With President’s Day at hand, we at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute wondered how many public schools honor our former chief executives with their names—and what that might tell us about which presidents we revere.

It’s not as easy an exercise as you might think, given that many presidents have common last names—and a few have the same last names. For example, plenty of counties, and thus schools, go by “Clinton”—but they’ve been around since long before Bill Clinton became president. And if a school is named Harrison Elementary, is that after Benjamin, or William, or neither?

To find out, our research intern Sophie Sussman started with the latest Common Core of Data from the National Center for Education Statistics, then painstakingly researched any school whose presidential name was ambiguous, mostly by looking at school websites. (Yes, this took months, as she scrutinized almost five thousand schools!)

In the end, we erred on the side of caution and only included schools that we could tell, for sure, are named after particular U.S. presidents. The Adamses and Roosevelts, in particular, probably deserve higher numbers than we could confirm, with forty-three and one hundred schools, respectively, using their surnames, but without clarity regarding which president, if any, they are honoring.

Enough with the throat-clearing. Let’s look at the results.

American Presidents Ranked by the Number of Public Schools Named after Them

Rank

President

Schools

1

Abraham Lincoln

607

2

Thomas Jefferson

350

3

George Washington

322

4

James Madison

194

5

John Kennedy

144

6

Andrew Jackson

120

7

James Monroe

103

8

Theodore Roosevelt

91

9

Dwight Eisenhower

80

10

William McKinley

74

11

James Garfield

62

12

Ulysses Grant

55

13

Herbert Hoover

55

14

Woodrow Wilson

51

15

John Adams

39

16

William Harrison

35

17

Zachary Taylor

34

17

Grover Cleveland

34

19

Harry Truman

29

20

Franklin Roosevelt

28

21

James Buchanan

27

22

James Polk

26

22

Ronald Reagan

26

24

Martin Van Buren

23

25

Calvin Coolidge

22

26

William Taft

21

26

Barack Obama

21

28

John Q. Adams

18

29

Lyndon Johnson

16

30

Warren Harding

14

31

John Tyler

13

32

Millard Fillmore

12

33

Franklin Pierce

11

34

Rutherford Hayes

10

35

Benjamin Harrison

7

36

Bill Clinton

6

37

Chester Arthur

5

38

George H.W. Bush

4

39

Jimmy Carter

3

39

George W. Bush

3

41

Andrew Johnson

2

41

Richard Nixon

2

41

Gerald Ford

2

44

Donald Trump

0

It’s understandable that Lincoln would come in at number-one—he did save the Union, after all—but it’s remarkable that he won in a landslide. It’s also somewhat surprising that Jefferson edged out Washington. It makes sense that few recent presidents have many schools named after them—with Barack Obama, our first and only black president, the clear exception. As Jay Greene found in his 2007 analysis, naming schools after anybody has largely gone out of fashion.

Still, one may fairly ask, which presidents have received more or less honor than perhaps they deserve? To answer that question, we have to rely on someone’s hierarchy of presidential greatness. Thankfully, Siena College just came out with a fresh ranking of American presidents, based on a survey of historians and political scientists. Such lists are of course subjective and can be politically biased, but Siena's works just fine for these purposes.

Here’s how the rankings in the first list compare to these “greatness” rankings:

American Presidents Ranked by their “Greatness”
and Number of Schools Named After Them

President

Greatness Rank

Schools Rank

Difference

George Washington

1

3

-2

Franklin Roosevelt

2

20

-18

Abraham Lincoln

3

1

+2

Theodore Roosevelt

4

8

-4

Thomas Jefferson

5

2

+3

Dwight Eisenhower

6

9

-3

James Madison

7

4

+3

James Monroe

8

7

+1

Harry Truman

9

19

-10

John Kennedy

10

5

+5

Woodrow Wilson

11

14

-3

James Polk

12

22

-10

Ronald Reagan

13

22

-9

John Adams

14

15

-1

Bill Clinton

15

36

-21

Lyndon Johnson

16

29

-13

Barack Obama

17

26

-9

John Q. Adams

18

28

-10

Andrew Jackson

19

6

+13

William McKinley

20

10

+10

George H.W. Bush

21

38

-17

William Taft

22

26

-4

Grover Cleveland

23

17

+6

Ulysses Grant

24

12

+12

Martin Van Buren

25

24

+1

Jimmy Carter

26

39

-13

Gerald Ford

27

41

-14

James Garfield

28

11

+17

Richard Nixon

29

41

-12

Zachary Taylor

30

17

+13

Calvin Coolidge

31

25

+6

Rutherford Hayes

32

34

-2

George W. Bush

33

39

-6

Chester Arthur

34

37

-3

Benjamin Harrison

35

35

0

Herbert Hoover

36

13

+23

John Tyler

37

31

+6

Millard Fillmore

38

32

+6

William Harrison

39

16

+23

Franklin Pierce

40

33

+7

Warren Harding

41

30

+11

Donald Trump

42

44

-2

James Buchanan

43

21

+22

Andrew Johnson

44

41

+3

According to these rankings, the ten presidents who most deserve additional school namesakes are Bill Clinton, Franklin D. Roosevelt, George H.W. Bush, Gerald Ford, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon, John Quincy Adams, James Polk, and Harry Truman. As expected, most of these “underrepresented” presidents served relatively recently, and FDR and Adams may in fact have more schools named after them than we could confirm. Having a presidential cousin or father makes it difficult to tell. But poor James Polk!

On the flip side, the ten presidents who are most overrepresented by schools include Herbert Hoover, William Harrison, James Buchanan, James Garfield, Andrew Jackson, Zachary Taylor, Ulysses Grant, Warren Harding, William McKinley, and Franklin Pierce.

As for our current president, despite a lifetime of putting his name on almost everything, to date there are no public schools named Donald J. Trump. But considering that even (the impeached) Andrew Johnson has two schools named after him, it’s probably only a matter of time.

Happy President’s Day!

Mike Petrilli is president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, executive editor of Education Next, and a Distinguished Senior Fellow for Education Commission of the States. An award-winning writer, he…

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