IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Changes in Pupil/Teacher Ratios in 2020: Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought enormous challenges to the education system, including a historic decline in enrollment in fall 2020—the largest since during World War II. Due to the relatively small decrease in the number of teachers, there was a significant drop in the pupil/teacher ratio.  

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) releases key statistics, including school staffing data, compiled from state administrative records through the Common Core of Data (CCD). In 2019, about 48 percent of public school staff were teachers (3.2 million) and 13 percent were instructional aides (0.9 million). NCES’s new School Pulse Panel survey found that in January 2022, about 61 percent of public schools with at least one vacancy reported that the pandemic increased the number of teacher and staff vacancies, and 57 percent of schools with at least one vacancy found that the pandemic forced them to use teachers outside their normal duty areas.

Pupil/teacher ratios provide a measure of the quantity of instructional resources available to students by comparing the number of students with the total full-time equivalent (FTE) of all teachers, including special education teachers. The public and private elementary and secondary average class size is larger than the pupil/teacher ratio since it normally does not factor into team teaching, specialty teachers, or special education classes. Between fall 2019 and fall 2020, enrollment in public elementary and secondary schools1 decreased by 2.7 percent.2 This decrease was larger than the 0.2 percent (6,700)3 decrease in the number of public school teachers. Since fall 2020, public school enrollment decreased by a larger amount than did the number of teachers. Thus, the pupil/teacher ratio declined in school year 2020–21 by a relatively large 0.5 pupils per teacher, from 15.9 to 15.4 pupils per teacher (figure 1). This is the largest 1-year decrease in more than 4 decades. In comparison, the pupil/teacher ratio for private schools was 11.4 in 2019–20 (the latest year of actual data available). It is worth noting that pupil/teacher ratios vary across schools with different characteristics (table 208.10).

Viewed over a longer term, the pupil/teacher ratio in public schools in 2019–20 (15.9) was only slightly lower than in 2010–11 (16.0), so nearly all the change during the 2010–11 to 2020–21 period occurred in the last year. The pupil/teacher ratio for private schools decreased from 12.5 in 2010–11 to 11.4 in 2019–20.


Figure 1. Pupil/teacher ratio in public and private elementary and secondary schools: 2010–11 to 2020–21

Line graph showing pupil/teacher ratio in public and private elementary and secondary schools from 2010–11 to 2020–21

NOTE: Data in this figure represent the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Data for teachers are expressed in full-time equivalents (FTE). Counts of private school enrollment include prekindergarten through grade 12 in schools offering kindergarten or higher grades. Counts of private school teachers exclude teachers who teach only prekindergarten students. Counts of public school teachers and enrollment include prekindergarten through grade 12. The pupil/teacher ratio includes teachers for students with disabilities and other special teachers, while these teachers are generally excluded from class size calculations. Ratios for public schools reflect totals reported by states and differ from totals reported for schools or school districts.  The school year 2020–21 pupil/teacher ratio shown in this figure includes only states which reported both membership and FTE teacher counts for SY 2020–21.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics 2021, table 208.20; Common Core of Data, table 2.


The declines in pupil/teacher ratios in public schools were not consistent across states between 2019–20 and 2020–21 (figure 2). The relatively large enrollment decreases in many states—along with the smaller decreases or even increases in the number of teachers in fall 2020—led to decreases in the pupil/teacher ratios for most states. Three states (Nevada, Florida, and Ohio) reported increases in their pupil/teacher ratios, and the rest of the states reporting data had decreases in their pupil/teacher ratios. The states with the largest decreases in their pupil/teacher ratios were Indiana (-1.3 pupils per teacher), Arizona (-1.1 pupils per teacher), Kansas (-0.9 pupils per teacher), and Kentucky (-0.9 pupils per teacher).4


Figure 2. Change in pupil/teacher ratios in public elementary and secondary schools, by state: 2019–20 to 2020–21

Map of United States showing increases and decreases in pupil/teacher ratios in public elementary and secondary schools from 2019–20 to 2020–21

NOTE: Data for Illinois and Utah are not available.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), “State Nonfiscal Public Elementary/Secondary Education Survey,” 2019–20 v.1a, table 2, and 2020–21 v.1a, table 2.

 

By Tom Snyder, AIR


[1] Counts of public school teachers and enrollment include prekindergarten through grade 12.

