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.

Research Roundup: NCES Celebrates Black History Month

Looking at data by race and ethnicity can provide a better understanding of education performance and outcomes than examining statistics that describe all students. In observation of Black History Month, this blog presents NCES findings on the learning experiences of Black students throughout their education careers as well as the characteristics of Black teachers and faculty.

K–12 Education

  • Students
    • Of the 49.4 million students enrolled in public preK–12 schools in fall 2020, 7.4 million were Black students. 


       
    • In 2019–2020, some 9 percent of private school students were Black non-Hispanic.
       
    • In 2019, some 51 percent of Black 8th-grade students were in a school that reported offering a programming class. Eighty-four percent of Black 8th-grade students were in a school that offered algebra classes that were equivalent to high school algebra classes.
       
  • Teachers
    • In 2017–18, about 7 percent of all public school teachers self-identified as Black, compared with 3 percent of all private school teachers.
       
    • Twelve percent of all female career or technical education (CTE) public school teachers were Black women in 2017–18.
       
    • In 2017–18, about half of Black or African American teachers (51 percent) taught in city schools, compared with 31 percent of all teachers. 
       
    • Black or African American teachers had a higher rate of post-master’s degree education (13 percent) than did all teachers (9 percent) in 2017–18.
       
    • In 2017–18, about two-thirds (66 percent) of Black or African American teachers taught in the South, compared with 39 percent of all teachers.

 

Postsecondary Education

  • Students
    • Female enrollment at HBCUs has been higher than male enrollment in every year since 1976.
       
    • In fall 2019, nearly 2.5 million Black students were enrolled in a degree-granting postsecondary institution, compared with the 1.0 million who were enrolled in fall 1976.
       
    • In 2019–20, postsecondary institutions awarded 55,642 STEM degrees/certificates to Black students.


       
  • Faculty and Institutions
    • In fall 2019, there were 27,323 full-time Black female faculty members at degree-granting postsecondary institutions, compared with 19,874 Black male faculty members.
       
    • In fall 2020, there were 101 degree-granting Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) located in the 50 states, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands—52 public institutions and 49 private nonprofit institutions.
       

By Kyle Argueta, AIR

 

NCES's Top Hits of 2021

As 2021—another unprecedented year—comes to a close and you reflect on your year, be sure to check out NCES’s annual list of top web hits. From reports and Condition of Education indicators to Fast Facts, APIs, blog posts, and tweets, NCES releases an array of content to help you stay informed about the latest findings and trends in education. Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to stay up-to-date in 2022!
 

Top five reports, by number of PDF downloads

1. Condition of Education 2020 (8,376)

2Digest of Education Statistics 2019 (4,427)

3. Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Groups 2018 (3,282)

4. Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2019 (2,906)

5. Trends in High School Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States: 2019 (2,590)

 

Top five indicators from the Condition of Education, by number of web sessions

1. Students With Disabilities (100,074)

2. Racial/Ethnic Enrollment in Public Schools (64,556)

3. Characteristics of Public School Teachers (57,188)

4. Public High School Graduation Rates (54,504)

5. Education Expenditures by Country (50,20)

 

Top five Fast Facts, by number of web sessions

1. Back-to-School Statistics (162,126)

2. Tuition Costs of Colleges and Universities (128,236)

3. Dropout Rates (74,399)

4. Graduation Rates (73,855)

5. Degrees Conferred by Race and Sex (63,178)

 

Top five NCES/EDGE API requested categories of social and spatial context GIS data, by number of requests

1. K–12 Schools (including district offices) (4,822,590)

2. School Districts (1,616,374)

3. Social/Economic (882,984)

4. Locales (442,715)

5. Postsecondary (263,047)

 

Top five blog posts, by number of web sessions

1. Understanding School Lunch Eligibility in the Common Core of Data (8,242)

2. New Report Shows Increased Diversity in U.S. Schools, Disparities in Outcomes (3,463)

3. Free or Reduced Price Lunch: A Proxy for Poverty? (3,457)

4. Back to School by the Numbers: 2019–20 School Year (2,694)

5. Educational Attainment Differences by Students’ Socioeconomic Status (2,587)

 

Top five tweets, by number of impressions

1. CCD blog (22,557)


2. NAEP dashboard (21,551)


3. IPEDS data tools (21,323)


4. ACGR web table (19,638)


5. Kids’ Zone (19,390)

 

By Megan Barnett, AIR

Back to School by the Numbers: 2021–22 School Year

Across the country, students are preparing to head back to school—whether in person, online, or through some combination of the two—for the 2021–22 academic year. Each year, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) compiles a Back-to-School Fast Fact that provides a snapshot of schools and colleges in the United States. Here are a few “by-the-numbers” highlights from this year’s edition.

