NCES Blog

National Center for Education Statistics

NCES Celebrates LGBTQ+ Pride Month

June is LGBTQ+ Pride Month, and NCES is proud to share some of the work we have undertaken to collect data on the characteristics and well-being of sexual and gender minority (SGM) populations. Inclusion of questions about sexual orientation (SO) and gender identity (GI) on federal surveys allows for better understanding of SGM populations relative to the general population. These data meet critical needs to understand trends within larger population groups, and insights can lead to potential resources and interventions needed to better serve the community. Giving respondents the opportunity to describe themselves and bring their “whole self” to a questionnaire helps them to be seen and heard by researchers and policymakers.

Sometimes, we get asked why questions like this appear on an education survey. They can be sensitive questions for some people, after all. We ask these questions to be able to understand equity and outcomes related to education for these demographic characteristics, just as we do for other demographic information like race, ethnicity, household income, and what part of the country a student lives in. And just as for other demographic and background information, it is possible to have minority subgroups that might have different experiences than other subgroups. By sexual minorities, we mean people who report their sexual orientation to be something other than straight or heterosexual, and by gender minorities, we mean people whose sex as recorded at birth is different from their gender.

Over the past 10 years, NCES has researched how to best ask respondents about their sexual orientation and gender identity, how respondents react to these questions, and the quality of data that NCES has collected in questionnaires and datasets that include sexual identity and gender data.

At NCES, several studies include background questions for adults about their sexual orientation and gender identity. These are the High School Longitudinal Study: 2009 (HSLS:09) Second Follow-up in 2016, the Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study (B&B) 08/18 and 16/21 collections, the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS) in 2020, and the Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS) 2020/22. The collection of these data allows NCES to describe the experiences of gender and sexual minority individuals. For example:

  • In 2020, students who identified as genderqueer, gender nonconforming, or a different identity had difficulty finding safe and stable housing at three times the rate (9 percent) of students who identified as male or female (3 percent each).1
  • In 2018, about 10 years after completing a 2007–08 bachelor’s degree, graduates who were gender minorities2 described their financial situations. Graduates who were gender minorities were less likely to own a home (31 percent) or hold a retirement account (74 percent) than graduates who were not gender minorities (63 percent and 87 percent, respectively) (figure 1).3
  • For 2008 bachelor’s degree graduates with a full-time job in 2018, straight people reported higher average salaries than either lesbian/gay or bisexual people.    
  • In the 2017–18 school year, 18 percent of public schools had a recognized student group that promoted the acceptance of students’ sexual orientation and gender identity, such as a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA). This was an increase from the 2015–16 school year, in which 12 percent of schools reported having a GSA.4

Figure 1. Percentage of 2007–08 bachelor’s degree recipients who owned a home, had a retirement account, reported negative net worth, and did not meet essential expenses in the past 12 months, by gender minority status in 2018

Bar chart showing the percentage of 2007–08 bachelor’s degree recipients who owned a home, had a retirement account, reported negative net worth, and did not meet essential expenses in the past 12 months, by gender minority status in 2018

NOTE: “Retirement account” includes both employer-based retirement accounts such as 401(k), 403(b), and pensions, and non-employer-based retirement accounts such as individual retirement accounts. Respondents are considered to have negative net worth if they would still be in debt after selling all their major possessions, turning all their investments and other assets into cash, and paying off as many debts as they could. “Did not meet essential expenses” refers to being unable to meet essential living expenses such as mortgage or rent payments, utility bills, or important medical care. “Past 12 months” refers to any of the 12 months preceding the interview. Gender minority indicates whether the respondent’s gender identity differed from the sex assigned at birth. Gender identity categories include male; female; transgender, male-to-female; transgender, female-to-male; genderqueer or gender nonconforming; a different gender identity; and more than one gender identity.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2008/18 Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study (B&B:08/18).


NCES is committed to collecting data about equity in education and describing the experiences of SGM students, graduates, and educators.

To learn more about the research conducted at NCES and across the federal statistical system on the measurement of SOGI, please visit https://nces.ed.gov/FCSM/SOGI.asp.