[2] Enrollment data are for fall of the school year while pupil/teacher ratios are based on school years.

[3] Includes imputed teacher FTE data for Illinois and Utah.

[4] Although Oregon had a 2 pupil per teacher decrease based on the Summary Table 2 for 2019–20 and 2020–21, Oregon did not submit prekindergarten data for 2020–21, so the ratios were not comparable.

NCES Activities Dedicated to Understanding the Condition of Education During the Coronavirus Pandemic

The emergence of the coronavirus pandemic 2 years ago shifted not only how students received educational services around the world but also how the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) carried out its mission, which is to collect, analyze, and report statistics on the condition of education in the United States.

NCES has conducted several surveys to measure educational enrollment, experiences, and outcomes as part of existing data collections and created new, innovative, and timely data initiatives. NCES is currently fielding more than 15 projects with information related to the pandemic. Since early 2020, NCES has collected information about educational experiences of students from elementary through postsecondary institutions. A few of the data collections will extend beyond 2022, providing rich data resources that will document changes in the educational landscape throughout the lifecycle of the pandemic.


NCES Coronavirus Pandemic Data Collection Coverage


In order to respond to the call for information about how students learned during widespread school disruptions, NCES modified existing and created new data collection avenues to receive and report vital information in unprecedented ways. Below are summaries of some of the data products available.

Looking ahead, NCES will provide NAEP data on how student performance has changed in various subjects since the coronavirus pandemic began. NCES will also collect and report information about learning contexts, which are critical for understanding educational outcomes. NCES will also develop a new system to share pandemic-related data collected across the center.

All of these resources are currently available or will be available on the NCES website.

 

By Ebony Walton and Josh DeLaRosa, NCES

New Projected Data Through 2030 to Be Included in Digest of Education Statistics

NCES is excited to announce the inclusion of new projected data as part of the Digest of Education Statistics: 2021. These new data include projections of education statistics through 2030 and account for impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

Since 1964, NCES has produced the Projections of Education Statistics, which includes statistics ranging from elementary/secondary enrollment to teacher counts to postsecondary degrees earned. To produce these estimates, NCES uses models that apply historical trends in education to forecasted trends in demographics and the economy.

Each edition of the Projections provides revisions to estimates from the year before. These revisions can be the result of designed model improvements or incidental changes to the underlying data that feed the models. With the long-term impacts of the pandemic uncertain, NCES made minimal changes to the projection models in favor of consistency (for more information on how these forecasts have been produced historically, see the Technical Appendixes). However, due to the disruption of the coronavirus pandemic, changes to underlying data were more pronounced than usual.

For example, enrollment levels—particularly during compulsory elementary and secondary grades—are strongly determined by the size of the school-aged population. NCES’s projections rely on population projections, which are licensed from IHS Markit. IHS Markit’s population projections reflect a decline in birth rates during the coronavirus pandemic.1 These population projections will impact projected enrollment levels as smaller birth cohorts mature to school age.

Specifically, Digest table 203.10 reports projected data for enrollment in public elementary and secondary schools by grade over time. Between fall 2019 and fall 2020, total public school enrollment dropped by 3 percent (figure 1). By 2030, total public school enrollment is projected to decrease another 4 percent. However, public school enrollments are projected to be higher in 2021 than they were in 2020. Although public school enrollment is not projected to return to 2019 levels, it is projected to remain higher than 2020 levels through 2024. In other words, the projected decrease in public school enrollments over the next decade is not a direct continuation of the pandemic-related drop observed between fall 2019 and fall 2020. Rather, it is primarily a reflection of changes in the school-age population.


Figure 1. Annual percentage change in enrollment in public elementary and secondary schools: Fall 2010 to fall 2030

NOTE: Data are for the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Data include both traditional public schools and public charter schools. Data include imputations for nonreported prekindergarten enrollment in California for fall 2019 and 2020 and in Oregon for fall 2020. Data include imputations for nonreported enrollment for all grades in Illinois for fall 2020.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), "State Nonfiscal Survey of Public Elementary/Secondary Education," 2010–11 through 2020–21. See Digest of Education Statistics 2021, table 203.10.


