Guest Post: NCES Data and Your District

February 08, 2024

Today’s guest blog post comes from the team at the National Center for Education Statistics. A lot of the time when our team is talking about USED and NCES, it’s usually through our lens of data collection and appropriate burden/balance. More recently, its included updates detailing our growing frustration with USED’s non-responsiveness on the cumulative impact of its myriad data collections—mandatory and voluntary, those with statutory roots and those without—on schools. There is so much more to a full conversation about NCES, though, and we welcome this blog post as a chance to share that information with you:

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is a great resource for many districts’ data and information needs. You may already know that NCES fulfills a Congressional mandate to collect, analyze, and report statistics on the condition of U.S. education to key federal agencies and policymakers. NCES has been the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing essential education data for the United States, in some form, since 1867. Your district may have participated in an NCES survey or been asked to participate in one. 

But did you know that NCES data can help you make data-driven decisions that can ultimately lead to better outcomes for your students and community? And that your district’s participation in NCES surveys helps inform state and federal policies? 

  • Findings from NCES surveys can help you gain insight into specific policies or programs, and generate ideas to improve offerings for your students, teachers, and staff.
  • NCES data are used to support congressional funding decisions, policy choices, and guidance that impact educational stakeholders. 
  • Participation in NCES surveys ensures more voices, perspectives, and experiences are reflected in state and federal policy and funding.
  • NCES make participation as easy as possible, using research driven approaches to limit needed response time. 

1. How is NCES data useful for my district? 

Perhaps your district wants to adopt a new policy or start a new program. You could use NCES data to help you identify other states that have already adopted a similar program, and then reach out to leaders in those areas to discuss their experiences and lessons learned. 

For example, the National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS)—which collects data directly from K-12 teachers and principals about their demographics, experiences, and school conditions—contains details about providing instruction beyond the school day for students who need academic assistance (figure 1).

NTPS publishes public school data at the national- and state-level that are presented by many different school and district characteristics (e.g., type of community in which a school is located; percentage enrollment of students of color; staff characteristics like race/ethnicity and years of experience). It can be used to look more deeply into key relationships between these (and other) characteristics and reported experiences in an educator’s school.  

Most NCES data and reports are publicly available, so that districts can analyze the data directly or use online tools provided by NCES.   

Figure 1. Percentage of public schools that provided instruction beyond the school day for students who need academic assistance: 2020–21

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Figure 1 SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS), “Public School Data File,” 2020–21.

2. How can NCES data help district policymakers if states and districts have their own local collections?

Local data are tailored to understand within-district or within-state conditions.  However, they are often not well suited for comparisons to other districts and states. If, for example, district leaders are trying to compare their teacher attrition or principal job satisfaction rates against other districts, they may not find data similar to their own from other school systems. As shown in figure 1, NCES data are collected in the same way across the entire country, which means they can be used to establish such benchmarks. 

Similarly, some districts are unique within their state. For example, a district may have unique urban or rural environments, different racial/ethnic compositions, or larger English learner populations than other districts in the state. It could be more advantageous for these districts to access nationally representative data sources and compare their schools, students, and educators with others who share similar characteristics and experiences versus using state benchmarks that may not fully reflect their schools. 

3. Why should my district participate in NCES data collections? 

Larger datasets allow for a wider range of district, school, principal, and staff characteristics to be produced allowing for more equity in national and local estimates and more distinct answers to key policy questions. But we need district-level participation to collect the data needed.  

When districts approve NCES survey research applications, we can broaden the perspectives that are included in the data, adding more voices and experiences that will ultimately be reflected in federal and state funding and policy conversations, such as: 

4. What can I do to help increase the accuracy of federal surveys?

Data in most NCES surveys come directly and voluntarily from schools, principals, and teachers themselves. NCES analyses and reports are not possible without district and educator participation. 

Similar to civic duties like voting, each person, school, and district can make a difference in state and federal education policy. It’s important that all sampled schools and educators participate in surveys like the NTPS and the School Pulse Panel if selected. To provide accurate, representative data, we need your district’s support and approval for our studies.

Learn more about NCES and NTPS: NTPS reports, NTPS State Dashboard, DataLab. NTPS is currently in the field for the 2023-24 school year. 

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Figure 2: The long-term values of participating in federal education surveys


Andrew Zukerberg, Chief, Cross-Sectional Surveys Branch, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)