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

Research Roundup: NCES Celebrates Women’s History Month

In observation of Women’s History Month, this blog post presents NCES findings on the learning experiences of female students throughout their education careers as well as the characteristics of female teachers and faculty.

K–12 Education

  • In 2019, a larger percentage of U.S. female 12th graders (51 percent) than male 12th graders (42 percent) reported that they were somewhat or more likely to pursue a career in science. Explore more science assessment data from NAEP.
     
  • In 2017–18, women made up 89 percent of public school teachers at the elementary level, 72 percent at the middle school level, and 60 percent at the high school level. Explore more data about elementary and secondary school teachers by sex.

Postsecondary Education

Resources to Learn More

  • Undergraduate Enrollment (Condition of Education indicator): Learn how undergraduate female enrollment changed between 2009 and 2019.
     
  • Table 318.10 (Digest of Education Statistics): Explore how the number of degrees awarded to female students has changed since academic year 1869–70.
     
  • International Data Explorer (IDE): Learn about the education of women and girls across the world.


By Kyle Argueta, AIR

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).

Celebrating National Principals Month With the National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS)

October is National Principals Month. Whether developing a long-term strategic vision or carrying out the day-to-day management of school operations, our nation’s principals and school administrators are essential leaders in our children’s education. This blog provides information about the backgrounds of our public school principals, including the education that they received. Data are drawn from the 2017–18 National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS).

The NTPS collects information about school conditions and the demographics of K–12 public and private school teachers and principals directly from the school staff themselves. Data are available both nationally and by state (via the NTPS State Dashboard) and are used by policymakers and researchers to make funding and other policy decisions.

 

Demographics and Characteristics of Principals

  • In the 2017–18 school year, 1 percent of all public school principals were Asian, 11 percent were Black or African American, 9 percent were Hispanic, regardless of race,1 less than 1 percent were Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, 78 percent were White, and 2 percent were Other2 races.
     
  • Seventy-nine percent of all principals in traditional public schools were White, compared with 67 percent of principals in public charter schools (figure 1).
     
  • Fifty-four percent of all public school principals were female. A higher percentage of primary school principals were female (67 percent) than were middle school (40 percent), high school (33 percent), or combined school (43 percent) principals.  

Figure 1. Percentage of school principals, by race/ethnicity and school type: 201718


Educational Attainment and Professional Experiences of Principals

NCES would like to thank every principal and administrator whose guidance and determination advances successes for public school students across the United States each and every day.

The data in this blog would not be possible without the participation of teachers, principals, and school staff in the NTPS. We have recently concluded the 2020–21 NTPS; to learn more about teachers’ and principals’ experiences during the coronavirus pandemic, please stay tuned for an upcoming report.

If you or your school was contacted about participating in the 2021–22 Teacher Follow-up Survey (TFS) or Principal Follow-up Survey (PFS) and you have questions, please email ntps@census.gov or call 1-888-595-1338.

For more information about the National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS), please visit https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/ntps/. More findings and details are available in the NTPS schoolteacher, and principal reports.

 

By Julia Merlin, NCES


[1] Principals who selected Hispanic, which includes Latino, as their ethnicity are referred to as Hispanic regardless of race. All other race categories in this blog exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity.

[2] Other includes American Indian/Alaska Native and Two or more races.

[3] For the 2017–18 NTPS, the last school year was the 2016–17 school year.