Long before there was an independent federal education department—before many states had school systems, in fact—there was a federal education statistics agency.
Today, the National Center for Education Statistics celebrates its 150th anniversary (albeit without a permanent commissioner in place). Though the agency remains independent of the Education Department, its work has laid a bedrock for education policy in the United States in areas from large-scale testing, to tracking students over time, to using surveys and local administrative data to understand changes in schools.
“NCES, even if people aren’t aware of it, has played a huge role in shaping education research,” said Sean P. “Jack” Buckley, a former commissioner of NCES. “The idea of standardized assessments in longitudinal studies … really all grew out of NCES and IES [the Institute of Education Sciences], and it drives so much research now that probably more than half of researchers aren’t aware of where that came from.”