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Facilities Information Management: A Guide for State and Local Education Agencies
  Introductory Material
Chapter 1
  Purpose and Scope
Chapter 2
   Customizing a School Facilities Data System
Chapter 3
   Using Data Elements for Analysis
Chapter 4
   Facility Data Elements
Chapter 5
   Resources and Connections
Calculated Data Elements
PDF File (578 KB)

Illustration of a building and a crane
Chapter 1
Purpose and Scope
Purpose of This Guide

Decisions about school funding, renovation, modernization, and infrastructure improvements need to be supported by high-quality and timely data. This Guide provides a framework for collecting, evaluating, and maintaining education facilities data and for using this information to answer important policy questions about school facilities. A complete and current education facilities database—whether at the local, state, or national level—can help state and local education agency planners, national policy makers, and the general public answer questions concerning the inventory, condition, design, utilization, management, and funding of public schools.

This Guide is designed to assist education systems in the following areas:

  • policy-making and decision-making at the district, state, and national levels;
  • operations, management, and improvement of local and state education systems and federal education programs;
  • greater comparability of facilities statistics at all governance levels;
  • greater compatibility between facilities data and other school-related data systems; and
  • development of a process to plan and implement a data system.

School and district data users will find the data elements and indicators easy to incorporate into their planning and management systems and, at the local level, they will be useful for day-to-day management and extended planning. Most of the data elements and indicators defined in this Guide are already used by school business officials, but this Guide will help to standardize terminology associated with K-12 educational facilities in the public sector, including its use by private-sector vendors as they develop and update commercial facilities maintenance software packages. The recommendations in this document are meant to serve as the “best practice” guidelines to enable state education agencies to promote the collection of high-quality and useful data at the local level.

Scope of This Guide

A three-tier approach—consisting of policy questions, indicators, and data elements—has been used in this Guide to provide a logical framework for an analysis of the condition, design, utilization, management, and funding of public school facilities. Rather than attempting to provide a comprehensive list of data elements, this Guide identifies and defines a subset of data elements that are critical to answering important policy questions relating to elementary and secondary school facilities.

Policy goals frame the scope of the inquiry and provide general directions for decision-making. These goals are broad in scope, require subjective analysis and values clarification, and may not be answerable by statistical data elements alone. For example, the seemingly simple question “Are our school facilities adequate?” rests on a host of complex beliefs about what comprises a good education and the social role of schools, as well as the quality of the school buildings themselves.

Information systems developed using the facility data elements identified in this Guide will help policy makers and others address the following important policy questions:

Policy goals frame the scope of the inquiry and provide general directions for decision-making.
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1. Inventory
  • How many schools are in the school district and community?
  • What is their age, size, and location?
2. Condition
  • Are the schools and support service facilities safe, healthful, and in good repair?
3. Design
  • Are the school buildings designed to support best educational practices and help students achieve at high levels?
  • Are the operations and administrative buildings designed for efficient operations and administration?
4. Utilization
  • Do the schools provide sufficient space to accommodate changing enrollments and community use?
  • Are the administrative buildings fully used?
5. Management
  • Are school district facilities managed effectively and efficiently?
  • Are they managed by the school district, private contractors, or another government agency?
6. Budget and Finance
  • Are capital budgets and operating funds for school district facilities adequate, and are they equitably allocated and distributed?

These questions are not easy to answer. Thousands of bits of information need to be collected and analyzed before questions such as these can be answered responsibly. However, once data elements are assembled in an electronic database, they can be used to evaluate indicators of adequacy, efficiency, equity, and effectiveness. Indicators are data elements, or more often, combinations of data elements, that provide information that can help answer policy questions about the education system.2 The indicators described in this Guide are used to measure the “health” of education facilities. The answer to the broad question of whether today's schools are adequate can only be determined by looking at numerous indicators. These may include such things as projected student growth, an assessment of an older school's adaptability to offer programs that did not exist when the building was constructed, or the capacity of schools to support smaller class size or support the integration of technology in the curriculum.

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Indicators help tell the story of the inventory, condition, design, utilization, management, and funding of school facilities
Illustration of Trowel

By providing the information that is needed to answer specific key policy questions, indicators help tell the story of the inventory, condition, design, utilization, management, and funding of school facilities. They link the policy questions to the data elements through their use in analysis and communication of complex situations and conditions. While no single data element can present a full picture of school facilities, there are a few key indicators that are particularly robust storytellers. Very often these indicators do not provide meaningful information until they are combined, or measured over time. For example, “number of classrooms,” “gross square feet of building space,” “class size,” and “enrollment capacity” are some of the data elements that, taken together, determine the degree to which school facilities are being utilized and help answer the policy question: “Do we need to build more schools?”

Following is another example of the relationship among policy questions, indicators, and data elements:

Policy Question
Are the teaching, learning, and support service environments safe, healthful, and in good repair?
  • The school is safe for occupancy.
  •   Examples of
    Data Elements
  • Fire Protection System Type (#2080)
  • Installation Date (#2440)
  • Last Check Date (#2444)

    When the 1995 General Accounting Office (GAO) report3 was released, the indicator of facility condition that stayed in the minds of the public was that $113 billion was needed for school facilities improvements nationwide. This simple number was able to communicate a complex story only because it was supported by thousands of data elements.

