IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Identifying Virtual Schools Using the Common Core of Data (CCD)

With the sudden changes in education due to the coronavirus pandemic, virtual instruction is in the spotlight more than ever before. Prior to the pandemic, there were already increasing numbers of virtual public schools that offered instructional programs to those that may have difficulty accessing or attending traditional brick-and-mortar schools. Even before the pandemic, some schools and districts were using virtual instruction in new ways, such as switching to virtual instruction on snow days rather than cancelling school. Throughout the pandemic, schools and districts have been relying more heavily on virtual instruction than ever before.

Since school year (SY) 2013–14, the Common Core of Data (CCD) has included a school-level virtual status flag, which has changed over time. For SY 2020–21, the Department of Education instructed states to classify schools that are normally brick-and-mortar schools but are operating remotely during the pandemic as supplemental virtual (see table below).

 

SY 201314 Through SY 201516

Virtual status is a Yes/No flag, meaning that a school was either virtual or not virtual based on the following definition: “A public school that offers only instruction in which students and teachers are separated by time and/or location, and interaction occurs via computers and/or telecommunications technologies. A virtual school generally does not have a physical facility that allows students to attend classes on site.”

 

SY 201617 and Onward

NCES changed the virtual status flag to be more nuanced. Rather than just a Yes/No flag, the reported value indicates virtual status on a spectrum using the following values:

 

Permitted Value Abbreviation

Definition

FULLVIRTUAL

Exclusively virtual. All instruction offered by the school is virtual. This does not exclude students and teachers meeting in person for field trips, school-sponsored social events, or assessment purposes. All students receive all instruction virtually. Prior to SY 2019–20, this value was labeled as “Fully virtual.”

FACEVIRTUAL

Primarily virtual. The school’s major purpose is to provide virtual instruction to students, but some traditional classroom instruction is also provided. Most students receive all instruction virtually. Prior to SY 2019–20, this value was labeled as “Virtual with face to face options.”

SUPPVIRTUAL

Supplemental virtual. Instruction is directed by teachers in a traditional classroom setting; virtual instruction supplements face-to-face instruction by teachers. Students vary in the extent to which their instruction is virtual.

NOTVIRTUAL

No virtual instruction. The school does not offer any virtual instruction.  No students receive any virtual instruction. Prior to SY 2019–20, this value was labeled as “Not virtual.”

 

Generally, data users should treat the value “FULLVIRTUAL” (exclusively virtual) under the new approach as the equivalent of Virtual=Yes in the old approach. The virtual flag is a status assigned to a school as of October 1 each school year. 

The number of exclusively virtual schools has increased in the past several years. In SY 2013–14, there were a total of 478 exclusively virtual schools reported in CCD (approximately 0.5% of all operational schools). In SY 2019–20 there were 691 schools (approximately 0.7% of all operational schools) that were exclusively virtual. The student enrollment in exclusively virtual schools also increased from 199,815 students in SY 2013–14 to 293,717 in SY 2019–20, which is an increase from 0.4% of the total student enrollment in public schools to 0.6%.

Of the 691 virtual schools in SY 2019–20, 590 were reported as “regular” schools, meaning they offered a general academic curriculum rather than one focused on special needs or vocational education, 218 were charter schools, and 289 were high schools. Of the 8,673 schools that were reported as either primary virtual or supplemental virtual, 7,727 were regular schools, 624 were charter schools, and 4,098 were high schools.

To see tables summarizing the above data, visit our Data Tables web page and select the nonfiscal tables.

To learn more about the CCD, visit our web page. For more information about how to access CCD data, including tips for using the District and School Locators and the Elementary and Secondary Information System, read the blog post “Accessing the Common Core of Data (CCD).” You can also access the raw data files for additional information about public elementary and secondary schools. Enrollment and staff data for SY 2020–21 are currently being collected, processed, and verified and could be released by spring 2022.

 

By Patrick Keaton, NCES

Highlights of 2015–16 and 2016–17 School-Level Finance Data

NCES annually publishes comprehensive data on the finances of public elementary and secondary schools through the Common Core of Data (CCD). For many years, these data have been released at the state level through the National Public Education Financial Survey (NPEFS) and at the school district level through the Local Education Agency (School District) Finance Survey (F-33).

