IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Diversity in home languages: Examining English learners in U.S. public schools

By Joel McFarland

More than 4.9 million English learners (EL) were enrolled in U.S. public elementary and secondary schools during the 2013-14 school year, representing just over ten percent of the total student population.   

Recently published data from the U.S. Department of Education’s EDFacts data collection shed light on the linguistic diversity of EL students, as well as the distribution of EL students across grades. EDFacts data are drawn from administrative records maintained by state education agencies and provide a detailed picture of the total population of K-12 public school students in the United States. (Depending on the organization or publication, ELs can also be known as English language learners (ELL) or Limited English Proficient (LEP) students.)

States reported that Spanish was the home language of nearly 3.8 million EL students in 2013-14, which accounts for 76.5 percent of all EL students and nearly 8 percent of all public K-12 students. Arabic and Chinese were the next most commonly spoken home languages, reported for approximately 109,000 and 108,000 students, respectively.

It may surprise some to learn that English (91,700 students) was the fourth most commonly reported home language. This may reflect students who live in multilingual households, and those who were adopted from other countries and raised to speak another language but currently live in English-speaking households. Overall, there were 38 different home languages reported for 5,000 or more students.


Ten most commonly reported home languages of English learner (EL) students

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, EDFacts file 141, Data Group 678; Common Core of Data, "State Nonfiscal Survey of Public Elementary and Secondary Education." See Digest of Education Statistics 2015, table 204.27.


EDFacts data also allow us to examine the distribution of EL students across grade levels. Data from the 2013-14 school year show that a greater percentage of students in lower than in upper grades were identified as EL students. For example, 17.4 percent of kindergarteners were identified as EL students, compared to 8.0 percent of 6th graders and 6.4 percent of 8th graders. Among 12th graders, only 4.6 percent of students were identified as ELs. 


Percentage of Public K-12 students identified as English learners (ELs), by grade level: 2013-14SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, EDFacts file 141, Data Group 678; Common Core of Data, "State Nonfiscal Survey of Public Elementary and Secondary Education." See Digest of Education Statistics 2015, table 204.27.


More home language and grade-level data on English learners can be found in the Digest of Education Statistics. Additional data on EL students, including state-level data and data by locale (e.g., city, suburban, town, and rural), can be found in the Condition of Education.

Interested in recent research on how EL students are identified and served? Check out the Inside IES Research blog.

Financing education: National, state, and local funding and spending for public schools in 2013

By Lauren Musu-Gillette and Stephen Cornman

Spending on public education continues to fluctuate significantly among states and school districts, according to two NCES reports released Wednesday. The reports also show that, nationally, spending on elementary and secondary education declined for the fourth straight year.

The two First Look reports, Revenues and Expenditures for Public Elementary and Secondary Education: School Year 2012–13 (Fiscal Year 2013) and Revenues and Expenditures for Public Elementary and Secondary School Districts: School Year 2012–13 (Fiscal Year 2013), are based on data from the National Public Education Finance Survey (NPEFS), a component of the Common Core of Data (CCD).

In 2013, expenditures for public elementary and secondary education totaled $606.5 billion, which translates to $10,763 in per student spending[i] on a national level. Public elementary and secondary school finance can vary considerably depending on the state or school district.

At the state level, spending per student ranged from a low of $6,432 in Utah to $20,530 in the District of Columbia (D.C.). After D.C., per student spending was next highest in:

  • New York ($19,529);
  • New Jersey ($18,523);
  • Alaska ($18,217);
  • Connecticut ($17,321); and
  • Vermont ($17,286).

Current expenditures per pupil for public and secondary education, by state: Fiscal year 2013

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), “National Public Education Financial Survey


Among the 100 largest school districts in the nation, those with the highest spending per student were:

  • New York City School District ($20,331);
  • Boston City Schools, Massachusetts ($19,066);
  • Philadelphia School District, Pennsylvania ($16,381);
  • Anchorage School District, Alaska ($15,391);
  • Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland ($15,080); and
  • Baltimore City Schools, Maryland ($15,050).

As a nation, we spend more per-student on elementary and secondary public education than we did 10 years ago, but 2013 represents the fourth straight year that our national per-student spending has fallen.  In order to compare spending from one year to the next, expenditures are converted to constant dollars, which adjusts figures for inflation. From 2002–03 to 2012–13, spending per student enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools in the U.S. increased by 5 percent (from $10,455 to $11,011 in constant 2014–15 dollars). Spending per student increased at least 1 percent per year between 2003–04 and 2007–08, and peaked in 2008–09 at $11,621. It has decreased each year since then, with the greatest decrease occurring from 2008–09 to 2011–12.  


Current spending per student in fall enrollment in public elementary and secondary schools: 2002–03 through 2012–13

NOTE: Spending is reported in constant 2014–15 dollars, based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), "National Public Education Financial Survey," 2002–03 through 2012–13. See Digest of Education Statistics 2015, table 236.65.


