credentials over the past decade have increased slightly or remained flat. In addition, gaps in achievement and completion rates between various student populations persist.

This year's publication includes 46 indicators, but over 100 indicators, including those from prior years, are available online. These indicators are grouped into five general sections.

  • The section on Participation in Education presents enrollment and demographic trends from prekindergarten through postsecondary education.
  • The section on Learner Outcomes includes student achievement data from national and international assessments, as well as information on social and economic outcomes. 
  • The section on Student Effort and Educational Progress presents information on student persistence and attainment through secondary and postsecondary education.
  • The final two sections of the report describe the context of education, including costs, staffing, and the social climate at the elementary, secondary and postsecondary levels.

Today, I will highlight a selection of indicators focusing on student participation, performance, and outcomes. Let's begin with the section on participation in education. 

  • As we see here, total public school enrollment has increased since the late 1980s. Total enrollment is projected to reach nearly 50 million students this year and to continue to grow to nearly 54 million students in 2018.
  • Looking at the next line on the graph, enrollment through grade 8 is projected to increase to nearly 35 million students this year and to reach just over 38 million by 2018.
  • Now, looking at the bottom line, enrollment in grades 9 through 12 is projected to dip slightly to just over 14 and a half million in 2011 before increasing to a high of nearly 16 million in 2018. This projected increase will occur as the growing population of younger students reaches high school age.

Turning to private school enrollment...

  • Between 1995 and 2007, about 6 million or 11 percent of all elementary and secondary school students were enrolled in private schools.
  • Private school enrollment increased from 5.9 to 6.3 million students between 1995 and 2001, but by 2007, enrollment had declined to the 1995 level.
  • Looking at the distribution of enrollment across private schools, in 2007, Catholic schools continued to have the largest percentage of total enrollment at 39 percent, although this percentage is down from 45 percent in 1995.

Homeschooling is another form of school choice and one that has been increasing over time...

  • In 2007, about 1.5 million, or 2.9 percent of all school-aged children in the United States were homeschooled.
  • This number has increased from 850,000 in 1999 and 1.1 million in 2003.
  • In 2007, 36 percent of parents of homeschooled children cited a desire to provide religious or moral instruction as the most important reason for homeschooling their child, followed by 21 percent who cited concerns about school environments, and 17 percent who were dissatisfied with academic instruction.

The next four indicators feature student diversity and change in the composition of our public schools.

Examining the distribution of public school students by race/ethnicity, we see that the percentage of public school students who were White decreased from 78 percent in 1972 to 56 percent in 2007.
This decrease in the proportion of White enrollment largely reflects an increase in the percentage of Hispanic students. In 2007, 21 percent or one in five public school students was Hispanic. Black students made up 15 percent of enrollment in 2007, while students of other races comprised 8 percent of enrollment.
Looking at regional differences, the increase in Hispanic enrollment, denoted by the green area, has been the largest in the West, shown on the far right side of this chart. The percentage in the West has gone from 15 to 39 percent during this period.

Next, we look at the concentration of students in high-poverty public schools. A high-poverty school is defined here as having more than 75 percent of the students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

  • Overall, about 16 percent, or 7.7 million public school students were enrolled in high-poverty schools in 2007.
  • About a quarter of American Indian and a third of Black and Hispanic students were enrolled in these schools, compared with 4 percent of White students.

Changes in the home language of school-age children reflect the changing composition of our public schools. According to household reports...
...the percentage of children ages 5-17 who spoke a language other than English at home is up to 20 percent, having doubled between 1979 and 2007. In the more recent period of 2000 to 2007, there was a smaller increase in this percentage, from 18 to the current 20 percent.

  • The bottom line shows that the percentage of children who spoke English with difficulty has fluctuated between 5 and 6 percent since the early 1990s.
  • The percentages of children who spoke English with difficulty varied across states. For example, in 2007, about 1 percent of students in West Virginia and Montana spoke English with difficulty, compared with 10 percent in Texas and 11 percent in California.

The next graphic highlights the percentage of children and youth receiving special education services.

  • This percentage increased from the mid-1970s to 2005, but declined for the past two years.
  • In 2007, 6.7 million or 13.6 percent of public school students received special education services.

Keeping these changes in the student population in mind, let's now turn to learner outcomes, which are based on the latest student assessment data in reading and mathematics from the National Assessment of Educational Progress or NAEP. The scores I will discuss are averages and they include both public and private school students. I will highlight findings from both the long-term trend NAEP and the main NAEP assessments. For these next slides describing student achievement, an asterisk denotes a statistically significant difference between a score for the particular year and the score for the most recent assessment.

NAEP's long-term trend assessment has measured reading and mathematics performance for much of the same way since the early 1970s. In 2004, a revised assessment was introduced that allows for accommodations for students with disabilities and English language learners. The figures that follow use a solid line in conjunction with scores based on the revised assessment.

Beginning with reading...

  • The long-term trend assessment indicates that the reading achievement of 9- and 13-year-olds has improved—and we usually gauge this by comparing the most recent assessment results with the next most recent, as well as the start of the series.
  • Nine-year-old students scored higher in reading in 2008 than in 2004 and 1971—in fact, they scored higher than in any previous assessment year in reading.
  • For students at age 13, reading scores were higher in 2008 than in 2004 and 1971. 
  • However, for 17-year-olds, the average reading score was higher in 2008 than in 2004, but was not measurably different from the score in 1971.

Now let's turn to mathematics...