Policymakers, researchers, and the public have long voiced concerns about the equitable distribution of school funding within and across districts. School-level finance data provide reliable and unbiased measures that can be utilized to compare how resources are distributed among schools within districts.

Education spending data are now available for 15 states[1] at the school level through the School-Level Finance Survey (SLFS), which NCES has been conducting annually since 2014.[2] In November 2018, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approved changes to the SLFS wherein variables have been added to make the SLFS directly analogous to the F-33 Survey and to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) provisions on reporting expenditures per pupil at the school and district levels.

Below are some key findings from the recently released NCES report Highlights of School-Level Finance Data: Selected Findings From the School-Level Finance Survey (SLFS) School Years 2015–16 (FY 16) and 2016–17 (FY 17).

 

Eight of the 15 states participating in the SLFS are able to report school-level expenditure data requested by the survey for a high percentage of their schools.

The initial years of the SLFS have consistently demonstrated that most states can report detailed school‑level spending data for the vast majority of their schools. In school year (SY) 2016–17 (FY 2017), most states participating in the SLFS (8 out of 15) reported school-level finance data for at least 95 percent of their schools (figure 1). With the exception of New Jersey,[3] all states were able to report at least partial SLFS finance data for more than 78 percent of their schools, ranging from 79 percent of schools in Colorado to 99 percent of schools in Oklahoma. In addition, the percentage of students covered by SLFS reporting was more than 99 percent in 9 of the 15 participating states. 


Figure 1. Percentage of students covered and percentage of schools with fiscal data reported in the School-Level Finance Survey (SLFS), by participating state: FY 2017


 

The SLFS can be used to evaluate school-level expenditure data based on various descriptive school characteristics.

The SLFS allows data users to not only view comparable school-level spending data but also evaluate differences in school-level spending based on a variety of school characteristics. In the report, SY 2016–17 (FY 2017) SLFS data were evaluated by charter status and urbanicity. Key findings from this evaluation include the following:

  • Median teacher salaries[4] in charter schools were lower than median teacher salaries in noncharter schools in all 7 states that met the standards for reporting teacher salaries for both charter and noncharter schools (figure 2).
  • School expenditures were often higher in cities and suburbs than in towns and rural areas. Median teacher salaries, for example, were highest for schools in either cities or suburbs in 9 of the 10 states that met the standards for reporting teacher salaries in each of the urbanicities (city, suburb, town, and rural) (figure 3).  

Figure 2. Median teacher salary for operational public elementary and secondary schools, by school charter status and reporting state: FY 2017


Figure 3. Median teacher salary for operational public elementary and secondary schools, by school urbanicity and reporting state: FY 2017


Median technology‑related expenditures per pupil were also highest for schools in either cities or suburbs in 9 of the 11 states that met the standards for reporting technology-related expenditures in each of the urbanicities, with schools in cities reporting the highest median technology-related expenditures per pupil in 6 of those states.

 

The SLFS can be used to evaluate and compare school-level expenditure data by various poverty indicators.

The report also evaluates and compares school-level spending by school poverty indicators, such as Title I eligibility and school neighborhood poverty level. Key findings from this evaluation include the following:

  • In SY 2016–17 (FY 2017), median teacher salaries were slightly lower for Title I eligible schools than for non-Title I eligible schools in 7 of the 8 states where standards were met for reporting both Title I eligible and non-Title I eligible schools. However, median personnel salaries per pupil were slightly lower for Title I eligible schools than for non-Title I eligible schools in only 2 of the 8 states where reporting standards were met.    
  • Median personnel salaries per pupil for SY 2016–17 were higher for schools in high‑poverty neighborhoods than for schools in low-poverty neighborhoods in 7 of the 12 states where standards were met for reporting school personnel salaries.

 

To learn more about these and other key findings from the SY 2015–16 and 2016–17 SLFS data collections, read the full report. The corresponding data files for these collections will be released later this year.


[1] The following 15 states participated in the SY 2015–16 and 2016–17 SLFS: Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Wyoming.