The recently released reports also present national and state level data on public school funding[ii] by source. Total funding per pupil decreased by 1.2 percent on a national basis and decreased by 1 percent or more in 26 states from 2012 to 2013, after adjusting for inflation. The 50 states and D.C. reported $603.7 billion in funding collected for public elementary and secondary education in 2013. State and local governments provided $547.8 billion, or 91 percent of all funding; and the federal government contributed $55.9 billion or 9 percent of all funding.

The percentage of total funding from federal sources accounted for 9 percent of total funding in both 2002–03 and 2012–13; however, there were notable fluctuations during this period. The federal percentage increased from 8 percent of funding 2007–08 to 13 percent of funding in 2010–11. This increase reflects the impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). As the funds from the program were spent, the federal percentage decreased to 10 percent of total funding in 2011–12 and to 9 percent in 2012–13. Local sources accounted for 46 percent of total funding in 2012–13, the highest percentage in the past 10 years. The percentage of total funding from state sources decreased from 49 percent in school year 2002–03 to 45 percent in school year 2012–13.


Percentage of funding for public elementary and secondary schools, by source of funds: 2002-03 through 2012-13

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), "National Public Education Financial Survey," 2002–03 through 2012–13. See Digest of Education Statistics 2015, table 235.10.


[i] Spending refers to current expenditures.Current expenditures are comprised of expenditures for the day-to-day operation of schools and school districts for public elementary and secondary education, including expenditures for staff salaries and benefits, supplies, and purchased services. Current expenditures include instruction, instruction-related, support services (e.g., social work, health, and psychological services), and other elementary/secondary current expenditures, but exclude expenditures on capital outlay, other programs, and interest on long-term debt. 

[ii] Funding refers to revenues. Revenues are comprised of all funds received from external sources, net of refunds, and correcting transactions. Noncash transactions, such as receipt of services, commodities, or other receipts in kind are excluded, as are funds received from the issuance of debt, liquidation of investments, and nonroutine sale of property.

Exploring a range of educational outcomes within and across countries: Sub-national data supplement to Education at a Glance 2015

By Lauren Musu-Gillette and Tom Snyder

Situating educational and economic outcomes in the United States within a global context can help researchers, policy makers, and the public understand how individuals in the U.S. compare to their peers internationally. The annual publication Education at a Glance produced by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) provides information on the state of education in many countries across the world. While these data are instrumental in helping us to understand how the U.S. compares to other OECD and partner countries on a number of key educational and economic outcomes, national averages can mask the high degree of variation that can occur within individual countries. In order to address this, several OECD and partner countries, including the U.S., provided sub-national data on several select indicators previously only available at the country level.   

These data, posted on the NCES website, serve as a supplement to Education at a Glance 2015 and provide select sub-national data for six indicators in this edition. These include data on educational attainment by selected age groups, employment rates by educational attainment, annual expenditure per student, enrollment rates by age, enrollment rates in early childhood and primary education, and enrollment rates and work status of 15-29 year-olds.

In order to understand the amount of variability in an indicator for a particular country, we can compute a ratio of the state, territory, or region with the highest percentage to that with the lowest percentage on any given metric. For example, within the United States, the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds who completed any level of postsecondary education in 2013 ranged among the states from 30 percent in Nevada to 55 percent in Massachusetts.

The ratio of high to low percentages of 25- to 34-year-olds completing postsecondary education in the United States (2.4) was among the largest of the reporting countries.  The ratio was higher in Brazil (5.8) with a range of 6 to 31 percent, and in Spain (2.8), with a range from 21 to 58 percent. The U.S. ratio was slightly higher than in Canada and Russia (both 2.3).  The ratio was lower in Sweden (1.8) and lowest in Slovenia (1.0), Ireland (1.2), and Belgium (1.2). The high to low ratio between OECD countries was 2.8, ranging from a low of 24 percent to a high of 68 percent.


Average percentage of the 25-34 year old population with postsecondary education (with subnational high/low value) in selected OECD and partner countries: 2014

NOTE: Countries are ranked in ascending order of the average percentage of the 25-34 year old population with postsecondary education. Data years differ. Data for Canada is from 2012, while data for the United States and Brazil is from 2013. Data for all other countries is from 2014.

SOURCE: OECD. Table A1.3a. See Annex 3 for notes and sub-national Summary Table A1.3a.


Regional policy makers can benefit most from the comparisons presented in Education at a Glance when they can compare the results from their own sub-national areas with national and sub-national data from other countries. It is not surprising that large federal countries, such as Canada, Germany, and the United States, in which education is largely controlled by regional authorities, might have large internal variations. But, many other countries with centralized education systems such as Spain and Sweden have substantial variations within their countries as well. These new sub-national data can help illuminate these differences and provide additional information to U.S. states on how they compare to their peers both within the U.S. and internationally. 

Distance education: Learning in non-traditional settings

By Lauren Musu-Gillette

Distance education courses and programs provide students with flexible learning opportunities. Distance education has become increasingly common at the postsecondary level. Many postsecondary institutions offer at least some online courses, while other institutions exclusively offer online programs and courses taught exclusively online. NCES collects data on distance education through the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS).

