A List Of Education And Related Data Resources

Posted by on March 1, 2011

We frequently present quick analyses of data on this blog (and look at those done by others). As a close follower of the education debate, I often get the sense that people are hungry for high-quality information on a variety of different topics, but searching for these data can be daunting, which probably deters many people from trying.

So, while I’m sure that many others have compiled lists of data resources relevant to education, I figured I would do the same, with a focus on more user-friendly sources.

But first, I would be remiss if I didn’t caution you to use these data carefully. Almost all of the resources below have instructions or FAQ’s, most non-technical. Read them. Remember that improper or misleading presentation of data is one of the most counterproductive features of today’s education debates, and it occurs to the detriment of all.

That said, here are a few key resources for education and other related quantitative data. It is far from exhaustive, so feel free to leave comments and suggestions if you think I missed anything important.

School and district characteristics: The most commonly-sought data are probably simple school- and district-level estimates of student and other characteristics. For official data on student characteristics at the school- and district-levels, as well as district finance data (see below), the best source is the Common Core of Data’s Build-A-Table feature, which is maintained by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). These data include, for example, percent of students who participate in the free and reduced lunch program (FRLP), special education, or are English language learners (ELL/LEP), as well as total enrollment, enrollment by grade, teacher-student ratios, and many other variables. You can build and export tables into different formats (e.g., Excel) for multiple schools/districts over multiple years. If you’re just looking for characteristics of a single location (or a small set of them), use these NCES search engines for schools and districts.  There is a roughly two-year lag on the data (for more recent figures, try states’ education departments).  For higher education, use the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, which is maintained by NCES.

Test scores: Unfortunately, I’m aware of only one centralized collection of district-level achievement data, and that is the New America Foundation’s Federal Education Budget Project. The data only include state and NAEP proficiency rates for the fourth, eighth, and tenth grades (by district), but there is also a great deal of other information in the master dataset, which is updated every year (many of the other variables come from resources in this post). For more recent state testing data or for raw scores, you’ll have to gather this state-by-state (usually a state’s education department website is a good place to start). For full NAEP data, go directly to the source: The NAEP Data Explorer, which you can use for both states and districts in all subjects/grades (be sure to read the instructions carefully, and use significance tests if you’re making comparisons). See below for PISA.  Check out the Data Quality Campaign for important information on states’ achievement data systems.

State and local finance: The U.S. Census Bureau collects quarterly and annual state and local finance data (revenues and expenditures) on a regular and rather timely basis, and provides the data on their finance site, where you’ll also find an annual report on education finance in the U.S. If you’re looking to analyze tax collections or other forms of revenue, or to look at state spending, this is your site. You might also try the data tool at the Tax Policy Center, which allows users to build their own tables of Census data by picking the variables and years they want.

Salaries and benefits: Many states’ departments of education provide average teacher salaries by district, but I am not aware of any centralized collection. There are other resources for state-level data, however (and sometimes for large metropolitan areas as well). Both the NEA and AFT collect state-level teacher salary data every year, but there is a 2-3 year lag. To look at overall changes in compensation costs for different sectors (public/private), occupational categories, and industries, use the Employment Cost Index from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). For average wages by occupation and sector, use the National Compensation Survey from the BLS (there are also data on benefits). For a collection of wage/salary data on around 50 state employee jobs, the AFT has a fantastic annual compensation survey. The U.S. Census Bureau releases employment and payroll data for federal, state, and local government employees every year. 

Contextual data: For information on the social, economic, and other conditions in states, cities, and even districts, the American Community Survey is an invaluable tool. This includes data on income, housing, education levels, and other demographics. The ACS now has five-year estimates (2005-2009), which means that even smaller cities and districts will have enough data to get accurate figures. You can search for individual locations here, or download the whole dataset. Other contextual and related data resources for states (and usually localities) include:

International education data: One of the best resources for comparing nations is the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD’s) education data collection. The OECD not only provides PISA data, but also a great set of variables on other key education indicators. The International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) is the other major repository international assessment data, including data from the TIMSS, PIRLS, TEDS-M, SITES, Pre-Primary, and CivEd studies. Data and documentation from completed IEA studies can be downloaded from the IEA Study Data Repository.

Micro-level datasets: More advanced analysts looking for large survey datasets to analyze in standard statistical software packages have many options. The best teacher-specific dataset is probably the Schools and Staffing Survey, but it is only administered every four years, and you’ll have to apply to use the most recent data. One extremely useful site is the data collection of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, which provides formatted datasets (Stata, SAS, SPSS), including the Current Population Survey, the Survey of Income and Program Participation, and others. Microdata from the U.S. Census (including the American Community Survey) are available for customized download from IPUMS. As far as surveys of attitudes in the U.S., I’ve always liked the General Social Survey (get results for individual variables or download the whole dataset in Stata or SPSS format) and the American National Election Survey. For international characteristics and attitudes, try the International Social Survey Programme.  Finally, of course, ICPSR has thousands of datasets available for download.


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