The relationship between population and enrollment in elementary and secondary grades can be seen even more clearly by comparing projected enrollments for different grade levels. Children conceived during the pandemic will begin to age into first grade in large numbers beginning in 2027. In contrast, no children conceived during the pandemic will have aged into grade 9 by the end of the projection period in 2030. Figure 2 shows a pronounced dip in public school enrollment in grade 1 in 2027 and 2028, which is not present at grade 9. Specifically, public school enrollment in grade 1 is projected to be 8 percent lower in both 2027 and 2028 than in 2026. Meanwhile, the difference in these years for grade 9 is less than 1 percent (rounds to 0 percent). This is a direct reflection of projected declines in birth rates during the pandemic and the relationship between the school-age population and enrollment levels.


Figure 2. Enrollment in public schools, by selected grade: Fall 2010 through fall 2030

NOTE: Data are for the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Data include both traditional public schools and public charter schools. The total ungraded counts of students were prorated to prekindergarten through grade 8 and grades 9 through 12 based on the known grade-level distribution of a state. Data include imputations for nonreported prekindergarten enrollment in California for fall 2019 and 2020 and in Oregon for fall 2020. Data include imputations for nonreported enrollment for all grades in Illinois for fall 2020. Some data have been revised from previously published figures.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), "State Nonfiscal Survey of Public Elementary/Secondary Education," 2010–11 through 2020–21. See Digest of Education Statistics 2021, table 203.10.


All of NCES’s projections are heavily impacted by population forecasts. In addition, certain statistics—such as public school expenditures and postsecondary enrollments—are also shaped by economic forecasts. Like their population projections, IHS Markit’s economic forecasts have also factored in effects of the pandemic. This is another way in which forthcoming projections of education statistics account for pandemic-related impacts.

Digest tables featuring additional projections will be released on a rolling basis throughout the year. Be sure to bookmark this page for the most up-to-date tables.

Explore the first batch of tables from Digest 2021 with projected data:

  • Enrollment in public elementary and secondary schools, by level and grade: Selected years, fall 1980 through fall 2030 (table 203.10)
  • Enrollment in public elementary and secondary schools, by region, state, and jurisdiction: Selected years, fall 1990 through fall 2030 (table 203.20)
  • Public school enrollment in prekindergarten through grade 8, by region, state, and jurisdiction: Selected years, fall 1990 through fall 2030 (table 203.25)
  • Public school enrollment in grades 9 through 12, by region, state, and jurisdiction: Selected years, fall 1990 through fall 2030 (table 203.30)
  • Enrollment and percentage distribution of enrollment in public elementary and secondary schools, by race/ethnicity and region: Selected years, fall 1995 through fall 2030 (table 203.50)
  • Enrollment and percentage distribution of enrollment in public elementary and secondary schools, by race/ethnicity and level of education: Fall 1999 through fall 2030 (table 203.60)
  • Public and private elementary and secondary teachers, enrollment, pupil/teacher ratios, and new teacher hires: Selected years, fall 1955 through fall 2030 (table 208.20)
  • Current expenditures and current expenditures per pupil in public elementary and secondary schools: 1989–90 through 2030–31 (table 236.15)


Explore previous editions of the Projections of Education Statistics.

 

By Véronique Irwin, NCES


[1] Declines in birth rates during the coronavirus pandemic have also been shown by government agencies including Census and the National Center for Health Statistics (as cited by Census).

Lessons Learned as the Virginia Education Science Training (VEST) Program Creates Pathways for Diverse Students into Education Science

Since 2004, the Institute of Education Sciences has funded predoctoral training programs to increase the number of well-trained PhD students who are prepared to conduct rigorous and relevant education research. In addition to providing training to doctoral students, all IES-funded predoctoral programs are encouraged to help broaden participation in the education sciences as part of their leadership activities. In this guest blog post, the leadership team of the University of Virginia predoctoral training program discusses their continuing efforts to create diverse pathways for students interested in education research.

In 2008, the IES-funded Virginia Education Science Training (VEST) Program began the Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) with the goal of recruiting more students from traditionally marginalized groups into education science research. Each year, 8–10 students from around the United States traveled to receive faculty mentorship in independent research at the University of Virginia. In doing so, they experienced facilitated opportunities to develop new research skills and reflect about their own identities as scholars and students of color, first generation college students and/or students from families with low income. They became active members of research groups, visited IES program officers in Washington, DC, and presented their own research at the Leadership Alliance National Symposium.

