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National Blue Ribbon Schools Program

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Frequently Asked Questions

How do schools become National Blue Ribbon Schools?

Both public and non-public schools are eligible for nomination for the National Blue Ribbon Schools award. Public schools, including schools in the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands are nominated by their Chief State School Officer (CSSO) and the following entities: the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE), and the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA). Non-public schools are nominated by the Council of American Private Education (CAPE). Once nominated, schools in all states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, BIE and DoDEA, are invited to apply. CAPE conducts its own identification and nomination process prior to submitting nominees to the Department.

The U.S. Department of Education determines the number of nominations per state. States and public entities, including DC, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, BIE, and DoDEA, are allocated a number of National Blue Ribbon School nominations based on total K-12 student enrollment and number of public schools. Allocations range from a minimum of 3 schools to a maximum of 35. CAPE may nominate up to 50 non-public schools.

Eligibility and Performance Award Criteria for National Blue Ribbon Schools Recognition

Application information and Program Timeline

Are there other requirements to becoming a National Blue Ribbon School?

  1. Yes. The school configuration must include one or more of grades K-12. Schools located on the same campus (physical location and mailing address) must apply as an entire school (i.e. K-8; 6-12; K-12 school). Two (or more) schools located on separate campuses, must apply individually even if they have the same principal. A single school located on multiple campuses with one principal must apply as an entire school.
  2. The school has been in existence for five full years, that is, from at least September 2015 and grades participating in statewide assessments must have been part of the school for at least the three years prior to September 2019.
  3. The nominated school has not received the National Blue Ribbon Schools award in the past five years:  2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, or 2020.
  4. The nominated school has no history of testing irregularities, nor have charges of irregularities been brought against the school at the time of nomination. If irregularities are later discovered and proven by the state, the U.S. Department of Education reserves the right to disqualify a school's application and/or rescind a school's award.
  5. The nominated school should not have been identified by the state within the last two years as "persistently dangerous."
  6. The nominated school or district should not be refusing Office of Civil Rights (OCR) access to information necessary to investigate a civil rights complaint or to conduct a district wide compliance review.
  7. The OCR should not have issued a violation letter of findings to the school district concluding that the nominated school or the district as a whole has violated one or more of the civil rights statutes. A violation letter of findings will not be considered outstanding if OCR has accepted a corrective action plan from the district to remedy the violation.
  8. The U.S. Department of Justice should not have a pending suit alleging that the nominated school or the school district as a whole has violated one or more of the civil rights statutes or the Constitution's equal protection clause.
  9. There should be no findings of violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in a U.S. Department of Education monitoring report that apply to the school or school district in question; or if there are such findings, the state or district has corrected, or agreed to correct, the findings.

Once my school is nominated, what is the process and timeline for learning if we will be recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School?

Following the receipt of school nominations from States, the Department invites nominated schools to apply for the award. After schools submit their applications for recognition, they are screened for completeness, quality, accuracy, and eligibility issues. Schools are provided with feedback and provided an opportunity to modify and improve their application before final submission.

Once reviews are completed, public schools must be certified by state CSSOs based on the school's most current performance on state assessments in order to receive the National Blue Ribbon Schools award. Because state assessment results may not be available and announced until late summer, the Department usually announces the new National Blue Ribbon Schools in September of the year after a school's initial nomination. The recognition ceremony takes place in mid-fall. The entire process, from initial nomination to receiving the award, takes about a year.

The timeline for the 2021 Cohort of National Blue Ribbon Schools

What are the benefits and responsibilities of being recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education?

The National Blue Ribbon School award acknowledges and validates the hard work of students, educators, families, and communities in striving for—and attaining—exemplary achievement. For many educators, receiving the award is the realization of a long-held dream. Local and state media eagerly profile recognized schools, helping the school, its district, and community gain additional exposure.

National Blue Ribbon Schools serve as models of effective school practices for state and district educators and other schools throughout the nation, NBRS personnel are often sought out as mentors. Successful applications, posted on the NBRS website, detail key elements of successful schools, from individualized student supports, intentional instruction, collaborative cultures, and targeted curricula. Representatives from schools are honored at an annual awards ceremony held in Washington, DC. Each school receives an engraved plaque and program flag with the official seal signifying its status and the year of its award.

What types of schools can become National Blue Ribbon Schools?

Public and non-profit non-public elementary, middle, and high schools can be awarded National Blue Ribbon status. This includes charter, magnet, choice, and schools with religious affiliations.

Whom can I contact about the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program if I wish my school to be considered for nomination?

If you represent a public school and believe your school qualifies for National Blue Ribbon School status, you may contact the NBRS state liaison affiliated with your State Department of Education. While most states do nominate public schools for this prestigious award, a few choose not to participate.

If you represent a non-public school, please contact the Council for American Private Education (CAPE) by email: or phone (844) 883-CAPE. Additional information is on CAPE's website.

Does National Blue Ribbon School status expire?

A school's National Blue Ribbon School status does not expire. Once a school receives the award, it remains a National Blue Ribbon School. However, school representatives must always use the year of the award when identifying their school as a National Blue Ribbon School.

For example:

  • Central High School, 2011 National Blue Ribbon School is correct.
  • Central High School, National Blue Ribbon School is not correct.

How often can schools receive National Blue Ribbon School recognition?

Schools, both public and non-public, may be nominated for the award only once within a five-year period.

Where can I find the National Blue Ribbon School logo?

The National Blue Ribbon School logo can only be requested by the recognized school.

Where can I order an additional National Blue Ribbon School award flag?

Recognized schools can Contact National Blue Ribbon Schools for information.

Where can I find applications from previously recognized schools?

Successful applications for the 2013-2020 schools are available on the National Blue Ribbon Schools website at

Please note that application questions may change from year to year. While reading previous applications can be useful, prior responses may not be the best way to address the current application's questions.

Are there additional resources for learning about National Blue Ribbon Schools?

More questions?

Contact Aba Kumi, Director of the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program at or (202) 401-1767

Last Modified: 10/01/2020