[2] Spending refers to “current expenditures,” which are expenditures for the day-to-day operation of schools and school districts for public elementary/secondary education. For the SY 2015–16 and 2016–17 data collections referenced in this blog, the SLFS did not collect complete current expenditures; the current expenditures collected for those years included expenditures most typically accounted for at the school level, such as instructional staff salaries, student support services salaries, instructional staff support services salaries, school administration salaries, and supplies and purchased services. As of SY 2017–18, the SLFS was expanded to collect complete current expenditures.

[3] In New Jersey, detailed school-level finance reporting is required for only its “Abbott” districts, which comprised only 31 of the state’s 699 school districts in SY 2016–17.

[4] “Median teacher salaries” are defined as the median of the schools’ average teacher salary. A school’s average teacher salary is calculated as the teacher salary expenditures reported for the school divided by the number of full-time-equivalent (FTE) teachers at the school. Note that this calculation differs from calculating the median of salaries across all teachers at the school, as the SLFS does not collect or report salary data at the teacher level.

 

 

By Stephen Cornman, NCES

Tips for Navigating the Digest of Education Statistics

Have you explored the recently released Digest of Education Statistics 2019? The Digest is a great resource for education data on a range of topics from a variety of sources. Because of the report’s size (the 2019 edition has more than 700 tables across 7 chapters), it can sometimes be a bit tricky to find the data you need. Read on to discover some tips for navigating the Digest website.

 

Finding the Most Recent Versions of Tables

There are several ways to find the most recent version of a table, depending on what page you are on. From the Digest landing page, click on “Most Current Digest Tables” (figure 1). From the list of tables page for a specific year, use the drop-down menu to select “Current” (figure 2).


Figure 1


Figure 2


  • Tip: If you navigate to a table from a search engine, you may not be on the most recent year. Check for a “Click here for the latest version of this table” option in the top righthand corner of the table’s page.

 

Finding Tables Using the Digest Indexing System

Have you ever navigated to a Digest table from a search engine or another NCES report and wanted to find other similar tables? What should you do if a Digest table covers a topic you want to learn about but does not include the specific data you need? You can use the Digest indexing system to find other similar tables.

The Digest indexing system is based on numbered chapters and topical subsections. Each table identifier contains the chapter number (1 through 7) followed by the subsection (e.g., 01, 02, 03) and the table number after the period (e.g., .10, .20, .30). For example, table 601.10 is the first table in chapter 6 under “Population, Enrollment, and Teachers,” which is subsection 01 (figure 3).


Figure 3


To find tables similar to the one you have found already, click on the link at the top left of the table’s page, which will take you to a full list of tables for the Digest edition you are viewing. For example, a Digest 2019 table will feature a “2019 Tables and Figures” link at the top left of the table (figure 4).


Figure 4


From here you can navigate to the relevant chapter and subsection using the indexing system. For example, if you were viewing table 601.10 and wanted to find other similar tables, you would click the + sign next to “Chapter 6. International Comparisons of Education” and then click the + next to “601 Population, Enrollment, and Teachers” (figure 5). You can then click through and explore all the relevant tables in that subsection.


Figure 5


  • Tip: Use the radio buttons at the top right to toggle between viewing tables and figures.
  • Tip: Use Ctrl + click to open tables in a new tab to avoid losing your place on the page.

If you do not see a table with the information you need, remember that the SOURCE note of a Digest table can be a great way to find related resources. Scroll to the bottom of a table to find the data sources used to prepare it.

 

Searching for Key Terms or Phrases Across All Tables

What if you want to search the Digest by topic instead of starting with a specific table? One easy way to do so is to navigate to the “List of 2019 Tables Page” and click “Show All” next to each chapter (figure 6).

  • Tip: Start at chapter 7 and work your way up to avoid having to scroll.

Figure 6


Once the tables are displayed for each chapter, you can easily do a global search of the entire page (Ctrl + F) and search for the term or phrase of your choice.

  • Tip: Try a few different search terms if you do not find what you are looking for right away. For example, the Digest uses the term “distance education” for remote learning.

