AERA Hosts Capitol Hill Commemoration of NCES’s 150th Anniversary

Peggy G. Carr (National Center for
Education Statistics) 

November 2017

“Dynamic.” “Growing.” “Innovative.” These words were among many that attendees used to describe the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) at its 150th anniversary celebration on November 15 on Capitol Hill.

The event, “A Forum for the National Center for Education Statistics: Commemorating 150 Years of Innovation—and Exploring Future Opportunities,” featured two congressional speakers and other notable commentators. It drew an overflow audience of over 100 to the Dirksen Senate Building and more than 200 livestream viewers. 

The forum, hosted by AERA, the American Statistical Association, and the Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics (COPAFS), brought together research and policy experts for a discussion of the pioneering work of the second-oldest federal statistical agency, and a thoughtful exploration of NCES’s successes, opportunities, and challenges. 

AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine opened up the conversation and introduced audience members to the purpose of the evening.

“We are celebrating and acknowledging the strengths of this federal statistical system throughout the United States,” Levine said. “Let’s reaffirm our commitment to NCES and the important role it plays in building data and knowledge for policy and practice.”

Reps. Paul Mitchell (R-MI) and Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), who both served on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, helped to recognize the past and future efforts of NCES.

Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-MI)

“NCES improves the quality of data that it shares with the public,” said Mitchell, who gave opening remarks at the forum. “Higher education can help people move their lives forward. It is because of NCES that our work to better serve taxpayers and those undertaking education is enhanced.”

NCES Acting Commissioner Peggy G. Carr provided a detailed history of the agency’s inception, its progress throughout the last 150 years, and what to look forward to in the future.

“From its modest beginning, NCES continues to be the go-to source for education data in providing reliable, independent benchmarks for states, cities, and institutions across this country,” Carr said. “There are opportunities that await us, including our digital data collection that is improving accuracy, access, and inclusion. We are looking forward to the development of these new paths.”

The forum was moderated by Levine and included three expert commentators: Jack Buckley of the American Institutes for Research (former NCES commissioner), Larry V. Hedges of Northwestern University (chair of the National Board of Education Sciences), and Bridget Terry Long of the Harvard Graduate School of Education (former chair of the National Board for Education Sciences).

Larry V. Hedges (Northwestern University), Felice J. Levine (AERA),
Jack Buckley (American Institutes for Research),
and Bridget Terry Long (Harvard Graduate School of Education) 

Hedges focused his remarks on the different areas of education statistics that NCES has made progress in. This includes the enhancement of national and state-by-state academic assessments, the expansion of longitudinal surveys that has provided data for policy analyses and development, and the creation of the standards for international comparative assessments.

“NCES is a national treasure with staff that is dedicated, hardworking, and utterly professional,” Hedges said. “The work of NCES has provided the best longitudinal studies for American education in supporting its growth and development. I hope the years to come are as transformative for the research community as the past 150 years have been.”

Buckley continued the discussion with his personal experience serving as NCES Commissioner while highlighting past agency publications in showcasing the evolution of American education statistics.

“Working at NCES has been the greatest privilege of my professional life,” Buckley said. “I could tell hundreds of stories–stories about the dedicated staff, the historical role of NCES, and its role as a federal statistical agency and contributions to education research and policy. NCES listens to both experts and the public, and that spirit of openness and access has made this statistical agency such an important part of our research and scientific infrastructure.”

Long examined specific research findings that were feasible because of NCES data, along with different innovations throughout the history of the agency. These include advancing state longitudinal administrative datasets and promoting data collection efforts to better support college students. 

“Education is the most important investment that students, parents, our communities, and the government can make. We can’t improve education without knowing the data, patterns, and trends, and that is only possible with NCES,” Long said. “It’s important to realize what we, as researchers and statisticians, wouldn’t know without the work of this agency. NCES is the backbone of the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit that many researchers use to find solutions in improving education.”

Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) 

The forum was followed by a reception, where Rep. Bonamici, in her welcoming remarks, provided insight on how NCES enhances her policy efforts.

“NCES helps us identify achievement gaps and solutions to address complex equity challenges,” said Bonamici. “Education is the key–it’s how we grow the economy and advance the jobs of the future. It’s important that NCES maintains and continues this work. Thank you for helping inform our policymaking.”

Nancy Potok, chief statistician of the United States, spoke and toasted at the ceremony. Also providing comments at the reception were Bill Bushaw, executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board; Brian A. Harris-Kojetin, director of the Committee on National Statistics, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; and John H. Thompson, executive director of COPAFS.

Thompson also recognized leaders of principal non-NCES federal statistical agencies who were in attendance, including:

  • John Conti, Acting Administrator, Energy Information Administration
  • John Gawalt, Director, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics
  • Barry Johnson, Acting Director, ‎Statistics of Income Division, Internal Revenue Service
  • Emilda Rivers, Deputy Division Director, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics
  • Sally Thompson, Deputy Director, Bureau of Economic Analysis

Carr followed Thompson by leading attendees in toasting those who have served as NCES commissioners or acting commissioners throughout its history:

  • John Q. Easton
  • Jack Buckley
  • Stuart Kerachsky
  • Mark Schneider
  • Grover J. Whitehurst
  • Robert Lerner
  • Valena Plisko
  • Gary W. Phillips
  • Pascal D. Forgione, Jr.
  • Jeanne E. Griffith
  • Emerson J. Elliott
  • Francis V. Corrigan
  • Marie D. Eldridge
  • Francis C. Nassetta
  • Dorothy M. Gilford
  • Alexander M. Mood

In addition to the three host organizations, the commemoration was cosponsored by the American Political Science Association, the American Psychological Association, the Bipartisan Policy Center, the Consortium of Social Science Associations, the Data Quality Campaign, the Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences, and the Society for Research in Child Development.

For more information on NCES, visit