Last week the U.S. Department of Education released its annual Condition of Education report, which “presents 49 indicators on the status and condition of education, in addition to a closer look at high schools in the United States over the past twenty years. The indicators represent a consensus of professional judgment on the most significant national measures of the condition and progress of education for which accurate data are available.” Some interesting highlights include:

  • From 1999–2000 to 2009–10, the number of students enrolled in public charter schools more than  quadrupled from 0.3 million to 1.6 million students. In 2009–10, some 5 percent of all public schools were charter schools (indicator 4).
  • Sixteen percent of public schools recorded at least one incident of serious violent crime in 2009–10; this was lower than the 20 percent of schools recording at least one incident in 1999–2000 (indicator 14). [Note that the federal No Child Left Behind Persistently Dangerous School mandate did not go into effect until 2003, which contains perverse incentives for schools to under-report safety incidents]
  • In 2009–10, some 53 percent of public school districts had high school students enrolled in distance education courses [also called virtual or online courses]. In these districts, there were over 1.3 million high school student enrollments in  distance education in 2009–10, compared to 0.3  million 5 years earlier (indicator 15 ).

Spending increases relative to enrollment and achievement trends are also interesting:

  • Total expenditures per student in public elementary  and secondary schools rose 46 percent in constant  dollars from 1988–89 through 2008–09, with interest on school debt increasing faster than current  expenditures or capital outlay (indicator 20 ).
  • That spending increase is double the student enrollment increase over the same period, 22.6 percent. Public elementary and secondary enrollment over this period increased from 40.2 million students in the fall of 1988 to 49.3 million students in the fall of 2008.
  • In 2008, the United States spent $10,995 per student on elementary and secondary education, which was 35 percent higher than the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average of $8,169. At the postsecondary level, U.S. expenditures per student were $29,910, more than twice as high as the OECD average of $13,461 (indicator 22 ).
  • The average grade 4 reading score in 2011 was not measurably different from that in 2009. The average grade 8 score, however, was 1 point higher in 2011 than in 2009 (indicator 23). [Also note that scores across grades have essentially stayed flat since 1992.]