 

Accessing Older Versions of Tables

In addition to the current edition of the report, the Digest website also contains archives of each report through 1990. You can access previous editions of the report in several ways (figure 7):

  • Select a year from the drop-down menu to access the HMTL versions of that year’s tables.
  • Click on “Access PDF versions of the Digest from 1990–2019” to access archived PDF files.
    • From here, you can click the + next to “Digest of Education Statistics” and select the report you want to view.

Figure 7


In addition to trying these tips for navigating the Digest website, you can explore the Reader’s Guide and Guide to Sources to learn more about the data sources used in the report. The Reader’s Guide also provides additional information about common measures and indexes, data analysis and interpretation, limitations of the data, and other aspects of the report. 

 

By Megan Barnett, AIR

Accessing the Common Core of Data (CCD)

Every year, NCES releases nonfiscal data files from the Common Core of Data (CCD), the Department of Education’s (ED’s) primary longitudinal database on public elementary and secondary education in the United States. CCD data releases include directory data (location, status, and grades offered), student membership data (by grade, gender, and race/ethnicity), data on full-time equivalent staff and teachers, and data on the number of students eligible for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP)

This blog post, one in a series of posts about CCD data, focuses on how to access and use the data. For information on using NSLP data, read the blog post Understanding School Lunch Eligibility in the Common Core of Data

CCD Data Use

CCD data are used both internally by ED and externally by the public. For example, within ED, CCD data serve as the sample frame for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and are the mainstay of many tables in the Digest of Education Statistics and The Condition of Education. Outside of ED, CCD data are used by researchers, the general public (e.g., realtor sites, The Common Application, Great Schools), and teachers who need their school’s NCES school ID to apply for grants.

Data Structure and Availability

CCD data are available at the state, district, and school levels, using a nested structure: all schools are within a parent district and all districts are within a state. CCD does not include any student- or staff-level data.

Most CCD data elements are available for school year (SY) 1986‒87 to the present.    

Unique Identifiers Within CCD

NCES uses a three-part ID system for public schools and districts: state-based Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) codes, district codes, and school codes. Using these three parts, several IDs can be generated:

  • District IDs: 7-digit (FIPS + 5-digit District)
  • School IDs:
    • 12-digit (FIPS + District + School)
    • 7-digit (FIPS + School) (unique from SY 2016‒17 on)

NCES IDs are assigned to districts and schools indefinitely, making them useful for analyzing data over time. For example, for a longitudinal school-level analysis, a school’s 7-digit ID should be used, as it remains the same even if the school changes districts. These IDs can also be used to link CCD district and school data to other ED databases.

Accessing CCD Data

There are three ways to access CCD data: the CCD District and School Locators, the Elementary/Secondary Information System (ElSi), and the raw data files. Each approach has different benefits and limitations.

  • CCD District and School locators
    • Quick and easy to use
    • Many ways to search for districts and schools (e.g., district/school name, street address, county, state)
    • Provides the latest year of CCD data available for the selected district(s) or school(s)
    • Tips for optimal use:
      • If you are having difficulty finding a district or school, only enter a key word for the name (e.g., for PS 100 Glen Morris in New York City, only enter “Glen Morris” or “PS 100”)
      • Export search results to Excel (including all CCD locator fields)

  • Elementary/Secondary Information System (ElSi)
    • quickFacts and expressTables: view most-requested CCD data elements at multiple levels
    • tableGenerator: combine data across topic areas and years to create a single file
    • Create “tables” that act like databases and include all of the roughly 100,000 public schools or 20,000 districts
    • Export data to Excel or CSV
    • Tips for optimal use:
      • Save and edit queries using the navigation buttons at the top of the screen
      • popularTables provide links to frequently requested data

 

Interested in learning more about CCD or accessing CCD data at the state, district, or school level? Check out the CCD website and use the District and School locators, ElSi, or the raw data files to find the data you are looking for.

 

By Patrick Keaton, NCES

Understanding School Lunch Eligibility in the Common Core of Data

Every year in the Common Core of Data (CCD), NCES releases data on the number of students eligible for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) meal program that provides nutritionally balanced low-cost or free meals to children during the school day. The program was established under the National School Lunch Act, signed into law by President Harry Truman in 1946, and currently serves nearly 30 million children.