 

By Maura Spiegelman and Elise Christopher, NCES


[1] U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2019–20 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS:20, preliminary data).

[2] On the NCES surveys mentioned above, gender identity categories include male; female; transgender, male-to-female; transgender, female-to-male; genderqueer or gender nonconforming; a different gender identity; and more than one gender identity.

[3] U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2008/18 Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study (B&B:08/18).

[4] U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015–16 and 2017–18 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS).

You’ve Been Asked to Participate in a Study

Dear reader,

You’ve been asked to participate in a study.

. . . I know what you’re thinking. Oh, great. Another request for my time. I am already so busy.

Hmm, if I participate, what is my information going to be used for? Well, the letter says that collecting data from me will help researchers study education, and it says something else about how the information I provide would “inform education policy . . .”

But what does that mean?

If you’re a parent, student, teacher, school administrator, or district leader, you may have gotten a request like this from me or a colleague at the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). NCES is one of 13 federal agencies that conducts survey and assessment research in order to help federal, state, and local policymakers better understand public needs and challenges. It is the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED’s) statistical agency and fulfills a congressional mandate to collect, collate, analyze, and report statistics on the condition of American education. The law also directs NCES to do the same about education across the globe.

But how does my participation in a study actually support the role Congress has given NCES?

Good question. When NCES conducts a study, participants are asked to provide information about themselves, their students or child/children, teachers, households, classrooms, schools, colleges, or other education providers. What exactly you will be asked about is based on many considerations, including previous research or policy needs. For example, maybe a current policy might be based on results from an earlier study, and we need to see if the results are still relevant. Maybe the topic has not been studied before and data are needed to determine policy options. In some cases, Congress has charged NCES with collecting data for them to better understand education in general.

Data collected from participants like you are combined so that research can be conducted at the group level. Individual information is not the focus of the research. Instead, NCES is interested in the experiences of groups of people or groups of institutions—like schools—based on the collected data. To protect respondents, personally identifiable information like your name (and other information that could identify you personally) is removed before data are analyzed and is never provided to others. This means that people who participate in NCES studies are grouped in different ways, such as by age or type of school attended, and their information is studied to identify patterns of experiences that people in these different groups may have had.

Let’s take a look at specific examples that show how data from NCES studies provide valuable information for policy decisions.

When policymakers are considering how data can inform policy—either in general or for a specific law under consideration—data from NCES studies play an important role. For example, policymakers concerned that students in their state/district/city often struggle to pay for college may be interested in this question:

“What can education data tell me about how to make college more affordable?”

Or policymakers further along in the law development process might have more specific ideas about how to help low-income students access college. They may have come across research linking programs such as dual enrollment—when high school students take college courses—to college access for underrepresented college students. An example of this research is provided in the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) dual-enrollment report produced by ED’s Institute for Education Sciences (IES), which shows that dual-enrollment programs are effective at increasing students’ access to and enrollment in college and attainment of degrees. This was found to be the case especially for students typically underrepresented in higher education.   

Then, these policymakers might need more specific questions answered about these programs, such as:

What is the benefit of high school students from low-income households also taking college courses?”

Thanks to people who participate in NCES studies, we have the data to address such policy questions. Rigorous research using data from large datasets, compiled from many participants, can be used to identify differences in outcomes between groups. In the case of dual-enrollment programs, college outcomes for dual-enrollment participants from low-income households can be compared with those of dual-enrollment participants from higher-income households, and possible causes of those differences can be investigated.

The results of these investigations may then inform enactment of laws or creation of programs to support students. In the case of dual enrollment, grant programs might be set up at the state level for districts and schools to increase students’ local access to dual-enrollment credit earning.