IPEDS data on distance education provides information on the number and percentage of students participating in distance education at different types of institutions. In fall 2013, about 4.6 million undergraduate students participated in distance education, with 2.0 million students (11 percent of total undergraduate enrollment) exclusively taking distance education courses. Of the 2.0 million undergraduate students who exclusively took distance education courses, 1.1 million students (6 percent of total undergraduate enrollment) were enrolled in programs located in the same state in which they resided, and 0.8 million (4 percent of total undergraduate enrollment) were enrolled in a different state.

At the postbaccalaureate level, some 895,000 students (31 percent of total postbaccalaureate enrollment) participated in distance education in fall 2013, with 677,000 students (23 percent of total postbaccalaureate enrollment) exclusively taking distance education courses. Of the students who exclusively took distance education courses, 273,000 students (9 percent of total postbaccalaureate enrollment) were enrolled in programs located in the same state in which they resided, and 362,000 students (12 percent of total postbaccalaureate enrollment) were enrolled in a different state.


Percentage of undergraduate students at degree-granting postsecondary institutions who participated exclusively in distance education courses, by control and level of institution: Fall 2013

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). See Digest of Education Statistics 2014, table 311.15.


The percentage of undergraduate students participating exclusively in distance education programs differed by institutional control. In fall 2013, a higher percentage of students at private for-profit 4-year institutions exclusively took distance education courses (58 percent) than did students at any other control and level of institution. Similarly, at the postbaccalaureate level, the percentage of students who exclusively took distance education courses in fall 2013 was higher for those enrolled at private for-profit institutions (79 percent) than for those at private nonprofit (19 percent) and public institutions (16 percent).

Data on distance education in IPEDS is at the institution level, and therefore does not provide data on how distance education may differ by student characteristics. However, NPSAS contains both institution- and student-level data and can therefore be used to examine whether participation in distance education differs based on student’s demographic characteristics. For example, findings from NPSAS show that a higher percentage of older adults enrolled in distance education classes than younger adults. In 2011–12, a higher percentage of undergraduates 30 years old and over took distance education classes or their entire degree program through distance education (41 percent and 13 percent, respectively) than undergraduates 24 to 29 years of age (36 percent and 8 percent, respectively) or undergraduates 15 to 23 years of age (26 percent and 3 percent, respectively).

Findings from NPSAS also show that enrollment in distance education was higher in 2011-12 than in previous years in which these data were collected. A higher percentage of undergraduates took distance education classes in 2011–12 (32 percent) than in 2007–08 (21 percent) or in 2003–04 (16 percent). Also, a higher percentage of undergraduates took their entire degree program through distance education in 2011–12 (6 percent) than in 2007–08 (4 percent) or in 2003–04 (5 percent).

Enrollment in distance education will likely continue to grow as additional institutions offer individual courses, or even entire degree programs, online. Drawing on new technologies, the scope of distance education activities have expanded to reach millions of students. Current and future NCES data collections will continue to monitor this trend.

Reading for fun: Using NAEP data to explore student attitudes

By Lauren Musu-Gillette

The National Assessment for Education Progress (NAEP) is well-known as one of the key resources for information about the academic progress and performance of U.S. students. But did you know that NAEP also collects other important data on students’ behaviors and attitudes? For example, NAEP Long-Term Trend reading assessments have asked students how often they read for fun. Using these data, we can see how the frequency of reading for fun differs by student age and over time. These data can also be examined in conjunction with students’ reading assessment scores on NAEP.

A higher percentage of younger students reported that they read for fun almost every day than older students. In 2012, about 53 percent of 9-year-olds reported that they read for fun almost every day, compared to 27 percent of 13-year-olds and 19 percent of 17-year-olds. Conversely, about 27 percent of 17-year-olds said they never or hardly ever read for fun compared to 22 percent of 13-year-olds and 11 percent of 9-year-olds. For 17-year-olds, the percentage who reported that they read for fun almost every day decreased over time, from 31 percent in 1984 to 19 percent in 2012.


Percentage of students reading for fun almost every day, by age: 1984 and 2012

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), Long-Term Trend Reading Assessments. See Digest of Education Statistics 2014, table 221.30.


There were also differences in reading assessment scores by frequency of reading for fun. In 2012, students who were 17-years-old and read for fun almost every day had higher scores (302 points) than those that never or hardly ever read for fun (272 points). The same was true for 13-year-olds (276 vs. 249 points, respectively) and 9-year-olds (226 vs. 208 points, respectively). Note, however, that comparisons like these between reading assessment scores and frequency of reading for fun cannot be used to establish a cause-and-effect relationship. 

Other questions about students’ reading behaviors and attitudes are included on the main NAEP assessments. For example, in addition to a question about the frequency of reading for fun, the 2015 questionnaire included the following items:

  • About how many books are there in your home?
  • How often do you talk with your friends or family about something you have read?
  • Reading is one of my favorite activities (with response options: this is not like me, this is a little like me, and this is a lot like me)

Questions like these can be compared with students’ assessment scores to examine how attitudes, behaviors, and achievement may be related.