  • Like reading, the long term trend results indicate that the mathematics achievement of 9- and 13-year-olds has improved.
  • For both 9- and 13-year-old students, scores were higher in 2008 than in 2004 and 1973. 
  • For 17-year-olds, the average score in 2008 was not measurably different from the scores in either 2004 or 1973.

We should note that while the 2008 average mathematics score for 17-year-olds was not measurably different from the 1973 average score, there were increases in the average scores for a number of student groups, including Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics. The same was true for the long-term reading results.

Now let's turn to main NAEP which is given in a variety of subjects, measures performance over a shorter timeframe—only since the early 1990s, and changes the method of measurement and content to keep pace with current instruction....

  • Between 1992 and 2007, the average NAEP reading score increased 4 points for 4th-graders.
  • During this same period, the average NAEP reading score increased 3 points for 8th-graders.
  • For 12th-graders, however, the average reading score was lower in 2005 than in 1992, by 6 points.
  • Let's now look at achievement gaps in reading by race/ethnicity...

As scores for both White and Black 4th graders increased, the achievement gap between White and Black 4th graders decreased from 32 points in 1992 to 27 points in 2007.
At the 8th grade, while both White and Black scores increased, the White-Black reading gap in 2007 was not measurably different from the gap in 1992. 
For these same years, there also was no measurable difference in the size of the achievement gap between Whites and Hispanics at either grade.

Turning to mathematics achievement...

  • Between 1990 and 2007, we see that the average NAEP mathematics score increased 27 points for 4th-graders.
  • Similarly, for 8th-graders, the average score increased by 18 points.
  • The mathematics achievement gaps are similar to those for reading.

Following increases in scores for White and Black 4th graders, the gap between Whites and Blacks decreased from 32 points in 1990 to 26 points in 2007. 
Scores also increased for both groups at the 8th grade; however, the White-Black achievement gap for 8th-graders in 2007 was not measurably different from the gap in 1990. 
And, as with reading, there was no measurable change in the achievement gap between Whites and Hispanics at either grade level.

Now let's turn to some measures of student persistence and attainment through secondary and postsecondary education.

The averaged freshman graduation rate­ uses state data to estimate the percentage of the incoming freshman class that graduates 4 years later with a regular high school diploma.

  • Using this measure, about three-quarters of the 2003 freshman class graduated from public high schools on time in 2006.
  • This figure shows the graduation rates for each state. The dark blue color indicates states with higher graduation rates, while the states shown in white are those with the lower rates. To give an idea of the range of graduation rates across the country, Wisconsin had the highest rate at 88 percent and Nevada's rate was the lowest at 56 percent.

The next indicator presents the high school dropout rate measured here as the percentage of 16 to 24 year olds who, in a given year, are not enrolled in school and have not earned a high school credential such as a diploma or GED.
The dropout rates for Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics declined between 1994 and 2007. However, over this period, the dropout rates for Hispanics and Blacks remained higher than the White rate.
The high Hispanic dropout rate is driven, in part, by the rate for foreign-born Hispanics, which was 3 times the rate of native-born Hispanics. 

Looking next at college enrollment, the percentage of students who enroll in college right after high school increased from 49 percent in 1972 to 67 percent in 2007.

  • Turning to the slide, we see that college enrollment rates increased for students at all income levels over this period, with the gap between students from low- and high-income families decreasing from 41 to 23 percentage points.
  • However, in 2007, the enrollment rates of students from low- and middle-income families continued to trail those of their peers from high-income families.

While more students are going directly from high school to college, their persistence in attaining a postsecondary credential is an important concern. The next indicator looks at the postsecondary graduation rates for a select group of the postsecondary population: first-time, full-time students who were seeking a bachelor's degree in 2000. Note that these rates reflect the percentage of students who received a degree at the institution where they began and do not include students who transfer and then graduate from another institution.

  • 36 percent of this student population completed a bachelor's degree within 4 years.
  • The graduation rate rises to 58 percent when we consider a longer 6-year time period.
  • This percentage also varied by type of institution. The 6-year rate for private not-for-profit institutions was 65 percent, compared with 55 percent for public institutions and 33 percent for private for-profit institutions.

Among college graduates in 2007...

  • the top field for bachelor's degree earners was business, which accounted for 21 percent of degrees awarded.
  • Social science and history was the next largest field at 11 percent;
  • followed by education and health professions and related sciences, each of which accounted for 7 percent of degrees awarded;
  • the next largest fields were psychology and visual and performing arts at 6 percent each;
  • followed by engineering, communication, and the biological sciences at 5 percent each.

Finally, let's look at the earnings of young adults ages 25-34 by their highest level of educational attainment.  In 2007, young adults with a bachelor's degree earned about $45,000 a year.

  • This is about $10,000 more than those with an associate's degree,
  • About $16,000 more than those who had completed high school, and
  • About twice as much as those who did not earn a high school diploma.

This has been a review of The Condition of Education 2009. The report and over 100 indicators, including those from prior years, are available on the NCES website at the address on the screen. For help with any questions about the indicators in the Condition of Education, please contact any of the people listed on the screen.

I will now take questions from the audience...

Acting Commissioner Stuart Kerachsky's Powerpoint Presentation MS PowerPoint (9.89 MB)

Visit the Condition of Education website.


Would you like to help us improve our products and website by taking a short survey?

YES, I would like to take the survey


No Thanks

The survey consists of a few short questions and takes less than one minute to complete.
National Center for Education Statistics -
U.S. Department of Education