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Private School Universe Survey (PSS)

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The Private School Universe Survey (PSS) collects basic information on American private elementary and secondary schools. It grew out of a proposal in 1988 to develop a private school data collection that would improve on the sporadic collection of private school data dating back to 1890 and improve on commercially available private school sampling frames.

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If you have been asked to participate in this survey, this site will help you verify that the survey came from the Census Bureau, verify that the person who called or came to your door is a Census Bureau employee, and inform you of how we protect your data.

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Overview

With increasing concern about alternatives in education, the interest and need for data on private education has also increased. NCES has made the collection of data on private elementary and secondary schools a priority.

The purposes of the Private School Survey (PSS) data collection activity are; a) to generate biennial data on the total number of private schools, teachers, and students; and b) to build an accurate and complete list of private schools to serve as a sampling frame for NCES surveys of private schools. The PSS began with the 1989-90 school year and has been conducted every two years since.

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Design

The target population for the survey consists of all private schools in the U.S. that meet the NCES definition (i.e., a private school is 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. Organizations or institutions that provide support for home schooling without offering classroom instruction for students are not included.). The survey universe is composed of schools from several sources. The main source is a list frame, initially developed for the 1989-90 survey. The list is updated every PSS cycle by matching it with lists provided by nationwide private school associations, state departments of education, and other national private school guides and sources. Additionally, an area frame search is conducted by the Census Bureau each survey cycle.

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Components

The PSS consists of a single survey that is completed by administrative personnel in private schools. Information collected includes: religious orientation; level of school; size of school; length of school year, length of school day; total enrollment (K-12); number of high school graduates, whether a school is single-sexed or coeducational and enrollment by sex; number of teachers employed; program emphasis; existence and type of kindergarten program.

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Policy and Research Issues

The PSS produces data similar to that of the NCES Common Core of Data (CCD) for the public schools. The data are useful for a variety of policy- and research-relevant issues, such as the growth of religiously-affiliated schools, the length of the school year, the number of private high school graduates, and the number of private school students and teachers.

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Why is this survey important?

Private schools are a significant segment of the nation’s educational system. Results from previous surveys show that approximately 25 percent of all elementary and secondary schools in the United States are private institutions; these schools enroll approximately 10 percent of the nation’s children and employ 13 percent of the nation’s teachers. NCES has instituted this survey in recognition of the important role of private education in the United States.

Education researchers, private school associations, and private and public school educators are some of the users of Private School Survey data. These data will provide information about how many of the nation's children are being educated in private schools, how many of the nation's teachers are employed by private schools, and how many students graduated from private high schools last year.

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What is the legal authority for conducting this survey?

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), within the U.S. Department of Education, is authorized to conduct this survey by the Education Sciences Reform Act of 2002 (ESRA 2002, 20 U.S.C. §9543).

Basic school information such as school name, contact information, school type or program emphasis, religious orientation or affiliation of the school, association membership, grades taught and the number of students by grade, number of students by race/ethnicity, and the number of full-time-equivalent teachers are published on "Search for Private Schools". The remaining information is used only for statistical purposes and may not be disclosed, or used, in identifiable form for any other purpose except as required by law (20 U.S.C. §9573 and 6 U.S.C. §151).

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The OMB approval number for the survey is 1850-0641 and the expiration date for the current collection (2017-18 PSS) is April 30, 2019.

The U.S. Census Bureau conducts this survey on behalf of the NCES.

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Why was I selected to be in this survey?

The PSS includes ALL private schools and early childhood programs that provide educational instruction to students in kindergarten or at least one grade from 1st to 12th grade.

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How can I respond to this survey?

You can respond in one of the following ways:

  • Completing via the web survey
  • Completing the paper form mailed to you
  • By phone
  • In-person through communication with a Field Representative

You can get help by calling our toll-free number at 1-888-329-5890. You may also email us at PSS@census.gov.

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How long will it take to complete this survey?

The survey is estimated to take about 23 minutes to complete.

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How can I verify that the person contacting me is a Census Bureau employee?

If you have received a letter requesting you to participate in the survey, a Census Bureau employee may contact you to remind you to complete the survey. He or she will always show you an official Census ID or provide you with his or her name and interviewer code to confirm employment with the Census Bureau.

To protect your privacy, the Private School Survey NEVER asks for:

  • your Social Security number
  • your personal information via email
  • money or donations
  • credit card information

To verify that the phone call or visit is legitimate, please call your Census Bureau regional office and give them the name and/or interviewer code. You can find contact information for your region at:

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You can also verify the legitimacy of a call from the Census Bureau by visiting:

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What if this survey is not relevant to my situation?

If you feel you received the PSS in error, please contact the Census Bureau toll-free at 1-888-329-5890 or by emailing at pss@census.gov.

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Is participation mandatory?

Your participation in this survey is voluntary. However, NCES has instituted this survey in recognition of the importance of private education in the United States. While there is no penalty for not responding, a high response rate is very important to the success of the survey. We encourage you to participate in this voluntary survey.

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Can I be identified by my responses?

The PSS offers a private school search option for schools responding to previous administrations of the survey that allows you to search for private schools by selected characteristics and retrieve their data. Basic school information such as school name, contact information, school type or program emphasis, religious orientation or affiliation of the school, association membership, grades taught and the number of students by grade, number of students by race/ethnicity, and the number of full-time-equivalent teachers are published on:

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The remaining information collected on the PSS is used only for statistical purposes and may not be disclosed, or used, in identifiable form for any other purpose except as required by law (20 U.S.C. §9573 and 6 U.S.C. §151).

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How do I know my responses are safe?

The responses that are collected from surveys conducted by the Census Bureau are encrypted both in transit and at rest on the Census Bureau’s servers. These servers are part of a stand-alone network that is not accessible by the Internet. These servers are constantly monitored for any attempts at intrusion.

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Where can I find the statistics produced by this survey?

The PSS offers a private school search option for schools responding to previous administrations of the survey that allows you to search for private schools by selected characteristics and retrieve their data.

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What if I have additional questions, recommendations, or issues that I need resolved?

If your school has been selected to participate in the survey and you wish to speak to someone, please contact our telephone centers at 1-888-329-5890. Someone will be available to take you call from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm EST (Mon-Fri). The U.S. Census Bureau is also available to answer your questions via e-mail at pss@census.gov.

If you have any comments concerning the accuracy of the time estimate, suggestions for improving this collection, or comments or concerns about the contents or the status of your individual submission of the PSS questionnaire, please e-mail: pss@census.gov, or write directly to: Private School Survey (PSS), National Center for Education Statistics, Potomac Center Plaza, 550 12th Street SW, Room #4176, Washington, DC 20202.


The Census Bureau has a web page “Are You In A Survey” designed to answer additional questions you might have about being in a Census survey.

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