Since I'm supported by a Institute for Education Sciences (IES) pre-doctoral training fellowship (ours is called PIER), I had the opportunity to attend the 2010 IES Research Conference: Connecting Research, Policy and Practice. The morning of the last day of the conference, John Easton, the director of IES, held a round-table discussion with all of the pre-doc students that IES supports.
I asked him why the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which is a sub-agency of IES, only made their data available as flat files. I compared their offerings with the World Bank Data Catalog which goes so far as to offer an API to access the data in addition to csv and xml flat files. I also mentioned that even though they have a lot of GIS information (such as the boundaries of every school district since the mid 90s) they don't make it easy to mash up that information onto, say a Google Maps layer.
Dr. Easton replied that he was aware of the problem and aware of the limitations of the current set of data tools offered by NCES. He asked for concrete use cases that he could forward to the appropriate people. That way they can develop towards requests from users instead of guesses about what they think users might want.
I'd like to get back to him in about a week and I thought I'd open the discussion to others. What would you like to see NCES offer in terms of data access?