Education Week - November 29, 2017 - 8
RIGHT: This print, published by the
American Chromo Co. in 1872,
shows what an American classroom
might've looked like around the
time the National Center for
Education Statistics began
chronicling the growth of the
nation's schools. It shows a child,
at right, being admonished by both
the teacher, seated on the platform,
and a woman, possibly the child's
mother, on the bench at left.
The statistics agency was created
in 1867 by an act of Congress.
150 Years of Statistics
On American Schools
-The National Center for Education Statistics celebrates its 150th
anniversary this year. It has been tracking the nation's students,
teachers, and schools for longer than some states have even had
public education, and data pulled from some of its long-term
studies show how American education has evolved in that time.
IN THE BEGINNING
"Report of the Commissioner
The first annual report of the newly
created federal education agency,
this 1870 paper included basic
statistics on the number
of students, teachers, and
schools-at least in the states
that had actually passed laws
allowing public education.
"The economy and efficiency of
careful classification and gradation
find numerous illustrations in every
efficient state system,"
then-Commissioner John Eaton, Jr.
wrote of one early accountability
attempt. "No well-informed
American educator would now
presume to attempt to supply
instruction to cities or towns
of considerable size, without
classifying and grading
THE 'NATION'S REPORT CARD'
"NAEP Trial State Assessment"
In 1990, the National Assessment
for Educational Progress in math
and reading was given for the first
time to representative samples
of 4th and 8th grade students in
37 states, the District of Columbia,
Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Emerson Elliott, the NCES
commissioner at that time, recalled
standing next to Washington Gov.
Booth Gardner, then president of
the National Governors Association,
just before the announcement of
NAEP results. "[Gardner] said,
'Ah, this won't make any difference
because all the states will be the
same.' He couldn't possibly have
been more wrong."
SHARE OF CHILDREN AGES 5-17 ENROLLED IN SCHOOL
Library of Congress
Happy Birthday, NCES!
Agency Turns 150
By Sarah D. Sparks
Long before there was an independent federal education department-
before many states had school systems, in fact-there was a federal
education statistics agency.
This year, the National Center for Education Statistics celebrates
its 150th anniversary. Though the agency remains independent of the
Education Department, its work has laid a bedrock for education policy in
the United States in areas from large-scale testing, to tracking students
over time, to using surveys and local administrative data to understand
changes in schools.
"NCES, even if people aren't aware of it, has played a huge role in
shaping education research," said Sean P. "Jack" Buckley, a former NCES
In 1867, Congress passed a law creating the first education department in
the Department of the Interior. (The Department of Education did not exist
as a full-scale, cabinet-level agency until 1979.) The statistics agency's first
goal was "collecting such statistics and facts as shall show the condition and
progress of education in the several States and Territories."
"You were looking at a growing nation and people were just trying to get
a handle on the scope of education in the country," said Thomas Snyder, the
current program director for annual reports and information at NCES.
Some of the key questions from those early reports would sound familiar
to education watchers today. The early reports often drew contrasts to
international education systems in France or Prussia-one noting with
pride that the United States spent more per pupil than any other country.
Equity was also an issue. In 1870, for example, the agency detailed
the limited schooling available for newly freed black students-the
"achievement gap" at that time meant that 80 percent of black adults and
20 percent of white adults couldn't read or write their own names.
Data were hand-collected and varied widely. For example, New Mexico
did not provide any data in the first collection, because citizens voted
against establishing any public schools that year.
Through the first part of the 20th century, the agency's scope expanded
as interest in education grew. After World War I, the agency began to study
more vocational and career training, and after the G.I. Bill passed, it added
studies of postsecondary access.
The agency's first major longitudinal studies began in the late 1970s
and 80s. Emerson Elliott, the first NCES commissioner to be presidentially
appointed, took charge just as it faced a blistering evaluation by the
National Academy of Sciences. The academy criticized NCES for having
slow turnaround and lacking established statistical practice standards.
Under Elliott, now the director of special projects at the Council for the
Accreditation of Educator Preparation, NCES developed standards for
data quality and privacy, and guidelines on planning studies to answer
educators' and policymakers' questions. "By the time I left, there was a
consistent feeling that the center was a respectable member of the federal
statistical community," he said.
Elliott also expanded the National Assessment of Educational Progress
from a single long-term trend study to state-level studies of math
and reading, and national and internationally benchmarked studies
of academic subjects, from civics and social studies to technology and
engineering. Today, the agency is moving NAEP from pencil-and-paper
to computer-adaptive testing, and going from rapidly shrinking surveys
to studies that integrate more of the demographic, programming, and
other data that schools collect for general reporting and accountability
purposes-commonly called administrative data-into surveys.
TOTAL NUMBER OF TEACHING AND GUIDANCE STAFF
AVERAGE DAYS IN SCHOOL YEAR
AVERAGE TEACHER SALARY (IN CURRENT DOLLARS)
TOTAL SPENDING ON PUBLIC SCHOOLS (IN MILLIONS)
8 | EDUCATION WEEK | November 29, 2017 | www.edweek.org