What is a school?
The guidelines are quite clear that a A school is a building where children are taught in any grade from 1 K through 12.
Schools are a challenging structure type because there are so many of them! Every year new ones are opening, and old ones are closing.
What types of schools should I collect?
Schools are typically divided into three separate categories based on grade levels offered: Elementary, Middle, and High school. We also include a fourth category (i.e., General School) for those schools whose grade levels do not fall into one of these categories. This is most often the case for K-8 or K-12 schools that combine two or more categories into one organization, such as K-12 schools.
It is important to note that there is no ultimate black-and-white definition for what category a school falls in. Each school district structures their schools in a unique way, and this structure is the ultimate deciding factor of what category a school falls into.
Here are some general guidelines for what each school category entails:
On this website, look in the Data Sources page for your State to see if volunteers have listed authoritative data sources for schools.
There are three types of schools: public, charter, and private. Public schools and charter schools are regulated by State Departments of Education, and for this reason there usually are good authoritative lists of these schools on the State Department of Education websites. States are divided up into School Districts, many of which have web pages which are the most authoritative place to look for information.
Private schools are more difficult to sort out because there are no authoritative lists, and they tend to open and close more often than public schools. Here are some non-authoritative places you can look for private school information:
State Department of Education websites: these may have lists of private schools, but in general they are non-authoritative because they may only include non-public
EXAMPLE: If a school does not self-identify, the table below provides a few scenarios that you might encounter:
Where do I place a school structure point?
Most schools typically have one building and the point should be placed at the center of the building. If a school has multiple buildings as part of the same complex, place the point at the center of the complex.
Many schools, especially rural schools, have multiple institutions all in one building. Should these be depicted as one school, or multiple schools (elementary school, middle school, high school)? This generally is decided based on information from the school website or the state department of education website. If these websites list separate schools at the same address, then add one point for each school, with each point placed within the footprint of the building. Our March 2019 Newsletter contains an article titled “Rare Find: 4 High Schools in One!” that walks users through this very scenario.
For more information on how to identify a school building, check out the“Aerial Photo Interpretation Part 9: Schools”article in our March 2019 Newsletter.
Where can I find authoritative lists of schools?
The best place to find information about a school is on a dedicated school and/or district website. These websites are the first to reflect any changes in pertinent information (e.g., name, address, etc.) and therefore are typically the most accurate. If a dedicated school and/or district website cannot be found (as may be the case for smaller, rural, and/or private schools), there are many secondary sources that compile information from authoritative sources into an aggregate list. Examples of secondary sources include:
One original source of information for the Structures database was US Geological Survey topographic maps which were produced from about 1879 to 1992. These maps showed many of the old pioneer schools that were established as a result of the Land Ordinance of 1785. This Act of Congress caused much of the 30 western States to be surveyed and divided into townships six-miles square; in turn each township was divided into 36 numbered square-mile sections, and section No. 16 of each township was to be reserved for a schoolhouse. And many of the resulting one-room schoolhouses still existed and were mapped when the older USGS topo maps were produced.
For volunteers who are history buffs, it can be quite enjoyable to zoom in on these old school locations in the Potlatch editor, and switching over to the Aerial Imagery view, see if any sign is left of these old schools. Sometimes there is a building, sometimes a foundation, and sometimes nothing but a wheat field. A few are still even in use as schools! Those that are no longer in existence or being used as schools should be deleted from the database.
How do I handle schools with many grades?
Many schools, especially rural schools, have K-12 classes all in one building. Should these be depicted as one school, or multiple schools (elementary school, middle school, high school)? This generally is decided based on information at the school website, or, if there is no school website, then at the State Department of Education website. If these websites list separate schools at the same address, then add one structure for each school, which each structure symbol contained within the footprint of the building.
Insiders Tip: Many schools have websites or official Facebook pages that include a news section or event calendar. Before assuming all the information is valid, check to see if recent posts have been made to the page’s news or events section. There are scenarios where a school may have recently closed but its website is still online. Checking the news or events sections for recent updates helps to verify if the school is still in operation.Check out our Authoritative Sources List for more on the types of sources that are acceptable.
What is a College/University?
The Guidelines definition of College/University is quite specific, and the key factor is that an institution must grant a degree; there are 4 types of degrees: Associate, Bachelor, Master, and Doctoral.
Degree-granting generally is regulated by the States, and so each State has a Higher Education Agency which oversees degree-granting institutions. The US Department of Education has a list of these State Higher Education Agencies. These agencies often maintain lists of the degree-granting institutions in their State (refer to the Data Sources pages on this website for each State to find out where to find these lists).
For the most part, this degree-granting requirement leaves out vocational schools (also called trade schools, career schools, or technical schools), which generally grant certificates but not degrees. An exception is technical colleges which do grant degrees.
A separate issue is accreditation. There are many accreditation organizations which generally are private professional organizations. Each State Higher Education Agency may determine which accreditation organizations have recognized authority within that State. Usually an institution may not grant a degree unless it has been accredited; however there are exceptions to this rule – some States allow religious colleges to grant degrees even if they are not accredited. Conversely, there may be schools that are accredited but do not give out degrees (only certificates).A second, less obvious stipulation in the definition of College/University, is that there be a building used as an institution of higher learning. This leaves out online universities, unless they teach classes in their buildings as well as online.
Where do I place a College/University structure point?