Quite fortuitously, at an IES principal investigator meeting, we connected with the leadership of the IES-funded Research Institute for Scholars of Equity (RISE) program taking place at North Carolina Central University (NCCU). As a result, for four years, we collaborated with RISE leadership to host two-day RISE fellow visits to UVA. During these visits RISE fellows shared their projects and ideas with VEST fellows and faculty. The RISE and SURP fellows also mingled and attended workshops on graduate school admissions.

We had three goals for these efforts:

  • Provide IES pre-doctoral fellows with the opportunity to apply leadership skills to working with undergraduates
  • Increase the diversity of education scientists
  • Increase the diversity of our IES-sponsored PhD program

Enter COVID. In 2020, bringing students to UVA for the summer wasn’t feasible or wise. Instead, we reflected on our past successful experiences with NCCU and realized we could improve the quality of student experiences if we also worked closely with faculty at other universities. To start, we engaged with Virginia State University (VSU) and Norfolk State University (NSU), two Virginia HBCUs, to create the Open Doors Program.

Initially, eight faculty and administrators from NSU and VSU met with the UVA team, which included a post-doctoral fellow and a PhD student who coordinated discussions, helped design the curriculum, and built an Open Doors handbook. The design team built a program in which 12 rising juniors at NSU and VSU would:

  • Engage in the research and writing process that will lead to a research product and presentation that reflects their strengths, interests, and goals
  • Gain a deeper understanding of the opportunities available to them in graduate school
  • Have the opportunity to examine the complexities and multiple layers of their intersectional identities, identify assets and cultural wealth, and identify academic strengths and areas of growth
  • Build relationships with faculty and graduate student mentors

Due to the pandemic, the program was offered virtually over four weeks with a combination of seminars and mentoring sessions. The program exceeded our expectations. The students all indicated that Open Doors was a useful learning experience for them and provided them with a better understanding of the opportunities available in graduate school. The faculty valued the opportunity to work with each other. We will be offering Open Doors 2.0 next June with another cohort of 12 students from NSU and VSU. We learned a lot from our first year and have planned several modifications to the program. For example, this year, we anticipate that students and some NSU and VSU faculty will be on campus at UVA for two of the four weeks; the other two weeks will be virtual.

These efforts have been true learning experiences for UVA faculty and VEST fellows. We have several recommendations for other programs eager to create pathways programs.

  • Clarify your goals and organize the program around the key outcomes that you are trying to achieve. For SURP and Open Doors, we focused in on four outcomes: preparation to conduct education research, preparation for graduate school, expansion of networks, and providing access to new mentoring relationships.
  • Teach skills as well as knowledge. Our evaluation of SURP points to the importance of teaching skills so students can formulate research questions, recognize research designs, analyze and interpret data, and write about research. Students reported gaining skills in these areas which are critical to success in graduate school in education research.
  • Identify ways to enhance cultural capital. Students benefit from knowledge, familiarity, and comfort with university life. In Open Doors, we wanted to build an authentic collaboration that allowed faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate students at the HBCUs and UVA to learn from each other, extending the cultural capital of all participants.

Our efforts have been exciting yet humbling. Above all, we enjoy listening to and learning from the SURP and Open Doors students. In Open Doors, we also enjoyed building relationships with faculty at other institutions. We have increasingly become aware of the challenges we face in efforts to increase the diversity of our programs. Recruitment is just a first step. Creating graduate school experiences that are conducive to learning and engagement for students from diverse group is an important second step. And a third critical step is to transform life at our universities so that students (and faculty) from traditionally marginalized groups can thrive and flourish. In doing so, we expect that universities will be better able to meet a full range of new challenges that lie ahead in education science.

 


Sara Rimm-Kaufman is the Commonwealth Professor of Education in the Educational Psychology-Applied Developmental Science program at the University of Virginia School of Education and Human Development.

Jim Wyckoff is the Memorial Professor of Education and Public Policy in the Education Policy program and directs the Center on Education Policy and Workforce Competitiveness at the University of Virginia.

Jamie Inlow is the Coordinator for the VEST Predoctoral Training Program in the University of Virginia School of Education and Human Development.

This blog post is part of an ongoing series featuring IES training programs as well as our blog series on diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) within IES grant programs.

