IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Bar Chart Race: States With the Highest Public School Enrollment

Recently, bar chart races have become a useful tool to visualize long-term trend changes. The visual below, which uses data from an array of sources, depicts the changes in U.S. public school enrollment from 1870 to 2020 by region: Northeast (green), South (orange), Midwest (light blue), and West (dark blue). Since 1870, states’ populations and public school enrollment have increased, with differential growth across the country.


Source: Report of the Commissioner of Education (1870–71, 1879–80, 1989–90, 1899–1900, and 1909–10); the Biennial Survey of Education in the United States (1919–20, 1929–30, 1939–40, and 1949–50); and the Statistics of State School Systems (1959–60). The intervening earlier years for these decades are estimated by NCES for the purposes of this visual, as are data from 1960 to 1964. Data for 1965 to 1984 are from the Statistics of Public Elementary and Secondary Day Schools. Data for 1985 and later years are from the Common Core of Data and Projections.


Here are some highlights from the data:

  • 1870: All of the top 10 states for public school enrollment—including the top 3 states of New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio—were in the Northeast and Midwest. No states from the South or West were in the top 10 at this time.
  • 1879: A state in the South—Tennessee—entered the top 10 for the first time.
  • 1884: Texas first entered the top 10 and, as of 2020, has never left the top 10.
  • 1891: Illinois displaced Ohio as the state with the third-highest public school enrollment.
  • 1916: A state in the West—California—entered the top 10 for the first time and, as of 2020, California has never left the top 10.
  • 1935: Texas displaced Illinois as the state with the third-highest public school enrollment. New York and Pennsylvania still remained the two states with the highest public school enrollments.
  • 1942: California displaced Texas as the state with the third-highest public school enrollment. In 1947, California displaced Pennsylvania as the state with the second-highest public school enrollment. In 1953, California overtook New York and became the state with the highest public school enrollment.
  • 1959: Florida entered the top 10 for the first time and was in the top 4 by 1990.
  • 1980: Texas displaced New York as the state with the second-highest public school enrollment.
  • 2014: Florida displaced New York as the state with the third-highest public school enrollment.

Projections indicate that the 10 states with the highest public school enrollment in fall 2020 will be California (6.3 million), Texas (5.5 million), Florida (2.9 million), New York (2.7 million), Illinois (2.0 million), Georgia (1.8 million), Pennsylvania (1.7 million), Ohio (1.7 million), North Carolina (1.6 million), and Michigan (1.5 million).

 

By Rachel Dinkes, AIR