This was very close to what happened in 2012, when I was asked by analysts in ED’s Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development to produce statistical tables with data on students’ access to career and technical education (CTE) programs. Research, as reviewed in the WWC dual-enrollment report, was already demonstrating the benefits of dual enrollment for high school students. Around 2012, ED was considering a policy that would fund the expansion of dual enrollment specifically for CTE. The reason I was asked to provide tables on the topic was my understanding of two important NCES studies, the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS:2002) and the High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09). Data provided by participants in those studies were ideal for studying the question. The tables were used to evaluate policy options. Based on the results, ED, through the President, made a budget request to Congress to support dual-enrollment policies. Ultimately, dual-enrollment programs were included in the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V).  

The infographic below shows that this scenario—in which NCES data provided by participants like you were used to provide information about policy—has happened on different scales for different policies many times over the past few decades. The examples included are just some of those from the NCES high school longitudinal studies. NCES data have been used countless times in its 154-year history to improve education for American students. Check out the full infographic (PDF) with other examples.


Excerpt of full infographic showing findings and actions for NCES studies on Equity, Dropout Prevention, and College and Career Readiness


However, it’s not always the case that a direct line can be drawn between data from NCES studies and any one policy. Research often informs policy indirectly by educating policymakers and the public they serve on critical topics. Sometimes, as in the dual-enrollment and CTE programs research question I investigated, it can take time before policy gets enacted or a new program rolls out. This does not lessen the importance of the research, nor the vital importance of the data participants provide that underpin it.

The examples in the infographic represent experiences of actual individuals who took the time to tell NCES about themselves by participating in a study.  

If you are asked to participate in an NCES study, please consider doing so. People like you, schools like yours, and households in your town do matter—and by participating, you are helping to inform decisions and improve education across the country.

 

By Elise Christopher, NCES

The NCES Ed Tech Equity Initiative Framework

In a recent blog post, NCES announced the groundbreaking work of the NCES Ed Tech Equity Initiative. The Center’s efforts for this initiative focus on working with stakeholders to identify how NCES data collection, reporting, and dissemination efforts can better inform the relationship between technology and K–12 students’ educational experiences and outcomes. 

THE FRAMEWORK

As part of these efforts, NCES developed a framework to better understand the various facets that influence technology in K–12 education, as well as how these facets interact. The framework was created through extensive research and is designed to be revised over time to align with changes in the ed tech equity space.

The NCES Ed Tech Equity Framework, included below, is comprised of four critical components—Indicators (located in the center of the framework), Dimensions and Environments (the green and purple circle), and Change Agents (shown in the outer gray circle).

HOW IT WORKS

The interaction of the framework elements informs ed tech equity and NCES data collection:

  • Indicators represent the broad categories used to measure or assess education technology—relevant NCES survey questions will fit within at least one of the Indicator categories.
  • Dimensions are the key perspectives through which NCES focuses its ed tech equity data collection efforts.
  • Environments are the settings that facilitate educational experiences.
  • Finally, Change Agents are factors that impact or influence students’ educational experiences and outcomes.

Below, a few existing NCES items are mapped to the framework to illustrate how it will be used in NCES data collection:

  • TECHNOLOGY RESOURCES AND SUPPORT
  • TEACHING IN-SCHOOL: In this school year, did your school offer training for teachers on how to use computers or other digital devices?  —NAEP, 2017

  • TECHNOLOGY KNOWLEDGE, SKILLS, AND ATTITUDES
  • TEACHING OUT-OF-SCHOOL: During the last 12 months, which of the following activities have you or another family member done with [your 9th grader]?

- Worked or played on a computer together  —HSLS, 2009

  • INTEGRATION OF TECHNOLOGY
  • LEARNING IN SCHOOLDo you use the Internet to do any of the following tasks for schoolwork (including classroom tasks, homework, studying outside of class)?

- c) Collaborate with classmates on assignments or projects  —TIMSS, 2015

NEXT STEPS

NCES recently convened an expert panel to assist with evaluating NCES’ existing technology-related efforts and provide recommendations on priorities for future NCES data collection, reporting, and dissemination. Feedback from the panel will assist us in our efforts to provide greater focus on the relationship between technology and K–12 students’ educational experiences and outcomes. We plan to share insights from the expert panel meeting in an upcoming blog post.

 

By Halima Adenegan, NCES, and Emily Martin, Hager Sharp