Produced by Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), co-Chair of the IES Diversity and Inclusion Council and predoctoral training program officer.

Student-Led Action Research as a School Climate Intervention and Core Content Pedagogy

Improving the social and emotional climate of schools has become a growing priority for educators and policymakers in the past decade. The prevailing strategies for improving school climate include social and emotional learning, positive behavioral supports, and trauma-informed approaches. Many of these strategies foreground the importance of students having a voice in intervention, as students are special experts in their own social and emotional milieus.

Parallel to this trend has been a push toward student-centered pedagogical approaches in high schools that are responsive to cultural backgrounds and that promote skills aligned with the demands of the modern workplace, like critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration. Culturally responsive and restorative teaching and problem- and project-based learning are prominent movements. In this guest blog, Dr. Adam Voight at Cleveland State University discusses an ongoing IES-funded Development and Innovation project taking place in Cleveland, Ohio that aims to develop and document the feasibility of a school-based youth participatory action research intervention.

 

Our project is exploring how youth participatory action research (YPAR) may help to realize two objectives—school climate improvement and culturally-restorative, engaged learning. YPAR involves young people leading a cycle of problem identification, data collection and analysis, and evidence-informed action. It has long been used in out-of-school and extracurricular spaces to promote youth development and effect social change. We are field testing its potential to fit within more formal school spaces.

Project HighKEY

The engine for our project, which we call Project HighKEY (High-school Knowledge and Education through YPAR), is a design team composed of high school teachers and students, district officials, and university researchers. It is built from the Cleveland Alliance for Education Research, a research-practice partnership between the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, Cleveland State University, and the American Institutes for Research. The design team meets monthly to discuss YPAR theory and fit with high school curriculum and standards and make plans for YPAR field tests in schools. We have created a crosswalk of the documented competencies that students derive from YPAR and high school standards in English language arts (ELA), mathematics, science, and social studies in Ohio. For example, one state ELA standard is “Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence,” and through YPAR students collect and analyze survey and interview data and use their findings to advocate for change related to their chosen topic. A state math standard is “Interpret the slope and the intercept of a linear model in the context of data,” and this process may be applied to survey data students collect through YPAR, making an otherwise abstract activity more meaningful to students.  

Assessing the Effectiveness of YPAR

Remaining open-minded about the various ways in which YPAR may or may not fit in different high school courses, we are currently testing its implementation in a pre-calculus course, a government course, an English course, and a life-skills course. For example, a math teacher on our design team has built her statistics unit around YPAR. Students in three separate sections of the course have worked in groups of two or three to identify an issue and create a survey that is being administered to the broader student body. These issues include the lack of extracurricular activities, poor school culture, and unhealthy breakfast and lunch options. Their survey data will be used as the basis for learning about representing data with plots, distributions, measures of center, frequencies, and correlation after the winter holiday. Our theory is that students will be more engaged when using their own data on topics of their choosing and toward the goal of making real change. Across all of our project schools, we are monitoring administrative data, student and teacher survey data, and interview data to assess the feasibility, usability, and student and school outcomes of YPAR.

Impact of COVID-19 and How We Adapted

We received notification of our grant award in March 2020, the same week that COVID-19 shut down K-12 schools across the nation. When our project formally began in July 2020, our partner schools were planning for a wholly remote school year, and we pivoted to hold design team meetings virtually and loosen expectations for teacher implementation. Despite these challenges, several successful YPAR projects during that first year—all of which were conducted entirely remotely—taught all of us much about how YPAR can happen in online spaces. This school year, students and staff are back to in-person learning, but, in addition to the ongoing pandemic, the crushing teacher shortage has forced us to continue to adapt. Whereas we once planned our design team meeting during the school day, we now meet after school due to a lack of substitute teachers, and we use creative technology to allow for mixed virtual and in-person attendance. Our leadership team is also spending a great deal of time in classrooms with teachers to assist those implementing for the first time. Our goal is to create a resource that teachers anywhere can use to incorporate YPAR into their courses. The product will be strengthened by the lessons we have learned from doing this work during these extraordinary times and the resulting considerations for how to deal with obstacles to implementation.


Adam Voight is the Director of the Center for Urban Education at Cleveland State University.

For questions about this grant, please contact Corinne Alfeld, NCER Program Officer, at Corinne.Alfeld@ed.gov.