Note: Due to the coronavirus pandemic, projected data were not available for this year’s Fast Fact. Therefore, some of the data presented below were collected in 2020 or 2021, but most of the data were collected before the pandemic began. Data collected in 2020 or 2021 are preliminary and subject to change.

 

 

48.1 million

The number of students who attended public elementary and secondary schools in fall 2020. 

The racial and ethnic profile of public school students includes 22.0 million White students, 13.4 million Hispanic students, 7.2 million Black students, 2.6 million Asian students, 2.2 million students of Two or more races, 0.4 million American Indian/Alaska Native students, and 0.2 million Pacific Islander students.

Additionally, in fall 2017, about 5.7 million students attended private schools.

 

3.7 million

The number of students projected to have graduated from high school in the 2018–19 school year, including 3.3 million students from public schools and 0.4 million students from private schools.

 

43 percent

The percentage of fourth- and eighth-grade students who were enrolled in remote instruction in February 2021.

In comparison, in May 2021, 26 percent of fourth- and eighth-grade students were enrolled in remote instruction.

 

2.3 million

The number of teachers in public schools in fall 2019.

Additionally, in fall 2017, there were 0.5 million teachers in private schools.

 

$13,187

The current expenditure per student in public elementary and secondary schools in the 2018–19 school year.

Total current expenditures in public elementary and secondary schools were $667 billion for the 2018–19 school year.

 

19.6 million

The number of students that attended colleges and universities in fall 2019—lower than the peak of 21.0 million in 2010.

About 5.6 million attended 2-year institutions and 14.0 million students attended 4-year institutions in fall 2019.

 

11.3 million

The number of female postsecondary students in fall 2019.

In comparison, there were 8.4 million male postsecondary students in fall 2019.

 

7.3 million

The number of postsecondary students who were enrolled in any distance education course in fall 2019.

In comparison, there were 12.3 million students who were not enrolled in distance education in fall 2019.

 

Be sure to check out the full Fast Fact to learn more about these and other back-to-school data.

The staff of NCES and of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) hopes our nation’s students, teachers, administrators, school staffs, and families have an outstanding school year!

 

By Megan Barnett and Sarah Hein, AIR

NCES's Top Hits of 2020

As we wrap up what has been an unprecedented year in many ways, we’re taking a look back at some of NCES’s most popular content from 2020. As you reflect on the past year, we hope you’ll explore our most downloaded reports, most visited indicators, Fast Facts, and blog posts, and most viewed tweets over the past year. 

 

Top Five Reports, by number of PDF downloads

1. Condition of Education 2020 (7,328)

2Digest of Education Statistics 2018 (4,936)

3. Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Groups 2018 (3,379)

4. Trends in High School Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States: 2019 (2,994)

5. First-Generation Students: College Access, Persistence, and Postbachelor’s Outcomes (2,382)

 

Top Five indicators from the Condition of Education, by number of web sessions

1. Students With Disabilities (82,304)

2. Public High School Graduation Rates (66,993)

3. Education Expenditures by Country (61,766)

4. English Language Learners in Public Schools (46,293)

5. Undergraduate Enrollment (46,766)

 

Top Five Fast Facts, by number of web sessions

1. Back to School Statistics (214,148)

2. Tuition Costs of Colleges and Universities (111,491)

3. College and University Endowments (78,735)

4. Degrees Conferred by Race and Sex (73,980)

5. Closed Schools (69,142)

 

Top Five Blog Posts, by number of web sessions

1. Introducing the 2020 Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) and Its Website (7,822)

2. Back to School by the Numbers: 2019–20 School Year (4,400)

3. Free or Reduced Price Lunch: A Proxy for Poverty? (4,199)

4. Educational Attainment Differences by Students’ Socioeconomic Status (2,919)

5. The Digital Divide: Differences in Home Internet Access (2,699)

 

Top Five Tweets, by number of impressions

1. Teacher Appreciation Day (21,146)

 

2. International Education Week (18,333)

 

3. Trends in High School Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States: 2019 (17,383)

 

4. International Early Learning Study 2018 Pilot (10,870)

 

5. NAEP Data Training Workshop (10,782)

 

Be sure to check our blog site and the NCES website to stay up-to-date on new findings and trends in 2021. You can also follow NCES on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn for daily updates and content.