The Condition of Education 2012

As Old Farmer has his almanac and Britannica his encyclopedia, the National Center for Education Statistics has the Condition of Education. This annual report offers a comprehensive look at trends in American education, reporting longitudinal data on forty-nine discrete indicators, ranging from pre-Kindergarten enrollment to high school extra-curricular participation to post-secondary faculty make-up. Last year’s headlines related to school choice (and the mushrooming charter sector). The latest edition again shows increased public-school choice—but this time on the digital-learning front (or “distance education,” as they say at NCES). In 2009-10, over 1.3 million high schoolers—across 53 percent of districts—enrolled in a distance-ed course. (This up from 0.3 million five years prior.) Much of the report contains simple factoids, but more than a few indicators will help drive policy conversations on topics as diverse as school finance and instruction. For example, total expenditures per student rose 46 percent (in constant dollars) between 1988-89 and 2008-09, with school-debt interest spending seeing the highest percentage increase, followed by capital outlay and then employee benefits—which subsume close to 20 percent of per pupil costs. On other pages, we learn that enrollment in high school math and science courses just about doubled in the last two decades, while the number of high school pupils holding jobs has halved. This review just scratches the surface of the report: There’s much more worthwhile content within its many pages.

Source: National Center for Education Statistics, The Condition of Education 2012 (Washington, D.C.: United States Department of Education, May 2012).

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