    Data elements are the basic units of information.

    Illustration of Trowel

    Data elements are the basic units, the “building blocks,” of information. They are generally quantifiable and measurable. This Guide identifies the basic data elements that have been judged to be most useful in answering a full range of policy questions about school facilities, which include the school buildings themselves and their related outdoor areas (such as playing fields, parking lots, and playgrounds), as well as administrative buildings (including administrative offices, bus garages, and warehouses) owned and operated by a school district. The scope is limited to identifying the most important pieces of information that are feasible for school districts to keep in their data systems and that can be compiled and aggregated to develop statistics describing the inventory, condition, design, utilization, management, and funding of educational and administrative facilities operated by public school systems.

    The data elements that are included and defined in this Guide will help education stakeholders with tasks such as these:

    • identifying building and grounds inventory;
    • assessing the condition of building systems and components;
    • describing the quality and character of facilities design;
    • evaluating the utilization of educational and administrative facilities;
    • describing the school district's management of facilities; and
    • reporting on facilities funding.

    Data elements on furniture, fixtures, and movable equipment are excluded from this Guide. Data elements relating to technology use in schools and by school administrators are the focus of another Forum publication. Existing definitions from other sources are used wherever possible and appropriate.4 This Guide does not try to define architectural and construction data elements except where they have a unique meaning as applied to schools. It is not meant to include all of the information about school facilities needed to run a school district, but rather focuses on the data needed to answer policy questions. These data elements can be used to collect comparable education information at all levels of the school system.5 Related data can be drawn from other sources, including student, staff, finance, and facilities databases. The goal is facilities data that allow for meaningful comparisons among schools and among school districts.

    Audiences for This Guide

    The information in this Guide will be of use to persons who manage or plan education facilities; members of local school boards, state education agencies, and state boards of education; and government officials who need dependable information to set long-term directions. It will also serve decision makers who have a broader purview that includes but is not limited to schools, such as municipal planners and state and federal legislators. Since questions about program effectiveness and efficiency often require information about the capacity of school facilities and their ability to support instructional programs, this document is expected to also serve the needs of federal agencies, education interest groups, researchers, school administrators, and members of the business community. Moreover, to the extent that this document facilitates the collection of clear and comprehensive facilities data, members of the media and the general public will be in a position to better understand and analyze school facilities issues.

    Sources and Methodology

    This Guide was written under the direction of the Education Facilities Data Task Force, which was established by the National Education Statistics Agenda Committee of the National Forum on Education Statistics, to identify the basic data elements for education facilities data. The Task Force, supported by the Administrative Records Development Project of the Council of Chief State School Officers, began by examining current data needs and collections. Two principal sources of data elements and definitions that were identified and extensively used by the Task Force were the NCES publications Property Accounting: A Handbook of Standard Terminology and A Guide for Classifying Information about Education Property (also referred to as Handbook III, Revised 1977, now out of print). The conceptual framework of interconnecting policy questions, indicators, and data elements is modeled on the Task Force's predecessor and its 1997 report, Basic Data Elements for Elementary and Secondary Education Information Systems, which focused on student and staff data. This was the second major source for the current Guide.

    Project staff also examined federally required definitions or standards, including the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines, information from the Office of Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Indoor Air Quality Basics for Schools, and others. The goal was to identify data elements, together with “best-practice” definitions from professional resources such as the International Building Code, International Fire Code, publications of the American Institutes of Architects, as well as input from school security and emergency response teams.

    Staff from the Council of Chief State School Officers reviewed currently available data in their report An Analysis of State Collection and Reporting of School Facilities Data. This description of actual information, when compared with the desired information identified from other sources, laid out the general scope and direction for the task force.

    With a list of data elements, the Task Force began to narrow the focus based on the agreed-upon criteria (described in Chapter 3) for selection. The Task Force identified key measures of the indicators, and defined them to show how they incorporated the data elements.

    Finally, the draft Guide for Collecting and Using Data on Elementary and Secondary Educational Facilities was reviewed by many interested parties (including architects, school business managers, and school facilities planners) for comprehensiveness and accuracy. These reviewers' insights and perspectives were invaluable in shaping the final document.

    In summary, the Guide took as its sources both current and recommended practice, and relied upon the advice of subject experts and data users to organize the information in a logical, accessible product. This same process will be followed in subsequent revisions of the Guide in hope that it will remain a useful tool for schools and school planners for some time.

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    2 National Forum on Education Statistics, Basic Data Elements for Elementary and Secondary Education Information Systems (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, 1997), p. II-3.

    3 General Accounting Office, America’s Schools Not Designed or Equipped for 21st Century (Washington, DC: U.S. General Accounting Office, 1995), p. 20.

    4 National Forum on Education Statistics, Technology in Schools Task Force, Technology in Schools: Suggestions, Tools, and Guidelines for Assessing Technology in Elementary and Secondary Education (NCES 2003-313) (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, 2002), p. 29-39.

    5 National Forum on Education Statistics, Basic Data Elements for Elementary and Secondary Education Information Systems (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, 1997), p. II-2.