How School Districts Size Up

Published December 1, 2002

In the 2000-01 school year, 48.1 million K-12 students attended 95,366 schools in 16,992 public school districts in the United States and jurisdictions, according to an August 2002 report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), an average of 2,829 students per district. About one in four school districts could be regarded as ‘average’ using this criterion, since districts with student populations in the 1,500-4,999 range account for 26.5 percent of districts and 23.0 percent of students. But the remaining districts differ sharply from the average.

Districts with fewer than 1,500 students account for almost two-thirds (60.9 percent) of the school districts in the U.S. and jurisdictions, but these districts serve only 10.0 percent of all students. Almost a quarter of the nation’s school districts (24.2 percent) are devoted to educating just 1.0 percent of all students, with fewer than 300 students in each district.

By contrast, districts with 5,000 or more students account for only 12.6 percent of all school districts, but they serve two out of three public school students (67.0 percent). One in three students (33.3 percent) are educated in just 1.7 percent of the nation’s school districts, with more than 10,000 students per district.

These observations are derived from the data published for the 2000-01 school year in NCES’s twelfth annual report on Characteristics of the 100 Largest Public Elementary and Secondary School Districts in the United States: 2000-01, issued in August 2002.

Highlights of the report include the following:

  • Almost one in every four public school students (23 percent) in the nation is served by one of the 100 largest districts, which represent only 0.6 percent of all school districts;
  • The 500 largest districts make up only 2.9 percent of all school districts but serve 42.9 percent of all students in 31.7 percent of all schools;
  • Each of the 100 largest school districts has at least 45,000 students, and 25 have more than 100,000;
  • The two largest school districts are the New York City Public Schools, with 1,066,516 students enrolled in 1,213 schools, and Los Angeles Unified, with 721,346 students in 659 schools;
  • The percentage of high school graduates from schools in the 100 largest districts is a significant 18 percent lower (4.5 percent of all students) than the comparable figure in all schools (5.5 percent of all students).

The bulk of the NCES report is devoted to tabular descriptions of these 100 districts, ranked by student enrollment. Appendices provide additional data for the 500 largest districts and 1990-91 data for the 100 largest districts. The term ‘United States and jurisdictions’ is used to refer to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Department of Defense schools, and five outlying areas.

For more information …

The August 2002 report by Beth Aronstamm Young for the National Center for Education Statistics, Characteristics of the 100 Largest Public Elementary and Secondary School Districts in the United States: 2000-01, NCES publication #2002-351, is available at and