At A Glance

Noteworthy Characteristics

  • Data can be used to identify specific types of schools for studies on childhood obesity.
  • School-level demographics can be linked by address/zip code/county.
  • Provides data on racial/ethnic composition of private schools.



To produce aggregate counts of private schools, students, and teachers, and to serve as a sampling frame for National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) sample surveys of private schools. This system also collects descriptive and demographic data on these schools, teachers, and students.

Target Population

Schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia that meet the NCES definition of a private school (i.e., not supported primarily by public funds, provides classroom instruction for one or more of grades K-12 or comparable ungraded levels, and has one or more teachers).


Began in 1989 (1989-1990 school year). Conducted biennially. Most recent year conducted was 2015-2016.


National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education

Special Note(s)

See also: National Center for Educational Statistics Common Core of Data (NCES/CCD)

PSS data are complemented by more in-depth information collected through the NCES’ Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), which is now called The National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS)


Sample Design

Census design (estimated). Data are representative of U.S. private schools as defined by the National Center for Education Statistics. To learn more about the sampling design, see the PSS Overview and the 2015-2016 PSS Data File User’s Manual and Survey Documentation.

Sample Size

Data gathering does not involve sampling. The 2011-12 data included, 30,861 schools, 4,494,845 students, 420,880 full-time equivalent teachers.

The 2015-16 data have been released, 34,576 schools, 4,903,596 students, 481,558 full-time equivalent teachers.

Special Note(s)

A list frame of most private schools in the U.S. initially was developed for the 1989-1990 survey. The list is updated periodically by matching it with lists provided by national private school associations, state departments of education, and other national private school guides and sources. The list frame is supplemented by an area frame search of randomly selected geographic areas around the U.S. that is conducted by the Census Bureau. The two frames are used together to estimate the population of private schools in the U.S.

Key Variables


NameMethods of Assessment
Enrollment by sexInterview/questionnaire (school administrator)
Grade levels at schoolInterview/questionnaire (school administrator)
Race/ethnicity of studentsInterview/questionnaire (school administrator)
Whether school primarily serves students with disabilitiesInterview/questionnaire (school administrator)


NameMethods of Assessment
State, school county, school address and latitude/longitude, and zip codeN/A


NameMethods of Assessment
Location of schoolInterview/questionnaire (school administrator)
Type of schoolInterview/questionnaire (school administrator)

Data Access and Cost

Data Availability

Data are publicly available.


Free of charge.

Special Note(s)

Completion files are restricted access. A restricted data use license is required for access. Learn more about obtaining this license.

The most recent year for which data are available is not necessarily the most recent year this survey was conducted.


Geocode Variable(s)

State, school county, school address and latitude/longitude, and zip code.

Existing Linkages

None noted.

Selected Publications


Broughman SP and Swaim NL. Characteristics of Private Schools in the United States Results From the 2011-12 Private School Universe Survey. NCEDS 2013-316

Broughman SP, Rettig A., and Peterson J. Characteristics of Private Schools in the United States: Results From the 2015–16 Private School Universe Survey NCES 2017-073.

Broughman SP, Swaim NL, Keaton PW. Characteristics of private schools in the United States: Results from the 2007-2008 Private School Universe Survey Washington (DC): U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, 2009. NCES 2009-313.

Broughman SP, Swaim NL. Hryczaniuk CA. Characteristics of Private Schools in the United States: Results From the 2009-10 Private School Universe Survey. 2011. NCES 2011-339.


NCES 2009-310

NCES 2009-319

NCES 2012-322

NCES 2017-162