This post highlights substantial changes to the NSLP and related changes in CCD reporting and provides guidance on how to use the NSLP data.

Free or Reduced-Price Lunch vs. Direct Certification

Historically, student eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL) was determined through individual students submitting school meals application forms within school districts. In 1986, the USDA introduced a direct certification option to reduce participation barriers in the school meal program. Under direct certification, any child belonging to a household that participates in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR), or (in some states) Medicaid—as well as children who are migrant, homeless, in foster care, or in Head Start—are categorically eligible to receive free meals at school.

The NSLP data included in CCD releases include school-level FRPL and direct certification eligibility counts for all public schools with students enrolled. These point-in-time counts are taken on or around October 1 of each school year and reported by the states based on the following guidance: 

  • FRPL-Eligible Students
    • Free lunch students: those eligible to participate in the Free Lunch Program (i.e., those with family incomes below 130 percent of the poverty level or who are directly certified)
    • Reduced-price lunch students: those eligible to participate in the Reduced-Price Lunch Program (i.e., those with family incomes between 130 and 185 percent of the poverty level)
    • Free and reduced-price lunch student: the total of free lunch students and reduced-price lunch students
  • Direct Certification
    • The number of students reported as categorically eligible to receive free meals to the USDA for the FNS 742. Students are categorically eligible to receive free meals if they belong to a household receiving the selected federal benefits noted above or are migrant, homeless, in foster care, or in Head Start.

The count of students eligible for free lunch includes students directly certified plus any students who qualified for free lunch by completing a school meals application. As such, the number of students reported as directly certified should always be less than or equal to the number of free lunch students.

Note that changes in SNAP (both legislated eligibility requirements and temporary changes such as national disasters) can have implications for reported NSLP eligibility as well.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010

In 2010, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) established national nutrition standards for food served and sold in schools and made changes to the NSLP to increase food access. These changes also impacted the NSLP data published through CCD:

  • While direct certification had been an option since 1986, HHFKA mandated that states directly certify NSLP eligibility for at least 95 percent of SNAP participants. With the mandated use of direct certification, several states stopped reporting FRPL eligibility entirely. 
  • HHFKA introduced the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) to expand access to free meals to all students in low-income areas. Schools qualifying under CEP no longer count students who qualify for reduced-price lunch since all students are provided a free lunch. CEP schools may report all students as eligible for free lunch regardless of economic status, since all students are provided a free lunch.

Guidance for Data Users

The NSLP eligibility data published through CCD are often used by researchers as a proxy measure for the number of students living in poverty. However, there are limitations to the usefulness of these data that researchers should consider when using NSLP data.

The NSLP data published through CCD has changed over time. CCD published just FRPL counts through SY 2015–16. Starting in SY 2016–17, states can report FRPL and/or direct certification eligibility counts for each school, and CCD publishes both FRPL and direct certification, as reported by the states.[1]

When creating state and national estimates (including tables in the Digest of Education Statistics), NCES uses FRPL counts when they are available. If FRPL data are not available, direct certification data is used as a proxy. For this type of analysis, NCES includes all schools for which both student enrollment data and FRPL or direct certification were reported. States that only reported direct certification are footnoted. NCES recommends that data users be mindful of the reporting differences when analyzing or drawing conclusions with these data.

The NSLP data meet a variety of critical analysis needs to help policy makers, researchers, and the public target resources and answer policy questions. CCD is the only source of nationwide school-level NSLP data. Explore NSLP data as well as all of the other CCD data elements available either by using the CCD data query tool or by downloading data files directly.

 

By Beth Sinclair, AEM, and Chen-Su Chen, NCES

 


[1] In SY 2018–19, states reported FRPL counts for 95 percent of schools. Five states/jurisdictions reported solely the number of direct certification students (Delaware, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Tennessee, and American Samoa). The remaining states/jurisdictions were split: about half reported solely the number of FRPL students for each school and the other half reported both FRPL and direct certification for each school (or FRPL for some schools and direct certification for others).