- The National Center for Education Statistics celebrated its 150th anniversary this week by reviewing how education in America has grown in terms of population and money spent, Education Week reports.
- The NCES, which remains independent of the U.S. Department of Education, has served a largely statistical and informational function, but has impacted education in the U.S. by the publication of its results.
- The organization took a dramatic shift in 1985 and began to focus on the development of explicit quality control of data and protection of privacy, which is a growing concern in the digital age.
The National Center for Education Statistics and its affiliated branches has impacted almost every school and educator at some time because it is considered the ultimate source for educational data in the United States of America. Many students in the field of education have relied on it as a source for papers and reports, so it is interesting to take a look at its history and relevance today as it adapts to the digital age.
Though the data focused on here primarily focuses on growth and finances over the past 150 year, it is remarkable – and somewhat startling — to see how the cost of education compares based on inflation. For instance, the average annual teacher salary (in current dollars) was $189 in the 1869-70 academic year and $56,610 in the 2013-14 academic year. Total spending on schools increased from $63,000,000 in 1869 to $625,016,000,000 in 2013. During that same time period, the percentage of American students enrolled in public schools increased from 65% to 93% and the average number of days spent in school has increased 132 to 180.
Another interesting aspect of this look at the history of the NCES was that the question of educational equity was a concern from the start. Soon after the end of the Civil War in 1870, the agency examined the limited schooling available for newly freed black students. At that time, “the achievement gap” meant that 80% of black adults and 20% of white adults couldn’t read or write their own names. The last time the NCES studied this issue in these terms in 1979, the percentage of people 14 years old and over who were unable to read or write in any language was far different, though still showed a gap. At that time 0.4% of whites were unable to read or write compared to 1.6% of “black and other” students, indicating that literacy rates were improving for all, and that the “achievement gap,” while closing, was still evident.